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It was early April, the day before Dr. Gabrielle Grinage's official duties were to begin on a new job. She was unable to control her quivering stomach, yet her hazel eyes drank in the unfamiliar surroundings as slender fingers smoothed her thick, chestnut-brown French braid.
Here I am. Only the passage of time will let me know if my choice was a wise one.
Comfortably seated in the front row of a new employee orientation seminar/luncheon, Gabrielle felt at peace aboard the extravagantly beautiful cruise ship, the Parisian Paradise. This magnificent cruise liner was one of many fabulous ships that sailed under the popular Fantasy Islands Fleet. As she listened intently to the speaker, her eyes encompassed him.
"Ah, here he is," Grey Sadler enthusiastically announced, "Dr. Cameron Quinn. This is the enormously talented medical commander you'll take orders from. I have to warn you, Dr. Quinn is a tyrant and he expects nothing less than excellence and dedication from his medical staff." Grey chuckled. "He's also a phenomenal doctor and one of the fairest people I know."
As Dr. Quinn strolled to the podium, he held his head high and his shoulders back. After shaking the hand of the cruise director, he positioned himself at the podium. Cameron's smoky black eyes roved the vast group of new and veteran employees. His porcelain white teeth and gleaming smile captured the audience's attention and his deep voice raptly held it.
"Welcome to each of you! It's a privilege and an honor to have you on my staff." Cameron's eyes shone brightly. "All I expect from you is your absolute very best. I require my staff to attend every training session and to be present at all personnel meetings. We have to be a tightly knit group on this ship, and I demand that we work as a close unit."
Dr. Quinn spoke about the rigid policies and specific rules that governed the ship's infirmary and its personnel. He gave a brief summary of his educational background and his amazing career history. His extensive travels to numerous exotic locations around the world were touched upon fleetingly. He casually mentioned that he was thirty-three. His single status produced broad smiles from different groups of females seated close by.
"I want each new staff member to feel like they're a part of our medical family. If not, we'll figure out why they don't. Our team relies on and believes in each other. We're together for hours on end, so we must learn how to cohabitate harmoniously. Welcome aboard the magnificent Parisian Paradise!" He raised his water glass in a toast.
Gabrielle couldn't take her eyes off Cameron. She guessed his height to be around six-two or six-three. His physique boasted a tapered waistline and remarkably broad chest and shoulders. She imagined him sporting a six-pack wall of impenetrable steel abs beneath his stark-white shirt. Sewn onto each shoulder of the shirt were gold symbols indicating his official ranking and gold braided medical insignias. Around his neck he wore an anchor on a thick gold chain.
Cameron Quinn, M.D., was gorgeous and, from all indications, highly intelligent. Curly and satiny, his dark brown hair had premature graying at the temples. His clean-shaven, olive-brown complexion only added to his good looks. His fit physique was perfectly proportioned with his stature. From Gabrielle's standpoint, he had it going on in looks, but she was more curious as to what his intellect would bring to the table.
Cameron took a gulp of water. "Our crew always has each other's backs, and we never indulge in petty arguing and backbiting. As staff members, we may not agree on every issue, but we'll eventually work things out. Again, welcome aboard the magnificent Parisian Paradise!"
A standing ovation took place as Dr. Quinn left the podium.
Cameron Quinn had impressed Gabrielle greatly. His personality was refreshing.
If he's as easy to work with as he is to look at and listen to, we should get along just fine.
Practicing medicine on a cruise ship hadn't been one of Gabrielle's goals during medical school, and she'd only recently opted to give it a try. The chance to travel to exotic ports had also figured into her decision. Several of her friends in the medical field worked aboard cruise ships and they positively loved it. The salary was decent and the living arrangements would save her from financially draining monthly expenses. Five months onboard with five weeks off was a normal work schedule for doctors, nurses and various other medical staffers.
Gabrielle didn't think that two or three years away from a private career in an internal practice would hurt her chances of getting back into mainstream medicine. She was only thirty and had lots of good years ahead of her. Deep thoughts, along with playing the devil's advocate, had helped to guide her to this decision. Treating those in need of excellent health care was in her DNA.
Born and raised in Galveston, Texas, the ship's homeport, she felt privileged to sail each seven-day itinerary from her birthplace. The Parisian Paradise docked for several hours. And Gabrielle planned to meet her family when time permitted.
