The man could dance.
I had taken lessons in ballroom dancing when I was younger. It was expected that young ladies in my father’s peer group could at least follow along when a young man asked them to dance, but that’s about all I could do. I had never been the most coordinated person on the dance floor, and the only type of dancing we did at our wedding was of the kind where Erik led and I followed. I had been slightly surprised that he knew how to do even that, but what I saw at the Silver Slipper astounded me.
I caught Erik tapping his foot to the music as we ate, and I jokingly asked him if he wanted to dance.
“Most definitely,” he said as he finished his last bite. He stood and held out his hand to me with a bow. “May I have this dance, Mrs. Desmond?”
I shook my head as I looked at the other patrons dancing. “I don’t know how to dance, Erik.”
“Well, I’ll just have to teach you,” he answered, taking my hand and pulling me to my feet. “Don’t worry,” he said softly as he led me to the dance floor, “I won’t let you look foolish.”
“You don’t have to let me do that,” I answered. “I can do that all by myself.”
He chuckled and twirled me once before pulling me to his chest. “See,” he said as he began to move. “You can dance.”
“That wasn’t dancing,” I said distractedly as I focused on not stepping on his toes. Luckily for me, the band was playing a relatively slow song.
“Then what was it?” he asked with a laugh.
“I don’t know, but it wasn’t dancing.”
My hands tightened on him as he moved more freely about the floor.
“Relax, Sarah. This is supposed to be fun.”
I took a deep breath, and he pulled me even closer to him. I rested my cheek on his chest, and listened to his heartbeat.
“Don’t think,” he said. “Just follow me.”
I nodded against him, closed my eyes, and tried to relax. After a little while, I realized that he really knew what he was doing, and I started to enjoy myself. Erik was smooth and confident, and some of that trickled into me. I tilted my head up to him. He was smiling.
“Where did you learn how to dance?”
He shrugged as he spun me. “I read books, listened to music, and taught myself. It calms me.”
Just then, the slow song stopped, and a much faster one started. Erik grinned down at me.
“Absolutely not,” I said, pulling back. “But feel free to dance to this if you want to.”
His grin was replaced by a frown. “I don’t want to dance by myself.”
“Then ask someone else to dance with you.”
He sighed. “Sarah, this is our honeymoon. I don’t want to dance with someone else. I want to dance with you.”
“I’m sorry, Erik,” I said, “but I can’t dance to this. It takes a lot more coordination than I happen to possess.”
I started walking back to our table, but he grabbed my hand. I looked back at him and could see the struggle going on in his mind clearly on his face.
“You really wouldn’t mind if I asked someone to dance?”
I smiled at him. “Erik, I would love to just watch you. Go, ask someone.” I looked around the room and saw a young lady in a yellow dress standing to one side of the dance floor, swaying in time to the music. She was about my age. I nodded in her direction. “She looks like she wants to dance. Go ask her.”
“Are you sure?”
“I’m positive. Please, Erik, don’t let me keep you from having fun.”
He dipped his head and kissed me softly. “I love you, Sarah. More now than ever.”
“I love you, too. Now stop stalling. I want to watch you dance.”
He smiled and dropped my hand, striding purposefully toward the woman. I went back to our table and sat down, watching him the entire way. He stopped in front of her, gave her a small bow, and held out his hand. She smiled brightly as she nodded and took it. Erik led her onto the dance floor, and then they danced.
I didn’t recognize the type of dances they did, but they involved much more complicated moves than I ever would have been able to do without falling flat on my face. The most entertaining part of it all, however, was the expression of pure joy on Erik’s face. I settled back into my seat and enjoyed every minute of it.
After three dances, the band slowed the music again, and, for the first time, I realized that there was a gentleman standing next to me. He was handsome, and he was smiling at me, but his eyes were slightly unfocused. I was familiar with the haziness of someone who was well on his way to being drunk, and I shifted away from him.
“Would you like to dance with me?” he asked, and his slurred words and the stench of vodka on his breath validated my first impression of him. “I can’t do all those fancy moves, but I’m decent when it’s slow.”
“No, thank you,” I said, straightening my back and looking back at Erik. He was kissing the knuckles of his partner’s hand, and then his eyes locked with mine as he stood tall, and his smile instantly turned into a scowl.
“Oh, come on,” the man said, grabbing my wrist. “We could have some fun out there.”
I slowly turned my head and stared at his hand on me. I tried to pull my arm away, but he held on tightly.
“I said no. I’m not interested.”
