Authors: Olivia Claire High
“Yes! See, I told you he was angling to get closer.”
“He probably feels sorry for me. I told him about James and my parents. Oh, he invited you, too.”
“Well that’s not happening. There’s no way I’m going to be a third wheel. This is exactly what I hoped would happen to you when I suggested the cruise. You may never get another chance to enjoy the company of such a hunk like Thad. Go. Have fun. Goodness knows you deserve it.”
“I don’t want to leave you on your own. What would Aaron say?”
“My husband would agree. He told me he hoped this trip would help you find your smile again.”
“Did he? That’s very sweet of him, but I’m still not going to abandon you, Heather.”
“You’re not abandoning me. I want you to go.”
Suzanne shook her head making Heather sigh.
“I forget how stubborn you can be sometimes. Okay, how about a compromise? I’ll do a few things with you if you promise to spend some time doing stuff with Thad.”
“What kind of stuff did you have in mind?” Suzanne asked suspiciously.
I’ll leave that up to him.”
“When I said I would try to enjoy myself, I didn’t mean with a man I’ve just met.”
“You said yourself you wanted to crawl out of your pity pit. Why not take the hand he’s offering? You could do worse. Give him a chance, Suzie. You have to get over James sometime.”
Lying in bed that night, Suzanne admitted being around Thad wasn’t exactly a hardship. She discovered behind his handsome face and mouthwatering body, he was also an intelligent and a genuinely nice man. She found him even more interesting when he told her he taught architecture in a small community college, since she was a teacher herself.
She thought his childhood sounded wonderful as he explained how he grew up on a small farm with three younger siblings. When he told her his parents just celebrated their thirty-fifth wedding anniversary, Suzanne couldn’t help envying the fact that he came from such a stable family.
They spent the day together at the first port, Roatan; the largest of Honduras’ Bay Islands. Heather tagged along, but found plenty of excuses to leave Suzanne and Thad alone. The ship was scheduled to be in Belize City, Belize all day tomorrow. Thad invited them to meet some friends who lived there.
Suzanne was having a much better time than she expected, thanks to Thad and Heather. When thoughts of her parents popped inside her head she forced them away. She did the same thing with unwanted images of her ex-fiancé and her so-called cousin.
She wondered if Thad might be the guy who could help her get over feeling depressed. Suzanne felt tempted to give him the opportunity to help her become interested again, despite what she’d told Heather about swearing off men. She needed to do something to boost her self-esteem. Lots of people had shipboard romances. It would only be for a few days. Then he’d go his way and she would go hers.
How could anything possibly go wrong by having an affair with a guy as nice as Thad Novak? She lay there mulling over the idea until her restlessness made it impossible to sleep. She heard Heather’s soft snoring and decided a few turns around the deck might make her sleepy. She slipped into her sweats and sneakers before letting herself out of the cabin.
Suzanne had just completed a couple of laps when a dark figure dressed all in black complete with a hooded sweatshirt hiding his face sprang from the shadows and grabbed her by the arm.
She gasped, and tried to pull away.
He thrust something into her hand before relaxing his grip.
“You’ve been warned,” a heavily accented male voice whispered harshly; then he released her, and was gone.
Suzanne ran to the nearest door, jerked it open, and rushed inside, breathing a sigh of relief when he didn’t follow. Her heart was pounding so hard it took her a moment to realize something tickled the palm of her hand. She looked and saw she was clutching a black feather. She shivered and dropped it, watching as it drifted to the carpeted floor while she wiped her hand down the side of her pants.
Warned about what? Had she imagined the cryptic message? What was with the feather? If this was part of the ship’s entertainment, she wasn’t amused.
Suzanne climbed into her bed thankful that Heather didn’t stir. She wasn’t in the mood for a lecture on how dangerous it was to go out walking the deck alone at night. She’d rather concentrate on the day ahead of her instead of some creepy guy passing out bird feathers. Thinking about the strange encounter and spooky message sent icy fingers dancing down her spine making her huddle beneath the blankets.
Suzanne took a last spin in front of the mirror, picked up her purse, and headed out to meet Thad.
“No nanny today?” he asked, as they left the ship.
“She bailed. I know your friends were expecting both of us. I’m sorry.”
“No problem.” He glanced at her white linen slacks and peach silk blouse with its pattern of lime green leaves. “You look nice. That color looks good with your red hair.”
“Thank you.” She eyed his navy shorts and pale blue polo shirt. “You look nice, too. You didn’t say if you were going to get a cab or rent a car, but either way I want to pay my share.”
“Actually, my friends are going to pick us up. I told them we’d meet them across the street.” He took hold of her hand and laced their fingers together.
