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Their relationship had always been more comfortable than exciting, which was exactly what Jayna needed right now. The soft-spoken engineer wasn’t her usual type, but he was cute and sweet, and he treated her well. After her disastrous relationship with Ward, the latest in a series of exciting, handsome, successful men who turned out to be controlling, self-absorbed jerks, she had decided that dating her usual type was not working out so well.

Hand in hand they climbed several sets of stairs and walked through silent corridors. They emerged onto the Lido deck, which was alive with tiny maintenance bots cleaning and making minor repairs. Jayna’s schedule meant she was usually asleep during the early morning hours, and she rarely got to see the little mechanical workers in action.

Toren led her to a row of chairs on the eastern edge of the ship and they sat. The sunrise was spectacular. Bright pink clouds streamed across the dark cerulean sky. A light breeze carried with it the sound of gentle waves lapping against the ship.

But the peaceful beauty was overshadowed by the unusual circumstance, and Jayna’s apprehension had grown nearly unbearable. She removed the box of coffee from her bag and feigned nonchalance as she pulled the heating tab. “So, what’s this all about?”

Toren cleared his throat. “I got a call from Rotterdam this morning. They want me to take over a major project in the home office.”

Jayna sighed in relief. This would be Toren’s first work trip since they became a couple, and he was obviously concerned about how she’d take the news. “Congratulations! That’s exciting!”

She had always wanted to visit Europe, but since Toren was already using his annual plus-one privilege to get her onto his company’s Manutai shuttle, she’d have to go another time.

“How long will you be gone?”

Toren didn’t meet her eyes. “It’s a permanent reassignment.”

Her relief quickly evaporated. “Permanent? As in, you’re moving to the Netherlands?”

He nodded. “I am.”

Her heart sank. “Oh.” No wonder he had been worried about telling her.

She was still trying to understand what this new assignment meant for their relationship when an alarming thought entered her mind. “But not until we get back from Manutai, right?”

Toren glanced at her, and the awful truth was clear in his eyes. “They want me to start the day after tomorrow.”

Her alarm exploded into near panic. “So, you aren’t going to Manutai?”

“I’m afraid not.”

Son of a shark! Jayna’s mind raced. If Toren wasn’t going, that meant she wasn’t going, either. This was an absolute disaster. Jayna had to get to Manutai. Her future hinged on making connections at the Merfest and doing well in the Merathlon. Backing out was simply not an option.

She remembered Emmaline’s invitation from the night before, but quickly rejected the idea. There had to be another way, one that didn’t involve traveling with the handsome, successful, self-absorbed topper who now owned the company she worked for.

“Is there anyone else going to Manutai who would take me as their plus-one?” she asked, trying to keep the desperation from her voice.

Toren looked surprised, as if he hadn’t considered this possibility. “Let’s have a look.” He unrolled his tablet and gestured with his hand. His brow furrowed. “That’s odd. The Manutai shuttle is completely full. That rarely happens. And our seats have already been reassigned.”

Jayna’s heart sank further. Was this some kind of bad dream?

“Can you take a commercial flight?” Toren asked.

Jayna shook her head. “I can’t afford a ticket to Manutai. I could borrow the money, but if I don’t win, there’s no way I can pay it back.”

“Jayna, I’m so sorry.”

She had no idea what she was going to do, but none of this was Toren’s fault. She took his hand in hers. “It’s okay. This is the opportunity you’ve always wanted, and I’m happy for you. Really, I am.”

He wrapped his arm around her and pulled her close. She laid her head on his shoulder, and he kissed her forehead. They sat together in silence as the sky continued to brighten. A maintenance bot struggled against a piece of gum stuck to the deck, and Jayna’s mind raced trying to figure out how she could get to Manutai.

At last, Toren said, “You could come with me to Rotterdam.”

“What?” she said, unsure how traveling to Rotterdam would solve anything.

“Sure. You’ve always wanted to swim at Zeemeermin Zwemlagune. It’s not far from Van Dijk headquarters, and you could run your mermaid foundation there.”

Oh, shell. Here Toren was trying to figure out how to continue their relationship, and all she could think about was the Merathlon. She was a terrible girlfriend.