"Just so you know, I killed your father," Eric whispered in her ear.
Expecting love words when she'd felt him lean against her, felt the warmth of his breath along her neck, Alexis Stanhope was too stunned by her new husband's confession to move. The scene she'd only moments before been staring at in wonder--the full moon dancing off the waters of the Caribbean in the wake of the cruise ship--vanished and she saw only the vision of her father, laying prostrate on his kitchen floor, blood pooling around him.
She could not seem to grasp what he'd said. "You were in Seattle. How...? How could you have...?" Her lips felt stiff. The words tangled on her tongue, as if she was speaking for the first time.
"Cleverly," Eric said, taking a step back and striking her so hard between the shoulder blades that she tipped over the ship railing.
For several seconds she teetered on the balustrade, too shocked and too petrified with terror to do more than gasp, unable even to scream as she scrabbled for a hold on the slippery railing. The beautiful sequined sheathe she had worn for its elegance trapped her, allowing her no room to maneuver, despite the slit down the back of the skirt, so that she was scarcely able to do more than wiggle like a worm caught on a hook.
Then she felt him grasp her legs, flipping her completely over the railing. Several nails broke as she lost her grip and then she was plummeting toward the yawning sea, falling in slow motion, staring in shocked disbelief at Eric's grinning face as it grew smaller and smaller with distance, as the waves seemed to rise up to catch her.
She struck the water almost fully erect, feet first.
The chill of the water seemed to loosen the grip shock had held over her vocal cords.
Subconsciously, she knew a cry for help was useless. Late as it was, music still spilled from the ballroom and casino where inebriated guests laughed and talked at the top of their lungs to be heard above the music. The thrum of the engines, the crash of churning water added to the clamor. It was doubtful if she would have been heard had she screamed before she went over.
Now, it was worse that useless.
And yet she couldn't go to her death without telling the man who'd betrayed her how she despised him for his cowardly attack.
"I'll divorce you!" she screamed furiously.
Dimly, she heard, or thought she heard, a laugh, and the words, "Too late."
Despite the fact that she struck the sea feet first, she didn't cleave the water cleanly. Her feet took most of the shock, but her bent knees and upper torso took the impact in sufficient force that a shock wave traveled through her entire body, as if she'd struck pavement.
The horror, however, overshadowing even the stunning pain, was that she continued to fall, on and on, almost forever it seemed.
Blackness engulfed her before her instinct for survival took over and she began to struggle against the water pulling at her, slowing her descent, and finally climbing. Her arms burned with the effort. Her lungs were on fire. Her head felt as if it would explode from the pressure of holding her breath.
Something brushed her leg.
She screamed a silent scream, losing much of her captured air, swallowing a gulp of briny water. The fright galvanized her flagging strength, however, and she struggled harder to reach the surface, her need for air rapidly overshadowing all other fears.
The water around her lightened ... or her eyes were becoming accustomed to the darkness. She wasn't certain which, but this time, when 'it' brushed against her, she saw, or thought she saw, the shape of a man.
Had she been mistaken? Had he come after her?
The shape moved away, but she was too desperate for air now to spare a thought for searching.
She could see the surface of the water above her. The moon's glow rippled over the restless waves, causing the water to sparkle like silver and gold gems.
For some moments, hope buoyed her flagging strength, but no matter how she struggled, she seemed to come no closer. Her arms moved slower and slower. A different sort of blackness swarmed around her. She couldn't hold her breath any longer.
She inhaled water as something grasped her and propelled her toward the surface as if she'd suddenly found a jet pack strapped to her. She thought the speed might be her imagination, but she was moving so fast that she cleared the surface of the water by several feet before she crashed down once more.
She went under, bobbed up, treading water like a half drowned puppy, flopping her arms and slapping at the water awkwardly, dipping under the water again and again before bobbing to the top once more.
Minutes passed before she could control her coughing and gagging. Finally, she managed to draw one pure breath of air and then another. Slowly, her drowning panic subsided until other considerations began to filter through her mind.
Frantically, she looked around for the ship.
When she finally saw it, she was certain her eyes were playing tricks on her. It couldn't have gone so far ... could it?
It was hopeless.
They'd sailed on without her.
No one had seen Eric's cowardly assault.
No one had heard her scream as she'd fallen overboard.
No one except the man who'd pushed her ... her husband of five days.
Some freaking honeymoon!