Jamie waited on the bridge the next morning, hoping Darius could get them underway. He ran through his checklist and responded to the crew as they announced their position and readiness to the bridge.
“Prepare for anchors up,” he responded, hearing Darius laugh behind him.
“I told you I’d make a sailor out of you.”
“You good to go, captain?”
“Yes, please continue, I can’t get away from here fast enough.”
Jamie gave the order to weigh anchor and the crew sprang into action while Darius punched coordinates into the navigation system. Without looking up, he told Jamie about his phone call with his sister that morning.
“She said a big man beat my brothers in the front yard and tied them each to a tree. You wouldn’t know anything about that would you?”
Jamie knew Darius had figured it out and he didn’t want to lie, so he shrugged and busied himself with watching the monitors.
“Thank you for looking out for them,” was all he said. They turned the yacht toward open water.
By noon, Darius was sitting in the captain’s chair on the bridge, something he never did. By mid-afternoon, Jamie was anxious about his stubborn refusal to go lay down. Jamie had no authority on the bridge except friendship, and he played that card like a champ by shutting down the engines and then standing between Darius and the bridge. After a feeble attempt to restart the motors, Darius dropped his shoulders and left. Maia checked on him and found him sleeping already, so she took over the bridge.
“Report, first mate.”
Maia listened to Jamie give their position and clear radar before she woke the engines up and set their speed at twenty-five knots. She checked in with each crew member on duty and listened to Cici cry because Darius had left the bridge.
“Why did he leave the bridge? He got worse? Does he need surgery? How do we get help so far from land?”
“Crewman, you are wasting my time acting like a teenager with a crush. Report your position or walk off the job. You can fly home from India.”
Jamie listened to the exchange and thought Maia acted appropriately. His respect for her was growing. Before Jamie’s shift ended, Maia asked him about alerting the authorities, the reason he needed the address for Darius’s sister. He blinked at her in confusion, and Maia knew the truth.
“You are a fool. If you had injuries from them boys I would have killed you in your sleep.” Jamie was wide-eyed shaking his head no.
“I had reason to believe I was not in danger, Maia. Please don’t judge me on this.”
“I have anger for you and women talk these things out with each other. If Claire doesn’t know you will tell her, then she and I can talk about it.”
“That doesn’t sound much like a request.”
“It’s not a request. I won’t have Claire be the only person on this boat that doesn’t know what you did.”
Jamie flushed with anger at being ordered to do something completely wrong, not to mention personal, between him and his wife. After his shift, he pounded iron in the gym and then swam laps to clear his head. He realized Maia was protecting her friend from hearing it from someone else and feeling betrayed. Still, he feared Claire’s judgment, and how it would change her love for him. On his return lap, he spotted pretty legs in the water and knew she was sitting on the side of the pool. He swam to her and launched his arms around her waist, laying his head in her lap.
Claire sensed something desperate about Jamie and stroked his wet hair, asking him why he seemed that way. Jamie kept his head down and revealed a side of himself she did not know.
“I have something to tell you Claire, but before I do, promise you will listen with an open mind.”
“Okay, I promise.”
“I dealt with black market fences when I started forging the masters. I would leave hints with the art underground that a certain painting would be for sale after being switched with a forgery. I was so astounded by the money people would pay that it carried me away at first. The third painting I sold, the fence was waiting to ambush me, to steal the painting, and keep the money. They beat me nearly to death, and I learned a powerful lesson about self-preservation. If I was going to do business with these people, I had to learn to fight. My friend had returned from his time in special services and I asked him to teach me. I didn’t paint again for over a year so I could learn self-defense. I didn’t much like the martial arts, too rigid and formal, so I stuck with hand to hand, no holds barred fighting. Rupert gave me the foundation and then introduced me to two men who took me the rest of the way. There wasn’t a day I didn’t wake up with bruises, a split lip, internal bleeding, ringing ears, loose teeth, blackened eyes, and such like that.”
“Good God, Jamie. To learn they had to beat you?”
“It was not fun, and I learned to push the fear down before engaging in the training exercises. When I went back to painting, I continued to train for two more years, having less damage inflicted on me as time went on. My body changed. I got muscular and intimidating, so there was no threat to me for several years. One night, I waited for the fence behind a gas station. He approached me with two would-be killers and I put them down without a second thought. I could have killed them, but I didn’t.”
Claire looked down and asked him why he couldn’t look at her. He jumped out of the water and sat next to her. It made his chest tight when he looked into her eyes.
“I was pretty sure Darius’s brothers would not stay away from his sister and being honest I wanted to hurt them for what they did to my friend.” He looked down at his feet underwater and each word came out slowly. “I waited for them in front of his sister’s house last night and kicked their ass before tying each to a tree.”
