“You’re kidding.” Carla Walker glanced at her friend suspiciously. “What did they put in that margarita, anyway? Truth serum?”
Nancy Listten’s dark eyes brightened, but her attention didn’t waver from the mariachi band that played softly in the background.
“I’m serious,” Nancy replied. “This happens every vacation. We now have seven glorious days in Mazatlán. What do you want to bet that we don’t find a man to flirt with until day six?”
“That’s because it takes awhile to scout out who’s available,” Carla argued, taking a sip of her drink. The granules of salt from the edge of the glass felt gritty on the inside of her bottom lip. But she enjoyed the feel and the taste.
“Exactly my point.”
Nancy took off her glasses and placed them inside her purse. That action said a lot. Carla’s friend had meant every word. She was dead serious.
“We spend at least two days trying to figure out who’s married and who isn’t.”
“Your idea isn’t going to help,” Carla insisted. “The next two men who walk in here could be married.”
“But imagine how much time it’ll save if we ask. And”—Nancy inhaled a deep breath—“have you noticed how picky we are? We always act like our choices are going to improve if given enough time. We’ve simply got to realize that there’re no better candidates than whoever walks through that door tonight.”
“I don’t know . . .” Carla hesitated, wondering if there was something wrong with her drink, too. Nancy’s idea was beginning to make sense. “What if they speak Spanish?” That was a stupid question, and the look Nancy gave her said as much. They each had a phrase book, and Carla had watched enough Sesame Street when babysitting her nieces to pick up the basics of the language. She groaned inwardly. She’d begun this vacation with such high hopes. They were in one of the most popular vacation spots in the world. Men galore. Tanned, gorgeous men. And she was going to end up introducing herself in Sesame Street Spanish to the next guy who walked through the door. Even worse, the idea was growing more appealing by the minute. Nancy was right. For two years they’d ruined their vacations looking for Mr. Perfect. Not only hadn’t they ever found him, but as their time had grown shorter, their standards had lowered. The men they’d found marginal on day one looked like rare finds by day six. And on day seven, frustrated and discouraged, they’d flown back to Seattle, having wasted their entire vacation.
“I think we should establish some sort of criteria, don’t you?”
Carla nodded. “Unencumbered.”
“That goes without saying.” Nancy gave her a classroom glare that Carla had seen often enough to recognize.
“They should walk in here alone. And be under thirty-five.” Nancy’s eyes sought Carla. “Anything else?”
“I, for one, happen to be a little more particular than you.”
“All right, add what you want.”
“I think they should order a margarita.”
“Carla! We could be here all night if we waited for that.”
“We’re in Mazatlán. Everyone orders margaritas,” Carla countered. Well, a tourist would, and that was what she wanted. No serious stuff, just a nice holiday romance.
“Okay,” Nancy agreed.
Their eyes focused on the two entrances. Waiting.
“Have you noticed how all the cocktail lounges are beginning to look like furniture showrooms?” Carla commented, just to have something to say. Her hands felt damp as she studied the entry to the nightclub.
“Shh . . . someone’s coming.”
A middle-aged couple walked through the door.
They both relaxed. “We’d better decide who goes first.”
“You,” Carla returned instantly. “It was your idea.”
“All right,” Nancy agreed. She straightened, nervously folding her hands on her lap.
Carla pulled up the spaghetti strap of her summer dress. Normally a redhead couldn’t wear pink, but this shade, the color of camellias, complemented the unusual color of her hair.
“Here comes a single man.”
Two pairs of intense eyes followed the lumbering gait of a dark-haired Latin American who entered the lounge and took the closest available love seat.
“He’s in a cast,” Nancy observed in a high-pitched whisper.
“Don’t panic,” Carla said in a reassuring tone. “He doesn’t look like the type to order a margarita.”
Nancy opened her purse and put on her glasses. “Not bad-looking.”
“Yes, I suppose so,” Carla agreed, although she thought he looked too much like a movie star—smooth and suave—to suit her. His toothy smile looked bright enough to blind someone in broad daylight. For Nancy’s sake, she hoped the guy was into wine. “You can back out if you want,” Carla said, almost wishing Nancy would. The whole idea was crazy.
“Not on your life.”
“The guy’s in a cast up to his hip. I’d say he was encumbered, wouldn’t you?”
“No,” Nancy replied smoothly. “You’re doing it again.”
“Fine, I’ll shut up. If you want to be stuck with a guy who leaves a funny trail in the sand, that’s fine with me.”
“Look,” Nancy whispered, “your fellow’s arrived.”
Quickly, Carla’s attention focused on the lounge entrance at the other side of the room. She recognized him immediately as someone from the same flight as theirs. Not that she’d found him particularly interesting at the time. He’d sat across the aisle from Nancy and read a book during the entire trip.
“Hey, he was on the plane with us,” Nancy pointed out.
“I know,” Carla answered evenly, trying to disguise her disappointment. Secretly, she’d been hoping for someone compelling and forcefully masculine. She should have known better.
Both women sat in rigid silence as their eyes followed the young cocktail waitress, who delivered two margaritas: one to the looker and one to the bookworm.
“You ready?” Nancy whispered.