His touch made her skin tingle with a pleasant warmth. She’d been doing her best to act composed around him. But in reality he only had to smile and her blood flared up. Her fiancé’s rejection had doused those flames, but being around Thad was rekindling the fire. Apparently her body was letting her know that she was ready for some sizzling sex with this hot man. The thought of that made her blush.
“Um, I think so.”
“Don’t look so worried. You’ll like my friends. I know they’re going to like you.”
“How can you be so sure?”
“They trust my judgment. So should you,” he added after a brief hesitation.
Suzanne wondered for a moment if she heard a hidden meaning behind his words, only to have it vanish when he squeezed her hand and smiled. She intended to give him more than trust if things continued on the way they were going. The thought of that sent a little thrill zinging through her body.
“Okay, I’m all yours.”
“Not yet, but one can always hope.”
She felt her heart skip a beat and quickly changed the subject.
“What kind of car do they drive?”
“They have two vehicles. They’ll be in a white Mercedes. The other one is a Jeep they use for off road excursions. Ah, here they come,” Thad said pointing, as the luxury car slid to a stop at the curb.
They climbed in, and he introduced Suzanne to a thin dark haired woman.
“Maya Lincoln, meet fellow shipmate, Suzanne Conway.”
“It’s nice to meet you, Suzanne. Welcome to Belize.”
“Thank you. I appreciate you inviting me to your home.”
“My husband and I are looking forward to having you.”
“Where’s Linc?” Thad asked, as Maya eased back into the flow of traffic.
“Something’s come up with the job. He’ll fill you in when we get to the house.”
Suzanne thought the woman’s voice sounded strained, but she couldn’t be sure because they’d just met. She also had the distinct impression of some kind of undercurrent going on between Maya and Thad. First her feeling that he was hiding something from her, and now this. Suzanne pressed her lips together, annoyed that her brain was making her behave like some third rate seer.
“Maya’s husband is a freelance photographer. He’s been asked to design several brochures for the tourist board here. He runs into snags sometimes.”
Suzanne realized she hadn’t imagined Maya’s anxiety. At least Thad’s explanation provided a plausible reason for the woman’s tension. It didn’t take a psychic to know the last thing Maya needed right now was having to entertain a stranger.
“It sounds like company will only complicate things. I don’t want to impose. Please just drop me off in town. I can do some shopping and get a cab back to the ship.”
“Oh I wouldn’t think of it. I didn’t mean to put you off. We love having visitors, really.”
Thad kept the conversation going while Maya drove. They arrived in a neighborhood filled with beautiful beach houses. She pulled into a driveway and barely shut off the engine when a man came out to meet them. Tall and rangy, he offered his hand along with a warm smile.
“I’m Jacob Lincoln, Linc to everyone,” he greeted Suzanne shaking her hand before grabbing Thad in a bear hug. “I’m happy to meet you, though I wonder why you’d want to hang out with this big oaf.”
Suzanne’s body relaxed, as she returned his smile.
“I guess it must be his gentlemanly manners.”
“Thad, a gentlemen? Are we talking about the same guy?” he said, as they entered the house.
“Tell your husband to stop trying to sabotage the image I have going,” Thad retaliated, while giving Maya a belated hug.
Suzanne laughed at their good humored teasing. Maya excused herself, but returned minutes later carrying a tray with four glasses of mineral water. Linc offered one to Suzanne before handing another to Thad. He took a glass for himself and smiled at Suzanne.
“Mind if I steal Thad for a minute? I’d like to show him something I’m working on in my office.”
“Oh, I think I can live without him for that long.”
Thad clutched his chest in mock pain causing the others to laugh before the men entered a room just off the living room. Suzanne asked Maya if they could go outside when she caught a glimpse of the view through the sliding glass door.
“Your skin’s so fair. Don’t you mind the sun?”
“I’m okay as long as I take it in small doses. I can actually get a tan if I’m careful.”
They stepped outside. The sun sent bright amber rays flickering over the surface of the water in splashes of molten gold. Suzanne watched the surf nudging its way lazily back and forth against the shore while Maya fixed her eyes on the water further out where a large yacht sailed into sight.
“This is a wonderful setting and your home is lovely.”
“We’re just renting. Linc’s work keeps us on the go too much to buy a place of our own.”
“I bet you’ve seen some pretty fantastic sights in your travels. How long have you lived here?”
“Just a few weeks.”
She tore her eyes away from the yacht and looked at Suzanne. “How are you enjoying the cruise?”
“Very much. Have you ever taken one?”
“Only on private yachts.”
“Speaking of yachts, do you know the people on the one out there now?”
“Can’t say that I do. What do you think of Thad?”
He’s an easy man to like.”
“Easy on the eyes, too.”
“You won’t get an argument from me there. Have you known him long?”
“Linc and I met him in college. We try to get together whenever we can, but it’s difficult because we move around so much.”
“I thought you seemed very close.”
“I’d trust him with my life.”
