The day she arrived, I’d been watching from the bridge when a woman in a fluttering blue dress caught my eye.
Emily Evans, my new chief stew.
She’s a bit taller than average, slight of build with the gait of a dancer. Her light brown hair whips in the wind. She smiles, waving to the other yachties as she makes her way toward the Aphrodite. She shields her eyes from the sun, searching for the letters on the side of the boat to confirm she’s in the right place.
The wind hits the hem of her dress just right, blowing the material up and over her thighs, giving me the briefest glimpse of her virginal white panties. She laughs, unashamed, pushing the fabric down in place.
And I’m lost in that smile.
Something about the way she holds herself, or the shape of her face, the golden glint in her hazel eyes. I can’t put my finger on it exactly, but the moment I see her, there’s a queer welling in my chest. One I’ve not felt in a very long time.
I’d been on the lookout for her arrival, having read the recommendation of her previous employer several times. I found his description of her to be intriguing:
Emily is one of the hardest working employees I’ve ever had. Her sunny nature pleases the guests. She manages her crew well, creating camaraderie amongst all she works with. Has a streak of fire in her that I found quite charming.
Streak of fire? This girl? She looks sweet as sugar. I couldn’t even imagine a curse word forming on her lovely lips.
I watch her cross the sidewalk, thinking of what I’d like to do to this beautiful girl with the streak of fire in her. Maybe her employer meant she had a sassy mouth?
I’d love to experience it firsthand.
Have her give me a reason to say, “Don’t make me put you over my knee.” Pull that lithe body over my lap. Raise her fluttering blue dress. Spank her bottom till the fire moves from her soul to her ass. Run my hand up those long, smooth legs. Slip my fingers beneath those pure white panties. Finger her pussy while she grinds into my thigh.
See just how wet a spanking makes her.
I swallow hard, my throat feeling as tight as my trousers as I watch her cross the ramp from the dock to the boat, then disappear beneath me. I clear my mind of my lecherous thoughts.
Remind myself of my one rule.
Never fall in love.
The five words every person on the receiving end of a breakup dreads: it’s not you, it’s me.
I’m sitting across from my boyfriend, and he’s saying those exact words… to me.
It’s not you… it’s me.
My mind reels. What does that even mean? That I’m just fine the way I am but he wasn’t born patient enough to deal with me? Maybe he means I’m a catch for another guy but he’s just too vain to be with such a plain Jane?
It’s not you… it’s me.
The phrase is senseless—if there was nothing wrong with me then you wouldn’t have brought me to a public meeting place to toss me away like a day-old half eaten sandwich. If the problem in our relationship is truly you and not me, then I’d be the one breaking it off with you—wouldn’t I?
As I stare into his eyes, reading the look of feigned empathy, all these tumbling thoughts lead me to my one final conclusion.
It is, most certainly, one hundred and ten percent… me.
I am the cause of our breakup. Maybe I’m not pretty enough to be with such a classically handsome man. Or maybe his breaking point was one of those nights when he was trying to have an intellectual debate and instead of seeing my face light up with all the possibilities of life’s conclusions, he found me yawning.
Or was it something simpler?
Maybe he’d grown tired of my anal ways, lining up every dish in his cupboards when I visited. Fussing at him for not squeezing the toothpaste tube from the bottom. Perhaps he didn’t like the fact that I cuss like a sailor.
He clearly doesn’t have the guts to tell me why he’s leaving me. Or, more likely, he’s trying to spare my feelings. But instead of just knowing what was so wrong with me, I’m left in turmoil trying to figure it out myself.
My whole world comes crashing down around my shoulders as he says those words. He’s says other things too—things that my mind can’t even begin to process in this hell on Earth that I am trying to survive.
Up until this dreadful moment, the ringing of wedding bells had been chiming in my twenty-four-year-old imagination. In my blind stupidity, I thought we were something special. I thought we were building toward a proposal, then a life together.
We dated in high school. Got back together years later when he contacted me out of the blue. I even gave up cussing for him. What a great love story.
He’s a nice man. Well groomed. Budgets carefully. Uses his time responsibly. He would make a great husband. He would graduate with a doctorate in art history and move up from teacher assistant to professor. We would buy a house. Host dinner parties. Have babies.