The man frowned. “Not interested? You seemed plenty interested in that scarred freak out there.” His grip tightened, and I sucked in my breath at the pain.
“Let me go! I don’t want to dance with you!”
“The lady is not interested. I suggest you release her immediately.”
I could hear the fury in Erik’s voice, and when I looked up at him, his eyes were blazing, and his hands were tightly fisted at his sides.
The man only squeezed my wrist tighter as he looked over his shoulder at my husband, and I pressed my lips together to keep from crying out.
“She doesn’t know what she wants. She thinks she wants you.” He pulled me to my feet and held me behind him as he spun to face Erik. “I know she wants me.”
Erik stepped close to the man who was only a couple of inches shorter than he was. “She knows what she wants, and so do I.” He gritted his teeth. “Now get your hands off my wife.”
“Wife?” the man laughed. “You’ve got to be kidding! There is no way such a beautiful woman would marry someone like you.”
I heard the growl that began in Erik’s chest, and I tried to move around the man who hadn’t lessened his grip at all, but he held me back.
“Erik, don’t, please,” I pleaded even as I attempted once again to pull my arm free.
He ignored me. “Someone like me?”
“Yeah,” the man sneered. “Someone like you. Someone as ugly as you. She wants someone handsome like me. Someone who can show her things you couldn’t even imagine. Someone who can make her feel things she can’t even imagine.” He turned his back on Erik, and I flinched at the lewdness on his face. He ran one finger along my collarbone. “Let’s go, doll. I’ve got a much better place for us to dance.”
He took one step toward the door when he was forcibly whirled around by Erik’s hand on his shoulder. I was whipped forward since his hand never left my wrist. The next thing I heard was the sound of flesh meeting flesh, and I was free. I fell to the floor, landing on my knees with such a jolt that I knew they would bruise. I heard more blows, and I looked up.
Erik and the man had faced off next to our table. They both had blood on their faces, the man’s from his nose, and Erik’s from a split lip. I scrambled to my feet, wincing at the pain in my knees.
“Erik! Stop it!”
“Stay out of this, Sarah,” he snarled as he took one step to his right toward me. “Get behind me.”
I did so, but I grabbed his arm. “Erik, he’s not worth it. Let’s just go.”
He shrugged me off. “Not going to happen.” He glared at the man. “I’ll kill you for laying your hands on her.”
“Ha! Do you have any idea who I am?”
“No, and I don’t care. You assaulted my wife, and you’ll pay for it.”
The man suddenly swung his fist at Erik’s head, but it was blocked, and instead, Erik hit him so hard that he fell onto his back and didn’t move. Erik took a deep breath and looked at the man for a moment before turning to me. He took my head in his hands and stared into my eyes.
“Are you okay?”
I nodded slowly, but then I started to tremble, and tears came to my eyes. Erik’s arms came around me, and he held me tightly.
“It’s all right. I told you I wouldn’t let anything happen to you. I’ll always keep you safe.”
A throat was cleared behind him, and he turned, keeping me in his embrace.
“Mr. Desmond, sir?”
A man in a black tuxedo was standing behind Erik, his hands clasped behind his back, and he was staring at my husband.
“I just wanted to make sure you were okay, sir. My name is Solomon, and I am the manager of the Silver Slipper.”
“I’m fine,” Erik said icily, “but my wife is not.”
“I’m sorry about what happened, sir,” Solomon said contritely. “I wanted you to know that Mr. Debois’ behavior is not typical of the patrons of the Silver Slipper. He has been escorted out of the building and is not welcome back.”
“Mr. Debois? You know him?”
The manager flushed. “Yes, sir. His name is Ryan Debois, and his family is one of the wealthiest on the island. He seems to think that gives him the right to do whatever he wants. I informed him that it wasn’t like that here.”
I glanced down at the place where Mr. Debois had landed, and he was gone. I shuddered at the memory of his hands.
“Erik? Let’s just go, please.”
“Gladly,” Erik said stiffly. He gave the manager one last glare and took a step toward the front door, but when I tried to follow, my knees buckled. He caught me just before I hit the floor again and swung me up into his arms.
“I’m sorry,” I whispered as I burrowed into his shoulder.
“No,” he said softly as he walked to the door, “I’m the one who is sorry. I should have been with you instead of with that girl.”
I shook my head and was about to tell him that I had enjoyed watching him dance, but the reality of what that man might have done crashed into me. The tears that had filled my eyes earlier spilled over, and I began to sob. Erik’s arms tightened around me, and then I felt the wind as we exited the club.
