Time swept Jade away, creeping in slow motion like an old movie as she stared into Aiden’s blue eyes. His embrace tightened, and a thrill tingled down her body, leaving her breathless. She reveled in the strength she drew from his hold. Too much. The ship rocked a few more times before steadying itself, but their gaze remained anchored.
He leaned in.
Her heart hammered. Laughter mumbled in the distance, stealing the moment. She cleared her throat and stepped back.
“G’night.” She took her key from her purse and unlocked the door.
“See you at 8:00 for our sight-seeing adventure?”
Her head told her to stay as far away as possible, but her heart disagreed. “Sure.” She stepped inside her room, closing the door without another look into his eyes. If she did, she might not be able to escape his lure a second time. She groaned.
Tomorrow she’d enjoy their day together, but remember where her plan would take her.
Without the handsome Mr. Mitchell.
~ ~ ~
Jade inched closer to the deck’s edge, eyes glued to the mountains standing tall in the background of the Ketchikan port as if protecting its residents like a sentential from any evil forces. Could it be that easy? God, why didn’t you keep me safe? Contents of the missing note she received last night ushered years of abuse and torment to the forefront of her mind.
She tightened her grip on the steel railing, its coolness turning warmer with her rising temperature. What was she thinking going alone to a foreign destination with a man she’d just met? Isn’t this how she got into her mess?
Walk away. She spun on her heels to leave, but Sheldon appeared at her side, blocking her exit.
“Miss Kellogg? Can I speak to you a moment?”
Wind gusted, picking up her hat.
He reached to catch it and stepped into her personal space, lingering before handing over her hat.
Disgust snaked through her as she suppressed a grimace. “Morning, Sheldon. What’s up?” She inched back. Something about this man gave her the creeps.
“How about I show you the sights of Ketchikan? I know some great spots.”
What was it with men? “Thanks, but actually, I have a guide for today.”
Her Mama taught her to be kind, so she kept the retort she wanted to say to herself. “Mr. Mitchell.”
His lips pursed.
“You don’t approve?”
Sheldon cursed. “Miss Kellogg, be careful of that man.”
“You haven’t heard the stories?”
Jade crossed her arms. “If you’re referring to the Cruise Caper, then yes, I’ve heard. You think it’s him?”
Sheldon smirked. “He’s charming and deceptive. And, he comes on a lot of our cruises.”
No way. It can’t be. Could it? “If he is the Cruise Caper, why would he target me? I’m not rich.”
“Just warning you. Don’t trust him.” Sheldon pivoted and stormed off.
Jade’s jaw dropped. Should she listen?
The captain stood by the door, watching her. Quickly, he too turned and walked away. Her nerves twitched. What was with everyone on this ship?
“Ready for an adventure?”
Jade startled at Aiden’s baritone voice. “You scared me.”
“Sorry. Are you still jumpy from last night?”
Her heart fluttered at the sight of him in his blue golf shirt and tan pants. Calm down, Jade. Remember your plan doesn’t involve him. “I just had the strangest conversation with Sheldon.”
Aiden’s eyes narrowed. “Don’t trust him.”
“Funny, that’s exactly what he said about you. Do the two of you have a feud going?”
“He’s a sore loser. I beat him at poker all the time.” He took her by the arm. “Enough about him. Are you ready to tour Ketchikan?”
She had nowhere to run now. “Of course.” She took a deep breath.
Jade couldn’t help but notice the strength in Aiden’s muscles when he slipped her arm under his. His gentle grip guided them down the ramp and onto the peer. Colorful buildings along the Ketchikan harbor caught her eye. “What a delightful village.”
“Did you know it’s nicknamed the canned salmon capitol of the world?”
“Wow. It’s such a quaint place.” Her eyes widened when they turned down Main Street. “Where are we going?”
He grabbed her hand. “To the town’s brothel.”
She stopped abruptly. “Pardon?”
“It’s one of the tourist attractions. Where did you think I meant?”
“Too funny. Okay, shall we?”
“Our time is limited, so let’s stop at the tourist building and grab a map for the historic walking tour.”
“Certainly.” Jade giggled. It had been a long time since she’d felt like a schoolgirl.
As dusk arrived, Aiden came to a halt in front of Jade Ketchikan. “Shall we stop here for a souvenir? A jade pendant perhaps?” He opened the door for her, lifting his eyebrows.
“No pun intended, I suppose?” The butterflies danced again as his attractive dimples captured her gaze.
Jade stepped through the entrance of the store and glanced back in time to spot Sheldon across the street. Was he spying on her? Had he been following them all day? She shook off the thought. Must be a coincidence.
“Come this way.” Aiden steered her to the back of the store. “I know where you can find some great buys.”
A commotion from the opposite side of the store caught Jade’s attention in time to see Sheldon duck behind a display. Her finger tapped the glass counter as the clerk wrapped her purchase.
“I get the feeling he’s following us.” She looked at Aiden and nodded in the purser’s direction.
“Let’s lose him.” Aiden grabbed her arm and led her out a side door into an alley.
Ominous clouds covered the moon, casting an eerie glow on their perfect day. They rushed along the narrow, winding road. She winced from Aiden’s vice grip and tried to yank herself free. Tears formed in her eyes. “You’re hurting me.”
Aiden stopped, releasing her arm. “I’m sorry. I wanted to get away from that nosey purser.”
A door slammed in the distance followed by rushing footsteps. Jade peered over her shoulder. She bit her lip. “This place is creepy.”
“We’re almost back to the ship.”
She breathed in to calm her racing heart. “Why would he be following us?”
“Jade, you’re a beautiful woman.”
Averting his gaze, she tied her scarf tighter around her neck. “Hardly.”
“Someone has hurt you recently, haven’t they?”
A small gasp escaped her lips before she could stop it. “Why would you say that?”
He raised an eyebrow. “Your body language and the faint bruise on your neck. You can trust me.”
Ghosts were hovering nearby.
When could she end everything?
. . . to be continued
Click here to go to Part Five – Suspicions.
This first appeared in Christian Life in London.