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Authors: A.S. Fenichel

Alaskan Exposure

BOOK: Alaskan Exposure
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Alaskan Exposure

A.S.
Fenichel

 

Finally recovering from a
devastating divorce, Charley is given the opportunity of a lifetime when she’s offered
a job shooting photographs for an Alaskan cruise catalogue.

Kyle loves his life. The ship’s
playboy first officer has his future all worked out and it doesn’t involve
falling for the beautiful new photographer.

The two find passion and comfort on
the high seas and Charley learns the joys of being completely uninhibited when
the partner is just right. But in eight short days she’s going to walk off the
ship and Kyle’s going to start his next voyage without her. Can Kyle prove to
Charley that they’re more than just hot sex? Sacrifice is the only way to stay
together, but the price might just be too high.

 

A
Romantica®
contemporary romance
from Ellora’s Cave

Alaskan Exposure
A.S. Fenichel

Acknowledgments

 

A big thank-you goes out to Amanda, my beta reader. I have
to send out special thanks to the wonderful Karla Doyle, who always supports me
even when I’m nuts. I can’t forget to thank the stunning ship’s first officer
who inspired the hero of this book.

 

 

Dedication

 

The impetus for this book came from an actual cruise I took
with my fabulous husband Dave and some wonderful friends. I dedicate this book
to Dave, Mark, Kim, Chad and Debbie. Without you all, I could never have done
it.

 

Chapter One

 

How the hell had she gotten herself into this? The
twenty-five-hundred passenger cruise ship loomed above her. She must have been
nuts to think she was ready to take on this kind of job. Why had she said yes?

Jules’ excited face coming up the gangplank was a welcomed
relief. Charley’s heart had pounded and her skin got clammy when she boarded
the morning before. The sight of her best friend gave her some balance and sent
her running down the ramp. She threw herself into her best friend’s arms.

“Holy crap. I saw you three days ago. What’s wrong with you?
You look like you’re about to throw up.” Jules pushed out of the death grip
hug.

Without Jules, Charley would never have started taking
pictures again. In fact, she would never have done anything other than feel
sorry for herself. She surely wouldn’t have opened her own photography studio,
which had landed her this job on the ship. So when the cruise line said she was
allowed to invite a guest, the two had pooled their resources to buy the
ticket.

Charley, on the other hand, was thinking of bolting all the
way back to Florida.

She hiked her camera backpack higher on her shoulder. “I’m
not sure this is a good idea, Jules.”

Her friend tossed her dark hair over one shoulder, put her
hands on her full hips and scowled at her. “Look Charley, we’ve went through
this a dozen times back in Florida. We are getting on this ship and you are
going to have a good time, take some pictures and hopefully get laid. Then
maybe you’ll stop acting as if you’re a twelve-year-old who just got grounded.
It’s a cruise, granted it’s to Alaska and I’d rather be on some warm island
somewhere, but I read that this ship has seven bars.” Jules walked back down
the steep iron ramp and wrapped one arm through Charley’s while giving her a
little hip bump. “Besides, we deserve a little fun after all we’ve been
through. Don’t you think?”

“Yes. You’re right.”

“Good. Let’s go then.” With their elbows linked, Jules gave
her a tug.

Charley couldn’t help smiling at Jules’ excitement. “I hate
feeling confined. I don’t know if I can stand being trapped in this bucket for
eight days. What if my pictures aren’t good enough and they never hire me
again?”

“Trapped! Now you’re just making up excuses. Look at the
size of that thing. You could get lost on a ship that size. They are going to
love your work. You couldn’t take a bad photograph if you tried. Come on. Let’s
get onboard and get a drink. Then you’ll start to get into the spirit of the
thing.”

She took a deep breath and thought of all the things she’d
given up during her marriage. This was the beginning of getting back to the
things she loved. Pete wasn’t here to keep her from her passion. Her parents
were back in Florida presumably fighting between themselves. It was time to do something
just for her. The studio had been the first step. Taking a contractor job on
this ship was the second. Squaring her shoulders, she took a step higher on the
gangplank.

As if on cue, her cell phone chirped out a happy tune. She
dug it out of her purse and saw “Mom” written across the screen. Hitting the
ignore button was out of the question. She pushed the answer button. “Hello,
Mom.”

Jules rolled her eyes and leaned against the railing.

“Did you get on the ship yet?” Her mother didn’t even bother
with a greeting.

“I got on yesterday, Mom. Jules is just boarding now.
Everything okay there?”

