In Reunion, Jewel’s story continues as she finds herself stranded in a far-flung corner of the world. Struggling to elude her captors and a network of bounty hunters, she meets her would-be savior, a man who promises to provide protection and comfort. Believing her nightmare has finally come to an end, Jewel begins making plans to return home, where she can start her life over again.
But greed raises its ugly head, and the terrifying future she thought she’d evaded becomes a reality. Deceived by the only one she believed she could trust, Jewel is left defenseless against the sadistic abusers who take pleasure in teaching her their own form of discipline.
With the dream of rescue and returning home to San Diego even further from her reach, she begins planning her revenge on the men who have stolen her life—and her future.
Even in hell, there are rules . . .
It came to me slowly . . . I was no longer in the water.
Although I was fairly certain the mattress underneath me was real, I needed to touch something solid, to confirm this wasn’t another hallucination.
I stopped myself just in time.
Until I was sure of the situation, I would remain dead-still, my eyes closed, listening for the subtle draw of someone’s breath, the crack of a stiff joint, or the rustle of fabric from a shifting leg. My captivity on the Kelsey had taught me the value of concealing both my intentions and actions.
My brain was muddled from the beating I’d taken during the storm, but this much was a safe assumption: Someone had fished me out of the ocean. They had brought me aboard their boat and laid me in this bed. I had no idea how long I’d been here, if the time was measured in hours or days. My appetite should have given me a clue, but I wasn’t hungry. Just tired and sore.
Forcing myself to lie there, feigning sleep, I listened . . .
The throb of diesel engines mixed with the sound of waves sloshing against the hull. Overhead, the constant footfalls from the deck indicated two, maybe three crewmen. In my mind’s eye, I could see them stomping about in their high-topped, neoprene boots, the distinctive heavy thud of thick rubber on grooved teak suggesting this was a working boat, possibly a fishing trawler.
The last time I’d regained consciousness on a strange ship, I awoke in searing pain, shackled to a makeshift rack and half-covered in freezing water. This time, my discomfort was far less severe—the cramp of aching muscles and the sting from a minor laceration on my shoulder.
I counted to sixty. Then again, to be safe. I wouldn’t make the mistake of opening my eyes too soon.
I moved a finger, swiping it across the scratchy cotton sheet. If someone was watching me, they didn’t see it. Maybe I really was alone in the cabin.
I shifted my right arm. I wasn’t bound. Whoever found me didn’t consider me a threat. But I wasn’t ready to make the same assumption about my rescuers. After what I’d been through, no one—at least in this part of the world—would ever again receive the benefit of the doubt. For all I knew there could be someone a few feet away, waiting for me to regain consciousness—someone really good at keeping their presence a secret.
There was no point in continuing to pretend I was asleep. Whether it was now or later, I would soon come face-to-face with the men on this boat. A few minutes, one way or the other, wouldn’t make any difference.
I opened my eyes enough to form a blurry image. Directly overhead, the upper berth of a bunk-bed covered me like the lid of a coffin. A twinge of claustrophobia tightened around my throat. I turned on my side to escape the smothering delusion and propped myself up on one elbow, surveying the space.
I was alone.
Although covered with a blanket, my clothing was gone. I was naked. But that didn’t necessarily indicate sinister intent. My shorts and top had been soaked with sea water, and removing them would have been the first step in raising my core temperature.
Needing a better view of my surroundings, I rolled on to my stomach. The movement forced me to stifle a moan—a reflex from the pain of shifting my weight from one part of my bruised body to another.
The cabin was tiny, not much larger than a handicapped bathroom stall. It made my assumption about the type of vessel even more likely. Small quarters were typical of the fifty to seventy foot class of trawler, where berth space was sacrificed for a larger cargo hold to maximize the volume of fish that could be stored during a single run.
I sat up, searching for clues. The more I could find out about my rescuers, the greater my initial advantage.
The small St. Christopher’s medal hanging from a wall-peg brought a vague sense of relief. It was a real stretch of logic, but I doubted someone who was part of the slaver’s network would be a regular church-goer.
Scanning the bulkhead behind me, I saw a faded picture of a pretty young woman with dark hair and large brown eyes. Below the photo, several plastic covered certificates reflected past safety inspections, fishing permits, and the boat’s registration.
I needed to see more.
Rolling out of bed slowly, I hoped my movements suggested a nonthreatening rise to my feet, in case someone was watching from an adjacent or hidden part of the cabin.
