Jade crumbled the note and threw it to the ground. No way he found me. Tremors racked her body. She pulled her legs up and wrapped her arms around them, squeezing her eyes shut. Would that stop the terror threatening to plummet her over the edge?
“Jade, what is it?” Aiden grabbed her hands. “You’re freezing.” He rubbed them feverishly.
“He found me,” she whispered. She opened her eyes, tears cascading as she stared at the discarded note.
He followed her gaze and picked the paper up, smoothing it out. “Impossible.” He sat on the end of the lounge chair and pulled her close. “I’ll keep you safe.”
She stiffened. Empty words. He meant well, but she’d been down this path before. Time to put her plan into action. Tomorrow. They’d be docking in Seward.
Could she hide until then?
“Jade, what’s going through that head of yours?”
She stood and walked to the edge, staring out at the moon glistening on the ocean. Dare she share her plan? What if he tried to stop her? She couldn’t take that chance. “Nothing. Just tired.”
He leaned against the railing, his back to the water. “Stop lying to me. I can protect you.”
“Not from him. It’s time.”
She bit her lip. She’d said too much. Faking a yawn, she drew her sweater closer. “I need to go.”
Aiden scowled. “I can’t leave you alone.”
“Well, you can’t follow me all night.” A door slammed in the distance and she startled, leaving her with a foreboding trepidation.
“I’ll see if there’s anyone in the room next to you. If need be, I’ll camp outside your door.” He took her hand. “I won’t be far away. I promise.”
She nodded. God, are you there? I could really use your help.
An hour later, Jade snuggled deeper under the covers as if that would ward off any potential threats. The moonlight acted as a nightlight in the otherwise dark cabin. Aiden was able to move into the room next door. Close but still too far.
The Cruise Caper had remained silent all evening. And Sheldon had disappeared. Coincidence? The captain had requested Aiden keep an eye out for him as he was under suspicion. Could Sheldon be the infamous villain? A draft crept into her room like a slithering snake, sending her teeth chattering. How would she be able to sleep now?
~ ~ ~
A rustling noise woke Jade, jarring her senses to high alert. She bolted upright in bed. The early sun streaked orange lines from the half-open blinds, illuminating a white envelope by the door.
Jade’s muscles tensed. Not another note. Dare she? What if it was from him?
But she had to know. She eased out of bed and tiptoed to the door as if making a sound would disturb whoever sent the note. She slid her clammy fingers under the tab.
Meet me on the deck at 6:00 a.m. I have a plan.
Jade tapped the card on her chin. Should she? What did he mean he had a plan?
Not that it really mattered after today, but curiosity got the better of her. She checked her watch. 5:30. Enough time to change and head topside.
Moments later, she stepped out of the cabin, but before she could lock the door, a strong hand covered her mouth. Sweat assaulted her nose as he pulled her closer.
A steel blade pressed against her neck.
Her pulse hitched. She froze.
“Scream and I’ll kill you.” His raspy, hollow voice whispered. “You’re too predictable. I knew a note from him would send you running.”
His foul breath repulsed her. She clutched her stomach in an attempt to stop the nausea wanting to expel.
How could she be so stupid?
“Get in your cabin. Now!” He pushed her and she stumbled into the room. “You should have stayed away from Aiden. He’s moving in on my ladies.”
She turned and gasped. “Captain?”
His eyes flashed. “He couldn’t leave well enough alone.”
“But why come after me? I’m not rich.”
“Contrary to the stories, I don’t always go after money. When I see a beautiful woman, I go for her.” He caressed her cheek.
She recoiled. “Stay away from me or I’ll scream!”
The captain waved his knife. “No, you won’t. I’m here to get what I want. And I want you.”
Jade held up her hand. “Wait. Why the notes?”
He chuckled. “Just a diversion. Your ex and I were cellmates. I recognized you instantly from your picture. This never was about him. You’re mine.” He licked the edge of the knife and took a step.
The door burst open.