Those words made his heart hurt. He heard quiet laughing and jerked his head up to see Claire’s hand to her mouth, trying to stifle the giggles and look serious.
“Tied them to a tree? Now that’s just flaunting it, Jamie.”
She touched his cheek and looked compassionately into his eyes, aware of his fear about telling her. “You warned me, at the Veneto property. When I was scared, you wrapped my hand around your muscles and told me you knew how to use them. A part of your past we had not talked about yet. I figured you were a cage fighter or something like that. The truth is even better.”
Jamie searched her eyes with growing relief. She kissed him and continued.
“On a scale of one to ten, of notorious criminals, I must be close to eleven. I stole art all over the world. I will not judge you for defending yourself or protecting Darius’s sister. Besides,” she leaned closer to him, “you have never been sexier to me.”
Jamie felt her tongue slip into his mouth and moaned as he grabbed her waist and pulled her into the water. They kissed deeply and Jamie finally relaxed. “Thank you for being cool with this Sassenach. I love you.”
The atmosphere on the yacht slowly returned to normal. Darius continued to improve day by day, and on the fourth day, they entered the Suez Canal. The flag of Egypt would be flown until they exited the Canal on the other end. Claire was unimpressed with the scenery finding it industrial, plain, and ugly. When she thought it couldn’t get any worse, Egyptian officials boarded the yacht forcefully and detained them for ten hours. They stated their purpose was searching for contraband and turned every room upside down, pulling contents of drawers, cabinets, and closets onto the floors. When the men started pulling plants out of the dirt, Claire ordered them to stop and stood in front of the planters that were still in the plant garage.
“Stop this at once! I demand to speak to your supervisor before you destroy any more of my plants.”
Jamie was pushing his way through the men, trying to get Claire out of there when their leader started laughing. The interpreter told him what she demanded and he shared it with the group making them all laugh. Claire had no idea they could imprison her indefinitely for such behavior, and Jamie’s heart rate was in the stroke zone watching them shoot glances at her while they laughed.
“Hello, how lovely it is you came for a visit! I am Danny Meyer and this is my yacht. I have an early Christmas present for you men, I hope you like it.” Darius stood between Danny and the men so she had to reach around him to pass out her bundles of money. She created five bundles of cash before they left Greece but there were eight officials. As soon as her rooms were searched, she and Darius made eight bundles from the five as fast as they could.
That did it. The men were heading for their own boat in just a few minutes and handed Darius a form that would prevent other officials from boarding. Jamie had pulled Claire into the plant garage where he could hold her out of sight from the men. When he felt the boat moving he released her and they joined the others inside.
“That is one fine hiding place you have Danny.”
“Darius, dear, people who buy yachts like this will always need plenty of great hiding places, this one is no different.”
When they motored through the high-risk zone where Somalia pirates were known to attack, they were all on alert. Darius and Jamie wore guns, holstered in plain sight, and the crew watched the water while they crossed the Sea of Aden. Danny wanted to hire armed mercenaries to guard the boat for the two days to get through the zone, but Darius assured her they could handle any attack. Until they were beyond the dangerous water, he questioned his judgment more than once.
After eight days at sea, the yacht pulled into an exclusive harbor in Mumbai, India, a day late and only three days before the party. There was much to do so Jamie switched their mooring for the dock and they tied down for the night. Everyone seemed on edge ever since the customs search, including Danny, who for once did not celebrate with brunch the following day.
The yacht was stocked with food, spirit deliveries, and fresh flower arrangements. Catering people were everywhere on the day of the party. Danny paced the saloon waiting for the dresses to be delivered from one of the top designers in Mumbai. They arrived at three o’clock, just hours before guests would arrive and Danny’s nerves were shot before the party even started. It was a compliment to India that they wore traditional evening wear, and the three women together were a beautiful statement of respect.
Danny hired a photographer with specific instructions about who was to be photographed and which newspapers in America he would send the pictures to the following morning. Her intent was to shake her son to his core and make it obvious she was moving against him.
The party was a success and once it was over, they moved the yacht to the mooring for a day of rest before their eight-day trip to Hong Kong. Darius could feel the lingering tension in the crew and no one requested shore time, so he decided to get underway after lunch that day.
Jamie planned to stay in bed with Claire all afternoon and dedicate himself to being her everything. He placed kisses every inch up her inner thigh when the radio started barking his name.
“Jamie, report to the bridge, we weigh anchor in five.”
He looked at Claire with such a sad face she couldn’t help her bubbling laughter. She grabbed his face and kissed him repeatedly, and then pushed him out the door.