Swirls of his last name attached to mine crisscross over my waitressing notebook. Wedding planning magazines litter my apartment.
I’m such a fool.
Heat rises in my chest. Both the notebook and the magazines will now be burned.
He gazes upon me, a look akin to pity swirling in those sea blue eyes. I cannot stomach him looking at me this way. My face bursts into flames. Tears burn the backs of my eyes and my throat swells as if filled with smoke. I rise from my seat.
He goes to grab at my arm. “Baby. Sit down. Don’t leave when you’re this upset.”
To which I reply, “Fuck you.” My only solace in this whole terrible situation is that fleeting look of pain that zings across his face.
I make it out onto the sidewalk before the tears start falling and for that, I’m grateful.
The next few weeks are a blur.
To say the breakup shattered me would be an understatement. Commercials make me cry. Every song on the radio seems to be about him. Food no longer has a taste; sleep is a thing of the past.
I stop washing my hair. No longer vacuum my apartment carpet in neat, orderly lines. I drop plates at work. Make simple mistakes on almost every order. I can’t stop thinking about him and it’s ruining me.
Even though he’s ripped my beating heart out of my chest, all I can think about is what we had. I’m going mad. I have to get out of Glendale, our tiny Ohio college town, as fast as possible.
I turn to my one escape: yachting.
I’ve had heartbreak in my past. As a result, six years ago the day after high school graduation, I ran off and joined a boat as a third stew. I found that I loved the organized chaos. I loved the types of people who were drawn to the sea. I found the ocean to be healing.
With four years’ experience already under my belt, jumping aboard a boat now and heading as far away from my ex as possible makes complete sense. I call my former employer—more of a father figure than a boss—and he hooks me up with a glowing reference as well as a lead for a chief stew position on the Aphrodite—the mega yacht of an elusive, incredibly wealthy family.
I do what any other woman in my position would do—take the job on the mega yacht owned by mafia billionaires.
The Bachman family. The men are called the Brothers. The women, the Beauties.
Basically, they are the equivalent of America’s mafia royalty.
And the Aphrodite is their mega yacht and my new home for the next few months.
The Aphrodite is the envy of the yachting industry. The massive one-hundred-and-fifty-foot navy and white vessel has all the trimmings of luxury living. Military grade tech, three different decks, and roomy staff quarters round it out, making it the best in the business. Nicknamed ‘the queen of the sea,’ she’s like a floating luxury beach home.
The upper deck hosts a hot tub that can comfortably hold twelve. A lounge area with optional shade coverings. A roomy, cushy pad stretches across the bow, a great place for warming your skin under the sun while watching the world go by. The main deck has a carved oak dining table, seating for twenty. The guest cabins are enormous and lavishly decorated, the bathrooms housing tubs that could comfortably seat four adults.
Everyone dreams of working on the Aphrodite.
The backdrop of the lush Greek islands is so breathtaking, it almost seems unreal. The charming towns carved into the rock cliffs, the turquoise blue seas, it’s heavenly. And a view you can only afford as a billionaire.
Bachman Enterprises is a raging success of legit businesses the family uses to cover up their secret mafia dealings. But this family is far from the greasy mobsters you picture when you hear the word mafia. Lovers of luxury, the men and women of this family are well dressed, well groomed, and perfectly mannered.
The whispers and the rumors about the Bachmans are woven all through the tapestry of the yachting world. I’ve heard all kinds of crazy things. That they have more money than the country as a whole. That they kill for sport. That they raise their young to be bloodthirsty monsters. They’re into kinky sex. And the most curious of all the rumors—the men spank their women.
I have no qualms working for ‘criminals.’ This group has their own strong sense of morals, their own code they live by. Likening their organization to Robin Hood, they use their underground businesses as an opportunity to take from the richest of the rich, sprinkling the cash back into the hands of the poor. And what they do behind the closed doors of their bedrooms?
I couldn’t care less. It’s not like I’m going to get involved with one of them.
I quite admire their luxurious lifestyle, the traveling, the elegant clothing, the five-star meals, but I’m just here to serve them on their time off. I sleep just fine at night working for the mafia.
It doesn’t hurt that the pay is un-fucking-believable.