“What are we going to say?” Carla’s hand tightened around her purse.
Nancy gave another one of those glares normally reserved for her pupils. “Good grief, Carla, we’re mature women. We know what to say.”
Carla shook her head. “Mature women wouldn’t do something like this.”
They stood together, condemned prisoners marching to the hangman’s noose. “How do I look?” Nancy asked with a weak smile.
“Like you’re about to throw up.”
Her friend briefly closed her eyes. “That’s the way I feel.”
“Come on,” Nancy whispered. “We aren’t backing out now.”
Carla couldn’t believe that calm, levelheaded, left-brained Nancy would actually agree to something like this. It was completely out of character. Carla was the impulsive one—creative, imaginative, right-brained. That was why they were such good friends: Their personalities complemented each other’s perfectly. Right-brained, left-brained, Carla mused. That was the problem. Each of them had only half a brain.
She studied the man from the plane. He wasn’t anyone she would normally have sought out. For a light romance, she wanted someone more dynamic. This guy was decidedly—she searched for the right word—undashing. He was tall, she remembered, which was lucky. At five-nine, she didn’t look up to many men. And he was on the lanky side. Almost reedy. He wore horn-rimmed glasses, which gave him a serious look. His sandy hair, parted on the side, fell carelessly across his wide brow. His tan was rich, but Carla mused that he didn’t look like the type to use a tanning machine or lie lazily in the sun. He probably worked outdoors—maybe he was a mailman.
He glanced at her and smiled. Carla nearly tripped on the plush carpet. His eyes were fantastic. A deep gray like overcast winter clouds with the sun beaming through. A brilliant silver shade that she had never seen. Her spirits brightened; the man’s eyes, at least, were encouragingly attractive.
“Hello,” she said as she stood in front of his deep cushioned chair. “I’m Carla Walker.” She extended her hand. Might as well be forthright about this.
He stood, dwarfing her by a good four inches, and shook hands. “Philip Garrison.”
He looked like a Philip. “We were on the same flight, weren’t we?”
He pushed his glasses up the bridge of his nose with his index finger. The action reminded her of Clark Kent. But Carla wasn’t kidding herself—Philip Garrison was no Superman.
“I believe we were,” he said with a smile that was surprisingly compelling. “Would you like to sit down?”
“Yes, thank you.” Carla took the chair beside him. Hoping to give an impression of nonchalance, she crossed her shapely legs. “Are you from Seattle?”
His smile deepened. “In a way. My parents have a condominium here that needs a few repairs.”
Carla smiled absently into her drink. So he was a carpenter. The occupation suited him, she decided. He was deceptively lean and muscular. And he had a subtle, understated appeal, something she found refreshing.
“Would you like another margarita?” he asked, as he glanced at her empty glass.
“Yes. Thank you.”
He raised his hand to get the waitress’s attention. The lovely olive-skinned woman acknowledged his gesture and indicated that she would be there in a moment. Service here was notoriously slow, but right now Carla didn’t mind. She looked around for Nancy and discovered that her friend was chatting easily and seemed to be enjoying herself. At the moment, this crazy scheme appeared to be working beautifully.
“Is this your first visit to Mazatlán?” Philip asked, and took a sip of his drink.
Carla noted the way the tip of his tongue eased the salt from the bottom of his lip. She dropped her gaze, finding his action disturbingly provocative. “Yes, my first time in Mexico, actually. To be honest, I didn’t expect it to be this beautiful.”
The waitress arrived, and Carla handed the girl her empty glass. She had noticed that the waitresses spoke only minimal English. Although her Spanish wasn’t terrific, the urge to impress Philip with her knowledge of the language overpowered her good sense, so, proudly, without the hint of a foreign accent, Carla asked for another drink.
The waitress frowned and glanced at Philip, who was obviously trying to contain his laughter. He delivered a crisp request in Spanish to the woman, who nodded and smiled before turning away.
“What’s so humorous?” Carla could feel herself blushing.
Philip composed himself quickly. “You just told the waitress that Big Bird wants a drink of water.”
Carla closed her eyes and did her best to laugh, but the sound was weak and revealing. She would never watch Sesame Street again, she vowed, no matter how desperate she was to entertain her two nieces.
“How long will you be staying?” he asked pleasantly, deftly changing the subject.
“A week. My roommate, Nancy, and I are on a discount vacation package for teachers.”
“You teach preschool?”
It was a logical assumption. “No, I’m a surgical assistant.”
One thick brow arched with surprise. “You don’t look much older than a student yourself.”
“I’m twenty-five.” And old enough to know better than to make a fool of myself like this, she added silently.
Their drinks arrived, and Carla resisted the urge to gulp hers down and ease the parched feeling in her throat. Gradually she relaxed as they spoke about the flight and the weather.
After a half-hour of exchanging pleasantries, Philip asked her if she was available to join him for dinner. The invitation pleased her. Since her faux pas with the waitress, she’d imagined he’d wanted to be rid of her as quickly as he could manage to do so without appearing impolite.
“Yes, I’d like to have dinner with you.” To her surprise, Carla discovered it was the truth.
Copyright © 1986 by Debbie Macomber. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.