Part 5 – Suspicions

A coyote howled nearby, sending Jade’s pulse racing as she stole a peek over her shoulder. Had they lost the purser? Ketchikan’s boardwalk was surprisingly empty at the early supper hour. Reassured they weren’t being followed, she exhaled and drew her sweater tighter to ward off the sudden chill in the night’s air.

Aiden took her hand, guiding her up the ramp to the Enchanted. “How about dinner and a movie tonight? I hear they’re playing a romantic comedy.”

Jade stopped when they reached the top of the ramp. Sweat beaded on her forehead despite the cool evening. Screams of that deadly night long ago on her father’s boat filled her mind, transforming her legs to jelly. She willed her feet to move. You can do this. You have to do this.

“Past ghosts haunting you?” His softened eyes held compassion.

She forced a smile. “Am I that obvious?”

He intertwined his fingers in hers, tightening his grip. “I won’t let go. I promise.”

She took a step onto the deck and ignored the jolt his touch sent through her body. Their hands fit like a glove. “Thanks. Last time it took me ten minutes to get this far.”

“Progress. Must be my personal touch.”

No kidding.

“So how about that dinner and a movie?”

“Sure, why not?” It wasn’t like she had anything better to do. What harm could it bring?

Out of the corner of her eye, she spotted Sheldon skulking up the ramp.

She leaned closer to Aiden and let him lead her down the corridor. Away from spying eyes.

~ ~ ~

The sun’s rays blasted into Jade’s room, waking her at 5:00 a.m. She pounded her pillow. Darn early sunrise. There would be no sleeping in today. Sighing, she sat on the edge of her bed and rubbed her eyes.

Jade grabbed her toothbrush and headed toward the bathroom, humming a tune as she reminisced about her evening with Aiden. He’d been the perfect gentleman. If only she wasn’t—an envelope lying near the door interrupted her thought. Probably an announcement about today’s festivities. She picked it up, ripped it open . . .

And jumped back, dropping it like she’d just scalded her fingers.

Did you think you could hide? Stop cheating on me with that man or I will take matters into my own hands. No one is safe.

No! Jade dropped to her knees. She curled herself into a ball and sobbed. She thought she’d hidden her tracks. He couldn’t possibly have found her. Could he?

She stared at the note. “God, if You’re listening, tell me what to do.”

Trust.

She stiffened. Did she just hear God’s still small voice? “Why should I? You’ve never been there for me.” Great, now she was talking to herself. She dabbed the tears from her face, grabbed the note, and stood.

Trust.

She crumbled the note into a ball and threw it across the room. “Well, then show me what to do!”

Silence.

“Figures.”

The note must be a practical joke. But how could it? No one knew about her past. She drew in a sharp breath. The conversation with Sheldon about Aiden being the Cruise Caper invaded her thoughts. He had guessed some of her past yesterday. No, he seemed so genuine and concerned.

Then again, what did she know? Perhaps it would be best to stay away from the handsome Aiden Mitchell. She’d come up with an excuse not to sightsee in Skagway. In a couple of days, she’d cease to exist anyway.

For now, she must inconspicuously find out from the Captain if her ex’s name was on the passenger list. She retrieved the discarded note, un-crumpled it, and stuffed it into her purse.

She wouldn’t let this threat keep her hidden away. She was tired of running. It was time to get dressed, have some breakfast if she could force it down, and face the day.

~ ~ ~

Jade slipped into the quiet early morning dining room, breakfast aromas hit her like a wall of heat. Her stomach growled. She grabbed a strawberry and popped it in her mouth. The enormous buffet table held scrambled eggs, bacon, sausage, pancakes, fruit, and croissants—every breakfast imaginable.

“Doesn’t it look great?”

Jade jumped.

Sheldon.

Was he following her again?

“You have to stop sneaking up on people,” she said. “You scared me.”

His eyes darkened for a split second, but Jade caught it. The hairs on her arms stood at attention. What was behind that look?

“So, how was your sightseeing adventure?”

“You should know.” She crossed her arms. “Why were you following us anyway?”

“What? I wasn’t.”

She tilted her head. “Oh come on. You were.”

The purser grunted. “I was concerned for your safety. Like I said, I don’t trust the man.”

“Do you have anything to prove your theory?”

He leaned in, getting into her personal space again. “The first officer and I are working on it. We’ve been tracking his routes. We almost have enough to take to the Staff Captain.”

“The who?”

“He’s under the Captain.” The right corner of his mouth twitched.

Jade took a step back and grabbed a plate from the buffet table. Anything to put distance between them. “If you’re so sure Aiden is guilty, why not take it directly to the Captain?”

“Don’t trust him.” Again, the twitch danced on his mouth.

Jade shuddered. Was there anyone he trusted? “Why not?”

“He’s new to our ship. Came from a competition cruise liner.”

She moved along the buffet and filled her plate in an attempt to escape his accusations. Remembering the note in her purse, a sly grin briefly slid across her face. She turned from the buffet to face him. He stood so close she smelled coffee on his breath. An award-winning smile erupted as she batted her eyelashes. Her stomach churned at her attempt to flirt, but this was the perfect opportunity to get the information she needed. “Listen, I have a favor to ask.” She smiled again. “I need to find out if my mother’s best friend’s son is on the ship. Is there anyway you can check the manifest? She heard he was and would kill me if I didn’t ask.” She cringed at her choice of words.

He rubbed her arm. “For you, Sweetie, anything. What’s his name?”

Her legs stiffened at his endearing name-calling. Nausea threatened to spew. He gives me the creeps. “Nathanial Barber.”

“I’ll check and meet you on deck at say . . .” He checked his watch. “9:30?”

“Sure.”

“It will be our little secret, Love.” Sheldon winked and left the dining room.

Jade gagged and put her plate of food on a nearby table.

No way would her stomach be able to keep anything down now.

. . . to be continued

Click here to go to Part Six – The Masquerade Party.

This first appeared in Christian Life in London.

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