After a long flight across the world, I spend one night and day at a hotel, recuperating from jetlag.
This morning, I wake, washing the tears from my face. I figure it’s a new day, signaling a new life for me and should be treated as such. I smooth my long light brown hair, dress in a cheerful, light blue fluttery sundress that’s much brighter than I feel. I take a deep breath. Say goodbye to the completely wasted past year of my life. Grab my suitcase and wheel it down to the water.
I now stand by the docks, the breeze blowing through my hair. The sun shines on my face, warming my skin. I feel a glimmer of hope, but it’s strong enough to stretch a smile across my face. I wave to the other yachties as I make my way to the line of enormous boats.
I shield my eyes from the sun, looking right and left, and finally, I spot her. Her name blazes across her sparkling side: Aphrodite. I feel the eyes of other boats’ crewmembers on me as I turn in her direction. Excited butterflies flutter in my stomach as I walk toward the dock. Wind blows my skirt up and I laugh as I push it back into place, carefree and ready for a new start.
I board the boat with an air of reverence one might have when entering a church. She’s just as beautiful as I’d imagined. It’s quiet and I know I’m the first one on. I always am. I like the silent time before the hustle to get acquainted with the interior of the boat. Check out my serving dishes, the linen closets. I have twenty-four hours until the rest of the crew arrive, seventy-two hours till guests come.
I’d best get busy.
I’m not a ‘Type A’ personality. I’m a ‘Type A’ plus, plus.
I have to have my cupboards perfect—glasses lined up rim to rim, towels folded perfectly, napkins ironed crisply—to deliver the level of service that I demand from myself. The task of organizing the boat is a welcomed distraction from my breakup. I’m a firm believer that tidiness soothes the soul.
I tie my hair up, change into sweats and a tee, and get to work. I stop only to make myself a cup of coffee and half a sandwich. It’s strange that there’s already some food in the fridge, since I haven’t seen anyone else, but I’m too hungry to question it. After my meal, I get right back to work.
Around midnight, I’m covered in dust and sweat, and my muscles are sore, but I look around the boat and I’m satisfied with my work.
I go down to my cabin, take a long hot shower, and collapse into bed. I’m grateful that the long day leaves me with dreamless sleep.
In the morning, the rest of the crew begin to trickle in. Third stew Charlotte from a small town in New York, blonde and perky and sweet. Second stew, Jules from London, jet-black hair and tattoos. We three get along right from the get-go.
The male deckhands are skilled, professional, and easy on the eyes. The captain comes down from the bridge to introduce himself and give us a lengthy lecture on all of his rules. He’s quite handsome with his broad shoulders and movie star jawline, but I find him to be distant, almost cold. He’s cordial but has a booming voice and an authoritative air that makes me divert my gaze in his presence. He carries himself as the others in the Brotherhood, making me wonder if he’s joined their ranks.
All the more reason to keep my distance.
The next forty-eight hours are a whirlwind. The deckhands scrub the decks, wash the sides of the boat till the paint gleams, squeegee the windows till they are spotless. I spend the time training my girls. They are sweet and eager to please, and I feel hopeful this will be a great season. We go to bed, knowing that we’ve done our best and tomorrow we will be ready to greet the Bachmans.
In the morning, we line the dock in preparation of our guests’ arrival. Dressed in crisp whites that I’ve starched and pressed myself, our crew stands ramrod straight, hands neatly folded behind our backs. Nine a.m. sharp, right on time, the Bachmans’ black Mercedes van pulls up to the dock. They step out one by one. Each gorgeous, dressed to the nines in designer clothing. They make their way to us, power and wealth oozing from them.
I’m intimidated especially by the steely jaws and sharp eyes of the men. But they reach out their hands in greeting. Warm smiles, handshakes. As I offer them glasses of mimosa, I know this will be a great charter.
And it is… for about twenty-four hours. Because things never turn out the way you expect them to. (My current position of being single and living on a yacht—in lieu of accepting a marriage proposal from my boyfriend—being a prime example.)
A few hours into the second day of the charter, the unpredictable Mediterranean weather takes a turn for the worse, putting off the guests’ plans of water toys and jet skis, which means they will be stuck on the boat all day.