“Mr. Desmond, sir! What happened? You’re bleeding!”
“Mrs. Desmond has been injured, Thomas. Take us to a hospital immediately.”
“Yes, sir. Right away.”
“No, Erik! It’s not that bad. I just want to go home.”
“The Rebecca. You said she was our home, remember?”
“I remember. Back to the Yacht Club, please, Thomas.”
The car smoothly made its way through the streets of Kingston, and it wasn’t long before we were back at the yacht. I spent the trip on Erik’s lap, my head on his shoulder, and his arms around me. When we reached the Yacht Club, Thomas opened the door, and Erik maneuvered himself so that he could get out of the car still holding me. He carried me on board. No one was around. We had planned on spending the entire evening on the island, so Erik had given the crew the night off. Actually, he had given them three days off, and I had no idea where they might be.
He sat me down on the bench on deck and kneeled in front of me.
“Sarah,” he said, looking down at the deck, “please forgive me. I was supposed to protect you, and I let that man hurt you.”
“You didn’t let him do anything, Erik.” I trailed my fingers through his hair. “You can’t be with me every second of every day, and you kept him from doing anything worse than he did. You did protect me.”
“No, I didn’t. If I was where I should have been, he never would have approached you in the first place.”
“You don’t know that. He was drunk. Even if you had been there, he still might have tried something. He didn’t back off when you showed up, after all.”
Erik shrugged one shoulder, but his eyes stayed down. “That’s true.”
“Erik, look at me.”
His head came up slowly, and I frowned when I saw the blood still on his lip and chin. Some had even dripped onto his shirt. “You’re hurt.”
He shook his head. “It’s nothing. Nothing compared to what he did to you.”
I rubbed the redness on my wrist and glanced down at my knees. There was no visible bruising yet, but I knew they would look bad soon.
Erik took my hand and turned it over, looking at my wrist. “Did he hurt you badly?”
“No,” I lied, knowing that if I told him the truth, he might do something foolish. “I’m okay.”
He just nodded, and then he stood up and disappeared down the stairs. He returned a few minutes later, and he had changed his shirt and cleaned off his face. There was a deep cut in his bottom lip, though, and when he sat down next to me, I pulled his head down and gently kissed him. He sucked in a breath and flinched.
“I’m sorry,” I said quickly, pulling back.
“Don’t ever be sorry for kissing me, sweetheart,” he said. “It just stings a little.”
I smiled. “Liar.”
He tried to smile back, but as soon as he started, he flinched again. “Don’t make me smile, please.” He sighed. “You’re right; it stings more than a little.”
I lifted his arm and leaned into him. We sat there for a long time, and then I whispered, “I lied, too.”
He tensed. “What do you mean?”
I caught my breath as tears returned. “He hurt me,” I said softly.
Erik’s tension increased. “Your wrist?”
I nodded. “And my knees when I fell.” Erik picked up my arm. His fingers trailed softly over the scars, and I felt him taking deep, slow breaths. I looked up at him, and he was clenching his teeth so tightly that I could see the muscles in his jaw spasming.
Suddenly he stood up.
“Erik, where are you going?”
He looked down at me, anger blanketing his face. “Stay here.” He took one step toward the gangplank, and I stood up.
He whirled on me. “I mean it, Sarah. Stay here.”
I shook my head and moved to him, placing my hand on his arm. “Don’t do anything stupid.”
“Stupid? Beating that bastard to a bloody pulp isn’t stupid, it’s justice.”
“No! Erik, don’t, please.”
He shook my hand off and turned back toward the gangplank. He had only taken one step onto it, however, when he froze with his back ramrod straight and his fists clenched.
“What is it?”
I moved up to him and looked down at the street. Two men were standing there next to a blue car. One was Mr. Debois, and I grabbed Erik’s bicep tightly to keep him from rushing at him. The other man was an older version of Mr. Debois, and I assumed he was his father.
“Mr. Desmond?” the older man called out. “Permission to come aboard, sir?”
“No,” Erik said flatly, and then he disengaged himself from my grip. “Stay here,” he said again before starting down to the men.
I took one step after him, and he spun toward me. “For God’s sake, Sarah, please!”
The fear in his eyes startled me, and I nodded and stayed where I was. Erik gave me one nod and soon stood before the two men. His posture and his fists betrayed his anger.
“What do you want?”
“My name is Carl Debois, sir,” the older man said, holding out his hand. Erik stared at it for a moment and then raised his head back up. The elder Debois flexed his hand and dropped it awkwardly to his side. “My son has something to say to you, sir.”
