The paranormal lingers in Dakota Combes’s life like an unwanted house guest. The unnatural side of life intrudes itself on a pre-honeymoon honeymoon aboard a bay-going cruise ship. Dakota finds herself the unwanted recipient of a dangerous curse that threatens to give more than a pox upon her house. Now David and she, and some unexpected help, must find a way to sort out this mess before the body count on the ship goes up by one.
Who knew I’d get to meet Death before the week was out? I sure didn’t expect that relationship to develop, at least not so soon, but Fate was funny. At least, that’s what Death told me.
But I’m getting a little ahead of myself. It’d been a week since David and my last run-in with adventure. I lay on the fall browning of his massive lawn and stared up at the gray skies. The clouds lazily floated by, and my thoughts did the same.
A face came into view and blocked mine. I frowned at David’s smiling countenance. “Do you mind? I’m deep in thought.”
He chuckled. “Then I’ve come at a good time.” He dropped a folded slip of sleek paper onto my face.
I sputtered and sat up. The paper slipped into my lap. “You could kill somebody with that paper cut!” I snapped.
David took a seat beside me and nodded at the paper. “What do you think? Not a bad idea for a pre-honeymoon honeymoon, huh?”
I glanced down and furrowed my brow. It was a cruise brochure. I looked to David. “Weren’t you traumatized on your last cruise?” I pointed out.
He shrugged. “I got over it.” I arched an eyebrow. “Mostly.”
I snorted and took up the brochure. “I guess since you’re not chasing your food that’s a good sign.”
I opened the folded paper and broached the brochure. It showed the usual advertisements of a crowded swimming pool, indoor tennis courts that made my calves cramp just thinking about it, overpriced food and nightly entertainment sure to enrapture the kids and bore the adults.
I tried to fold the brochure back to its small position, but the dark arts kept the damn thing from going back. “Are these cruises really any fun?” I wondered as I wrestled with the paper.
David took the brochure from me and folded the parts in one try. “They can be a life-changing experience.”
I glared at him. “Yeah, but I don’t want to wake up the next day and find I have even more leg hair to shave.”
He shrugged and climbed to his feet. “I had hoped you would be more excited, especially as I know the captain.”
I raised an eyebrow. “What’s that got to do with anything?”
David tapped the brochure against his palm. “Well, knowing the captain means we get to eat at his table, and we can see every part of the ship.”
“And we’re nearly ensured tickets to all the good shows.”
“And you get me all to yourself without any of our past ‘fun’ adventures?”
I jumped to my feet and grinned. “When do we leave?”
He smiled and offered me his arm. “Tomorrow. The preparations have already been made.”
The next day found us at the familiar port of the city. Lord Blake’s massive yacht sat far off in the distance, but ahead of us was our boat. It was a smaller cruise-liner, one capable of touring the bay in three days at a leisurely pace. A couple hundred other people waited in eager anticipation for their turn to walk up the large, wide white gangplank that led to the top deck.
A large bag was slung over my shoulder, courtesy of David, and he had his own suitcase neatly tucked under one arm. He leaned his head back and admired the ship. The name was painted on the side in large blue letters: Seaset Love.
“Quite a magnificent ship, isn’t she?” he commented.
I looked up at the name and wrinkled my nose. “Reminds me of seasickness.”
He turned and smiled at me. “I hope you don’t suffer from that malady.”
I shrugged. “I don’t know. The longest I’ve been on a boat was a dingy in the middle of a lake. It took a friend and me twelve hours to catch our limit, but we did it.”
“And what was the limit?”
“A fish per person.”
He chuckled. “The fish god was not with you.”
“Or any other one. We thought about sacrificing one of us to get that last fish, but by that time we caught a fish and realized we’d reached our limit with one of us overboard.”
“I’m glad you weren’t the one sacrificed,” he told me.
I snorted. “So am I. Anyway, when do we get aboard this floating turkey?”
He offered me his arm. “Right now.”
I accepted his arm and he led me to the sign-in station. A quick registration and we walked up the gangplank. Colorful movement caught my eyes on the docks. I glanced over my shoulder and saw it was a troop of performers in their bright outfits. A man in a tall black hat with a red coat with tails, the ringleader of the gang, met my eyes. He tipped his hat and smiled at me.
I looked away. There was something about that smile I didn’t like.
We reached the deck and turned right onto a long walkway. I paused at the railing and looked down. The distance was a couple dozen feet into the deep, dark water.
My head was hit with a wave of nausea. I clutched my head and swayed from side-to-side. David caught my arms and kept me still.
“Are you all right?” he asked me.
I straightened and nodded. “Yeah. Just a little farther down there than I thought.”
A young man in a white suit greeted us with a smile and a bow. “Mr. and Mrs. Dives?”
I whipped my head to David. He smiled at the young man and nodded. “That’s us.”
“The captain has asked me to personally look after both of you. My name is Stewart.”
David shook hands with him. “It’s nice of the captain to treat us with such hospitality, but if I know Captain John Dux I’m sure that wasn’t the reason he sent you to us.”
Stewart smiled. “Can I be frank, sir?”
“Is that your first name?”
The young man’s smile widened. “May I be honest with you, sir?”
“Perfectly honest, but not here. Why don’t you lead us to our stateroom and there you can spill your heart to us?” David suggested.
Stewart bowed his head and led us into the bowels of the ship. Our stateroom lay on one of the upper floors so it was a few short flights of stairs to the room. I found it to be like a small condo with all the amenities except a cooking kitchen. There was a fridge for drinks and room-service food, and a small dining area at which to eat it. The living room had a couch, chair and TV, and the master suite had a jacuzzi tub. A balcony off the living room had a great view of the docks, and a small half-bath off the living room finished the decor.
David turned to Stewart and gestured to the living room. “Care to sit down, Stewart?”
The young man smiled, but shook his head. “I can’t, sir. I have to report your coming to the captain, and see to some other guests.”
David dropped his arm and shrugged. “Ah, well. What about that honesty you were going to tell us?”
Stewart blushed. “To be honest, sir, the captain has me watching you to-well, in his own words ‘so the other passengers can breathe safely.’ Do you happen to know what he means by that, sir?”
David chuckled. “Just that he knows my penchant for trouble following me, that’s all.”
Stewart furrowed his brow. “I hope this won’t be serious, sir.”
David arched an eyebrow. “Why is that?”
“Well, there was some trouble with theft and attacks on an ocean liner he commanded some months ago on which I served. It was an older and larger sister to this ship, but part of the same fleet. There was quite a strange air about the whole mystery that was never quite resolved.”
David slung his arm across Stewart’s shoulder and turned our steward towards the door. He guided the young man to the entrance and patted him on the back. “I assure you there will be no thefts aboard this ship so long as I’m aboard.”
Stewart smiled. “I’m glad to hear it, sir. If you’ll both excuse me.”
He hurried out to attend to his other charges. David turned to me with a furrowed brow.
I frowned. “I don’t like that look.”
He walked over to me and paused to cup his chin in one hand. “I doubt a slight case of burglary is what’s bothering the captain.”
I groaned and plopped myself onto a cushion of the couch. “You promised me an adventure-free time.”
He dropped his hand and smiled at me. “I promise there won’t be any strange, unexplained thefts while we’re here.”
The couch faces the TV and the wall with the balcony. Movement behind him caught my eye and I looked past David at the large sliding-glass door.
A flailing boy hung off the railing.