In New York, Sebastian got off the elevator and saw the wicked smile on his secretary’s face, he knew she hated him for being a normal red-blooded male and she was well compensated for his ass-grabs and occasional masturbation while she took dictation. She looked particularly evil this morning and he braced himself when she held the paper out to him. Once the door closed behind him, she grabbed her purse and headed to the elevator to escape for an hour.
Sebastian read the story of Sepora Meyers hosting a beautiful party in Mumbai with several pictures of her with various guests of fame and importance to the company. He felt like he was coming apart and buzzed his secretary repeatedly, barking orders to get his financial manager on the phone and his attorney. He kept buzzing and eventually dialed his own phone adding fuel to his anger. His mother was making a power grab, undermining all he had done to discredit her over the last twelve months. Before his new phone went sailing into the wall, he vowed she would pay for every share he lost. She would pay and he would lock her away forever.
Sebastian left the office and drove home to find his wife hosting a luncheon for a local charity. She was dressed to the nine’s with her hair up laughing and talking when he stormed in. He walked across the spacious living room and pulled her upstairs while she tried to protest quietly. Once in their room he ripped the top of her dress open and pushed her bra up forcefully, pinching her nipples like an assault. She was thrown on the bed and then flipped over while he squeezed K-y jelly onto his index finger. He raped her in the most painful way while she screamed into a pillow. Once he ejaculated he pushed off of her and left.
Back in his office he called his broker and told him to buy any stock that came available, no matter how many or few shares. He sweetened the deal and promised a one million dollar bonus when he owned enough to take over. He knew his mother would never come to New York; she had long lost her backbone for confrontation so he would have to find her. He wrote a list of countries with the greatest number of investors and would start calling until someone confessed to an invitation to Danny’s next party.
Half-way to Hong Kong, Jamie gave in to his need to paint and finally roughed in the picture in his head. Two women, one pole, bent almost in half by a fish on the hook, a beautiful sunny day, completely swept away with their fun. He stood back and smiled. It was a start, his new labor of love.
The Hong Kong party was perfect and Danny was able to speak privately with an investor who was being courted by Sebastian. His description of her dementia infuriated her, and she asked the man to pass the truth to anyone he talked to associated with her company. He vowed to help.
The next stop was Tokyo and again the women wore dresses of a top Japanese designer. Jamie never stopped being impressed by what the three of them could do and he watched Claire with pride throughout the party.
Sebastian got lucky when he called an investor in Tokyo and found out about the party. He sent a scanned copy of the newspaper picture of Danny, Claire, and Maia, greeting guests in their finest evening wear. The man in Tokyo understood what Sebastian wanted and what his compensation would be. One million dollars if he could scare the women away from Danny. He arrived early to the party and waited for the opportune time.
Later in the evening, Claire escorted a couple out-to the foredeck to view the garden and talked about her frightening experience with the Egyptian customs officers. It was a cool night and the elderly couple was heading back to the warm saloon in a short time. Claire stretched and sat on a couch for a few minutes to relax.
“Pardon me miss, please talk with me for a while.”
The man sat right up against Claire, breaking through her personal space so that his face was inches from hers. Claire leaned away from him and tried to get up, but he held her hand so tightly she was afraid he might break one of her bones. She looked around her and there were three other men standing too close for comfort and looking straight forward.
“Hear this Claire, you must fly home tomorrow without a fuss and never see Sepora again. Is that understood?”
“Back off, asshole.”
The three men around her chuckled and the man sitting next to her leered even closer. “I will teach you a hard lesson if you do not heed my words, bitch. I will make a fortune hurting you and sending you home. It would be my pleasure.”
The man ran his hands up Claire’s thighs and it stunned her mute for a minute while she processed what was happening. Without a sound, Jamie was behind the man, grabbing his collar and belt to throw him overboard. The man screamed all the way to the water. Jamie kicked viciously at the knee of one man and then threw him overboard. The two others came at him together and all Claire could see were arms and feet as each was tossed overboard.
Jamie pulled her up and hugged her asking if she was alright. She forced herself to keep cool and smiled at him, “never better my love.” Jamie knew better when he held her trembling hands.
The guests were crowding the door to the foredeck after hearing the screams. Darius pushed through them and ran onto the deck looking at both of them. He turned to the crowd, holding his arms open to force them back inside. The four Japanese men struggled to get out of the water with a clear intent to execute the brute that tossed them over. Jamie waited so when they stepped onto the dock the first thing they saw was his face and it unnerved them all. Jamie grabbed the collar of the man who dared to touch Claire.
“You chose the wrong team, you poor bastard. Tell that piss ant, Sebastian, I’m coming for him.”
