Part 7 – Unmasked

Jade pulled her mask off and squinted from the ship’s bright lights. Did she read the identification correctly? RCMP? He’d been lying to her this entire time. How dare he?

Steeling her jaw, she took a step closer and stood eye-to-eye. “You’re a cop?” I don’t trust cops. They make promises they can’t keep.

“Yes.”

“Why didn’t you tell me?”

“I couldn’t. I’m working undercover to catch the Cruise Caper.” He didn’t waver from her gaze.

“Why now?”

“You’re being targeted.” He held her stare for a moment longer and looked away, but not before she caught a change in his eyes.

What was it? Tenderness? Something about the softness tugged at her heart. But she shoved it aside and stepped back. She couldn’t do this. Not now. Not with what she had planned. “I need to go.”

She turned, but he spun her around and held her at the waist with one arm. His fingers brushed her face like feathers teasing, soft and gentle. He leaned in and kissed her cheek, lingering longer than he should.

“I will protect you from whatever you’re running from.” His minty breath allured her into wanting to taste his lips.

A small audible sigh escaped before she could stop it. Could it be that simple?

A shadow lurking around the corner caused fear to dance up her spine and answered her question. “You can’t. No one can.”

“You just have to trust. If not me, trust God.”

Her eyes narrowed. “He failed me too many times.”

Aiden sighed. “Come with me into Juneau tomorrow.”

“I can’t.”

“Can’t or won’t?”

She wiggled in his hold as if trying to decide to flee or stay. Her heart felt at home, but her head tried to remind her of the plan she’d be executing within days. It couldn’t involve Constable Aiden Mitchell. “Can’t. I’m sorry.” She peeled his arm away from her waist. “I have to go.”

“Wait. Give me your cell.”

“Why?” She handed it to him.

“In case you need to call.” He punched in his number. “I’m never far away. One more thing.” He glanced over his shoulder. “I will be walking you to your room as I know we’ve had an audience for the past few minutes.”

Of course he’d noticed. She did too.

They walked in silence to her cabin. In front of her door, Aiden reached for her keycard. “Please let me check your room. Just in case Zorro decided to visit.”

She sucked in a breath. Would the masked man be so brazen? Jade handed the card to Aiden. “I’m still mad at you for not telling me your vocation, but I guess it does have its advantages.”

He smirked. “Wait here.” He entered and within seconds returned to her. “You’re good. Lock the door and call if you need help. Any time. Promise me you will.” He tucked a curl behind her ear.

“I promise.”

His blue eyes held her in a trance—again. I can’t take it. But she couldn’t turn away either.

He leaned in.

She closed her eyes and held her breath.

“In case you change your mind about Juneau, I’ll be waiting at the ramp at 8:00 tomorrow morning.” His breath tickled her ear, sending chills throughout her body. “G’night, beautiful.” He kissed her cheek.

When she opened her eyes, the corridor was empty.

~ ~ ~

The balcony door slid open, pulling Jade from a restless slumber. She bolted upright. Someone entered her room. She fumbled for her cell and slid back under the covers to hide. Perhaps if she pretended she was asleep, they’d go away. She dialed Aiden’s number.

“Jade, what’s wrong?”

“Someone’s in my room,” she whispered. “Hurry.” She shoved the phone under the blanket to hide the glow.

Jade peeked out from under the covers. A man’s silhouette stood in the balcony entrance with the moonlight beaming in the background. She balled the sheets in her hands, fear taking over her body. She clamped her mouth shut to stop her teeth from chattering.

The man stepped closer, his face hidden behind a mask.

She closed her eyes, pretending to sleep again.

He sat on the bed. “I know you’re awake.” His raspy voice matched the first Zorro from the Masquerade party. “I’m here to collect my prize.” He leaned closer, his hand lingering on her blanket-covered leg. He exposed her face and ran his fingers over her lips.

She recoiled like a rattlesnake, pulling back against the headboard. “Stay away from me.” Where are you, Aiden?

“Did you think you could hide?” His unrecognizable voice slithered close to her ear. “You might as well give in.”

“Never.” She spat in his face.

“Why you, little—” He cursed, and slapped her across the cheek.

Her hand flew to soften the sting. The skin burned under her fingers and she winced.

“That little stint will cost you.” He pulled the covers off and grabbed her arm. “I’m going—”

The door burst open, and Aiden appeared with his gun raised, finger on the trigger. “Let. Her. Go. Now.” He stepped closer.

Zorro scrambled off the bed, raising his hands. “Her lover comes to the rescue. Just like in the old westerns. How quaint.”

“Shut up.” Aiden turned slightly to Jade. “You okay?”

She nodded but couldn’t find her voice. God, if You’re there, protect us from this maniac!

Aiden gestured for Zorro to move forward. “Keep your hands up. I want to see who the famous Cruise Caper is. It’s time this ended. Take your mask off.”

“What makes you think I’m he?”

“Who else would you be? Zorro?” Aiden kept his gun poised.

Jade grabbed her pillow, clutching it in front of her as if it would protect her for what was about to happen.

Zorro brought his hand up to unmask himself, but smashed his elbow into Aiden’s face. Aiden stumbled backward.

The man lunged, grabbing the gun just as Aiden regained his footing. He held firm to the gun as the pair struggled over the ownership of the weapon.

A shot rang out.

Jade screamed as darkness squeezed in from all four corners of the room until it overtook her, and she succumbed to its embrace.

. . . to be continued

Click here to go to Part 8 – Glaciers.

This first appeared in Christian Life in London.

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