Which means I will be working twice as hard to cater to them.
If that wasn’t enough to keep me running, Jules, my second stew is suddenly seasick. Charlotte, my third stew, is proving to be as green as the face of my second stew—Charlotte told me she’s a friend of the family and this is her first yachting job, but with Jules down, her inexperience is taking a toll.
Our eccentric chef is mixing up plates, his mind elsewhere, having just got word from home that his pet tarantula died. I was making a Bloody Mary and got a spot on my white shirt that I can’t get out. My gray skirt’s been riding up all day because Charlotte washed it on the hottest water cycle.
But we make it through the morning without the guests noticing our bumps and blunders. Now I’m making afternoon drinks for the guests. First up, a whiskey sour. I pour the mixer into the shaker, add whiskey and ice, and shake it.
Tears instantly sting at the back of my eyes, making me feel like a fool.
Whiskey sours were his favorite drink, one I would make for him often. He would take the first sip, give me a wink, and tell me what a great bartender I was. Making one now is hitting too close to heartbreak. I put the shaker down on my spotless countertop. Press at my eyelids with the backs of my hands. Take a deep breath. “Get it together, Emily.” I open my eyes, paste a smile on my face, and go back to work. I put all my frustrations into the damn shaker. This will be the best mixed whiskey sour in the Med. I pour it into the sugar-rimmed glass. Add a curly peel of blood orange and place the glass on the tray.
I wonder if she’s making them for him now.
I can’t bear the thought. So devastated by the breakup, I’ve suppressed the words that followed it’s not you, it’s me. My mind flashes back to that horrible moment… his eyes locked on mine. His hands holding mine on the top of the table.
I’ve met someone.
My stomach feels sick. Those pesky tears resurface but I will them away. I swallow hard, digesting all my rising emotions as I do. I cannot, will not think about this right now.
One whiskey sour—mixed with rage—coming right up.
I hold the smile on my face even though on the inside I’m a total wreck. It’s not the clients’ fault my ex was a cheating, lying sack of shit. I want the Bachmans’ experience to be the best possible. This requires a friendly and attentive chief stew, not a crying mental mess. I make my way out of the galley. The door leading out to the deck swings open, slapping my tray and sending the drink flying. “Oh, shit!” I cry as I watch the perfectly prepared whiskey drink crash to the floor.
Charlotte stands before me, her eyes wide in horror. Her hands go to her cheeks. “Oh, Emily, I’m so sorry! I was rushing about and—” Her words are cut off by the tears glistening in her eyes. Her bottom lip begins to quiver.
“Oh, sweetheart.” I place my hand on her trembling shoulder. I remember those early days all too well, trying to please and feeling like you have no idea what you’re doing. “It’s okay. Don’t worry, you’re going to get the hang of it. It’s only your first charter.”
“I know but… the Bachmans took a chance on me. They never hire inexperienced stews… look at you.” Her wide eyes turn up to me, as if searching for my secrets.
“Yes. You’re perfect. You keep everything so neat and tidy. You always seem to know exactly what the guests want before they even know it themselves. And no one folds a napkin like you. You’re incredible.” She gazes at me as if I’m made of gold.
I offer her a smile. “Well, I don’t know about that, but I’m happy to teach you everything I know. You’ll see, just be patient and give yourself some time.”
“Thank you.” She pulls me into a tight hug.
I wind my arms around her, smoothing her soft hair. “Would you mind cleaning this up and I’ll go make another one?”
She releases me, shooing me with a nervous flutter of her hands. “Of course. I’ve got this. You go. I promise I’ll try harder. I don’t want to disappoint you.”
Pressing my hands into her shoulders, I steady her with my gaze. She blinks back her tears, focusing on my words. I make my tone firm; she needs to know I believe in her, then she can believe in herself. “Charlotte, if you keep working as hard as you are, you are going to make a fan-fucking-tastic stewardess one day.”
The tension in her face melts into a bright smile. “Emily, you’re the best boss.” She gives me another tight squeeze, then bounces off to gather rags and our trusty spray bottle. You can clean an entire boat with a little rubbing alcohol. And you can calm any new stew with a few words of encouragement.
