This week I will die, but I’ve never been happier.
Jade rubbed the bruise on her neck and searched the faces in the crowd below the docked Enchanted. Satisfied with her plan, she pumped her fist in the air. Freedom. She’d done it.
The ship rocked and her stomach lurched. She clutched the railing and stared at the water, her fears bubbling to the surface. She swallowed to suppress the rising anxiety. A cruise would not be her choice of vacations, but it was the perfect fit for her plan. And who wouldn’t want to see the scheduled ports of Juneau, Skagway, and Anchorage before they die?
Her mother had tried to persuade her not to go. “It’s no place for a single lady,” she said. “I’ve read about women disappearing lately from cruise ships.”
Jade reassured her mother they’d be lots of people to keep her company and out of harm’s way. She hated to lie and not tell her the reason for her trip, but the less she knew, the better. Plus, she’d try to talk her out of it and tell her to trust God. Something Jade had stopped doing after He failed to block her husband’s first devastating blow.
Pushing aside disturbing thoughts, Jade pulled streamers out of her pocket. Sheldon, the ship’s purser, gave them to her after checking her into Room 66 on the sixth level. She chuckled at the significance of the numbers. Nothing would ruin her trip—not even the devil himself.
Smiling, she threw the streamers over the railing, being careful not to get too close. They projected high and fell like fireworks into the crowd of onlookers waving goodbye.
Jade turned to catch the source of the silken voice and sucked in a breath. A blue-eyed, athletic man dressed in a golf shirt and dress pants leaned on the railing, grinning at her. His captivating smile lured her in.
God, is this a sick joke? She averted her gaze. She’d had enough of men, especially one in particular. A shudder ran up her spine at the thought of him.
She forced a smile. “Just pure luck.”
“I’m not so sure about that.” He held out his hand. “Aiden Mitchell.”
“Jade Kellogg.” She shook his hand.
“What a pretty name. Where are you from?”
She shifted her weight. Not her real name, but she couldn’t reveal any truths about herself. “Los Angeles.”
“The City of Angels.”
Aiden leaned in. His cologne tickled Jade’s sinuses. The rustic cedar smell wasn’t overpowering, but just enough to attract attention.
“Listen, I know this is rather forward, but I’d be honored if you would join me for supper tonight.”
Jade stiffened and took a step back. Yah, it is. She’d not fall for another handsome man, even if his dimples and ocean blue eyes enticed her. “I’m sorry Mr. Mitchell, but I can’t.” She pivoted and headed back to her cabin.
The horn blared, announcing their departure.
~ ~ ~
The evening music faded as the door shut and Jade stepped onto the deck. Dinner had been delicious, and the captain’s company at her table delightful, but she needed some alone time. She peeked over the railing. The waves slapped the side of the ship, rocking it like a mother would her newborn. She smiled and let the motion calm her, breathing in the sea salt fragrance as her fears dissipated bit by bit. I could get used to this.
Her long, chestnut hair danced in the gentle breeze. The full moon illuminated the deck, casting a romantic glow. A few couples stole time for a secluded moment.
Sighing, Jade tightened her shawl and steered herself in the opposite direction.
Faint footsteps echoed behind her in the stillness of the night. She halted and turned.
Her pulse quickened. She moved on but picked up her pace. The footsteps matched hers in urgency.
Could he have found her? No, she’d planned this too well. His face flashed before her and she dug her nails into her palms in an attempt to ward off the memory of their last encounter. Rubbing her neck where he’d left his mark, she exhaled slowly to calm her nerves.
Jade peeked over her shoulder but only found an empty corridor.
Her imagination and mother’s warnings played tricks on her. Rushing around the corner, she collided with Aiden.
“Whoa, Jade. Where’s the fire?”
“Someone’s following me.” Her words were raspy and broken between breaths.
Aiden glanced up and down the corridor. “Are you sure?”
“Yes, I heard them. You think I’m paranoid.” Maybe she was.
“Of course not. Why did you leave the lounge so soon?”
Had he been watching her? She fiddled with the tassels on her shawl. “The long day has caught up to me. I’m not used to the fresh air and open sea.”
“Tomorrow is a travel day, so you should relax on the deck with a book. Get your sea legs. Are you on vacation?”
His nosey demeanor was beginning to irritate her. “Yes. And you?”
He unbuttoned the top of his shirt and loosened his tie. “Partly. I’m checking out deals for my employers.”
“What type of work are you in?”
Really? Sounded like a cliché to her. Could she trust him? Perhaps he’d been the person following her. The hairs on her arms prickled.
Faking a yawn, she checked her watch. “Time to turn in. G’night.” She hurried toward the door and turned.
He left as quickly as he’d appeared.
. . . to be continued
Click here to go to Part Two – The Cruise Caper.