Authors: Susan Connell
A Woman to Blame
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Copyright © 1994, 2012 by Susan Connell. All rights reserved under International and Pan-American Copyright Conventions.
Formerly published as: Captain's Orders
Cover and eBook design by eBook Prep
To Captain Jim Connell, Ret.—thanks for all those gaudy-awful sunsets.
And special thanks to the Hash House Harriers of Abidjan, Ivory Coast, for inviting me to my first semiformal ball. I still have my T-shirt!
Repent, you sinner. Repent. Repent!"
Rick Parrish wanted more time to take in the sights and sounds of Pappy's Crab Shack, to imprint them indelibly in his memory so that he could recall them at will during the next week. Now that Miss Scarlett had squawked his arrival into the second-story open-air bar, his private moment had ended. The regulars sent him a barrage of wolf whistles and catcalls, letting him know they'd seen him. And his suit. Reaching past the Flesh-Eating Killer Bird sign, Rick adjusted the parrot's red-ribboned boater.
"What'll it be, Captain Parrish?" Pappy Madison asked from inside the wraparound bar.
More heads turned in Rick's direction as he pretended serious consideration of the question. Pappy's query was the same every evening, and so was Rick's response. Half the patrons in the Florida Keys bar chorused the answer along with him.
"Cold beer, conch fritters, and a gaudy-awful sunset, Pappy!"
"Can do," Pappy said, pulling a frosted mug from the cooler.
Weaving his way through the crowded establishment, Rick exchanged several irreverent greetings as he headed toward his usual place by the west rail. He spotted one of his marina employees with his arms resting on the tanned shoulders of two attentive blondes. Jiggy Latham winked, flashing two victory signs before lowering his head to receive a kiss from one of the girls. Rick walked on by, trying for a fleeting moment to remember what it was like to be so young. When he reminded himself that he was barely thirty-eight, he hid a halfhearted chuckle in a hasty look around the room.
The tourists were trying hard to blend in with the locals. If their unfamiliar faces hadn't given them away, the scent of their suntan lotions, the sight of their sunburns, and the fruity daiquiris they ordered certainly would have. He glanced at his watch, then folded his suit jacket and laid it over a chair. With his luggage stowed in the back of his Jeep, a plane ticket in his suit pocket, and the almost desperate desire to drink in the bar's atmosphere, he felt like a tourist himself.
He looked at his watch again. He had fifteen minutes to immerse himself in the convivial din before he headed for the Miami airport. Fifteen minutes in an open-air bar that had become more welcoming to him than his own living room. And if all that weren't enough to draw him here, this place didn't have ghosts. But he didn't want to think about that right now. One of the waitresses was pulling the plug on the jukebox, cutting off a Motown classic. Before the protests could reach a rioting level, Pappy banged his hand on the bar.