I head off to the galley to mix another drink. Watch out, shaker, I’m coming for you. I laugh to myself, a bit of a manic laugh—I can’t fall apart—and reach for the whiskey.
What more could go wrong today?
As if reading my thoughts, my watch beeps. Though the term ‘watch’ doesn’t do this little gadget justice. The small round face attaches to my wrist with a sleek black leather band. It has a location device, time settings for every zone, and with a press of your earpiece, it listens to your voice, relaying your message to all crew.
These watches are the source of all communication. They are directly linked to a tiny silicone bud that rests in my ear canal, much like a hearing aid of sorts. It’s so comfortable, I never notice it.
Staff are always to wear the watch and the earpiece when guests are on board. Every Bachman male wears one, whether they are on board or not.
I answer the beep by pressing a finger to my ear, activating my mic. “Emily speaking.”
A booming voice comes through the line. “Emily, Captain. Meet me on the bridge.” I sense an edge of displeasure in his voice. It makes me cringe. Knots form in my stomach.
I press the button again. A small sigh slips from my mouth as I reply, “Copy for Emily.”
“Forgetting something, dear?”
“Copy for Emily… sir.”
The only thing left to go wrong on this charter—me being pulled up to the bridge.
Captains only call you up to their lair for one thing; to fuss you out. I rack my brain through the last few days, trying to figure out what I could have possibly done to be on Captain’s bad side.
The Aphrodite is the most revered boat in the yachting world and this captain is the most well respected and sought after in the industry. It makes sense the two would be paired. Captain Luca’s a workaholic who stays tied to the sea. Ridiculous stories spread about his past, as he never shares his private life. No one even knows whether he’s a member of the Brotherhood, or just an employee of the Bachmans.
The less information people have about a person, the more crap they make up to fill in the blanks.
It’s been said he hasn’t had a date in ten years.
That he was a general in the army and was dishonorably discharged for losing his temper and beating up five men at once, then took off to Greece to hide his shame.
That he was a well-known movie star in Italy, was scorned by his lover—a costar actress—and adopted a life of solitude on the water.
And my personal favorite—his fiancée cheated on him and he murdered her lover in a fit of jealous rage. Then took off for the Aphrodite to live under the protection of the Bachmans.
His looks only serve to fuel the fire of the mysterious rumors that swirl around him. He’s a well-oiled machine built like a tank with a face that makes women’s knees go weak. He’s got these gray-green eyes that seem to change color, going stormy when he’s annoyed. His body is made of stone, his jawline of steel. He holds himself to the highest standards and demands perfection from his staff.
And he scares the absolute shit out of me.
I bring him coffee in the mornings then try to stay out of his way for the rest of the day.
I can’t keep him waiting. There’s no time for me to make a replacement whiskey sour. I find a spare deckhand—Colin, a cute redhead from Ireland who has constant sunburn across the bridge of his freckled nose—and ask him to make and serve the drink for me. Warn him to watch out for Charlotte cleaning the floor on her hands and knees on the other side of the swinging galley door.
As I head to the bridge, I feel as though I’m carrying a heavy weight and it’s becoming more burdensome with every step. I’ve cleaned every inch of this place spotless, served breakfast and lunch with a smile, and kept the drinks filled to the brim—with the one exception that is now being mopped up by Charlotte—all while down a staff member.
So why is Captain beckoning me to the bridge?
As I shuffle through all the tasks I’ve completed, anger rises in my chest. My feet hurt. My head aches from staying up past midnight preparing for breakfast service, then rising at six. I’m ready to go on my half hour break. The last thing I want right now is to be reprimanded. I tread lightly up the stairs, though every ounce of me wants to stomp up each one, showing my frustration.
I would never do such a thing as I pride myself on my professionalism. But I want to.
I knock on the door.
I step inside, closing the door behind me. No need for my fellow shipmates to hear me getting chewed out. I smile brightly. “You called, Captain?”
He’s seated in his wide leather chair. His eyes are mostly gray right now as they stare out over the turquoise seas. He lifts a hand to his chin, stroking his short, perfectly manicured beard. He’s got a bit of silver streaking his dark hair at his temples, though he’s not yet forty. “The weather’s clearing up.” He says it as if he’s talking to himself and not me.