Inside a small closet, I found a waterproof satchel containing a fold of Burmese currency, a driver’s license, and a government ID from the Provence of Ayeyarwady. So far, I’d seen nothing to suggest the men on the deck above were anything more than local fishermen extending the benevolent efforts of a Good Samaritan.
Any remaining hesitancy over meeting my rescuers face-to-face was dispelled by the discovery of an English textbook. Opening the cover, I found a rubber stamp imprint—Botata 4 High School—and below it, Property of Logan Morrison. The hand-inked date under the name confirmed the book was two years old.
I tried to put it all together. The boat’s captain was a family man with a son named Logan and a pretty, dark-haired wife, who was no doubt waiting at home, ready to greet him with food and affection after returning from a long day on the water. I was projecting a bit—even guessing. But I needed a break, and there was no better time for the universe to reverse my previous string of bad luck.
I had to find some clothes. Rummaging through the closet yielded a brown flannel shirt that fit me like a tent. I also found a pair of equally large denim jeans. I threw on the top and tied it to make it more manageable. But the pants presented a different problem. I could roll up the legs, but I had nothing to hold up the waist.
It was a challenge I never had to deal with.
Underneath the jeans, I’d noticed a neatly folded bundle of faded blue terrycloth. Thinking it was a large towel, I’d dismissed it. But with the pants no longer an option, I took another look. Opening it revealed a woman’s robe. Immediately, I knew it was hers, kept on the boat for those rare occasions when she joined her husband for a shopping excursion or some personal business requiring an overnight stay in a neighboring harbor.
I had already tossed the shirt on the bed and was cinching the robe’s ties around my waist when I wondered if the captain would mind me wearing it.
I decided it would give us something in common—his wife’s robe; my need to use it.
“The boat I was on capsized in the storm.”
I brought the mug of hot tea close to my lips, not drinking, just letting the steam lick my face.
“What was her name?”
“Um, the Brighton . . . I think.”
My save came too late. I could see the sudden suspicion on his face. The wisdom of trying to hide my escape from a slave ship was questionable at best.
“Any other survivors?”
“None that I know of. The storm came on fast. The first wave put the ship on its side. There was a lot of confusion. Most of the crew were washed overboard or trapped below deck. I tried to get to a life raft, but the boat began to sink. I managed to hang on to a piece of wreckage.”
I’m offering too much information. Keep it simple and straightforward.
“You were lucky.” His British accent colored his perfect English. “The storm took everyone by surprise. Lots of boats are still missing. Search parties won’t be back until tonight. Then we’ll know for sure.”
We were standing inside the wheelhouse of a sixty-foot trawler. The boat was older, but its condition was immaculate. From the captain’s chair to the original woodwork, every inch had been painstakingly restored to original condition. The only exception was the control station. Retrofitted with digital displays, depth finder, and a small radar screen, this boat was no factory vessel—it reflected the care of its proud owner.
Although I had no doubt this was Morrison—from the last name and picture on the driver’s license I’d found while rummaging through the cabin—I kept waiting for him to confirm it. Not that he seemed reluctant to disclose his identity. He struck me as being quiet and not prone to small-talk.
I knew one thing for certain. Fishing was his livelihood. His boat, a single crewman, and a deck covered in nets and trap cages made it clear this was his business—and his life. Based on his muscular build and sea-worn face, I estimated him to be late forties. His full head of close-cropped reddish hair was beginning to gray, fitting him to a tee.
On the water since daybreak, he’d been plying his trawler through the storm’s calm aftermath, taking advantage of the current-churned water—and the abundance of fish it often contained. He told me he’d spotted the drifting wreckage an hour after sunrise. Floating about three miles offshore, he’d noticed nothing remarkable about it at first—another piece of debris riding low in the swells.
His sighting of my unconscious body was as lucky as it was unlikely. A glint of gold—my blonde hair catching the sun at just the right angle—had made him curious enough to bring his boat closer and take a second look.
As he briefly described maneuvering alongside the broken remains of the Kelsey, I vaguely remembered the sound of an idling diesel and the cavitation of the prop. But I had no recollection of being brought onboard. Based on what Morrison told me, that had been nine hours ago.
I tried to recall the time I’d spent on the water after climbing onto the scrap of the Kelsey’s hull. But my only memories were a confused jumble of determined breathing, struggling to keep my head above water, and desperately wishing I could relieve the ache in my arms and legs.