“Stop, police!” Aiden charged into the room with his weapon raised. “Let her go, Captain. It’s over.”
“How did you—”
Sheldon stepped from behind Aiden with the Staff Captain. “Nice try, locking me in the engine room and casting blame on me. Joe here found me.”
The Staff Captain moved closer. “I was the only one aware of Aiden’s cover, so I contacted him immediately.”
“We knew you’d come after her, so I’ve been watching closely.” Aiden pointed his gun. “Put down the knife. Now.”
“Tell me, how did you figure it out?” The captain sneered.
“We suspected Sheldon and had him under surveillance for three years. He was the common link, but we couldn’t prove it. I started traveling, posing as an antiquities dealer to catch him. The Staff Captain has been helping me.” He paused. “You were a surprise.”
The captain snorted. “He was my scapegoat. I kept following him around, getting assigned to the same ships.” He waved the knife at Sheldon. “You were an easy target.”
Jade took a step backward. Could she distance herself from the Cruise Caper? She clenched her fists. She wouldn’t take another man’s abuse.
Sheldon swore. “Why you—” He lunged for the man, but the captain sidestepped him.
He grabbed Jade and shoved her in front, placing the knife across her neck. “Don’t move or I’ll kill her!”
Aiden lifted his gun. “Captain, let’s talk about this.” His eyes locked with hers.
What did she see there? Did he care for her? Heat flushed her cheeks. Not from embarrassment but anger. Anger toward the man who held the knife to her neck. For letting another man control her. Anger for not having the chance to love someone like Aiden Mitchell. Anger toward herself for not trusting in the only One who could deliver her from evil.
Lord, save us from this situation. I give myself totally to you. Now and for whatever amount of time I have left on this earth. If it’s only five minutes, I give it to you. Save Aiden and these men. Give me strength.
Jade drew in a long, steady breath and eyed Aiden, hoping her gaze told him her intention. Her resolution. She. Would. Not. Take. Any. More. Abuse. Not this time.
She balled her hand into a fist and with all the strength she could muster, she thrust her elbow deep into the captain’s ribs. Enough for him to loosen his grip.
She dropped as Aiden took his shot.
The captain fell to the floor, blood pooling.
~ ~ ~
Jade rested her head back and closed her eyes as she waited for the Alaska Railway train to pull out and begin its trek deep into the mountains, far away from the cruise ship. Jade had left Aiden and the other men when the Coast Guard arrived. It was her time to disappear. As much as it hurt, it was necessary to distance herself from the man she was falling in love with.
She glanced at the snow-covered mountain peaks. Her destination. She would live in the backwoods of the Alaskan towns. Until she could be sure Nathanial thought she was dead. Maybe it would be forever. She prayed her mother would forgive her.
Thank you, Lord for keeping us safe and for bringing me back to You. Forgive me for not trusting You with my life.
“Did you really think you could leave without saying good-bye?”
Jade bolted upright in the seat. “Aiden? How did you find me?”
“I’m the RCMP, remember? Where do you think you’re going?”
“Dying to the world, so I can live.”
“Then I’m going with you.”
Jade sucked in a breath. “You can’t do that. You have your life in the RCMP.”
“That’s where you’re wrong. The phone call I received last night? It was my supervisor warning me that the leader of a mob I arrested last year was just released from jail on a technicality. He’s threatening my life. I’m supposed to go into witness protection.”
“But why would you disappear with me? You barely know me.”
He caressed her cheek. “A hunch. I know you feel the same. Tell me I’m wrong.”
She glanced out the window.
“I knew it.”
“I’m scared. My track record with men isn’t good.”
“I’m not Nathanial.”
She smiled through tears.
Jade moistened her lips and inched toward him. His kiss sent a spark of electricity through her body. Slowly, they released their embrace. With foreheads touching, she gazed into his eyes. “I choose life,” she whispered.
The horn from The Enchanted sounded in the distance, announcing its departure.
. . . The End
This first appeared in Christian Life in London.