“That’s nice.” I shift my weight on my feet. Neatly fold my hands behind my back and wait for the real reason I’m here. As I do, I release a small sigh.
His attention turns to me so slowly, I feel like a field mouse caught in the gaze of an eagle. It’s unnerving and it makes my already tense muscles tighten. Knots form in my stomach. His steely eyes lock on mine as he says, “Same sigh heard over the earpiece when I called you.”
He heard that? He’s got the ears of a bird of prey to match the gaze. “Sorry. Just tired.”
His face beams disapproval. “Trouble in paradise?”
“No, no trouble.” I tug on the end of my ponytail.
A shiver runs through me as he lifts one dark brow. “Then why have I received a complaint this charter?”
The knots in my stomach turn to ice, their frosty tangles traveling up toward my chest. Receiving a complaint from the family who owns the boat is the absolute worst thing that can happen, aside from the boat sinking. The Bachmans pay generously, and they demand excellence.
I feign confidence I do not feel. “In four seasons of yachting, I’ve never, ever had a complaint. What did they say?”
He leans back in his chair. Plants his elbows on its wide arms. Folds his massive hands before him. “What do you,” he points at me with his pressed together fingertips, “think was said?”
I feel as if I’m being interrogated by a general in the military. Perspiration dots my hairline. “I don’t know what it is, but I can tell you I’ve been working damn hard.”
A queer tightening twists my frozen insides. The way his dark eyes study my face gives me the sudden urge to turn and run as fast as I can. Get out of this confined space with Captain, whose jaw is now locked as tight as a treasure chest.
“And watch your tongue.”
Shit—did I just swear at Captain?
Backpedal to the metal. “Sorry—it’s just that I can’t think of a thing I’ve done wrong.”
“Not one thing?” His fingers lower, pointing to the bulge in my pocket.
My phone. Double shit.
Phones are to be kept in our bunks, used only on breaks, no exceptions. I’ve been caught. Confession time. “I had my phone out a bit, but only once or twice and I was sure I was out of sight of the clients.” There’s no way any guest saw me. I was so careful. Who turned me in?
Captain leers at me, ready to tear me limb from limb. “What could possibly be so important that you need to carry your phone with you?”
I can’t tell him the humiliating truth. I come up with a quick white lie. “I had a friend back home who wasn’t feeling well. I was checking in on her.”
His brow is now impossibly high. He’s not buying it. “Is that so?”
I ramble, coming up with any excuse to get out of there. “Won’t happen again. You have my word… I should probably get back to work now. Dinner is being served soon and I need to change into my blacks—”
“Let me see it.” He holds his hand out to me.
I squeak in reply, “My phone?”
“Yes. Your phone.”
Bile rises in my throat. I swallow hard. “Now?”
“Yes. Now.” His hands seems to be growing bigger by the second.
“Okay.” My fingers tremble as I reach into the pocket of my skirt. My precious phone suddenly becomes my enemy, about to disclose my darkest secrets.
His booming voice demands, “Unlock it and open your browser history.”
I don’t want to, but I obey. My fingers tremble as I type in my passcode and find my browsing history. Instantly, the screen is filled with line after line of social media pages.
All of them belonging to the same person, Brendon Carter.
Brendon Carter Instagram—Image after image of him in the library, sipping lattes, posed in front of old buildings admiring the architecture with an inquisitive look on his face.
Brendon Carter Facebook—Post after post of political and historical facts. I read every link he shares; thought-provoking articles on the education system, images of renowned works of art, travel blogs.
Brendon Carter Twitter feed—Witty quips he comes up with through his day, meant to inspire his students. I looked up his quotes from long-dead artists, read the retweets from professors he admires.
Basically, I’m staring at a play by play log of hours and hours of online stalking my ex-boyfriend. If this was a courtroom, they’d have all the evidence they needed right there on that tiny screen to issue a restraining order.
And I have to place my humiliation into the open hand of my captain.
I think I’m going to puke.
I reach out a trembling hand, releasing my phone into his massive palm.
His eyes graze the screen. “Let me guess. Your sick friend back home—her name is Brendon?”
“Checking up on a friend, or is this more of a stalker situation we have on our hands?”