Maya’s eyes darted to the boat and back to Suzanne.
“So can you.”
“I live a pretty dull life, so I doubt if I’d ever have to. But I’ll keep that in mind in case I ever have anyone chasing me with a chainsaw,” she joked, but Maya didn’t return her smile.
“Just remember what I said.”
“Do you sunbathe out here?” Suzanne asked, wanting to change the direction of their conversation.
Suzanne pointed to the water.
“I thought that might be why that man on the
yacht has a pair of binoculars
aimed our way. That’s what I’d call being a peeping Tom in the extreme.”
Maya’s eyes narrowed at the boat.
“I hate having people staring – makes me feel like I’m on display. Let’s go inside, shall we?”
She slid open the door before Suzanne could answer.
“Why do you
think they would be watching you?”
“The house is for sale. Maybe they’re interested in buying it,” Maya said maneuvering them into the living
where she knocked on the door to Linc’s office.
He opened it immediately.
She shook her head and pointed over her shoulder. “We’ve got company.”
Linc hurried across the room, followed closely by Thad. They grabbed binoculars and looked toward the water. Thad set his binoculars aside after a few seconds and gave Linc a barely perceptible nod.
“Why don’t you and Suzanne go for a spin, Thad? Take the Jeep in case you run across a jungle trail you can’t resist.”
“Sounds like a good idea.”
Linc tossed him a set of keys while Maya handed Suzanne a scarf. “You’ll need this. The Jeep’s open, and the wind will tie your hair in knots.”
“But we just got here.”
Suzanne frowned at Thad. “I thought you wanted to visit.”
“I do, but Linc just received an unexpected phone call. He and Maya have to meet a man in town.”
“I apologize for this, Suzanne, but I’ve been trying to meet with this guy for days.”
Thad hustled her through a door that opened into the garage where the Jeep stood waiting. He lifted her into the passenger seat.
“Tie that scarf on real tight. We don’t want it to blow off.”
“How fast are you planning on driving?” she asked, donning the scarf and knotting it under her chin.
“Depends on the road. Did you bring your dark glasses?”
“Better put those on as well.”
She rummaged in her purse.
“I feel like I’m putting on a disguise, so I can travel incognito.” Suzanne chuckled at her little joke, but no one laughed in return.
Thad clicked both their seatbelts in place, turned the ignition key, and let the engine roar to life.
“I’ll be in touch,” he yelled to Linc and Maya seconds before the Jeep sped out of the garage.
Suzanne gripped the edge of the seat.
“Where’s the fire?”
“Are you afraid of a little speed?”
“No, but I do get nervous when the vehicle I’m in feels like it’s about to break the sound barrier,” she gasped, as the tires squealed around a corner.
“All part of the fun.”
“What did you mean about being in touch? Aren’t we going back to their house?”
“Depends on how much sightseeing we do. I may have to leave the Jeep at the dock.”
She watched as he glanced in the rearview mirror.
“Why are you driving like a maniac? Oh God, watch out for that dog!” she yelled, pointing at the road in front of them.
“I see it.”
“Slow down, can’t you? I feel like I’ve been scooped up into the middle of a tornado.”
“I’ll slow down once we get to where we’re going.”
“Where is that?”
“I’ll let you know when we get there.”
Thad drove completely focused with every muscle on the alert. He whipped onto a side road causing several chickens to scatter out of the way. The birds reminded Suzanne of the feather from the ship and the man’s warning. Could this be what he’d meant? She fought to keep her voice calm.
“I’d like to go back to the ship now if you don’t mind.”
“What, and miss your private tour of the island? Where’s your sense of adventure?”
“I lost it a few miles back at that last pothole. You’re lucky that’s all I lost. My breakfast has already bounced up into my throat. If you want to go tearing around like some teenager, that’s your business. But I don’t want any part of it. Turn this vehicle around and take me back to the ship right now.”
“I wonder if you realize how sexy you sound with that demanding attitude.”
“I should warn you that this is definitely not a time where flattery is going to make me change my mind. You’ll have to continue this craziness on your own. I want to go back. I mean it, Thad.”
His fingers flexed on the wheel, and he shook his head.
“I’m afraid I can’t do that,” he said.
“Can’t or won’t?”
“What difference does it make? Either way, I won’t be taking you back.”
Her fingers gripped the edge of the seat as a disturbing thought filled her head with painful clarity.
“Wait a minute. Are you saying we’re not going back to the ship? Ever?”
He gave her a quick, pitying look.
“I’m sorry, Suzanne,” he said, his voice sounding truly apologetic. “I had hoped it wouldn’t come to this.”
“You hoped what wouldn’t come to this? What’s going on, Thad?”
The panic forming in her belly swiftly began to rise to her throat.
“I know you’re frightened. I promise I’m not going to hurt you, Suzanne.”