When Mei Lin Wang met young radical social activist Wei Chan she knew it was fate. She didn't know that less than three years later she would be left widowed with a newborn son after a suspicious illness claimed Wei's life. Now, still convinced of their shared destiny, Lin is determined to avenge Wei and continue his work, but she must also protect her son from those responsible for her husband's death.
For months Lin has secreted her son below deck on the cruise ship Alexandra's Dream, under cover of her job. It's turned into a game of hide-and-seek with the ship's security officer, Gideon Dayan, whose interest is piqued by the mystery that surrounds her. But through his attraction, Gideon sees his own haunted past when he looks at Lin--and she can't let her past go. Will they finally be able to face the future--together?
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November 05, 2007
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Excerpt from Below Deck by Dorien Kelly
Often one finds one's destiny just where one hides to avoid it.
Sleep. To Mei Lin Wang, the word was paradise, a prize more valued than the tiny staff cabin on Alexandra's Dream that she'd had nearly to herself since the cruise ship's other massage therapist had fallen ill and returned home.
Sleep. She would never have enough of it. Someday when silver ran thick through her hair and she was free to do as she wished, she would nap in the sun, laze in the shade and rest while the moonlight washed over her.
Not this late September morning, though. "Hush, my little warrior," she murmured in her native tongue to her son, Wei, who fussed in the reed basket that served as both his crib and a secretive means of transport about the ship. Though he was nearly five months old and healthy, Wei remained small. Lin knew from poring over articles on the computer in the ship's Internet caf� that since he was breast-fed, she shouldn't be concerned, but she was a mother, and worry was as common in her life as sleep was rare.
Before lifting Wei from his basket, Lin glanced at her bedside clock, though she needn't have. Wei was his late father's son, down to his determined approach to the day. It was, as she knew it would be, 5:00 a.m., and her child demanded feeding.
This was her favorite time of the morning, when the ship's corridors were relatively quiet, and the press of the day hadn't begun to consume her. Wei snuggled at her breast, his small hand settled against her as he nursed. Five perfect little fingers on one supremely perfect hand... All would be well as he grew; she would have it no other way.
As her child greedily fed, Lin permitted herself to truly relax. Her eyes slipped closed, and she sighed as she considered just how far she'd traveled. Small wonder she was weary. Five years ago, she had been in the chill of her home city of Harbin, yearning to test her English teaching skills in Beijing. Five hundred days ago, she'd been in that capital city, a secret wife to baby Wei's father. Five months ago, she'd been large and ungainly with child, fighting to hold on to her job as a massage therapist at a posh Hong Kong hotel.
And now, though Alexandra's Dream was not her final stopping point, it sheltered her well. She had money of her own, certainly not enough to be considered wealthy, but nearly enough to fund the start of a new life with compatriots in Paris. It had been a gamble, sneaking Wei aboard. But for her longtime Beijing friend, Zhang, who was in charge of the ship's laundry, she would not have risked it. Even now, over three months later, she knew the danger of being discovered grew daily.
But as the secret wife--then widow--of Wei Chan, a human rights activist as revered by some as he'd been reviled by others, she was no stranger to risk and danger. They had been her constant companions these past three years. If she were to evade the Chinese authorities whispered to be seeking her, and seize her destiny as she intended, those same companions would be with her until she reached the end of her life.
"Grow strong," she whispered to her son as she switched him from one breast to the other. They would have to be strong to face what was to come....
Once Wei was fed, rediapered and dressed for the day, Lin hurriedly swigged from a bottle of water, as nursing always left her thirsty, then turned her attention to her own simple preparations: a quick shower, dressing in her plain spa uniform of white polo top and slim-fitting white pants. Wei, with his beloved pacifier in his mouth, contentedly watched from his basket. Finally, Lin knotted her hair into a thick twist at the back of her head.
She shook her head at her reflection in the small mirror over her sink. A sleek bob would be simpler to handle, more modern, too, but her hair was her sole vanity. Wei Chan had once said that if he were to die, he'd wish to drown in her hair. She'd chided him for the dark thought, then made love to him until they'd both been breathless and felt indisputably alive. Sometimes she woke at night and still reached for him, but he was gone--had been for the past year--lost to her forever. And though her heart still ached, each day she grew a little stronger, just as she'd instructed baby Wei to do. Each day she learned to live for her son and her future.
A soft knock sounded at the door--one rap, silence, then two more raps--her code with Zhang. Lin admitted her friend.
"You eat first this morning. You look as though you need it more than I," Zhang said.
Lin smiled at the comment, for petite Zhang reminded her of a dark, exotic hummingbird, always flitting about and always in need of food. Lin thought herself of sturdier stock, arms and hands strong from her work, and feet solid on the ground from hours spent standing. If she were a bird, she'd be more like a pelican, storing her strength for the future.
"I'll go first only because it will save me the time I could spend arguing with you," Lin replied.
Zhang gave a brisk nod of her head, then settled on the bed next to Wei's basket. "Our little warrior looks content today."
"As he should be," Lin said. "With his every need tended to."
"And now you must tend to yours," Zhang directed. True to her word, Lin made her way to the crew dining room, where, as on every other morning, breakfast was served. But unlike other mornings, a cluster of people stood waiting for seats in the room. She looked about impatiently. One empty chair wasn't so much to ask, was it?
Apparently so. Her stomach rumbled, and her mouth felt as dry and parched as an old woman's.
"We all had the same idea...an early start," said Dima Ivanov, a staff member in the ship's fitness center, who waited in line before her.
She had danced a few times with Dima during her one venture to a nightclub in Corsica several weeks ago. Since then, he always seemed to be wherever she was. She knew that this was not simply because his place of work was adjacent to hers. Though on one level she was flattered by his attention, she was not attracted to him. And even if she were, she could hardly afford to bring someone into her life. Too many knew about her child as it was.