Ryan Dubois stood by his father’s side like a spoiled child who has been caught in some kind of mischief. He was staring at the ground and pouting, and his hands were clenching and releasing rhythmically.
The man’s head snapped up, and he glared at Erik. I saw a large bruise already forming on the left side of his jaw.
“I’m sorry for what happened at the club, sir,” he said sulkily. “I regret my actions and beg your forgiveness.”
“Right,” Erik said dryly. “Very convincing. I can tell you mean it.”
Ryan’s eyes blazed, and I knew he wasn’t sober yet. He took one step toward Erik, who straightened even more and stood his ground.
“Who do you think you are, talking to me like that, you ugly bastard?”
“Ryan!” His father placed one hand on his arm, but he shrugged him off.
“I don’t know how you convinced her to marry you,” Ryan continued. “Did you knock her up? Is that it? Forced yourself on her and put your baby in her to make her marry you?”
I sucked in a breath, and the elder Debois took a step backward as his eyes went wide. Abruptly, Erik’s hand flew from his side and gripped the front of Ryan’s shirt, dragging him close.
“You dare insult my wife! I should kill you for that!” he snarled.
I looked at Carl Debois, and he was shaking his head, his eyes flashing between Erik and Ryan. Then, to my utter surprise, he said, “Do as you will, Mr. Desmond. Just please leave him alive.” He turned and walked to his car and got in the driver’s seat. He kept his head turned away from my husband and his son.
My gaze went back to Erik, and I saw that Ryan was starting to struggle against the hand gripping him. I couldn’t see Erik’s face, but it must have been terrifying. Ryan’s eyes had opened to their fullest, and he started to tremble even as he thrashed harder. He was mumbling something that I couldn’t hear.
“What was that?” Erik said, turning his ear toward the man. “I couldn’t quite hear you.” His soft tone scared me, and I gripped the rail tightly.
“I’m sorry, Mr. Desmond, sir,” Ryan stammered. “Please don’t kill me.”
“You’re sorry? After you assault my wife? After you accuse me of rape!?”
The cowardly man brought his arms up over his head and whimpered, “Please don’t kill me, sir.”
“Erik,” I yelled as my husband brought his fist up, “he’s not worth it! Just let him go!”
Erik growled, and his fist shook as he fought himself to keep it from slamming into Ryan Debois’ face. I raced down the gangplank, placed myself in between the two men as much as I could, and grabbed Erik’s upraised arm.
“Please, Erik, for me. Let him go. Please.”
I could clearly see why Mr. Debois had changed his attitude. Erik’s eyes were almost black, his pupils were so dilated, and his face was so red that his scar stood out in livid white. His teeth were grinding together, and the scowl on his lips scared even me. He turned unseeing eyes to me and tried to fling me away, but I held onto him tightly.
“Erik! Listen to me! My love, let him go! Erik!”
His eyes went back to the man in his grasp, and I could feel his arm tense as he readied it to fly.
“Erik, no! Stop, please!”
I continued to plead with him, and eventually, my words seemed to seep through the haze of fury surrounding him. His eyes focused on me, and he took a deep, shuddering breath.
“My Erik,” I said softly as he finally dropped his arm and relaxed his fist, “please let him go.”
“Your Erik,” he answered, his brow furrowing. “I am your Erik. Only yours.”
“Only mine,” I agreed, breathing heavily, “forever.”
“Forever.” He looked at the quivering mess of a man in his grip. “Did you hear her? I am hers forever, and she is mine! Forever!”
“I heard,” Ryan Debois blubbered, tears running down his face. “I’m sorry.”
My husband flung him to the ground like the piece of trash he was, and I threw my arms around my Erik. He held onto me with one hand and pointed to the car with the other.
“Get out of here before I change my mind and beat you to within an inch of your life.”
The man on the ground scrambled to the car and climbed in the front seat before slamming the door and locking it securely. I was expecting it to pull away immediately, but the driver’s door opened, and the elder Debois stepped out and walked to us.
“Mr. Desmond, sir?”
“I just wanted to say that you showed much more restraint than I would have had I been in your position. Thank you, sir.” He held out his hand again.
As before, Erik stared at it for a moment, but this time he took it. The other man just squeezed it once and then got in the car and drove away.
“Come on,” I said, taking Erik’s hand and guiding him toward the gangplank, “let’s go home.”
He stared at the departing car for a moment and then nodded.