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Heather Sampson tilted her head back, squinting into the bright mid-morning sunlight. This was a bad idea. What had Geoffrey been thinking? She brushed the moisture from her eyes with the back of her hand.

She would never know. Just as she would never again engage his brilliant mind in debate about some esoteric topic. He was gone. A year almost, and the pain still felt like it would crush her. She shook her head, trying to clear her mind as she stared at the cruise ship.

Just two days ago, she had been safely ensconced in their home. Well, perhaps a better word might be ‘hiding out.’ As she had been for the past year. She had pushed away all their friends. She was good at that. It was Geoffrey who had always been the buffer between her and the outside world. That buffer was gone now too.

All she had was a grown daughter who did not need her anymore. Not even the home they had shared for a decade was hers. She had insisted that Geoffrey leave that to her daughter in his will.

She swiped once more at her eyes as she swallowed to clear the lump in her throat. It was not supposed to be this way. They were supposed to grow old together. He had promised her thirty-five years — one for every year that she had searched for Mr. Right.

Instead, they had barely more than a decade. It was not fair. Life was not fair. After a lifetime of searching, two failed marriages, and too many lovers to count, Heather had finally found what she needed in Geoffrey. Intelligence. Strength. Kindness. Patience. Everything a man should be.

She drew in a deep, cleansing breath. There was no use continuing that line of thought. She had been down it a million times over the past months. There was no answer. Geoffrey was dead. Simple as that.

The question was – what now? And she was still no closer to that answer than she had been that day almost a year ago when the doctor had walked through the A&E door. She knew just by the look on his face. And no amount of denial was going to bring the man she loved back.

Whether it was a blessing or a curse, Geoffrey had made sure that she and Maisie were taken care of. Her daughter that had become his in every way that mattered, had inherited the house that he had bought for them as well as a trust fund. She had insurance money, more than she would ever use.

That should have been a comfort. One less thing to worry about. Instead, it had become a crutch. Heather had not had a job in two decades. Her autistic daughter’s needs had consumed all her time and energy.

Until he had come along, then the three of them had somehow just clicked. Become the family that Heather had always dreamt of. But now that too was broken. Maisie was off to college, something that they had imagined, planned, and hoped for. And Geoffrey was not there to celebrate their victory. He was not there to do all the kinky things they had planned bakırköy escort – once Maisie left.

She gave up. This time Heather did not attempt to stop the trail of tears that cascaded down her cheeks. What did it matter? Tears changed nothing. They certainly did not bring Geoffrey back. They did not even lessen the pain that was as sharp now as it had been that day, when the consultant said, “I’m sorry…”

She thought about just turning around, getting a taxi back to the train station, and a train back home. But it was not her home anymore. Oh, the will had given her the right to live there for the rest of her life. The thing was that a twenty-two-year-old college student with her first boyfriend did not want her over-protective mother living with them. And that was as it should be. But it still left Heather back to that same place: what now?

Then two days ago, Stuart, their friend and Geoffrey’s financial consultant, had shown up at the house with a package. Inside was a letter and a ticket. A ticket for the cruise that Geoffrey had promised her when Maisie was old enough to be left on her own.

Heather wanted to tear up both. The idea of this cruise without him made it all feel fresh again. Like stripping a band-aid off a wound. A suppurating wound that just would not heal. That was what her life had become. Geoffrey was gone. Maisie had moved on. But she could not. Where was she to go? What was left for her?

She wanted to run. But she had no place to run to. His strong arms that she had run to for twelve years were gone. The flesh was probably rotting from the bones by now. Just as her life was rotting like one of her tomatoes left too long on the vine. Neglected.

Oh, she had tried. She had walked. Sometimes for hours on the Gower, lost in her grief. The weight that she had worked for so long to lose had fallen off. That tended to happen when you forget to eat. Her aging body had become a sack, an empty bag until she could not stand to look in the mirror.

Finally, three months ago, she had worked up the courage to have the tummy tuck she had always joked with Geoffrey and Maisie about. What did her fear of not waking up from the anesthetic matter? Would that be so bad? Would death be so bad?

But she had woken up after the surgery. And despite a body that was three sizes smaller, looked better than she had since she was thirty-five, life still sucked.

As she recovered, she had lost herself in writing. What else was there to do since she could not wander the Gower lost in thought? Only read and write. She had almost finished her first novel in over two years. But that too left her feeling emptying. What was the point? She did not need the money.

