Neve Dalton smiled as she changed into her white bikini. Five hours of freedom, and she intended to spend at least four of them relaxing. And woe betide anyone who disturbed her.
Clutching a towel and a canvas bag with her sunscreen, e-reader, and bottle of water, she sprinted up three flights of curved stairs from her staff cabin to the sundeck of the Lady Nadia cruise ship.
The only person there was the barman, who was restocking the large fridges at the stern, and she nodded in satisfaction at the sight of the deserted decks of the cruise ships moored on each side of the Nadia. Although she loved her job, she always enjoyed this peaceful interlude between the departure of one tour group and the arrival of the next.
She chose a sun lounger near the rail, from where she could see across the deck of the neighbouring ship to her favourite view. The blue Nile and the white Theban hills on the far side of the river shimmered in Egypt’s furnace-like afternoon heat.
After daubing herself liberally with sunscreen, she adjusted the large parasol to give some protection from the burning sun, and opened her e-reader to catch up with the latest articles in the Journal of Egyptian Archaeology. Once she’d done that, she leaned back, relaxed, and closed her eyes.
Less than ten minutes later, conscious of something she couldn’t quite define, she half-opened one eye. A broad chest, partly hidden by an unbuttoned blue shirt, filled her line of vision.
Squinting against the brightness, she saw strong arms and well-formed hands, which curved over the top rail of the neighbouring Lady Amirah’s sundeck. Her gaze travelled down, taking in the chest with its smattering of dark hair, the curve of slim hips in well-fitting red swimming trunks, and long, muscular legs.
Mmm, rather nice.
‘Good afternoon,’ he said.
Embarrassed by her survey of his body, she looked up at his face. Even though he wore sunglasses, she knew he was staring at her.
‘Oh – hello.’ She sat upright and wished she could pull her large towel around her as a shield against his scrutiny.
He slid his sunglasses to the top of his head, flattening his thick, dark hair, and her breath hitched at the sight of his amazing blue eyes. They reminded her of the shimmering ultramarine water of the ship’s swimming pool. His tanned features were as impressive as his strong physique – broad forehead, high cheekbones, the slight indent of dimples in his cheeks, a wide mouth, and a finely chiselled jaw.
Some primeval response stirred inside her.
‘I was admiring your beautiful figure.’ His deep voice held the faint trace of a Scottish accent. ‘I hope you don’t object?’
A shaft of disappointment quenched her initial spark of interest. For some reason, she’d expected him to be different from the smooth-talking posers who sometimes tried to chat her up. Instead, it seemed he was simply another cruise ship Casanova who thought flattering words in a deep, honey-rich voice would make women fall at his feet.
Politeness to guests was rule number one, however, since he was on the Amirah, one of Nadia’s sister ships. Her professional persona surfaced. ‘Not at all.’ She kept her voice casual while giving what she hoped was her best I know your type and you don’t impress me one bit smile.
‘You look lonely,’ he said.
Since her coolness hadn’t put him off, she reached for the bottle of sunscreen from the small table next to her lounger. ‘I’m enjoying the solitude. It doesn’t happen very often.’ Maybe he’d take the hint from that.
He didn’t. ‘Where’s everyone else?’
‘If you mean the guests, they’ve gone to the airport. The next group is due to arrive about five o’clock.’
‘Ah, you’re staff, are you? What do you do? No, don’t tell me—’ His glance slid down her body again. ‘With a figure like yours, you have to be with the Health and Fitness Club.’
‘I’m a tour guide,’ she replied, with as much dignity as she could muster.
‘Oh, one of those.’
She bristled with indignation. Not just a cruise ship Casanova, but a rude one, too. ‘One of those? What’s that supposed to mean?’
He shrugged. ‘You hear them everywhere you go. Churning out half-baked facts from poorly written and often inaccurate guidebooks.’
Her indignation flared into annoyance. ‘And that’s what you think tour guides do?’
‘Most of them, yes.’
The man was insufferable. If she wasn’t so annoyed by his condescending dismissal, she’d tell him she held a degree in Egyptology. But he wasn’t worth the effort. Anyway, he’d probably make another derogatory comment in response.
‘And what do you do?’ she asked with sugar-coated politeness.
‘I’m an archaeologist.’
‘Oh, one of those.’