After losing her job, Hayley struggles to make ends meet and allows her career status to define her. She finds inspiration in successful photographer Trevor Tott, but their professional aspirations clash when she experiences his questionable ethics along with unwanted advances from her overbearing boss. With the help of the ship’s crew, stunning Alaskan backdrops and a leap of faith, they might find business can be mixed with pleasure.
With cameos from favourite Aqua characters Harry and Casey, Amanda Jones weaves a plot that keeps the pages turning.
Love happens on The Aqua…
Have you jumped in yet? The Aqua series is the ongoing story of the cruise ship Aqua, where crew members such as Chef Amber and Captain Hallmann appear frequently, and other favourites, such as Harry and Casey, make cameo appearances. With each book in the series, the familiar characters and their stories grow and weave cleverly together. You’ll meet Hayley and Trevor again in books for the upcoming Alaskan and Caribbean series as well. Read along the entire series to get to know and understand the cruise ship, its passengers and regular crew members.
HAYLEY CAUGHT her hat as a strong breeze blew onto the deck. She shoved the brim in her pocket, pulled her red curls into a ponytail and kept her eye on the camera screen as an iceberg floated down the glacier-carved fjord. The sun bounced off the blue glass as it bobbed in the sea, the summer light shimmering as if the water was a celestial globe. She pressed the shutter release but by the time the camera processed the picture and took the photo, the image was blurry. Why did she ever think of doing this?
Minutes earlier the glacier had released the clear blue ice with a sound louder than a cannon blast. She had watched in awe as it calved and cascaded into the thin arm of the bay, pushing water onto the glacial plateau, rocking the smaller ice pieces around it. An iceberg had been born before her eyes.
Hayley looked toward the maze of islands and coves that stretched along the Inside Passage. These were the moments she lived for – the raw beauty of the wilderness stirred a longing deep inside of her each time she stood in its midst. To her, nature was a kindred spirit and since she was a teen, she’d lived to protect it, from picketing at zoos to chaining herself to trees to protest against clear-cuts. That passion had led her to investigative reporting and she had covered the environment beat ever since.
She turned back to her camera. She had been in such awe of the moment, that she missed taking a photo and now struggled to capture the iceberg in some fashion. Words were her ability, to describe a moment rather than take a static image, but her prose wasn’t valued anymore. In the last round of cuts at the newspaper, her job landed on the chopping block. They no longer needed an environmental reporter – the stories from the wire were good enough.
To her dismay, the only job she could land was in public relations – she had crossed to the other side. And of all things, she was assigned a cruise ship company. Not only had she left her meaningful beat behind, she was now covering luxury travel, far from the world she had vowed to protect. Hayley spent years journeying to destinations, uncovering a story, or highlighting an area with natural heritage features, but in her new PR position she had an endless laundry list of tasks: photograph daily scenic shots, attend the workshops, interview the crew, plan the media trip with the photo workshop leader.
While her client was dining with the captain, she was running all over the ship to deliver the requested photos on time. And worse was, she didn’t have a creative eye. Some people could write music, others could dance to any beat, and photographers could capture a moment in one single image. She never could and always relied on publicity photos for her articles.
Yet she needed the job. She had a mortgage, car payments and college debt to pay. She had to hold onto the position at least until she found something better.
What made it worse was the client. Blake Harrison. The name already sounded harsh. He made it seem as if the free cruise was a big perk, yet with the workload she wouldn’t get much time to relax. On top of it, he didn’t cover any expenses and only dangled the carrot of a one-year contract if the cruise went well. She had to cobble together the money for the plane ticket to Vancouver and didn’t have much left over for a good camera. She had bought a cheap digital hoping it would do the job. She spent the first few days learning how to use it and then realized its deficiencies. It was slow in capturing images no matter what speed she set it for – how would she ever get the wildlife pictures she needed? And she never knew she had a shaky hand – all the years she wrote for the paper, if she used a camera, it was their top of the line models that had an image stabilization feature.
She looked over to the man on her right. He had more than one camera body, a large format camera in his hand and then a Nikon with a telephoto slung over his shoulder. After so many years of holding down a steady job, one in which she won awards, it was hard to believe that she was starting over. Her life had been set, and then the entire global economy got turned on its side and her industry took the biggest fall. At times it seemed her life was coming apart and there was no way she could hold it together. It was at moments like this that she felt tears building up, and she pressed her lips together to fight them off. It was so unprofessional, in the middle of strangers on the deck of a ship, on a work assignment, but lately she couldn’t control her emotions. She had dipped into her savings and was at the brink of financial collapse, not knowing where she would live or get health insurance from. The pressure month after month had become too much and she worried how she would cobble her life together.
She looked back to the sea, where the iceberg had turned exposing a large gap in the shape of a heart. Two thin arms of ice reached out to form an arch above the turquoise water. She felt small in the presence of these large cities of ice, these mountains that folded into the distance. It made her life and her problems seem inconsequential in the grander scheme of things.
The glacier was built one snowflake at a time, over thousands of years and it had now come to the end of its lifecycle, gracefully floating to whatever awaited it. Mammoth next to the ship, but the size of an ice cube when it reached the open ocean, it was changing, sliding to the edge, holding on, and then breaking, tumbling into the sea, sloshing about till it found solid footing in a new environment.