Gabrielle knew what she'd like to do with her leisure timeget to know Cameron.
Gabrielle watched Cameron's every move. He walked with confidence, holding his head up as if he knew he was a man to be reckoned with. As he took time to shake hands and speak with other attendees, she studied him closely, pleasantly surprised that he hadn't headed straight for the table occupied by all the powers that be. Growing more and more curious about the man she was to work directly under, she could hardly wait for their first encounter.
Gabrielle took notice of everything that happened close to where she sat. She got a good feeling about the crew. She was optimistic and hoped she'd fit in well.
When the meeting adjourned, the dark-haired woman who was seated next to Gabrielle turned to her. She held out a friendly hand in greeting. "I'm Marjorie Carson, a crewmember and an R.N. Welcome aboard! It's probably a safe bet that we'll work together. Do you want to get something to eat and drink?"
Gabrielle briefly took Marjorie's hand. "Thank you. I'm Gabrielle Grinage, M.D. I'm sure we'll share many shifts, and I'd love for us to break bread together. I noticed that they were laying out covered dishes and bread baskets as orientation wound down. It smells divine."
Marjorie nodded in agreement. "They lay it out big during employee events. Like Dr. Quinn said, we're one big happy family
"I take it that you're not a new employee. How long have you worked on the Parisian Paradise?"
"I've been assigned to this ship for two years," Marjorie responded. "And I love it. I joined the luxury cruise line profession at twenty-six. I'm now twenty-eight."
Gabrielle nodded, smiling. "Are you contracted for five months on and five weeks off?"
"One and the same, Dr. Grinage. I like the schedule. Looks like we'd better claim a table then get in line before it gets too crowded," Marjorie said.
"Good suggestion." Gabrielle smiled as she got to her feet.
The two women quickly claimed a premier window booth. Once the waiter poured ice water and iced tea into crystal goblets, the ladies headed toward the buffet lines. Marjorie chatted up Gabrielle about some of the infirmary duties.
Back at the table within minutes, carrying plates loaded with salads and seafood, the two women wasted no time in dipping into their food.
"Tell me a little about yourself, that is, if you don't mind," Marjorie suggested.
Gabrielle gave a brief rundown on her educational background before getting into personal areas. "I'm happily single." She held up her bare ring finger. "My parents and three of my four brothers practice medicine. Mom and Dad are retired internal medicine specialists."
As the only female sibling, Gabrielle told Marjorie, her family had nearly spoiled her rotten. No one in the Grinage clan had vocally approved or disapproved of where and how she'd chosen to practice medicine. Her decision to treat patients on a cruise ship had come as a total shock to them. However, everyone in the family was encouraged to choose their own destiny.
Marjorie appeared very interested in what Gabrielle shared. "What do your brothers do in the wide-open field of medicine?"
Gabrielle laid a napkin across her lap. "Ryan, the oldest, is an anesthesiologist, and Maxwell is an OB/GYN. Jonathan, the next to the youngest, is a pediatrician. Christopher is a hospital administrator and a Ph.D."
Gabrielle's brothers, Ryan and Maxwell, were partners in a very successful private practice. None of the siblings were married and they all lived locally. Both parents had contributed thirty-five years of work in the medical field to Galveston Island residents.
"Wow! An entire family working in the medical field is awesome," Marjorie said.
"It is amazing." Gabrielle glanced around the room, hoping to get another glimpse of Cameron. Much to her surprise, many of the attendees had formed a line to meet him. He was seated alone at a large table. "Is meeting Dr. Quinn part of the orientation?"
Marjorie shook her head. "Not formally, but most people want to meet him. Like me, everyone here isn't a new employee. Many of us return to this orientation just to mingle and greet the ship's newcomers. Dr. Quinn has attended every orientation since I've been here. Do you want to meet him?"
Gabrielle chuckled. "Not if I have to stand in a long line." She grew silent, looking toward the end of the line. "It'll take an hour or more to get to him. Maybe I'll go over when the crowd thins."
"You won't be sorry. He's approachable and very easy to talk to. He's popular with the entire crew."
Gabrielle's eyes strayed back to Dr. Quinnand she really liked what she saw.
Marjorie laughed. "You're taking a real good look at the single and available Dr. Quinn. The man is so down-to-earth. I don't know a single soul who doesn't like working with him."