“I don’t see why you would bring that
friend
of yours
and not your own mother, but if that’s the decision you’ve made, I guess I
should tell you to have a safe trip.”

It was not really a well-wish but Charley ignored the tone
and the wording. “Thanks. I’m sure it will be a good trip.”

“I told your father I was calling but he had to go and play
golf. He just couldn’t miss his tee time.”

“That’s all right. I spoke to him yesterday.” Charley didn’t
mention that her mother could have called earlier in the day so that her father
was still in the house during the call.

Jules pushed off the railing and put one hand on her hip.
“Tell Beverly you love her and say goodbye.”

“You know how he is about that damn game. You would think
that his own daughter leaving would be enough to keep him home for a few
minutes longer. But, no. He had to meet his friends. I think he’s meeting some
woman. I’m sure of it.”

She’d heard it a million times starting when she was just a
little girl. If Jack was cheating, he’d been doing it for years. Charley
thought it was more likely he just wanted to get away from Beverly for a few
hours a day. He probably
was
playing golf.

Jules’ voice grew louder. “Say goodbye, Charley. Time to
board.”

“Mom, I’ve got to go. I love you.”

“Fine. Go ahead. Have a good time. I’ll be here when you get
home.” Beverly’s voice was very close to a whimper.

Charley took a deep breath and closed her eyes as a wave of
guilt descended over her. “I’ll call you when I get back to Florida. I’m
turning my phone off once we’re at sea. I don’t want to get hit with Canadian
charges.”

“Fine.”

The line went dead without another word. She turned the
phone off and tucked it back inside her purse. She forced a smile. “That drink
is sounding really good right now.”

Jules smiled and they made their way to the top of the
gangplank where Jules got her photo taken and her ship pass cards.

They took the elevators up to deck eight.

“How was last night?” Jules asked.

Charley shrugged. “A meet and greet with the captain.”

“Oh, what’s the captain like?”

“I have no idea. There were twelve hundred crew members. He
made a short welcome speech. I stayed for half an hour and snuck out.”

“Why?”

“I’m not part of the crew. I didn’t really feel like I
belonged there. I’m just contracted for this one cruise and then I’ll be back
in Florida taking family portraits again.”

“There’s nothing wrong with that and in the meantime you get
a little adventure. Who knows maybe this will turn into something more.”

“You’re right. I love my studio. I even love family
portraits with screaming babies.”

Jules screwed her face up. “Even the ones who need a diaper
change?”

Charley thought about the moment in her studio with a family
of five when they all looked at her lens with joy. In that instant, she snapped
her picture and captured a memory that lives on forever. “Yup, even the stinky
ones.”

They arrived at the stateroom where they found Jules’
luggage just outside the door.

“Can we get that drink now?” Jules asked.

She shook her head. “I have to go and meet the first officer
on deck nine before we push off. I’ll meet you later though.”

“Ooh, the first officer, that sounds promising.” Jules gave
a little shimmy.

“I’m working, not playing.” Her friend’s enthusiasm was fun
and she laughed ruining the effect of her scold.

Charley headed to the designated area in front of the
forward elevator bank on deck eight. In case a good shot availed itself, she
kept her camera bag with her. She reached inside the specially made backpack
and felt her way to the camera sling. Her Canon EOS 5D Mark III was at the top
and she dug for the EF 24-70mm f/2.8L lens and its EW-83F hood. Her hand
wrapped around it and pulled it from its snug memory foam compartment. She
walked up the one deck from their cabin while attaching the lens best suited
for close, low-light shots.

Even only having seen that small percentage of the ship, she
had to admit it was not at all cramped or claustrophobic. When she saw an
officer talking to a group of passengers, she immediately clicked off a few
pictures. He was tall. His chest and shoulders filled out the white uniform and
he smiled easily at the three women who peppered him with questions while
batting their eyelashes shamelessly. The youngest of the three looked to be at
least ten years older than the sailor.

Charley zoomed in on his bright blue eyes and neatly cropped
dark, curly hair. He seemed genuinely interested in what the women were saying.
If she had to guess, the handsome officer must have known the passengers. She
clicked several more pictures.

His eyes turned toward her. There was a moment of surprise,
followed by a slow, private smile. Inside her lens he was so close he
penetrated her comfort zone. Charley felt her cheeks flush and she took the
camera away from her face.

He’d caught her with her hand in the cookie jar. She’d
invaded his privacy and he smiled warmly across the expanse of blue carpet. But
he didn’t look the least bit offended. Normally she asked people if she could
photograph them, though spontaneous pictures always turned out better. Making a
conscious effort to slow her heart and ignore her embarrassment, she felt her
cheeks cool slightly.