“From your lack of accent, I’d guess you’re American.”
I nodded. “San Diego, originally.”
I waited for it, the question of what I was doing so far from home. Either he didn’t care or wanted me to volunteer it.
“Unless you need a doctor,” he said, “I’ll take you to the police station in Yangon. They can arrange for the American consulate to verify your citizenship.”
I held my palms up in a show of empty hands. “I lost everything, including my passport.” I tightened the robe around me and brought the collar up, not out of modesty, but in response to the sudden bite of chilly, late-afternoon air.
“Then it’s a matter of your family confirming your identity and paying for your passage back to the States.”
I didn’t disagree, deciding to keep my lack of family a secret. Instead, I asked, “Where are we . . . exactly?”
“On the southern coast of Burma. My family and I live in a small village called Mawdwin.”
Outside, a young man tapped on the glass and gave the thumbs up, indicating the nets were out of the water.
“Yes, that’s Logan. He’s with me fulltime now.”
Logan Morrison appeared born to sail. Tanned and fit, he moved about the deck with strength and grace, every muscle in his body responding in perfect symmetry to the motion of the boat. With strong cheekbones, dark eyes, and burnished-brown hair, it was obvious he’d inherited most of his features from his mother. Based on the date in the textbook, I estimated him to be about twenty.
His father pushed the throttle forward, the bow of the boat rising in response to the throaty growl from the engines. They were headed home, and I was finally getting off the ocean.
Fifteen minutes later, the coastline gave way to a small, natural harbor.
“Is that where you live?” I pointed toward the distant collection of vessels, and beyond, to the modest homes scattered across the hills. I felt like I was dragging information out of him, but I wanted to hear some regular chit-chat about hometowns and family, because it sounded good, and familiar—and safe.
Morrison nodded. “Mawdwin’s an old fishing village. As far as I know, it’s been there forever.”
“And the photograph of the dark-haired woman in the cabin, that’s your wife?”
He smiled. “Yes, that’s my Maria. That picture was taken years ago, but she’s still just as beautiful.”
I felt the uneasy tension between us subsiding. He was beginning to relax, his grip on the controls not quite as firm. I looked back to the stern, where Logan was busy freeing the last of the squirming fish from the twisted mesh of net.
“And your son . . . he works with you every day?”
“I had hoped he would go to university or learn a trade that would keep him off the water. But the last four years he’s spent most of his free time helping me run this boat, giving up his weekends while he was in school. Now he tells me fishing is all he wants to do.” Morrison paused. “I won’t force him to give it up.”
He seemed sincere, honest.
I made the decision on the spot. I had to trust someone. Morrison had saved my life. That should count for something.
I started slowly. “I haven’t told you everything about the boat I was on . . . and why I was on it.”
Until now, Morrison had rarely suspended his focus from the horizon, and then only to check a gauge on the engine panel. Seeing him pull back on the throttle and reduce our speed to half thickened the air with an invisible layer of tension.
Shifting his weight, he looked at me . . . waiting.
I hesitated, not sure how to begin. Was I making a mistake? Morrison had rescued me from the surface of the ocean, and now I was going to tell him I was an escaped sex slave, running from thugs and criminals who wouldn’t hesitate to harm him if he got in their way. Not exactly the best way to express my gratitude.
I could see Morrison’s impatience beginning to build. Not wanting to irritate him further, I blurted it out, eliminating the possibility of changing my mind mid-sentence. “The ship I was on, it wasn’t the Brighton. It was the Kelsey. And I wasn’t a passenger, not in the usual sense. I was a prisoner. The captain was taking me to an auction, to be sold as a sex slave. If the storm hadn’t swamped the boat, I’d already be someone’s property, being forced to do God knows what.”
Deep furrows crept across Morrison’s brow. I wondered if he was becoming suspicious or was just plain worried. Maybe he was thinking of his family, keeping them safe, especially if he knew about the network of slavers—the kind of men who would go to any lengths to reclaim their property. He was probably wishing he’d never seen me clinging to that water-soaked section of planking, debating whether to throw me back in the water, because someone like me was far too dangerous to have on his boat.
“There’s a good chance the captain didn’t survive,” I continued. “As far as I know there was only one member of the crew who made it through the storm.”
“One is all it takes.” Morrison looked back toward the horizon. I could tell he was thinking, weighing the odds, considering his options. “That man . . . do you know where he is, what happened to him?”
