On board the giant cruise ship, Stuart “Red” Redmond unpacked in his smallish room. He didn’t plan on being there much. It was his first real vacation since starting his own business, and he planned on enjoying every second. Food, dancing, drinking, and men. The pool looked really inviting too, but pristine beaches were on the travel plan.
Red deciding to take a cruise over Easter had confused some of his family, but his relatives were scattered around the United States, so it wasn’t like he was missing the big family gathering this year. They all migrated annually to Grandma’s house for Thanksgiving and did one big holiday party. Christmas had been spent with friends. Red had a staff at his coffee shop and café that he trusted to handle things while he was gone.
Living in Miami made the cruise a better deal. No flying required. He’d grabbed a last-minute sale on a gay adults-only cruise. So far it was worth it. The view of hot men everywhere on his way to his room made Red eager to get to the welcome mixer. He glanced at the itinerary but remembered his promise to his workers. No overscheduling events, just hang out and enjoy the downtime...and the men.
At thirty-two, Red wanted more than a hookup, but for a vacation, a little fun wouldn’t hurt. No work, no customers, and no obligations. He wanted to enjoy the destinations and food, though. He could lounge around in bed and watch TV at home for free.
With a map of the ship in hand, Red headed up to enjoy the view before the mixer started. Plenty of men were here with their boyfriends, and Red tried to be happy for the men who were clearly coupled up in the love zone. He’d put dating on the back burner in his twenties in order to raise money and get his business off the ground. Of course, he’d dated around while he was building his business. Now he felt ready to focus on a serious relationship.
As Red leaned on the railing, he heard accents from all over. Most of these men had flown in for the cruise. Red wanted someone local without crazy drama for a relationship. Was that too much to ask? For now, he’d make do.
Glancing at the crowd, Red’s eye spotted someone and his head jerked. Not smooth, but he’d never been one of those guys who had game. That man looked just like a regular customer though. A sexy Cuban who came in for coffee Monday through Friday. The first name of Carlos was all the info Red had because he sucked at getting details out of men. The flirtation gave Red something to look forward to every morning, but he never dared to ask the tall, dark, and sexy man out.
Could it really be Carlos? It was hard to tell from across the deck of the boat, but the desire flared up. The man wasn’t in a suit like Carlos wore daily, but this wasn’t work. The jeans and T-shirt looked more casual and inviting. Red did his best to catch up to the man but lost him in the sea of men of all shapes and sizes. Some were in nothing but tiny swimwear, and Red couldn’t help looking.
The cruise was just beginning. Red liked Latin men and had no doubt that he’d find a few to scratch his itch. The odds of Carlos being on the same cruise... It was too good to be true. Red followed the crowd to the bar and found the welcome mixer with free drinks. He certainly wasn’t driving anywhere.
Sipping and wandering, Red loved the feel of men checking him out. He kept scanning the crowd for the man who had tempted him. Finally he spotted that shock of black hair and broad shoulders wrapped in a polo shirt.
“So familiar,” Red muttered. He made his way through the men. He couldn’t know for sure until he saw the face.
Red finally cut off the taller man who stopped short of running into him. The sparkle of recognition and flirtation in Carlos’s eye made Red smile.
“It is you,” Red said.
“Hi!” Carlos looked confused for a second. As if Red had caught him doing something wrong. “I didn’t expect to see anyone I knew here.”
“Me either. Didn’t mean to hold you up. It’s nice to see you.” Red wasn’t sure if he was wanted or not.
“Yeah.” Carlos shrugged his shoulders, and the tension lifted. “It is nice to see you too. Just surprised. I didn’t think you were the cruise type. Is your boyfriend with you?”
Red shook his head at the misinformation. If Carlos thought he was taken, Red had to make things clear. “No, I don’t have a boyfriend. Work has been my life. So my flirting was way too subtle? I don’t let my employees hit on the customers, and I try to set a good example.”
“Flirting? Sorry, I get tunnel vision when I’m headed to work. I like your place, though. Maybe I like the personal service more?” Carlos rubbed his ear. “So I’d have to ask you out if I wanted to see more of you?”
Red nodded. “When you employ college kids, you have to teach them about work and personal boundaries. Some of the guys were hitting on any hot young woman who came in. I had to stop it.”
“And you’re single?” Carlos looked around.
“I am. Sorry, you’re not?” Red felt the rush of embarrassment.
“No, I am. I’m single. I just don’t really date a lot. Work keeps me swamped.” Carlos cleared his throat.
Red couldn’t read the signals Carlos was giving off. Go away? Try harder? “If you’re here with friends, I won’t intrude. Maybe we can have dinner one night or something. Trade numbers, so if you’re free, we can grab a drink.”
“Sure.” Carlos pulled out his phone and recorded Red’s number. Red dutifully plugged Carlos’s digits into his phone.
“What do you do?” Red asked. “I feel like I know you, but all I really know is your coffee order and first name.”
“I’m in marketing. Dull as anything.” Carlos grabbed a drink off the bar. “Not as much fun as running your own business.”
Red shrugged. “It’s a lot of work but on my own terms.”
“What happens if a customer asks an employee out on a date?” Carlos asked.
“That’s up to the employee. They can say yes, no, or whatever. If the customer is harassing, I can ban them. That hasn’t been a problem yet. But if you were wondering, if you asked me out, I’d say yes.” Red could be bolder and more direct here than at the café. Being teased by his employees over a crush wasn’t high on his priority list.
Carlos moved in closer. “Well, I have to be honest. My company is looking for ways to promote to the gay community more, so I offered to network on the cruise if they paid half my expenses.”
“Nice deal.” Red still had no idea what Carlos marketed, but hardworking and cost saving weren’t bad attributes.
“It is, but I do need to mingle more to justify it. Don’t take it personally. I’ll text you for a drink after dinner.” Carlos pulled info up on his smartphone.
Red had a better idea but wasn’t going to push things just yet. “Sounds great. I’ll let you work.”
Carlos nodded. Red grabbed another drink as he watched Carlos’s tight ass, even better in jeans, heading away into the crowd. He’d spied Carlos’s last name on the info in his hand. Martinez. It wasn’t a huge revelation, but Red knew chemistry when he felt it. There was no way he’d let this opportunity slip away without a serious try to seduce the man of his dreams.