A voice over the PA system broke into her thoughts. A final boarding call. She fingered the ticket in her hand. What did escort bakırköy she have to lose? She had lost everything that mattered almost a year ago. While she still had Maisie, that did not count, not when her daughter did not need her anymore.

She sighed as she rubbed the ticket between her fingers. Didn’t she owe this to Geoffrey? Hadn’t he gone to the trouble to plan this?

She shook her head, knowing that sometimes there were no answers. Even when you wanted and needed them most. The only thing she could do was put one foot in front of the other. Join the queue with all the others.

There seemed to be an over-abundance of women, most older even than her fifty-nine. Correction, sixty. She would be sixty when she left the ship in ten days. Sixty, a widow. And no idea what to do with whatever remained of her life. It was not supposed to be this way.


It could not be. Jan Iverson watched the passengers as they boarded his ship. But it was only one that he saw. He would know her face anywhere. It was the one that had filled his dreams for almost two decades. One he had thought never to see again after that email twelve years ago. He shook his head. No, it could not be her. She was living her happily ever after with some other man hundreds of miles from this Scottish port.

He checked the ship’s manifest on the tablet in his hand. Were they trembling? His eyes scanned the document. Alighting on the name he sought. He clicked on it, bringing up her cabin information. That could not be right. She was booked into a single cabin.

Where was he? The man that had stolen…

No, that was not fair. No one could take what was never yours. And while Jan might have enjoyed her body from time to time, that was all it was. All it could be. They had agreed on that years ago.

But that had never stopped him from wanting more. Wishing things could have been different for them. But she had a child. A special needs one. And he had decided long ago that kids were not for him. So, they had agreed. Friends with benefits. Though even that was only a handful of times.

He still remembered each one. They played in slow motion in his dreams every time he closed his eyes. They had for over twelve years. From the moment he received that email. The moment he knew that this time, he had lost her forever. Even then, he had refused to give up hope. She had had other relationships. It was just a matter of time. She always came back to him.

Why wouldn’t she? It was the most spectacular sex of his life. But it went beyond that. The kink they shared had blown his mind. Never had he been with a sub who surrendered so naturally, who entrusted herself to him so completely.

But he had blown it. Three strikes, and he was out. It was his fault too. He was the one that always pulled back — gone too bakırköy escort bayan long between meets, between emails. But what else was he to do? The woman had gotten under his skin.

To hold something in your hand. Something that you craved for practically your whole life. And know that you could never really have it. Never own it the way you wanted and needed. Hell, yeah, he had pulled back. He had had to, to keep perspective, to maintain his sanity.

None of that answered the critical questions, though. What was she doing on his ship? Why now? And where was the man that had finally given her everything that he could not? Those answers were not in the manifest. But he had ten days. Ten days to find out. And he knew just where to begin.

Motioning for the young ensign who was standing a few feet away, Jan scribbled a note on one of the cards he kept in his pocket.

“Take this to the woman in cabin 1221. Tell her that she is to sit at the captain’s table this evening for dinner,” he said as he passed the card to the man.

He wondered if the name would ring any bells with her. She had never known his last name. It was one way they had kept it casual. But would she think of another Captain Jan when she saw it? Would she remember those other times when she had sat at the captain’s table?

Though that was so different from this, a lifetime it seemed. And sitting at the captain’s table on a cruise ship was far different than being the only woman in a room of fifty men on a cargo one. He had so enjoyed parading her before his men then. It had filled some sick need to stamp a sign of ownership upon her. Beyond just the bruises, bites, and rope marks that she always left with after their little rendezvous.

He looked back up, but she had disappeared into the crowd. He double-checked the manifest. To assure himself that it was not all an illusion. Another of his warped dreams. Another fantasy of having that which was not and never would be for him. No, that was her name. She was on his ship once more for the next ten days.

He had no illusion that they would pick up where they left off. She was happy. She had made that clear in the email. She sure as hell deserved it. And he would not do anything to endanger that happiness.

But where the hell was he? The man that had become all to her that he never could be. Jan would certainly never allow her to travel alone like this. Didn’t the man know that these cruises were dangerous? Maybe not in any physical way, but there were always men, young and old, who came on board to take advantage of women. Women traveling alone, and there were plenty of those to choose from.

Jan forced his mind away from those thoughts. He had things to do before they set sail. And he would have time this evening over dinner to get answers to those questions. He would get answers. And he would make sure that she was not one of the women that fell victim on this cruise. He owed her that much at least.

He owed her so much more. He wanted so much more from her and with her. But some things were never meant to be. One day he would learn to live with that. One day she would not haunt his dreams — one day.

But today was certainly not that day.

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