Note to readers: CruiseMates' Singles Editor and New York Times best-selling author Patricia Hagan has written a romance novel called OCEAN OF DREAMS. As a new feature on CruiseMates, we will be publishing installments for our readers every Tuesday and Thursday. For previous chapters, use the links on the top of the column on the right.
Jenny turned around and around in front of the mirror. The figure-hugging black cocktail dress was perfect. She liked how she looked and felt sure Kirk would, too.
Just thinking his name created an excited rush.
What was happening to her? In so short a time, he meant so much to her. She had never believed in love at first sight, but only because it had never happened to her. Now she was beginning to wonder if it might really be possible. He spoke of the future, as though this was not just a shipboard romance, and they weren't really like ships that pass in the night. But even if it wasn't real, she was determined to enjoy every moment as long as it lasted.
Hurrying downstairs, she waited her turn in the receiving line to have her picture taken shaking Captain Uland's hand. Then she was ushered into the ballroom. She took a glass of champagne from a waiter and sipped as she glanced around the crowded room in search of an empty table.
Steve was frantically waving from where he stood beside a table right next to the dance floor.
"Over here! I saved this table for us."
She headed in that direction but without enthusiasm. She had wanted to find her own table near the floor in hopes that when the formalities were over, Kirk would sit with her. They could have a drink together and maybe dance before dinner. But he had said he had a lot of work to do prior to their arrival at the North Cape the next day and would probably leave early. So she pacified her disappointment with the thought that Steve was not bad company, if he would just stop pushing so hard for a relationship beyond casual friendship.
"My God!" Steve cried. "You are beautiful. I'm speechless."
"Good!" She said, sliding into the booth, embarrassed because he was so loud. "Now please sit down. People are staring."
"I can't help myself. You're gorgeous."
"Thank you," she murmured, relieved that just then the soft lights of the ballroom were turned up as the band began to play a stirring marching song. She was thrilled to recognize Kirk, walking behind the captain with other officers. He seemed to be glancing around the room in search of her; then she knew he was, because he grinned when he saw her.
She did not notice how Steve was frowning.
The officers lined up in a semicircle, and Captain Uland greeted in his rich Norwegian accent, "Velkommen!" He then proceeded to give his welcoming speech. Next he began introducing his staff officers, each one stepping forward as his title and name was called.
When he announced, "My Chief Officer Senior, Kirk Moen, from Bergen, Norway," Jenny felt so proud and happy. This was, after all, the man who had made her feel like a real woman for the first time in her life. This was the man who made her feel vibrant, alive, as though she could climb the highest mountain as long as he was beside her. This was, she realized with almost frightening clarity, the man she just might be falling in love with.
When the festivities were over, the officers began to mingle among the passengers as the band began playing dance music. She knew she was right in predicting Kirk would have to report for duty when she saw him leaving by a side exit.
"Come on," Steve said, "I need to stop by the gift shop before dinner."
He led her straight to one of the clerks. "Jenny, this is Paula Streeter. She's from England. She's worked on this ship nearly two years. I imagine she has some interesting tales to tell, don't you?"
In a very distinct cockney accent, Paula eagerly assured, "Oh, yes, luv. I've seen it all. The tales I could tell. One day I'm going to write a book. And believe me, there'll be a bloody lot of quaking souls when I tell all." She winked.
Steve urged, "Tell Jenny what you were telling me about the officers."
"Well, it's really something, luv," Paula said. "You just need to be here week after week to see how those white wolves break so many young girls' hearts. Why, just the other day the ship's chaplain was saying he got a letter from a young girl, crying to him because she'd had a romance a few months back with an officer, and he hadn't answered any of her letters. She was afraid something terrible had happened to him. She couldn't believe anything else after he'd told her he loved her. She tried calling the ship, but couldn't reach him."
"So what happened?" Steve asked, wide-eyed. "Had something happened to him?"
Jenny gritted her teeth. Did Steve really think she was so dumb she couldn't see that he had set this whole thing up?
Paula snickered. "Oh yes. Something bloody well awful had happened. And you know what it was?" She looked at them in turn.
Jenny's stare was cold.
Steve excitedly urged her on, like he was dying of suspense. "No, tell us. What was it?"
Paula laughed. "The bloke told the chaplain he couldn't even remember which one she was!"
"No!" Steve gasped. He shook his head in mock pity, gave an exaggerated sigh. "A sad thing. But say" --he snapped his fingers, laughed loud and heartily to make sure it was understood he was only joking before asking--"The officer's name wasn't Moen, was it? Jenny, here, has been spending a lot of time with him."
Paula's eyes went wide, her face paled, and Jenny knew talking about Kirk was not part of the deal. "Uh, no, it wasn't Officer Moen. I've got to get to work now." She hurried away.
Jenny waited till they were outside before turning on Steve with vehemence. "That was tacky. And you embarrassed that girl. Officer Moen happens to be Chief Officer Senior, a very high rank, and if he finds out she spreads gossip to passengers, she'll probably lose her job."
He shrugged. "I just thought if you heard about those womanizers from someone besides me, you'd wake up. There's a joke, by the way, that the only difference between a one-week cruise and a one-night stand is six nights."
"Look, Jenny..." he reached for her hand, but she snatched it away. He sighed. "I just don't want you to get hurt and wind up feeling foolish when the cruise is over."
"So what you are saying is that I'm dumb and na�ve and all it takes to sweep me off my feet is a white uniform, a moon, and a cruise ship? Thanks a lot."
His eyes narrowed. "Okay. But I don't mind telling you I hope you do get burned by that guy. And when you do, remember: I'm waiting to help you pick up the pieces and get on with your life...with me."
So mad she was shaking, Jenny turned and walked away.
To be continued...
To read the other chapters, use the links on the top of the column on the right.