Since arriving, only the captain and his two crew members had ever seen their faces, and none of them knew their true names.
It seemed the perfect plan.
Muffled voices reached her. She could not make out any words, but heard the harsh threat—then a gunshot, as bright and loud as the strike of a cymbal.
It set her heart to pounding.
Not now. Not when we’re this close.
Mack burst out of the sheets, wearing only his boxers. “Amanda, stay here!” He pulled open the top drawer of the bedside table and hauled out a large black automatic pistol, his service weapon from his years as a Charleston police officer. He pointed to the rear of the stateroom. “Hide in the bathroom.”
Amanda gained her feet, bloodless and weak with terror, wobbling under the weight of her gravid belly.
Mack dashed to the door, checked the peephole. Satisfied, he opened the door enough to slip out and closed it silently behind him—but not before giving one last command. “Lock it.”
Amanda obeyed, then searched the room for any weapon at all. She settled for a small knife used to carve the fresh fruit placed in their cabin each morning. The handle was still sticky from papaya juice. With blade in hand, she retreated to the bathroom but stopped at the threshold. She could not go inside. She refused to be trapped inside such a tight space. The tiny stateroom’s head could not contain the enormity of her fear.
More gun blasts rang out—amid shouts and curses.
She sank to her knees, clutching the knife with one hand, supporting her belly with the other. Her anxiety reached the child inside. She felt a small kick.
“I won’t let them hurt you,” she whispered to her boy.
Overhead, footsteps pounded back and forth.
She stared upward, trying to pierce through the floors to the starlit deck. What was happening? How many were up there?
Then a furtive scrabbling sounded at her door—followed by a faint knock.
She hurried forward and placed an eye to the peephole. Mack nodded back at her, then glanced quickly back up the passageway. Had he found a way off the yacht—or out of desperation simply come back to defend her?
With numb fingers, she fumbled the lock open and began to pull the door, only to have it kicked wide. She stumbled back in shock. A tall, bare-chested black man stalked into the room—but it wasn’t Mack.
He held Mack’s head in his right hand, gripping it by the throat. Shiny blood poured down his forearm from the severed neck. In his other hand, he clutched an equally bloody machete. He smiled widely, showing white teeth like a shark, plainly amused by his joke.
She retreated in horror, forgetting her tiny blade.
Another figure stepped around the monster. A pale man in a perfectly tailored white suit. The only color to him was his black hair and a thin mustache above even thinner lips. He was tall enough that he had to bow himself into the room. He also smiled, but apologetically, as if embarrassed by the exuberance of his companion.
He spoke a few sharp words in some African dialect, clearly chastising his companion.
With a shrug, the other tossed her husband’s head upon the bed.
“It’s time to go,” the suited man ordered her in a genteel British accent, as if inviting her to a party.
She refused to move—couldn’t move.
The Brit sighed and motioned to his companion.
He came forward, roughly grabbed her elbow, and dragged her out the door. The Brit followed them across the short passageway and up the ladder to the stern deck.
There, she found only more horror and chaos.
The captain and his two crewmates, along with a pair of the assailants, lay sprawled in pools of blood. The attackers had been shot; the yacht’s crew hacked, dismembered by the sheer force of the brutality.
The surviving assailants gathered atop the deck or off in a scarred boat tied to the starboard rail. A handful scoured the yacht, hauling out cases of wine, bagfuls of supplies, stripping anything of value. They were all black-skinned, some bearing tribal scarring, many no older than boys. Weapons bristled among them: rusty machetes, antique-looking automatic rifles, and countless pistols.
Under the moonlight, freshened by the evening’s southeasterly trade winds, her mind cleared enough to allow despair and bitter guilt to creep in. Out here in the Seychelles, she had thought they were far enough away from the Horn of Africa to be safe from the modern-day pirates who hunted those waters.
A dreadful mistake.
She was shoved toward the moored boat, accompanied by the Brit. She had read somewhere in her father’s briefings about how a few European expatriates had taken to aiding and financing the profitable new industry of piracy.
She stared at the British man, wondering how he had managed to avoid getting a single drop of blood on his pristine suit amid all this carnage.
He must have noted her attention and turned to her as they reached the starboard rail.
“What do you want with me?” she asked, fixing him with a hard stare, suddenly glad that all the papers aboard hid her true identity. “I’m nobody.”
The Brit’s gaze lowered from her steely resolve—but not out of shame or remorse. “It is not you we want.” He stared at her belly. “It’s your baby.”
7:00 P.M. EST
Takoma Park, Maryland
Balancing a bag of groceries on his hip, Gray pulled open the screened back door to his family’s home. The smell of a baking pie, rich in cinnamon, struck him first. On his way back from the gym, he got a text from Kenny to fetch some French vanilla ice cream and a few other odds and ends needed for tonight’s dinner—the first family dinner since the tragic loss of their mother.
A glance at the stove revealed a large pot of bubbling Bolognese sauce; by the sink, a drying bowl of spaghetti in a strainer. A hissing pop drew his gaze back to the pot. Only now did he note the vigorous boil to the sauce. Unattended and forgotten, red sauce roiled over the lip, dribbled down the sides, and sizzled into the gas burner.
Something was wrong.
That was confirmed when a loud bellow erupted from the next room: “WHERE’S MY KEYS!”
Gray dropped the groceries on the counter, turned off the stovetop, and headed to the living room.
“SOMEONE’S STEALING MY CAR!”
Passing through the dining room, Gray joined the fracas in the living room. Overstuffed furniture was positioned around a central stone hearth, cold and dark at the moment. His father looked skeletal in the recliner by the picture window. He’d once filled that same seat, commanding the room. Now he was a frail shadow of his former self.