He squeezed Jade’s throat in a vice grip, cutting off her voice box and silencing her screams. She pulled at his arms in an attempt to free herself, but his hold was too tight. How did he find me? She’d planned this trip down to the smallest detail.
“Did you really think you could run from me, my kitten?” His raspy voice boomed in her eardrums like a vibration from a sound system. “You’ll be mine forever.” He leaned closer for a kiss.
The scent of bourbon repulsed her, sending her stomach into convulsions. She brought her knee up and thrust it into him. He swore and loosened his grip.
Jade bolted upright in the bed, her heart jackknifing to her throat. Her breathing came in rapid bursts. She groped for the lamp, turned it on, and glanced around her stateroom. Empty. It was just a dream.
She placed her hand on her heart in an attempt to slow its racing. Her nightgown—soaked from perspiration, clung to her body, and she shivered. She hugged her knees to her chest. Only a few more days and it would be done. You can do this.
The alarm clock read 5:30. She threw the covers off and jumped out of bed. No sense trying to go back to sleep now. The ship swayed slightly and Jade grabbed a nearby chair to steady herself. Not so fast. Perhaps Aiden was right. She needed to grow sea legs, but could she overcome her fears by spending the day so close to the water? Staying on the lower decks made her forget the environment.
She sighed and headed to the shower. If she could fight past ghosts, she could conquer her ocean phobia.
~ ~ ~
“Pardon me, is this lounge chair taken?” Sheldon, the ship’s purser, plunked himself down without waiting for Jade’s response.
She stuffed the pamphlet she’d been reading in her bag and grabbed her book. She couldn’t let prying eyes steal any glimpses of her plan. “I guess not.” It wasn’t like there weren’t other vacancies. The deck was half empty. However, she didn’t want to be rude. She forced a smile. “How are you today?”
“Good. What are you reading?” The attractive crewmember’s blonde curls peeked out from under his hat.
“A good ‘ole fashioned mystery.”
“Ah. You’re one of those types.”
She raised an eyebrow. “What type?”
“You know. Girl is in trouble. Guy comes in to save the day. Aren’t all girls wanting the guy to rescue her?”
Really? “Not all girls.”
He leaned closer. “Do you need saving?” His hollow voice whispered in her ear.
The conversation stilted, sending tingles throughout Jade’s body. She sucked in a breath and slammed her book closed. “Was there something you wanted?”
“How about a tour of the ship? Have you seen—”
“I don’t think she needs a tour from you, Sheldon.” Aiden pulled a chair to the other side of Jade. “I’ve been searching all over for you, my fair lady.”
Oh boy. Did she really need two men at her side? God, if you’re there, do something. “I’m taking your advice and growing sea legs.”
He smiled, his dimples lighting up his handsome face.
Her heart skipped a beat. Whoa. Where did that come from? She turned her gaze back to the purser to answer his invitation, but his look of disgust as he watched Aiden clamped her mouth shut. Did the two have a rivalry going?
Perhaps it was best if she got far away from both of these men. “I think I’ll take a nap. Didn’t get much sleep last night.” Well, it wasn’t a total lie. What she really planned was to meet a sweet older couple for some board games, but she wasn’t about to tell them that.
“I’ll give you my tour later.” Sheldon stood.
Aiden huffed, eyes narrowing as he shook his head.
Jade rushed off, keeping away not only from the railing, but the two feuding men.
~ ~ ~
Jade wiped at the ginger ale she spilled on her lavender ankle-length dress. Disgusted with her clumsiness, she rubbed harder. The evening festivities had only begun and she’d already made a mess. Her board game friends, the Duncan’s, had invited her to sit with them at the captain’s table since they had an extra couple of tickets. Another guest would join them, but they wouldn’t reveal the individual’s identity. Great. Just what she needed—matchmakers.
Mrs. Duncan put her hand on top of Jade’s. “Dear, it will come out with a dry-cleaning.” The older woman’s greying hair was swept back into a French twist. She adjusted her dangling diamond earrings.
Jade observed the formal dimly lit dining room. Their round table sat in the middle with red Victorian chairs at each setting. Fine bone china and crystal wine glasses sparkled from the chandelier hanging above them.
The captain stood. “Here comes the last guest. Mr. Mitchell, have a seat beside Miss Kellogg.”
Jade’s jaw dropped at the sight of him in his tuxedo. Gorgeous.
Aiden lifted her hand, kissing it lightly. “Good evening, my fair lady. You look beautiful.”
Heat flushed her cheeks. “You as well. Handsome, I mean. Not beautiful.” Stupid, Jade. What are you, a teenager?
He laughed and sat.
The captain cleared his throat. “Thanks everyone for sharing tonight’s events with me.” He raised his glass. “To a wonderful evening.”
Everyone followed suit, clinking one another’s glasses.
Jade enjoyed the meal consisting of lobster and steak served with rice pilaf, garnished with asparagus. Aiden had talked her ear off, but she didn’t mind. His company was delightful. However, the captain had stolen glances at her, putting Jade’s nerves on edge.
“Have you heard of the Cruise Caper?” Mrs. Duncan leaned forward.
“The what?” Jade blinked.
Aiden wiped his hands on a napkin. “The Cruise Caper preys on unsuspecting women, lures them in by promising true love, steals their money and valuables, and they disappear. Never to be heard of again.”
Jade dropped her knife. It clunked on her plate, silencing the conversation. Her mother was right. Perhaps she should’ve chosen a different type of vacation.
“I run a tight ship.” The captain adjusted his tie. “You’re safe with me.”
Aiden put his hand on top of hers. “And me.”
She snapped hers back. I can’t do this. Images of her husband flashed before her. She closed her eyes to push them away.
“I didn’t mean to startle you. Are you okay?”
She opened her eyes noticing his concern. “Just past demons.”
Dessert arrived. Thankful for the interruption, she glanced at the doorway. Sheldon watched them with his arms crossed. When their eyes met, he waved, pivoted, and left the room. She brought her attention back to the table. Weird.
Another crewmember approached the captain and whispered in his ear, handing him an envelope.
The captain nodded and turned to her. “This was left for you. We were told to give it to you right away.”
Mrs. Duncan rubbed Jade’s arm. “Dear, I hope everything’s okay.”
Jade’s fingers shook as she opened the envelope and pulled out the note. It held only one sentence.
“YOU CAN RUN, BUT YOU CAN’T HIDE.”
The ship lurched.
The chandeliers flickered and went out, leaving them in pitch-blackness.
. . . to be continued
Click here to go to Part Three – Half-Truths.
This first appeared in Christian Life in London.