He picked the man up and threw him back in the water while the others backed away. Jamie didn’t expect their absolute compliance until he turned around to see Darius and a group of guests behind him waiting to back him up. When the leader climbed out of the water for the second time Jamie wanted to cripple him, but not in front of so many people. He grabbed the man’s sopping suit coat and pulled him to his face.
“Tell Sebastian we will meet in New York and I can’t wait.”
“You won’t make it to New York.”
Claire and Maia stood on the deck and watched the whole thing while an additional factor appeared in the equation… fear. The incident was played down to the guests and when the party was over, they spoke little of it. Danny addressed the issue before going to bed.
“Well, my darling young friends, it seems my son knows one of the guests willing to do his bidding. We should expect the same in California, so please devise a system where everyone stays safe. Get some sleep, please, fifteen days at sea to get to California so hold each other close while you have the chance.”
Maia looked up at Cici one second before Cici rolled her eyes and made a face. She didn’t like that girl and she vowed to keep an eye on her from now on.
Darius helped everyone relax and promised someone would be awake, guarding the boat against intruders for the rest of the night. He was exhausted but would find the strength to get them away safely tomorrow.
Ethan walked to the middle of the room with his chest out. “I will take a shift.” Steven said the same and Darius smiled at them.
“Report to your rack and someone will bump you when it’s time. Thank you, gentlemen.”
Darius went up to the bridge and Maia watched Cici from the galley. When she disappeared from the saloon Maia knew she was going to the bridge by the crew staircase and the race was on to beat her. Maia lifted her voluminous skirt and ran up the two flights of stairs to the bridge deck. She pulled her arms out of the dress and dropped the top before surprising Darius. When he saw her naked breasts bounce with her walk he was mesmerized and picked her up to sit on the high captain’s chair. He just wanted to kiss and shake them a bit, but Maia pushed all his buttons until her legs were up in the air and he was between them. She saw the shocked look on Cici’s face when she came around the corner. Darius was too far gone to notice and ejaculated deep in Maia’s body with a growl.
“I love you, Darius.”
“I love you too, little siren.”
Maia left, but before she went to bed she went below deck and opened Cici’s door without knocking. She stared down her nose at the upstart and the hate in her eyes spoke volumes while she said not a word. Then she went to bed.
Darius was getting desperate to stay awake and stumbled into the galley to pour another cup of coffee and almost ran into Ethan.
“Why are you up already?”
“Jamie said to report for my shift of guard duty.”
“Jamie? What the hell is he doing up?”
Ethan shrugged and wished the captain goodnight before checking the doors and decks. Darius could hardly move his body toward the stairs but had enough brainpower left to notice something odd about one of the saloon couches. He looked into the dark corner and focused his eyes until the shape of a man came into focus. He walked to the couch where Jamie slept and felt deep gratitude for his friend. It gave him the confidence to sleep deeply for the next four hours so he could navigate the tricky water off the coast of Japan.
The following day, Jamie walked onto the Bridge in time to watch Cici hand Darius a small vase with three flowers. Darius looked at it and asked what he was supposed to do with it? Cici giggled and left the bridge and Jamie was sure that was a flirting gesture she did with her hair, and eye contact, and starched uniform. He hoped Darius could set Cici straight before it stressed Maia out.
There were many pleasant days crossing the Pacific where the women spent the usual time preparing Danny. Maia was withdrawn most days and didn’t join the banter and conversation around the worktable. Claire tried to talk with her about why she seemed so blue, but Maia shook it off and said it was nothing.
Danny sat in front of her laptop one morning, smiling from ear to ear and actually giggled a bit. Claire asked what was making her so happy and Danny gushed with her news that a good friend was coming to the party in California as her date.
“Wonderful! Who is this man?”
“Sam Elliot. Do you know him?”
“I wouldn’t know anyone in California outside of the art world, Danny. Why does his name sound so familiar?”
“Well, he’s a movie star!”
“Hmm, Sam Elliot. Jesus Danny, the Sam Elliot, with the world-class mustache and gray hair? The gorgeous cowboy? Oh, my God. I’ll be right back.”
Claire brought Jamie’s drawings out to the table chatting about Danny’s new hairstyle and saw her hand come up like a traffic cop signaling to stop.
“I simply don’t have the nerve with the big events coming up. I need to feel confident and not embarrassed by a bad haircut!”
Claire laid the drawings out in front of Danny and smiled when she stopped mid-sentence to look at the pictures.
“Oh my, I would never think to do that cut, but I like it, and the color is fantastic.”
“I suggest taping them to your bathroom mirror for the rest of the trip. Who knows, one of them might become a favorite.”
Claire let the matter go hoping Jamie’s drawings would convince her to be brave.