“I’m pretty sure he’s aboard the Kochi Mar. They spotted our life raft and turned their ship toward us. That was before I decided to slip over the side.”
“You went into the water intentionally during the storm?” He was looking at me as if I were a ghost, an apparition that could fade away at any moment.
“I wouldn’t let them take me. Not again.”
Morrison fell quiet, his mouth grinding in silence, chewing on his thoughts. Finally he said, “I don’t know either boat, not by name or reputation. ’Course, we don’t get much commercial traffic this far off the regular trade routes. But I’ve heard the stories, about kidnapping young girls, selling them to the highest bidder. Nasty business.”
I’d been holding my breath, not sure how Morrison would respond. I let it out gradually, trying to control my sudden need for air.
“I can’t take you into town,” he continued. “Not in the daylight. There’s a chance they’re already looking for you. A light-skinned blonde girl will draw too much attention. People will ask questions.”
There was concern in his voice, but not panic, his words carrying the measured, unhurried tone of a man who wasn’t easily bluffed.
“You’ll have to stay out of sight until I can determine the best way to get you to the American embassy in Rangoon.” He paused, letting his voice build with challenge. “How did you get tangled up with slavers?”
I knew the truth would make me sound like some kind of tramp. But he deserved to know. My presence on his boat could easily put him and his family in jeopardy, and I wasn’t going to keep anything from him. “My husband gave me up to pay a debt. He lost me . . . in a card game.”
So far, Morrison had shown guarded concern over my predicament. Now his eyes narrowed in incredulous disbelief. “How could something like that happen? How could you let it happen?”
It was a fair question. I’d already wondered how different things might be if I’d disappeared out the back door while the men were playing poker. But it was too late to second-guess my lack of responsible judgment. The best I could do was separate my circumstances from my identity, convince Morrison I was an innocent victim, and my association with the lowest dregs of humanity was the result of force, not choice.
“I know what you must be thinking,” I began. “If you keep company with criminals, you start picking up their habits. But it wasn’t like that. The men who took me were strangers. My husband had just met them. Neither of us had any idea who they were. They started playing cards and my husband got in over his head. Maybe he panicked or got scared.”
I could tell he wasn’t convinced. I also knew there was little I could do to change his mind. I only hoped he had enough compassion to recognize I desperately needed help.
He fixed his gaze on my face in the same way a parent locks eyes with a wayward child. “It’s not my place to pass judgment. I never met your husband, but it seems to me if a man would do that to his wife—bet her in a card game—well, you should have seen it coming a long time ago.”
I nodded, acknowledging what he’d said. I wasn’t going to offer excuses or try to defend myself. I couldn’t take the risk of alienating the only man who could help me. I would let him talk, say what was on his mind.
The silence was suddenly awkward. He was waiting for me to respond. I lowered my head, more comfortable with the clean field of faded teak than with Morrison’s piercing eyes.
“We met while he was in the Navy. I was a couple of years out of high school. I thought he really loved me.”
Morrison stroked his chin. “You’re young, and what brought you to this part of the world is none of my business. But this isn’t some peaceful suburb in the States. There’s not much law here, and what little there is can’t be trusted. A young, pretty girl like you can easily find herself at the mercy of people who would think nothing of turning her out for sex, or for that matter, putting a bullet in her head.”
His words were harsh, his voice strict, but there was something else—an underlying concern that told me he was beginning to understand. I felt a guarded sense of relief, a reprieve from rejection.
I needed to sit. The only place in the wheelhouse was the top of a storage bin built into the back wall. Without saying anything, I stepped backward and plopped myself down, pulling my knees up tight against my chest. I looked up at Morrison, hoping he could see the saddest set of eyes I could muster.
“Alright, you’ve got yourself in a jam and you need help. You can stay with my wife and I until you hear from the embassy.” There was caution in his voice, but the worry on his face was gone. “I won’t be able to use a land-line to contact them, or even a cell phone. Too many ears. I’ll have to find a secure email link on a government website, a way to contact the state department. Otherwise, it’s going to take some time.”
Except for the low pulsing drone from the engines and the occasional thump from the coils of rope hitting the deck where Logan worked at the stern, the small wheelhouse was suddenly quiet.
Realizing our conversation was over, I said, “Thanks. It means a lot to me.” I knew there was more I should say, but I was empty. I buried my head and for the first time, let the tears come.
I was finally on my way home.