Screams erupted as the ship rocked in darkness. Did he find me? There’s no way. Jade’s pulse thrashed in her head, intensifying with each beat. Tingling sensations rippled through her body and she panted like a dog on a hot day. No, not now! She gripped the armrests, bracing herself for what would come next. Bile filled her throat and her stomach heaved.
A flash of memory took her back to a similar incident when she was eight, and on her father’s fishing boat. Her panic attacks began that frightful night and have plagued her ever since.
The lights snapped back on, jerking her into the present. Heaviness filled her chest and she doubled over putting her head between her knees.
Aiden touched her back. “Are you okay? What’s wrong?”
“I’ll. Be. Fine.” Her words came between breaths. She inhaled and exhaled slowly, calming her racing heartbeat. And your touch isn’t helping. It sent a different type of shiver through her body. One she had to ignore.
Canned murmurs of the tunnel-like conversations in the room came into focus and she sat upright, easing her eyes open. The room spun but leveled off within seconds.
Mrs. Duncan leaned over. “Are you sick, dear?”
“Panic attack. I get them every now and then. The storm and the lights going out must have triggered it.” Liar. Well, a partial truth. The message in the note was the real reason.
She sucked in a breath. The note! Where was it? It had slipped from her fingers as the lights went out. She had to hide it. It would bring too many questions. Questions she couldn’t answer without revealing her plan. She searched her place setting, under her napkin, her chair, and the floor. Gone. Why would someone take it?
“What are you looking for?” Aiden’s brows rose.
The previous conversation about the Cruise Caper resurfaced, sending her nerves dancing all over again. She stared into his eyes and searched for some sort of hidden agenda. Nothing. Only kindness gazed back at her.
Then again, kindness got her into trouble in the first place.
No, she couldn’t trust another man. “Nothing important.”
Mrs. Duncan yelped, interrupting their conversation. “They’re gone.” She clutched her ears. “My diamond earrings. Someone stole them.” Tears ran down her face.
The captain bolted out of his chair. “What?” He signaled for some of his staff to come over. “Are you sure you wore them?”
Mrs. Duncan’s eyes narrowed. “Of course I’m sure. We ladies don’t forget our accessories.”
Jade suppressed a smile. The older woman had spunk. “She did. I was admiring them earlier.”
“Could it be the Cruise Caper?” Mr. Duncan grabbed his wife’s hand and caressed it.
“That’s not his style.” Aiden took a sip of water.
“How do you know so much about him?” Jade crossed her arms, waiting for his response.
“My antiquity business takes me all over the world and I prefer cruises, so I’ve heard many stories about him.”
His answer niggled at Jade. Or perhaps she was just being jumpy after the menacing message she received. Could the person who stole Mrs. Duncan’s earrings also have taken the note? But why?
The other cruise officers approached the table. “We’re not taking chances.” The captain took Mrs. Duncan by the elbow, helping her up. “Let’s go document everything and we will report it to the authorities.”
The group left with the Duncan’s, leaving Jade alone with Aiden.
A pregnant pause blanketed their table. Another clap of thunder roared, but the ship remained steady.
Jade let out a breath, not realizing she’d been holding one.
“Are you sure you’re okay?” Aiden turned his chair to face her head on.
Oh boy. There was no escaping this handsome stranger. Or stopping the butterflies from taking flight in her stomach. Not even talk of the Cruise Caper.
Perhaps some half-truths would stop his questions. “When I was younger, I sometimes went with my father on his fishing trips. One night an unexpected storm-tossed the boat relentlessly. I hid in a closet scared to death.” Her heart palpitated. She closed her eyes to push away the fear threatening to resurface.
Aiden squeezed her hand. “You don’t have to tell me if it hurts too much.”
She opened her eyes. “That night will remain etched in my mind forever.” She bit her lip. “After what seemed like an eternity, I came out of the closet because I thought the storm was over. I went out on the deck just as another wave hit. I was thrown and would’ve been tossed into the sea if it wasn’t for my father.” A tear pooled and trickled down her cheek. “He saved me, but in the process, he fell overboard. We lost him that night.”
Aiden wiped her tear, his fingers lingering on her cheek. “I’m so sorry. That’s a tough pain to forget.”
“Yes.” There’s more, but I can’t tell you.
“Do you believe in God?”
“Yes, why?” She didn’t like where this conversation was going.
“He can help you with the pain.”
She bolted out of her chair. “Where was God on that boat? Where is He now?”
“What do you mean?”
Jade snapped her lips shut. She’d said too much already. “Never mind. It’s late and I’m tired.”
He frowned. “I’ll walk you to your room.”
Knowing he’d resist if she turned him down, she let him lead her out of the dining room. As they exited, the captain re-entered through another door, staring her down. She’d felt his eyes on her all evening. Why? Goosebumps prickled her arms. She needed to steer clear of the captain.
“I didn’t mean to offend you earlier. God is just a big part of my life and I bring my worries to Him.” Aiden took her arm and looped it through his as they walked down the corridor. “I hated to see you in pain.”
She nodded but remained silent.
They reached her door. “Thanks for the escort, fine sir.”
“Are you up to sight-seeing in Ketchikan tomorrow? I know some amazing spots and where to find the best shopping boutiques.” He smiled.
Those dimples did it to her again.
The butterflies danced in her stomach. Was she?
The ship lurched, throwing her into his arms.
. . . to be continued
Click here to go to Part Four – Ketchikan Ghosts.
This first appeared in Christian Life in London.