Three days from California, Maia and Steven relieved Darius and Jamie an hour early so they could take readings in the engine room. When Cici came around the corner with a fancy iced tea she looked around for Darius and blinked with confusion at Maia.
“What are you doing up here crewman?”
“Where is Darius?”
“That does not answer my question, Cici. What is your purpose for being on the bridge when you should be working?”
“Darius doesn’t mind if I stop by at the end of his shift, Maia.”
Maia was stunned. “So you have an agreement with the captain to sneak up here and make the others do your work?”
“Something like that.”
Cici stuck her chin out and her eyes darted around the wheel room. When Maia realized she was standing up to her, she felt the bone-crushing truth that Darius was having an affair.
“Get off this boat, Cici. You are fired. Remain in your cabin until we reach California and then fly back to Switzerland. Your services are no longer needed.”
Cici’s eyes were like saucers and her mouth hung open. “you can’t fire me! Only Danny or Darius, so fuck off!”
“You are fired and the captain will be notified of my decision to relieve you, now off the bridge on the double!”
Cici remained in her position of power making Maia sicker with each passing minute. Maia knew that look on her face. A confidence felt when a woman has been told she is the only one in his life. When Cici finally left, Maia collapsed on her knees and hung her head. Steven was close to Maia and felt terrible and utterly shocked Darius would do such a thing.
Claire and Ethan came to relieve them at midnight, and Maia walked to their rooms like she was walking to the gallows. Darius stood in the middle of the room with hands on his hips, looking at her like she sunk the boat.
“What the hell, Maia? What horrible act did Cici do to make you fire her? We need everyone to run this ship and assist with the parties, I don’t get it.”
He was obviously waiting for her response, but Maia was too confused by his face and demeanor. She expected his guilt, sadness, and apology for falling in love with Cici but he was ferocious, not sorry, and apparently standing by Cici’s side because he overruled the termination. Maia was shocked silent and eyed him like a stranger. When she opened her mouth, the little warrior came flying out with all of her fears, insecurities, and wounding accusations. The words she used expressed her deep pain, and Darius heard them as failure, unworthy, heartless, undeserving, and careless. The five demons that held him down and poisoned his belief in himself.
Maia was defenseless and unprepared for words that cut so deeply she gasped in pain. When she could hear them no more she ran away from him, nearly tripping in her escape down the stairs to the lower deck.
Claire turned the radio up feeling protective of Maia. Having living quarters right off the bridge provided little privacy, so she heard more than she wanted to. When Maia ran out of their room, Claire was visibly shaken and to his credit, Steven said nothing, kept smiling, and completed his duties as captain-on-duty until they were relieved at eight o’clock in the morning.
Darius looked a decade older but performed his duties with military perfection. The voice he used to address Jamie and the crew was heard by all, “don’t fuck with me today.”
Claire filled a tray for Maia, with coffee, juice, and various foods from the breakfast bar, but was stopped by Danny. Her eyes looked so sad, her posture seemed to collapse under a crushing pressure. Claire had to put the tray down and step closer to hear her.
“This is the confounding part of my gift, the part I hate because I live through the torment with people and sometimes I don’t see the outcome. I don’t know what to do.”
Claire guided Danny to the table and brought her coffee before sitting close to her and speaking quietly.
“I can’t imagine the burden you carry, Danny. There is nothing you can do, nothing any of us can do except be supportive and don’t judge,” Claire held her hand, “have faith in them to see their way through this. Forgive me for the personal question, but, is it emotion you see in people? In other words, you don’t see people driving to the store to buy milk?”
“Yes, that’s right, dear. You called to me, across the water, and I heard your fear and desperation. We were in Alaska at that time and I ordered the captain to Greece, but it took three weeks to get there. Before we dropped anchor, I ordered a course correction to Jamaica, still hearing you every night.”
Danny’s eyes cleared and she straightened her back, “Maia needs you, but if you ever want to talk about what brought me to you, just ask dear Claire.”
When Claire found one of the empty staterooms locked, she knew Maia was buried inside. She knocked for several minutes but just said her name to prevent the crew from hearing anything personal about Maia’a grief. The door opened finally and Claire pushed it open, walking into the dark room. She held onto Maia as her broken heart reached out for someone to help carry the pain. Claire loved Darius, but she was Maia’s champion above all else, and she encouraged her friend to keep talking until the whirlwind in her head stopped.
They talked for several hours and Maia’s dropped sentences and disjointed discourse brought a terrifying image to Claire’s mind. A lamb being led to slaughter. If this was Maia’s first love, she had no experience with emotional fighting that can rip into a person’s soul.
