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My guest today is Christi Barth, who just happens to have written one of the wittiest romances I’ve read in a long time, CRUISING TOWARD LOVE. (The excerpt at the end offers a glimpse of one of my favorite scenes.) Christi says she’s here to give us an inside look into her novel, but frankly I’m having a hard time getting past how I am NOT on a cruise at the moment. Seriously, what she describes has me wanting to flee the blog and hit the high seas! However, I’m going to suck it up, get past my envy and pay rapt attention. Join me?

Christi Barth, take it away!

This is a behind-the-scenes peek at the craziness authors inflict upon themselves.  I love cruising.  The staff treats you like a rock star, the weather’s great, the food’s amazing, the atmosphere is ultra-romantic, the drinks are free-flowing, and you’re completely removed from the real world.  When I decided to set my next book on a cruise ship, I patted myself on the back for a great, sexy idea.  Except….no matter how big the ship is, the H/H are essentially stuck in the same location for a week.  Where’s the zing (once they stop having sex, of course)?  What’s going to propel them forward?  Panic set in.  But I came up with the idea of a scavenger hunt.  It got them off the boat and took them to exotic locales.  More patting the back ensued.  Maybe even a celebratory cocktail.

But…what the heck would these cruise ship passengers need to find in a foreign country?  Somehow each idea I had dug me into a deeper hole.  Finally, after learning waaaaay more history about Caribbean islands than I ever intended, I found a way out.  I won’t give away too much, but in San Juan, they end up searching for a mask.

The mask on the left is a prime example of a vejigantes.  Ugly and scary, right?  Well, they’re supposed to be.  The masks origins are way back in the 1600s in Spain.  They were worn in processionals to scare sinners into going back to church.  Spaniards brought the custom over when they colonized, but the locals have tweaked it over the centuries.

The masks are now a symbol in Puerto Rico of resistance to colonialism and imperialism.  Think of the masks as their own, bright, papier mache way of sticking their tongue out at Spain.  Used in many festivals and Carnival, they are a truly authentic souvenir of the island country.

Black, red and yellow are the traditional colors, although they’ve become such an art form in Puerto Rico now that you can find them in any color to match your living room décor.  In my book, one of them pops up in the same bright turquoise as the cruise ship.  Hmm…a clue, perhaps?

Now that I’ve piqued your curiosity, I bet you’re ready for a funny, sexy romp through the Caribbean.  So dive into the pages of Cruising Toward Love.  Here’s a blurb to get you started.  If you really want to get your feet wet, there’s an excerpt below the banner (and it takes place during their excursion to San Juan!).

Can an unexplained breakup and ten years of heartache be cured by the romance – and endless buffets – of a tropical cruise?  When her sister is left at the altar, small town librarian Zoe Balis jumps at the chance to take the bride’s unused ticket for the honeymoon cruise.  But she didn’t count on sharing a cabin with the man who broke her heart ten years ago!

Army medic Nate Hyatt never told Zoe goodbye when he enlisted – or the real reason why he dumped her on prom night after a year as high school sweethearts.  And he never stopped dreaming about the girl he left behind.  Could this voyage be his chance to fix the worst mistake he ever made?  After all, a Caribbean cruise should be romantic… if he can convince her to move past ten years of bitterness and hurt.

Once aboard the luxury liner, Zoe befriends a bored Internet mogul with more heart than tact.  Nate vents his problems to a ship’s photographer battling PTSD.  The four team up on an island hopping treasure hunt.  The stakes grow higher with each of Zoe’s mysterious brushes with death.  They race to discover why she’s a target and who’s behind it, while still competing in the treasure hunt. Zoe’s never gotten over her first love, and is tempted to let Nate back into her life.  But she already lost him once.  She’s not willing to risk loving a man whose career keeps him in a combat zone.  Can Nate breach her defenses and suture her broken heart?  Grab a deck chair and see if they survive the stormy relationship seas as they cruise toward love!

“Did you stop kissing me because you weren’t enjoying it? You see, I’ve dealt with the first time you rejected me, when you left all those years ago. There’s no need to rehash the past. But I don’t think I could bear you rejecting me a second time. So I have to know—did you not take me to bed the other night because I didn’t turn you on, or was it because I somehow wasn’t good enough at it?”

The world stood still while she waited for his answer. Zoe focused on the squawk of sea gulls and the muted slap of the surf at the base of the wall. The lyrical lilt of Spanish from the group of teenagers passing by. A low buzz which must be some exotic insect in the shrubbery along the path. Every sound in her immediate vicinity rang with absurd clarity—except the sound she waited on with bated breath—Nate’s reply.

“If you still don’t want me, just say so, damn it!” she burst out.

Was it anger that hardened the lines of his body? Disinterest? Annoyance? Zoe couldn’t get a read on him. Nate advanced slowly. She backed into the turret, the space tight and cramped even for her stature. Built for the far shorter men of an earlier century, Nate had to duck his head as he edged ever closer. His sheer presence commanded as much area as his physical body. Something, some emotion rolled off him in waves, shimmering like heat above asphalt on a summer day. Why couldn’t she tell what was going on in his head?

“The sky is blue,” said Nate, his face separated from hers by only a breath.

Huh? “Is that a military thing? Are you talking in code?”

“The sun rises in the east. Play with fire and you’ll get burned. These are all absolute truths. Indisputable facts. Well, there’s one more absolute you need to file away in your mental card catalog.”

Nate brought the lower half of his body so close Zoe felt the heat radiating from his legs. Despite the heat, her goose bumps had goose bumps. The anticipation of his touch brought her every sense to high alert. He raised his arms up, planted his hands on either side of her head to cage her in place. Then he tilted so his forehead bumped hers. Her field of vision narrowed to the indigo sea of his eyes, pupils flooding black in the shaded darkness of the narrow turret they shared.

“I want you, Zoe.” He forced the words out in a heavy rasp. “I wanted you the day we met. You wore a red ribbon in your hair, dropped a stack of books on my foot, and apologized adorably for ten minutes. All I could think of was wrapping the ribbon around my hand to pull you in for a kiss. I wanted you the first time we kissed, on the bridge in a storm. One by one, I licked off every raindrop that clung to your skin. I wanted you when I saw you covered in mud last Friday. Wanted you badly enough to crawl right into the mud to be with you. I want you now, and I will always want you.”

Zoe let her eyes flutter shut in preparation for a kiss. Such a heartfelt, utterly romantic speech could only end one way. Just as whipped cream hungered for a cherry, his words demanded to be topped off by a kiss. She didn’t care about the past. With a handful of sentences he’d put her insecurities to rest. Nate dazzled her, and she was ready for more.

What was taking him so long? From beneath her lashes she snuck a peek. No Nate. Hoping the knees he’d melted to jelly would hold her, Zoe scrambled out onto the dirt path. Twenty strides ahead, Nate bellowed at her over his shoulder. “Hurry up. We don’t want to miss the reading of the clue.”

From confusion to relief with paper hearts dancing overhead…right back to confusion, all in less than five minutes. Zoe trudged after him with one thought uppermost in her mind—now what?

For more information and sales links, please visit www.christibarth.com