I Saw Him Standing There

DAY ONE—MIAMI

 

1

 

 

I had one leg out the window by the time the banging started at the door.

I knew Eduardo was coming today but I thought I’d have more time. When I first met him, Eduardo used to be known as Fast Eddie. This con, the one he was coming to collect for, was supposed to be the one to bring us to the big leagues.

The problem was, I didn’t want to go to the big leagues. And I had no idea how to tell him I hadn’t been able to go through with his latest confidence scam. There was nothing for him to collect and a whole lot to clean up after.

I sat on my bedroom window ledge, the cement scratching the backs of my legs, and contemplated my options.  

It was only a short swing from the ledge over to the balcony next door, only a short four-story drop if I fell.

The banging inside was getting louder. “Siggy! I know you’re in there!”

I winced, tightening my grip on the window frame. Eduardo does not sound happy. He was expecting me to meet him at the door with smiles and a stack of bearer bonds I was supposed to have acquired.

No smiles. No bonds.

Our carefully laid plan had gone horribly, terribly wrong, all because I had been struck by an attack of conscience.

“Siggy! Open the door!”

With a deep breath, I turned on my belly and hung from the ledge by my fingers. Swinging my legs to get enough momentum, I flew across to the other ledge, landing awkwardly with the heavy backpack and my camera bag slung across my chest.

I could lose the backpack, but the camera went everywhere with me.

The jump down onto the neighbouring garage was relatively easy compared to the first part, as was the next drop. Eduardo stuck his head out my bedroom window as I landed easily on the cracked sidewalk.

“I want my money, Siggy!”

“I don’t have it,” I called up to him.

“You better be on your way to get it.”

With a last glance, I took off down the street, Eduardo’s bellow of rage following me.

Andy’s car was parked around the corner from my apartment. With a quick glance behind me, I popped the lock with the handy bent coat hanger I shoved in my bag for that very reason. With a silent promise to see the car back to Andy, I climbed in and twined the right wires together under the dash. The car roared to life.

I was out of the neighbourhood before Eduardo could huff his way down the street, leaving Surfside behind me with barely a hint of remorse except a sinking feeling in my stomach.

Beaches and palm trees flew by as I drove. I didn’t stop until I passed the Lincoln Mall in South Beach.

Once I passed the mall, I deemed it safe to stop and called Andy. “I took your car,” I confessed as soon he answered. “I’ll get it back to you. I promise.”

I heard noises in the background, Andy rummaging in his closet-sized apartment to find his keys. “I didn’t take your keys.” Another skill I’d learned from Eduardo. There had been talk of me becoming some kind of Baby Driver, like in the movie, but the arrest of one of Eduardo’s friends after an easy liquor store heist had put an end to that.

Andy sighed. “What did he do to you?”

When I arrived in Miami four years ago, I was on my way from transforming myself from the empty-headed party girl who let a man get close enough to take advantage of me and my family, to a badass who wouldn’t stand for it. I no longer wanted to be Seraphina Park-Smith; daughter, sister, wife. I said goodbye to my old life and became Siggy Smith, using the nickname my brother had given me as a child.

Eduardo had taught me ways to survive and thrive on my own. Quite a few of those skills skirted the lines of legality while some of them were just morally questionable. I went along with it because I’d been mad and looking for a way to get revenge.  

Then the desire for revenge faded and I was left with only two things: the realization I’d become someone I didn’t like very much; and Eduardo, who liked who I’d become a little too much. 

“I thought last night was to be the big score,” Andy said when I didn’t answer.

“I couldn’t do it.” There was a tiny nugget of pride that I hadn’t gone through with the plan. “There were kids involved. Eduardo’s not going to understand.”

“No, I daren’t say he will. But I get it. You’re not that person, my darling. You don’t fit in with us, as much as you try.”

“You could have told me sooner!”

“I thought you were happy.”

Had I been happy learning the ropes to become a con artist? It had been fun at first, but then it started being serious. I found myself out of options when I snipped the family purse strings.