“How many times have you been in love, Maia?”
“I love Darius.”
“And he loves you, Maia. This will pass but it may take several days before one of you decides to apologize which usually pulls an apology from the other. Don’t worry. He meant little of what he said, and I know Cici was lying about her permission to be on the bridge. I swear to you, I have never seen her up there before. But right now, you both need to cool off and keep an open mind for the explanation that will give truthful answers. Mostly, you have to wait for him to feel your loss, and he will. If there is anything I can do to help you just let me know.”
Maia gave her a slight smile when Claire left. Her crying had stopped and she sat on the bed, waiting for Darius to come and get her. She imagined throwing her arms around him and crying with joy when he told her Cici was lying and she was his love forever. She believed it so fiercely she started counting the minutes for the door to swing open and his handsome face would reach for her. When the stateroom threw shadows on the walls, she bolstered her belief in Darius and stayed the course.
Claire brought dinner to her and tried to get her to come upside to the table but Maia refused and ate in the room. The next day she waited and ate the food Claire brought, sleeping in her clothes because she had nothing to change into. All she had was her belief in Darius.
On the third day, Claire brought fresh trays of food and took the previous trays back to the kitchen, fully loaded from the meal before. Maia stopped eating and Claire grew concerned she would suffer from dehydration at the very least.
Jamie continued to work with Darius and witnessed several visits from Cici where Darius dealt with her harshly and ordered her off the bridge. This wasn’t a fight about infidelity, so what caused Darius to shut down?
The yacht finally found a mooring at the San Diego Harbor and the crew was busy dropping anchor and making ready for an extended anchorage. It was three weeks before the party, the tension onboard was palpable, and Darius seemed absolutely lost.
Danny was resolved to not interfere, but after the second night in California Maia was still locked in her room. She threw caution to the wind and went to find Darius after the evening meal. She watched him on the dark bridge, staring ahead, deep in his conflict.
“Maia is not the military, Darius.”
She could hear him gasp in surprise, either by her presence, or what she said. “Why have you made her so?”
“I don’t know what you’re talking about, Danny. I just need to figure some things out, please leave me to it.”
“Was he your first mentor? Your captain? He certainly moved mountains to promote you. A position on the bridge by your third year of service is quite extraordinary, is it not?”
“Yes, quite extraordinary, I suppose.”
“When you look at Maia, you feel the same appreciation and security you felt with him… in the beginning. Isn’t that right?”
He glared at her, feeling his temper rise and wanting to protect Danny from himself, from his anger of the betrayal.
“Please, Danny, leave me be. You don’t know what you’re talking about.”
“I do dear, Darius. I have known since the first time I met you. I am taking a great risk to help you understand what is happening, you’re like a bomb ready to off and annihilate the world. I accept the challenge and I will not leave until I’m heard.”
Darius exhaled loudly and twisted his chair to face her with an impatient face, forcing himself to listen.
“You put your faith in the faithless and accepted him as a God on earth. You would prove yourself to the world through exemplary service in the military and finally be free of your criminal family. Once you bet it all on this man, he ruined you.”
Stunned into silence, he watched her with mounting dread. “Why do you speak of such things that happened six years ago?”
He launched off his chair and Danny blocked his way off the bridge, twice. In his exasperation, he whirled on her and asked what it was she wanted from him. He looked like a bull ready to charge, but she felt no fear.
“I have never been wrong about a person’s character, and I’m not wrong now. I see your leadership, ethics, and incorruptibility. You were born with it Darius, it wasn’t something you had to earn. The dark cloud you felt from your family was entirely in your head. The military made you feel worthy of the promotions and the special consideration of your captain. You can imagine my surprise when I read the court documents that described an entirely different person.”
Darius jerked his head up, almost sputtering that the transcripts were locked to the public so there was no way she could have read them.
“That is a privilege of wealth. It gives me no pride to admit I can purchase anything in this world, including the transcript of the assassination of a moral man’s character in a military court. You protected your captain to the bitter end, turning a deaf ear to the direction of the investigation. You protected your captain, who ordered you to cross international water lines of a hostile country. It could have catapulted your country and others into a war.”
Danny was talking so fast that Darius roared at her to stop. He was breathing hard because she sent him back to that courtroom where he was pronounced guilty of international terrorism and hauled off to prison for two years. He remembered the moment his soul shattered, and each piece was branded a criminal that far surpassed his low-life family. In an instant, he lost himself to a lying, self-protecting commanding officer who threw him to the flames.
Danny felt his frustration, grief, and betrayal intensify, locking him into a fight between good and evil. She wanted desperately to comfort him, but his eyes were not open yet, and he still couldn’t see Maia. So she pushed him.