Gabrielle turned her attention back to Marjorie. "That's good to know. Arrogant pretty boys don't interest me, but I'd love to have a great working relationship with Dr. Quinn. Maybe you can stop by his table with me once we finish eating."
Marjorie smiled. "I'd be happy to introduce you two."
A good-looking male suddenly called out to Marjo-rie from a short distance away.
A huge smile brightened Marjorie's mocha complexion. "That's Tristan Meadows heading this way. He's also a nurse and he has a crush on me," Marjorie whispered lowly, looking around for her napkin.
Watching the rapidly approaching Tristan, Gabrielle lifted an eyebrow. He was nearly as handsome as the commander. His body wasn't as chiseled as Cameron's, yet he had a solid physique. His broad smile revealed shining white teeth.
"Hey, ladies," Tristan said cheerfully. He extended his tawny-brown hand to Gabrielle and added, "Welcome aboard the Parisian Paradise. I'm Tristan Meadows. It's a pleasure meeting you."
Gabrielle shook his hand. "Nice to meet you, too, Tristan. I'm Gabrielle Grinage."
Tristan sat down next to Marjorie. "So you're the new doctor? I look forward to working with you, Dr. Grinage," he said with sincerity.
Gabrielle smiled. "I'd be happy if you both called me by my first name. No titles are necessary." Hoping to put him at ease, Gabrielle gave him a warm smile.
Tristan smiled back at Gabrielle. "You can count on it." His dark brown eyes softened as he gazed into Marjorie's ebony eyes. "Perhaps you can put in a good word for me with Marjorie. She's not taking me seriously."
"Tristan, stop it," Marjorie weakly demanded, her mocha cheeks flushed with embarrassment. "Gabrielle is not interested in our personal lives. Put a lid on it."
Gabrielle's laughter trilled. "I'm interested in the lives of anyone I'm privileged to work with. But, Tristan, I can't possibly put in a good word for you. That is, not until I get to know if you'd be good for Marjorie."
Gabrielle looked across the room and saw that the lines leading to Dr. Quinn had thinned considerably. Feeling courageous, she stood. "I'll be back. It's time to meet my boss."
"Decided to go it alone, huh? Good for you," Mar-jorie said.
After telling the couple to save her seat, Gabrielle excused herself.
The butterflies suddenly occupying her stomach had Gabrielle's insides quivering again. With only a few people ahead of her, she felt sweat forming on her palms. She had no clue why she was so nervous, but she couldn't rule out the fabulous looks and the suave demeanor of the commander, the man she would soon work closely with.
Cameron got to his feet just as Gabrielle reached him. He instantly extended his hand to her. "Hello, Dr. Grinage. I'm glad we're finally meeting. Please allow me to personally welcome you aboard your new home."
"Thank you, Dr. Quinn." Overwhelmed by his warm attention, Gabrielle had a hard time finding her voice. "It's nice to meet the commander I've heard so much about."
"Please sit down," Cameron offered. "I'd like to hear what you've heard."
Before taking a seat, she looked behind her, surprised to see she was last in line. She took in a few calming breaths as she sat. "What I've heard has been good. I also read your medical bio inside the orientation packet. It was amazing." The absence of a picture had made her wonder what he might look like.
Cameron grinned. "I've also read your bio. I was impressed. You come from quite a medical family. My parents own and manage a couple of apartment buildings in Houston. They're very happy with their lives, but they wanted their only son to be a doctor."
Gabrielle frowned. "You became a doctor for your family?"
Cameron laughed. "If it hadn't also been my own dream, I couldn't have accomplished it. My mom always talks about how I loved to play doctor when I was little. I love being a physician. More than that, I love helping those in need."
"I know what you mean. Helping others is one of the main reasons I wanted to be a physician. I also played doctor. My little male chauvinist friends thought I should be the nurse, but I had bigger and brighter ideas."
Cameron laughed. "Sounds like you took charge. What made you want to try practicing medicine on the high seas?"
Gabrielle looked thoughtful. "I'm adventurous by nature. I like to try new things. I heard most of the pros and cons from friends who work on cruise ships. I took everything I learned into consideration, then I decided to just try it."
Cameron smiled. "I think you'll find the job rewarding and enjoyable, just as I do. Working on a cruise ship is altogether different from the world of medicine we started out in. We're more limited here, and if it comes to drastic measures, we often have to make arrangements for emergency transportation to take patients to a hospital on land."