Jane’s time aboard the ship grows short as questions and answers rush at her. The dark shadow that stalks the halls makes its demands, and Archer makes his vows to her. She is torn between her love for the man and her lust for the book, but a surprise awaits her as she finally learns the truth about her time as a passenger aboard this strange cruise.
My life the last couple of days was a jumbled mix of fantasy and reality. At the point that Renee Roster accused me of attacking her I couldn’t figure out whether I was in the fantasy or reality part.
I blinked at her for a moment before I swept my eyes over the two gentlemen present. “What did I do?”
Captain John pursed his lips. “Miss Roster has accused you of attacking her.”
“It’s not an accusation, it’s true!” Renee insisted.
Max stood and set a gentle hand on her shoulder. “I’m sure there’s some sort of mistake. She wouldn’t-”
Renee spun around and glared at him. “Wouldn’t she? She’s wanted you since the first day this ship sailed, and now all three of us have been attacked.”
“But I didn’t do it!” I argued. “I’ve been in my room taking a nap!”
“How would you know you were taking a nap unless you knew when it happened!” Renee pointed out.
I opened my mouth, but stopped when I realized she was right. I was doing myself no favors by blurting out whatever defense I could think of.
The captain turned to Renee. “What time did the alleged attack occur?”
Renee’s face reddened. “It wasn’t alleged! It really happened.”
He held up his hand. “Until we have evidence to prove guilt the incident is alleged, now please tell me what time it occurred.”
Renee crossed her arms over her chest and pressed her lips together in a pout. “About half an hour ago.”
Captain John looked to me. “Were you in your suite at the time?”
I pursed my lips, but nodded. “I was.”
“Was anyone with you at the time?” he asked me.
I shook my head. “No one. I was asleep.”
Renee scoffed. “Asleep my ass! You were in-”
“Quiet, please, Miss Roster,” Captain John requested. She snapped her mouth shut, but frowned at him. The captain sighed and held out his hand to me. “I’m afraid you’re going to have to come with me, Miss Johnson.”
Max’s eyes widened and he rushed forward. “What? But she didn’t-” The captain held up his hand and shook his head.
“Don’t make this any more difficult than it has to be, Mr. Archer,” the captain pleaded. He placed one hand on my arm and gestured to the door. “If you would, Miss Johnson.”
“Where are we going?” I asked him.
‘To the surveillance room. We’ll see what the cameras show and I’ll make a judgment from that,” he told me.
I gulped, but nodded and let him lead me from the suite. Behind me Max was definitely not professing his undying love to Renee.
“How could you do this when you know she’s innocent?” he shouted at her.
“How can you believe her over me?” she snapped back.
“We’re through, and this time it’s for good!” I heard his footsteps storm from the suite.
A glance over my shoulder confirmed it as he stepped out into the hall. Max slammed the door behind him and looked down the hall. His tense body slumped down when his eyes fell on me. He pursed his lips and he hurried after us.
“Mind some more company?” he asked the captain as he reached the man’s side.
The captain smiled at him. “I’d be grateful for another pair of eyes.”
The captain walked beside me and Max behind us as we walked to the security room. We wound through the rows of desk and into the surveillance room. A new set of men were on duty, and they stood at the captain’s entrance.
“We need a view of A Hall from fifty minutes ago,” he commanded them.
They saluted and hurried to obey his order. The captain gestured to a chair near the door.
“If you would, Miss Johnson,” he requested.
I took a seat, and Max leaned on the door frame close to my shoulder. He placed a hand on my shoulder and leaned down so he could whisper to me without being overheard.
“I know you didn’t do it,” he told me.
I smiled at him. “Thanks. Really.”
He nodded and straightened.
“Where would you like us to play the recording?” one of the officers asked the captain.
Captain John nodded at a large screen in the center. It had a view of the wide bow. “Play it there.”
The picture changed from the bow to the hallway in which I resided. The time-stamp at the bottom right corner of the recording showed it to be fifty minutes ago. One of the men turned in their seat and looked back at us.
“What are we looking for, sir?” he asked the captain.
“We’re looking for anyone entering Suite D,” he replied.
The crewman nodded. “Very good, sir.” He faced ahead in his seat and started the recording.
We all waited with baited breath as time ticked by in the video. The hallway started empty, and the proceeding five minutes didn’t change that condition.
I started when the door to room Suite D flew open. Renee stumbled out clutching at her chest. She pressed one hand against the wall and slid down the hallway.
“Help!” she choked out. “Someone please help me!”
“Stop the tape,” the captain ordered. The men did as he asked and the recording was paused. The captain leaned back and rubbed his chin in one palm. “How strange.”
“That you didn’t find anything?” Max asked him.
Captain John shook his head. “That there wasn’t even the shadow that was seen in the last two attacks.”
“That’s because nothing happened,” Max insisted.
The captain turned to him and studied his old friend. “You’re very sure of your opinion, Mr. Archer. Do you have something you want to share with me?”
Max’s eyes narrowed and he pursed his lips. “I just know Miss Johnson, that’s all, and I know she wouldn’t attack anyone, even R-Miss Roster.”
The captain gestured to the screen. “It seems the evidence agrees with you, so I have no choice but to release Miss Johnson from custody.”
I blinked at him. “You. . .you mean I can go?”
He nodded. “Yes, but be sure to keep your distance from Miss Roster or I’ll be forced to move you to another part of the ship.”
Max wrapped an arm around my shoulders and grinned at his old friend. “That won’t be a problem, captain. I’ll keep her occupied.”
The captain chuckled. “That’s what I’m afraid of, but you both need to keep your noses clean the rest of the trip, or I’ll be forced to eject you at the first port we come to.”
“Speaking of coming to ports, don’t we come to the first one tomorrow?” Max asked him.
“That’s correct,” the captain confirmed.
“Then I’ve got good news for you, John. You’ll have me out of your hair tomorrow because I plan on getting off the ship at next port,” Max revealed.
I whipped my head up to him and my mouth dropped open. “You’re. . .you’re leaving?” I whispered.
“It’s for the tranquility of the ship, and to avoid my friend here-” Max gestured to the captain, “-from having a heart attack.”
“I’m sorry to see you go, but I would like to live to retirement,” the captain agreed.
I shrugged off his arm and stepped back. Tears sprang into my eyes and I glared at the mad billionaire who stood before me. “Then everything you told me was what? A lie? Some trick to play on a poor girl until you could get off the ship?”
Max’s face fell and he reached out for me. “I can explain.”
I stepped backwards out of his reach. “Save it for someone who cares!”
I turned tail and raced out of the surveillance room. Max followed after me shouting my name.
“Jane! Jane, wait!” he pleaded.
I only ran faster. The hallways of the ship were blurs as my tears nearly blinded my vision. He’d played me for a fool, and I was an idiot for believing him. The rich playboy had claimed another victim in his game of playing with the hearts of women. Well, I wasn’t going to play his game any longer.
I stumbled into my suite and collapsed head-first into one of the cushions of the couch.
“I never want to see him again!” I cried into the stuffing.