“Um… a bit more of the latter,” I confess.
“Your history shows that you’ve been on your phone. A lot.” The twisted knots in my stomach tighten with every swipe of his finger. His storm cloud eyes rise, locking on mine and causing patches of heat to break out over my chest. “Quite a bit more than you’ve admitted to.”
I’m on the verge of shaking. I manage to stammer out, “S-sorry, sir.”
He clicks the phone off. Places it face down on his desk. He folds his hands back into the pyramid of intimidation. Those thick fingers point at me. “Tell me, Emily. Name two of my rules that you’ve broken?”
Those first few days on the Aphrodite, once the entire crew was aboard the boat, Captain sat us all down for a lecture of his expectations. Now I feel like a naughty schoolgirl being reprimanded by the principal for not behaving properly. “No phones. No lying.”
“Correct. And which of the two did I tell you was an immediately fire-able offense?”
I stare down at my bare feet. My toenail polish is chipping. I make a mental note to fix it when I get back to the bunk. Anything to take my mind off this terrible conversation. I sigh. “Lying.”
“Look at me when you speak to me.” His words strike fear in my heart.
I tear my gaze from my Candy Red toes and raise it to meet his. I’m not liking what I’m seeing there—it makes my knees weak, my stomach sick—hence the avoidance of eye contact in the first place. “Lying, sir.”
“Correct again. Which is why I’m so stumped as to why you would try and pull such a stunt.”
“I’m sorry. But… you can’t fire me.”
His sky-high brow lowers meeting the other. They knit together in displeasure. The glare he penetrates me with has me trembling as he growls, “Excuse me?”
I stammer a reply. “I mean… I know you can. But please don’t. I’m begging you. I can’t go home, I can’t face…”
“Brendon Carter?” Cue the brow lift. It’s like freaking face aerobics of intimidation.
I can’t believe I’m confessing this but it’s not as if he hasn’t seen the evidence firsthand—it was literally in his hand, for goodness’ sake.
I’m stalking my ex.
I’m obsessed with my phone.
Every single chance I get, I steal away to the back of the boat where (I thought) no one could see me and I go through every post, every picture, read every tweet, every hashtag.
I’m addicted to the heartbreak.
And I’m a shitty employee. I nod, biting my bottom lip and holding back tears. “Yes. It’s… Brendon.” Just saying his name causes me physical pain.
He leans back further in his chair. “Let me guess. An ex. Broke your heart. You got back into yachting to get away and forget about him?”
“Yes. I’m moving on.” Lying again.
His hard tone softens but it doesn’t take away the sting of his words. “Instead of moving on, you’ve put our quality of work at jeopardy, my reputation at stake, and lied to my face.”
“I know but I’m a damn good—” Eyebrow to the sky! Danger… tread carefully… “Sorry, I’m a darn good chief stew and I don’t want you to fire me.”
“Tell me, Emily. If I don’t fire you, then what am I to do with you?” His elbows bury into the leather arms of his chair, and his chin rests on the top of the pyramid he’s formed with his fingers.
I think of Charlotte’s face when she spilled the drink. How her eyes were so wide and apologetic, tugging at my heart. Maybe doe eyes will work on Captain. I widen my gaze, try to make my bottom lip quiver. “Keep me. I promise I won’t break any more rules.”
He gives me a queer look. I drop the act. He says, “Your promise means nothing if I can’t trust you. And you’ve lied to me, breaking that trust. Do you know what happens to my staff when they can’t be trusted?”
“They have to be watched until they earn that trust back. I’ll be watching you very closely.”
Hope dances in my heart. “Does that mean you’re keeping me?”
His gaze narrows, as if he’s deciding what I’m made of. How much I can handle. “That depends.”
“On what?” I ask.
His tone lowers. “On whether you choose to accept your punishment.”
Sounds strange, but if Captain wants to walk around watching me fold towels and create centerpieces, he can have at it. “Of you watching me? Sure. I don’t mind. You’ll see how much I do in a day and it’ll be good for me to have you holding me accountable. Maybe you can even give me some tips—”
He interrupts me, his harsh tone reprimanding me. “Having to watch you is a byproduct of you breaking my trust. It is not a punishment.”
What the hell is he talking about?