“I don’t know where to go,” I admitted.

“You could go back to your family,” Andy said in a quiet voice. “You know they’ll have forgiven you by now.”

“I doubt it.” The coolness in my voice covered the longing.

“Think about it. And be careful with my car. Send me a text where you end up and I’ll come and fetch it.”

“Thank you. I’m sorry.”

“For what? Not pulling off the scam? I would have been sorrier if you had. Love you, darling. And I’m proud of you. Whatever happens.”

Andy had become my family and had been since he found me shivering at the airport three and a half years ago, all my worldly possessions in my bag, dried tears streaking through my makeup. I had been a perfect mark but instead, he took me in and took care of me.

I was glad I hadn’t let him down.

I said goodbye and tucked my phone into the cupholder, wondering what to do now. The backdoor of the car opened.

I glanced around in horror, expecting Eduardo, the cops, my father, anyone but a woman. Prada shades covered most of her face, and she held a glittery phone in her hand. With an exasperated huff, she swung a Louis Vuitton carry-on into the backseat. “A little help would be nice.”

I could only stare at her. “I’m not a cab.”

“You have an Uber sticker on your window.”

Darn it. I forgot Andy sidelined as an Uber driver. “But I’m not—this isn’t my car.” What was I supposed to do, admit I stole the car? “I’m not on duty right now.”

“Just drive me to the cruise terminal and you can call it a day.” She plunked her handbag on her lap and my gaze lasered in on it. Kate Spade Maise Satchel in hot pink.

My heart hurt for a moment at the sight of the bag. “I like your bag.”

“Of course you do. Put my suitcase in the trunk and then drive.”

“I can’t put it in the trunk. It’s—ah—broken.” Or unavailable because I had no key.

She lowered her glasses. “What do you mean, broken?” She glanced around Andy’s ten-year-old Toyota with a disdainful expression. “What kind of Uber car is this?”

“I mean, not unbroken. I can’t get into it. So you should get another ride.”

“Do you have a body in there or something?”

I lowered my own cheap plastic sunglasses and gave her a look. Her eyes widened and I thought she was really going to jump out of the car. Then I relented. “No body. Just broken. I’ll put your suitcase in the back seat.”

I didn’t know why I agreed. Maybe because I didn’t have a plan, and I needed one.  I couldn’t keep driving aimlessly. 

“So where to, once you get to the port?” I pulled away from the curb. Miami Port wasn’t too far, enough to give me enough time to make a plan. I could head to the bus terminal and—

“It’s me.”

I thought she was talking to me until I glanced in the mirror and saw her holding her phone to her ear.

“I have to go; it’s all booked. No, I’m not looking forward to it. No, I’m sure it’s going to be horrible. Seven days at sea with obnoxious strangers. It’s going to be hell.”

Hell was this drive with the obnoxious stranger in the backseat.

She paused in her conversation and from the scowl on her face, apparently didn’t like the response she was getting.

“It’s some sort of love cruise. You board, you fall in love, or you stay in love, or something silly like that. Like being on a boat is some sort of magic spell. It’s not.”

“Turn down the music.”

It took her asking—demanding, rather—twice more before I realized she was talking to me.

“Don’t you love this song?” The music was a bit loud but that was how I liked to drive.

“No, I really don’t and it’s difficult enough to have this conversation without Kelly Clarkson blaring in my eardrums.”

Some people were not nice. There are all sorts out there—nasty, rude and basically horrible people live in this world. I didn’t know why they were like that, but they are and no matter how nice and considerate you are back to them, it really makes no difference.

This woman was like that. I didn’t know who she was talking to on the phone but I wish they’d wise up and hang up on her and let me do my Good Samaritan deed in quiet. With Kelly Clarkson blaring in my eardrums.

But you know what they say about no good deed going unpunished.

I was punished from outside the car as well. Traffic was terrible, definitely not helpful when I was running for my life.