How unlike this piece of ice she herself was. It might float for years, enduring elements as it traveled along the coastline. It would eventually melt, bit by bit, erode and be forgotten. Would her life be much different? In time, her work would be cast aside, buried in cyberspace, nullified among more timely articles. Nor did her life matter to anyone but herself and her cat. She would be forgotten.
This is why she found solace in nature. It talked to her without a word. Thoughts slipped into her mind and found a home, made sense. There were times, in fact, that she found she was more interconnected with nature than people.
Hayley dropped her chin into the wide collar on her jacket and turned back to her camera bag. She pulled out an old tripod and started extending the legs. It was the one good thing about this cruise – when she was out in nature, she forgot the rest of her life. Even if she was stuck behind a camera lens for some of the next two weeks, she was still close to the one element that soothed her.
“Don’t bother setting up your tripod.”
The voice pulled Hayley out of her thoughts and she looked toward the man with broad shoulders and a pointy face. “I always use one.”
“You’ve never shot on a ship before.”
“Of course I have,” she lied, fumbling with the tripod legs splayed on the deck. She was in a time crunch to get a shot of the ice slab before the ship turned.
“It’s a moving platform.”
“I’ve got lots of space,” she said curtly. She looked beyond him, toward the fjord that stretched into the distance, then at his long lens and bulky camera bag. Perhaps he did know something.
“True but you’ll be buffeted from the wind.” He pointed his chin toward the fast-moving clouds, his windbreaker billowing from the breeze. “It will be useless.”
“I have an anchor,” she said sharply and hung her bag to the center post. She walked toward the other end of the deck to scout a scenic shot.
“Don’t leave your camera unattended.”
She didn’t have time to be interrupted – she had to get a good image and deliver it to her client in an hour. She threw her arms out toward the water surrounding them. “What? Someone’s going to run off with it?”
“I never leave my camera unattended.” He wrapped his long fingers around the body of his camera. “It’s too expensive.”
“Never say never.”
He paused for a moment. At the top of his head, a small patch of bald skin glistened in the afternoon sun that poured over the mountainous coast. “I never leave my camera.”
She rolled her green eyes. The man irritated her but the scenery was so beautiful that she didn’t want to leave the deck and miss something.
He walked toward her, then dug around in his bag and handed her a camera. “I used to shoot with this.”
“But good quality.”
He pushed his sunglasses onto his forehead, and showed her the camera settings. He had soft blue eyes, the color of the ice floating past them, and his long face led to a warm smile. Then he handed the camera to her. “Go get that iceberg.”
HAYLEY’S PONYTAIL bobbed from side to side as she walked toward the bow. Trevor watched her kneel next to her backpack and remove a filter. Even though she was tiny, her fiery curls gave her away from across the boat.
She rested her elbows on the railing and took a photo, then checked it in the viewfinder. A smile spread across her face and she turned to him with a thumbs-up. She walked further down the deck and took more pictures.
He knew the pressure of getting a good photo and could sense it a mile away. Besides, he had watched her for a while that afternoon. She seemed to be a perfectionist, muttering to herself and criticizing each shot she took. In time, she had stressed herself so much that it seemed nothing was working.
And then, the iceberg drifted by and she lowered her camera in awe. He heard her talk to it as if it were a human, and then she murmured over and over, “Stay strong,” and, as she did, her shoulders dropped. Trevor edged closer to her, drawn to the exclamation and the wonder in her expressions. She wasn’t the only one susceptible to the iceberg – the lower deck was crowded the moment the iceberg calved with a loud boom, and when he looked down all he witnessed was a maze of hands pointing, and then the gasps and shouts. But among that chaos there was a sense of peace with this woman, as if she had stepped into a bubble of calm. She said, “Stay strong” one more time and at that moment, he felt a warmth spread through the palm of his hand. The unthinkable had happened to Trevor. The entire time the iceberg had drifted by, he hadn’t taken one photo. Not one.
It seemed she had come to the realization at the same moment and fumbled with her camera. He focused his zoom lens and took a few photos, then turned back to her. It was then that he mentioned the tripod, and in doing so, seemed to pop her out of the magical bubble she was in. It didn’t surprise him when she got defensive – perfectionists always did.
Trevor looked back toward the woman who now leaned her chin on the far railing, watching. He zipped up his bag and jotted down a note, then speared it on the hook of her tripod’s center post. It read: “Play with the camera this afternoon. I’ll see you around. -T”
He hadn’t signed his name – he wanted to leave her with an air of mystery.
About the Author
Romance author, Amanda S. Jones, loves travel, chocolate and red wine. You’ll find all of these elements in the books she writes! Her first romance series, “Aqua” takes place on the cruise ship, Aqua, a slow-burning pleasure dome of food and attraction that spurs the reader’s imagination. Each book has exotic locations, sumptuous foods, seduction, enticement and true love, so open the pages and step aboard to see what’s in store for characters with the help of the ship’s crew, a romantic destination and a leap of faith.
If you’re interested in updates on Amanda and her book series, sign up for the Aqua Club newsletter on her website!