Jenny dazzled the men at the Valhalla dinner party with her beauty and charmed their wives with her wit and intelligence. Kirk made the perfect escort, and no one suspected they were more than business acquaintances. In a private meeting with his uncle and several other executives, she presented her idea in capsule form and showed them her rough draft for a new brochure and catalog. They were unanimously impressed and said if they could agree on the financial terms, she could have the contract.
Jenny was ecstatic and couldn't help teasing Kirk that it appeared she would have won the contract even if she hadn't slept with him. He bantered right back, "Well, you'll never know for sure. I might have told them behind your back just how great you are in bed." And they laughed together.
After dinner there was music for dancing, but Kirk apologetically reminded he had to get back to the ship in preparation for sailing.
Back onboard and alone in an elevator, Jenny melted against him. They kissed until they were breathless, then he forced himself to push her away. "What am I going to do without you? Three more days, and then you leave me."
Wanting to lighten the moment, for she was shaken by the desire ripping through her body, she teased, "Well, there's always another cruise, and I'm sure you'll have your choice of lonely female passengers."
He solemnly shook his head. "Don't even joke about it. You're the only woman I want, Jenny."
"But isn't there someone out there who thinks you belong to her? After all, we both know how you keep secrets," she said with a wink.
"No. Only you. And that's the way I want it." Kirk felt he was being completely truthful. The others did not matter and never really had. His heart had been free--until now.
He kissed her again and told her he'd see her in his cabin later...and would be counting the hours until then.
Jenny wandered about the ship until nearly one o'clock, talking with passengers, enjoying a snack at the Midnight Buffet, then got her overnight bag and made her way to Kirk's cabin. The instant she let herself in with the key he'd given her, she spotted the note propped against a bucket filled with ice and a bottle of wine chilling.
She picked up the note and read: "Sorry, but I've got a little more work to do. Enjoy the wine, and I'll be back as soon as I can." Then he had closed, "Jeg elske deg."
She was curious as to what the Norwegian words meant but had a feeling it was something wonderful.
The wine was already open, so she poured herself a glass, sipping as she walked about the sitting area of the cabin looking at pictures on the wall. Nautical prints. Maps of the Caribbean.
Her foot bumped into her bag, so she decided to take it back to the sleeping alcove to get it out of the way. She set it down by the bed, turned to go, then saw that the closet door was ajar. The cover of a People magazine leaped out at her. It was an old issue she had not read, and she was hungry to read something in English. Kirk's magazines were all in Norwegian.
She knelt to pick it up...then froze.
Beneath, on the floor, in a loose pile, were too many letters to count in a glance. She could see different handwriting, different postmarks, and the return addresses were headed by women's names.
The magazine dropped from her trembling fingers. He had said there was nobody special. So none of these letters from any of those women meant anything...did it?
But dear Lord, there were so many!
Above the roaring in her head, she knew she should put the magazine back and pretend never to have seen the letters. She knelt to do so, but then one particular envelope caught her eye. It had been opened-- as they all had--but the corner of a photograph was sticking out of this one. With hands that seemed to have a will of their own, her fingers slowly withdrew the picture, and she gasped to see a naked woman in a very provocative pose. Across the bottom was scrawled, "To my Viking lover. Kisses. Marla."
Jenny did not know how long she knelt there, but she was sadly aware of the true meaning of just what Pandora had done when she opened her box to unleash the miseries of the world. How Jenny wished, tears streaming down her face, that she had never reached for the magazine, for then she would have gone on living in her fool's paradise.
But no! It was best to know the truth now--that Kirk had lied. Better to find out this way than the way she had with Bryan.
Anger quickly rushing to obliterate the pain, she snatched up her overnight bag and started to run out of the cabin...then paused. With rage burning through her veins like molten lava, she yanked and broke the chain about her neck that held the little pewter ship Kirk had given her, and threw it down on his desk.
She slammed out, bumping right into one of the other officers--who she knew was married--on his way to his cabin with his arm around a female passenger. They looked at her in alarm, for she was a sight--eyes wide with her anger, face flushed with the venom of her rage.
She kept on going. They were all alike, she seethed to think.
To be continued...To read the other chapters, use the links on the top of the column on the right.