 I thought about how Eduardo’s face puffed up tomato red when he was angry. And I remembered when Jimmy had his knee problem that happened the same time the deal he was doing with Eduardo fell through.

Yep. It was definitely time to get out of Miami.

My mind was foggy with ominous thoughts as I drove towards the port of Miami, the one-sided conversation in the backseat fading into the background. But the chime of her cell got my attention, as did her excited gasp.

“Oh! Peter!”

She sounded so different that I glanced in the rearview mirror to see a woman transformed. She was smiling and when she pulled off her sunglasses, there were actual tears in her eyes. “I’m so glad you called.” She cooed into the phone like she was talking to a baby.

Or a man.

“Okay. Okay. Okay, okay…yes...okay… Oh, yes!”

I snickered under my breath. Had she forgotten her words?

“Stop the car!”

“We’re not at the terminal.”

“I said, stop the car. Right now. Here. He’ll pick me up.”

“Who?” I couldn’t help but ask. After all, if I was acting as an Uber driver, then I was responsible for her, wasn’t I?

“Peter.” She all but sighed.

“Who’s Peter?”

“He’s Peter. Here, stop here. He’ll be here soon.”

“Should I wait?” If I hadn’t turned around, I would have missed the look she gave me. Of course, you should wait, you moron.

Even in love, she was still mean.

“Is he going on this cruise with you?” I asked as I pulled over.

“Of course not and now I don’t have to go either.” She clapped her hands suddenly. Whoever this Peter was certainly put her in a better mood. “I don’t have to go!”

“Do you get your money back? I mean, if I’m taking you to the boat, doesn’t that mean you’re supposed to be getting on it? You can’t just not show up for something like that. They may hold the ship for you.”

She stared at me. “They won’t do that.”

“They might.” I had no idea if a cruise ship would hold off sailing if a passenger didn’t show up but it was fun to play with her.

“They might for me,” she agreed. “Here.” She rummaged in her Kate Spade and pulled out a slim black leather portfolio. Taking out a handful of papers, she thrust them between the seats. “Take my ticket.”

“What? No!”

“I’m not going to use them. You might as well.”

“They won’t really hold the boat for you. I just made that up.”

“You’d be surprised how many people wait for me.”

“I can’t use your tickets. I mean, really, I can’t. They won’t let me. Besides, they’re in your name.” A glance at the papers showed her name was Petra Van Brereton.

“Take my passport.”

“Are you kidding me?”

She threw it into the front seat. “I’ll get another one. You look enough like me that no one will notice. It’s always a hassle boarding; you can slip right through. And you’d be doing me a favour.  My parents are going to be furious when they find out about Peter. This way we can get married and they’ll think I’m still on the cruise and won’t even look for me.”

I glanced at her picture. Other than both of us having brown hair, we really looked nothing alike.

I started to hand the documents back but then stopped. Eduardo would never find me in the middle of the ocean. And I’d be doing her a favour. I knew all about upsetting parents.

“My uncle is the captain. I’ll call him and clear everything. Use my passport to get on, and then everything will be fine.”

“I don’t know…”

“Seriously, take it. I don’t need them. It’s a love cruise—”

“Like the Love Boat? You know, that television show from the seventies?” I asked. Her expression changed to annoyed confusion. “It must be on Netflix by now.”

“I have no idea what you’re talking about. Take the tickets. Take my bag. Go on the cruise. Have a nice life.”

I took the tickets.

What else was I supposed to do? She wasn’t going to use them, and it was better than wasting them.

Petra was too busy kissing the tall, handsome man to notice when I pulled away with her suitcase. The tickets for the cruise lay on the passenger seat.

I promised myself I’d return Petra’s passport as soon as I got back. 

When I pulled up to the terminal, I saw a big, beautiful boat docked at the pier with crowds of people on deck.

The Oceanic Aphrodite.

If this was really some sort of love cruise, at least it had a good name.

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Here's the first chapter of I Saw Him Standing There, the first book in the rom-com Oceanic Dream series! Available May 20 but pre-order now for only 99 cents!