The officer said his polite goodbyes to the ladies and
walked over to Charley. “Miss Ballantine?”

“Yes.” Immediately her cheeks flushed again. He smelled of a
musky cologne, soap and man. What the hell was wrong with her? She shook
herself out of her mesmerized state. “I’m Charlene Ballantine, sorry I’m late.”

He frowned for an instant. “I was told Charley.”

Her cheeks were on fire and her heart beat so hard that it
was a wonder he didn’t comment on the infernal noise. “Charley is fine.”

He held out his hand. “I’m Kyle Macintyre, the ship’s first
officer. I’m assigned the task of showing you the bridge. The captain asked
that I tell you what you may and may not do while aboard.”

“They sent me a list of dos and don’ts.” Her voice was a bit
steadier.

There was that smile again. “Yes, I’m sure the line sent you
a laundry list, but since you’re not part of the crew and you have had no
shipboard training, Captain Cristou likes to make certain there’ll be no
trouble.”

She nodded dumbly, intoxicated by the deep, warm sound of
his voice. “Who were those women?”

If the question surprised him he didn’t show it. “Mrs. Jones
and her two daughters. They’re taking a family vacation.”

“Do you know them?”

He cocked his head to one side. “I just met them. Why do you
ask?”

She shrugged, wishing she could keep her mouth shut. She
supposed the question was out of context, but she was curious. “It looked as if
you knew them.”

Turning the digital display on her camera around, she showed
him the pictures she’d taken. He stood very close as she scrolled through the
dozen shots she snapped while he was unaware. Her shoulder brushed against his
arm.

The warmth of his body spread through her as if she were
standing too close to a furnace. She’d lost her mind. That was the only
explanation. Since her divorce, men had been the last thing she wanted. She’d
spent a year in therapy trying not to think of them as the enemy and she’d made
progress. She’d even gone on a couple of dates that hadn’t ended in disaster.
But this sailor had an effect on her that none of the men she’d come in contact
with had. Her pulse was tripping wildly and she thought running away would be a
great idea. In fact, better to get as far away from Kyle Macintyre as possible.
Unfortunately, that wasn’t an option.

He smiled brightly. “It does. You know, I’ve been doing this
for so long, I’ve just learned that on a short cruise you don’t have much time
to get to know people. I make friends quickly.”

She took a step away from his arousing scent and warm body.

“I’ll bet you do.” Sarcasm dripped from her words. She
thought of looking around to see if her mother was behind her. No, it had been
her.
Shit.

He frowned, but was still so gorgeous she could barely look
at him. “I think I should be insulted by the way you said that, Miss
Ballantine, but I’m going to reserve my reaction until I know you better.”

She took a deep breath and met his eyes before shrugging.
“Sorry, I didn’t mean to offend you. It’s only an observation. The camera lens
never lies.” She tapped her rig and felt her cheeks warm. “You said something
about showing me around the parts of the ship where I’m permitted to take
pictures.”

His eyes narrowed on her for a second as if he was analyzing
her meaning. Maybe that was exactly what he was doing. He must have decided
against pursuing the subject because he nodded and started toward a hallway.
“You are allowed in all the public areas. If you arrange a guide and the
weather is good, you can go on the forward deck and the bridge. I can arrange
for a guide on land as well if you would like. We were told by the cruise line
to accommodate you, so just let me or the captain know what you need.”

It was embarrassing to be so attracted to the first officer.
Nerves often made her sound snarky. She wished she hadn’t insulted him, but he
acted as if she hadn’t said anything as he walked forward from the elevator
banks. The hallway twisted and turned but basically continued in the same
direction. She peeked in some open doors at very small cabins. They must have
been crew quarters.

She stopped and looked inside one that had just been
cleaned. A man with a vacuum stepped out and smiled at her. “Madam, may I help
you?” he said in a thick accent that she couldn’t place. She looked down at his
name tag. It said Dalajit and that he was from India.

“No, thank you. I’m just curious. Pardon me.”

Dalajit smiled. “Not at all, madam. Help yourself.”

The first officer had stopped and walked back to where she
gaped into the small, windowless quarters. “This is a crew cabin.”

“It’s small.”

He shrugged. “Not the smallest and it has a pretty nice
head…um…bathroom.”

“Do you live in a cabin the same as this?” She had no idea
what possessed her to ask him about where he lived. It was none of her business
and it had nothing to do with her photographic assignment. Her entire body
tightened at the thought she could not banish from her mind—Kyle Macintyre
naked in the small bed.

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