“Your captain was drunk that night, or high on drugs, I assume. Why would he order you to break your code of honor and threaten a sovereign nation?”
“He wanted a war and he was in a rage.” Darius broke down finally, and Danny could feel the pressure of this reality draining away. He dropped his head and sobbed for five minutes while Danny prepared her final assault to make this wonderful man open his eyes. She braced herself.
“Well, Maia was cut from the same cloth as that horrible man. She was getting ready to throw you under the bus I imagine. Maybe she wants to be captain.”
Darius jerked his head up and his eyes were like flame throwers ready to lock onto her.
“You couldn’t be more wrong, Danny! Maia is the purest expression of love without a mean bone in her body. When the court could not find evidence of my wrongdoing they let me out, to live like a coward, hiding my shame from the world. When I got hungry enough, my cousin agreed to pose as my wife so I could take a job as captain of a touring boat.”
Darius was lost in his memories of that time, and Danny could see the color come back to his face. He was close and she could not give up on him now.
“That doesn’t change the manipulative Maia, it tells me you had a wonderful cousin.”
“Stop saying that, Danny! Maia was part of the crew, only eighteen years old. She never looked me in the eye, but I felt something from her. Something wonderful and cloaked by her avoidance. I felt happy whenever I spoke to her and finally asked her to look at me when I spoke to her.” Darius was looking out the window and absentmindedly put his hand to his cheek. “It felt like being kissed by an angel when she looked up. I knew in that instant she was in love with me. She couldn’t hide such a thing, nor her desire to run away from me. It was so confusing. When I told my cousin about it she spoke to me like I was a two-year-old, reminding me that I was married to the crew and guests.”
Darius had settled down talking about Maia and the way she loved him.
“So you told her you weren’t married?”
“After we all left the ship. My cousin went to see her and told her all about helping me get my first job. Then she brought Maia back to my hotel and surprised me with such a gift. I opened the door and this pint-sized girl jumped in my arms. We’ve been together ever since.” Several seconds ticked by. “Oh, my God, Maia, what have I done?”
Darius jumped out of his seat and hugged Danny, thanking her for getting through to him, telling her she was so brave. She could hear him taking two stairs at a time, thrilled it was over. When she heard the desperate shouting of Darius downstairs, the bubble popped and she darted for the elevator. Claire and Jamie had Darius in the saloon trying to calm him down so they could all think and make a plan.
“How did she get off the boat? The tender is still in the garage?”
Darius just shook his head and tried again to launch himself off the couch, only to have Jamie stop him.
“We can’t help find her if we’re stuck on the yacht Darius. Let’s make a plan and then we all go ashore, I’ll get Ethan and Steven. Do you have a picture, a closeup of her face?”
Jamie left with Darius to find a picture and make several copies. Claire pulled a sweater on and grabbed her purse. When she came back to the saloon Danny was alone on the couch with her eyes closed. She looked up at Claire, “she is walking and I can’t tell where. You will never find her unless she stops somewhere that I can see.”
It almost required tying Darius to a chair to prevent him from leaving in the tender, but Jamie finally convinced him to wait twenty minutes, hoping Danny would see where she was. Ethan and Steven joined them, but they couldn’t sit down. They paced by the door feeling a need to start searching for their friend.
Danny was bundled up on the foredeck where she wouldn’t be distracted by the energy inside. She closed her eyes and felt a gripping pain in her abdomen. She held her stomach and realized it was a hunger that was making her weak. Her mouth was dry and sticky because she had to drink. Then she felt the panic because she had no money. She felt afraid of everything suddenly. Danny was with Maia, feeling what she felt, and she didn’t want to break the connection. Keeping her eyes closed, she felt along the wall to the door and yelled through the chaos to be quiet. The group looked at Danny and fell silent. Steven ran to her and quietly asked what she needed.
Steven was running back in a minute and a half. “Who do I call?”
“Text this to Maia’s phone, “give your phone to the waitress and ask her to call, 6029628811 for a credit card.”
Maia looked up at the waitress and handed her phone over. The waitress exhaled loudly like this was an inconvenience. The girl looked like every other homeless person who came in but there was something different about her so she made the call.
Relief overwhelmed Danny when her phone rang. She gave her credit card number to the woman and said the young lady could order anything she wanted.
“One more thing miss, what is the name of your establishment so I will recognize it on my credit card statement. Thank you very much, you have been most helpful, and your name dear? Thank you, goodnight.”
Claire was crying with relief, and Jamie had a knee on Darius and an arm around his wife. He was dumbfounded by Danny and couldn’t take his eyes off her.
“Darius, dear. Help me down to my room and I will give you the name of the restaurant where Maia is.”
