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 had been late to the lifeboat drill, but so had a lot of other people so she wasn't too embarrassed. Afterwards she returned to her cabin. Her luggage had been delivered, and she busied herself unpacking and settling in.
A card on her dresser said she would be dining at the second seating, which was at 8:15. The ship's newspaper, Sun & Sail, suggested casual dress, so she wore white slacks, blouse, and white flats.
It was still early, so she decided to go exploring again and wound up at one of the many lounges having a glass of wine at the bar. All around, everyone was with someone, and she was feeling a wee bit lonely when she spotted a woman sitting by herself in one of the booths. Jenny walked right over and introduced herself, said she was traveling alone, and wondered if she'd like some company.
"I sure would," the woman smiled, motioning to Jenny to sit down. "I'm Carla Sutton, and I'm from Chicago. This cruise is a birthday present to myself, but I couldn't get anyone to come with me, so I said to heck with it. I'd go it alone. I'm really glad to meet somebody to hang out with."
Carla was cute and petite and had an infectious smile for everyone around her, and Jenny doubted she would be alone for very long.
They went together to the Athena dining room, where a young man with a Jamaican accent, dressed in short white coat and shiny black trousers, waited at the bottom of the curving stairs to ask which table they had been assigned. Jenny told him they each had different numbers but wanted to be together since they were traveling alone. He said that would not be a problem and escorted them to a cozy table in a corner where a man was already seated.
"Check him out," Carla whispered with a giggle. "But remember I saw him first." Russ Claiborne rose to introduce himself. Jenny quickly scrutinized and decided he was nice-looking, in a practiced kind of way--the too smooth hair and too Jay Leno in the polished suit, white shirt, and silk tie. If tonight was casual attire, she couldn't wait to see what he'd wear on formal night. Also, in her years of business travel and stops in hotel lounges for a drink now and then, she had seen his kind too many times, in too many places, and was well aware of his type--extremely charming, practiced facial expressions, perfect mannerisms, and oozing with charisma. In other words, he was a real operator!
He glanced at Jenny, then blinked in dismissal as though aware she could see right through him, and turned his attention instead on Carla. He said he lived in Miami, was a writer, and thinking about doing a novel set in Norway. Carla hung onto his every word, flirting outrageously.
A young man with a dark complexion and warm brown eyes appeared to cheerfully introduce himself as their water, Miguel. Gesturing to the empty seat at the table, he explained a passenger had failed to make his flight connection but would join them in their first port--Bergen, Norway.
Jenny enjoyed her food but found herself feeling very, very alone. Russ and Carla were lost in each other. And, like on the bus, all around her people were with someone--couples, families, tour groups. Skipping dessert, she decided she'd had enough of feeling like an outsider and announced she was tired and going to bed early.
On her way back to her cabin she decided to step outside on the deck to view the ocean at night. The wind was brisk and cold as she moved to the railing. Her hair was blowing wildly about her face, and she could feel the salty sting of the ocean spray on her cheeks. Yet, she did not move. A full moon sprinkled the black sea with diamonds, and she could imagine fairies dancing in the silver foam that laced the huge waves.
Suddenly she realized she had never felt so lonely. It was easy to see why people did have whirlwind shipboard romances, for it was a temporary journey into fantasy, where dreams could come true--if only for as long as the cruise lasted.
She did noer from where he stood in the shadows.
TO BE CONTINUED...
To read the other chapters, use the links on the top of the column on the right.