Darius brought her downstairs and asked for the name getting more and more anxious to find Maia.
“Just a moment, dear. Pick one and promise me you will pay for it and I don’t care how long it takes.”
She pulled a jewelry box to her bed and plucked four diamond rings from it, laying them on the bed.
“If you want to find Maia, you must choose.”
He looked at the rings and placed one on the end of his finger. “I will take this one.”
Danny studied the exquisite solitaire diamond and announced it was fifty thousand dollars and the best stone of the four. She knew Darius was barely hanging on to his civility and asked for his promise.
“I promise to pay Danny, and anything else you want, but please let me go!”
When Darius hit the top stair, Claire was pointing to the aft deck where Jamie waited in the tender. Darius jumped in as he locked the restaurant into this GPS telling Jamie to hurry. This had taken too long, he feared, sure that Maia would be gone and he would never find her. He ran down the streets with his phone in front of him, turning sharply and nearly crashing into objects in his way. When he saw the circle flashing he heard, “you have arrived at your destination.” He looked through the dirty window at the empty tables in the diner until he saw her. She was bent over her phone when he approached the table and he spoke quietly, trying not to upset her.
“Maia? You gave me quite a fright. I have missed you more than I ever thought possible. I want to hold you and kiss you so badly, but I can’t until I apologize for being a stupid idiot. Maia, please let me talk with you.”
She was shocked to see him, and even though her heart was dancing in her chest, she forced the happiness down, remembering the fight.
“I can’t Darius,” she whispered. “I’m going home tonight.” Her tears were falling down her cheeks, making Darius feel desperate to tell her something that would make her stay.
“I have things to tell you. Like I am hopelessly in love with you. Nothing happened with Cici. I should have let you make decisions deserving of your rank. You have earned the right of captain on duty, and I was so wrong to take it from you. The argument we had threw me into an incident from the military and I was lost in it for a few days. I have never been more sorry, sweetheart.”
Maia saw the desperation and love in his eyes and cried harder. She had made peace with her departure from his life and here he was begging for a second chance. Through the veil of her tears, she saw Darius drop to one knee.
The waitress came around the corner with a coffeepot and stopped in her tracks before backing into the kitchen again. She watched them from the order window and heard Darius make a plea for their love.
“Maia, will this change your mind?”
He held the ring out to her and stopped himself from babbling every promise he wanted to make her.
“I want to marry you, Maia. It’s a declaration to the world that I love you more than anything or anyone. Like I said, there is much to tell you, but this is the most important. I want you to be my wife, and I hope you will always stay exactly like you are because you’re perfect.”
Maia was stunned, the waitress was stunned, and Darius was never so sure of anything in his life.
“You will always be my first mate Maia, but now I’m asking you to be my wife.”
When Maia’s hand came forward, Darius almost passed out with relief. He slid the ring on her finger and caught her as she jumped out of her chair and into his arms. He kissed every tear from her cheeks and held her to him, feeling her shake. Their kiss was a lifeline to a drowning man and Darius held her to him as they walked toward the door. The waitress came out with a blanket and wrapped it around Maia.
“It’s been in the back for years but it’s clean and you look like you’re freezing, Honey. I ran your total on the card so you are all set.” Darius handed her a fifty-dollar bill and walked Maia out of the diner.
Climbing into the tender woke Jamie up, and he smiled at Darius and the bundle in the blanket that was held tightly to him. He was so relieved for his two friends that found their way back to each other and now cuddled in the tender like they were the only two people alive.
Jamie sent a text to Claire and Danny so they could stop worrying. Danny hugged Claire and left the saloon, not wanting to be a distraction. Claire waited for Jamie in their room. There was no one in the saloon when Darius walked Maia upstairs to their rooms. He didn’t want to let her go, but excused himself to draw her a bath.
“Are you hungry, Maia?”
“Are you thirsty?”
“Will you kiss me, please?”
Maia melted into Darius as he kissed her breath away and pulled the blanket from her. He carried her into the bathroom and watched her beautiful body sink into the excessive bubbles. She had never felt so filthy in her life and moaned into the hot water. After soaking for a few minutes, she jerked her hand out of the water and wiped the bubbles away to reveal her ring. She sighed and slid under the water, wiping the bubbles out of her eyes when she popped up. She was smiling at Darius.
“Either you come in here with me, or we both go to the shower. On second thought,” she held onto the collar of his shirt and kissed him, pulling him into the water, fully clothed. Darius understood that she needed his kisses as much as the bath, so he kissed her repeatedly before pulling her out to a hot shower. On the third washing of her hair, Darius pulled her hands around his waist and helped rinse the soap before kissing her again, and then again.