Taffy was dancing, dancing, dancing. Throwing her head back, laughing, laughing. The music melded with her soul, and they moved as one, rocked by the gentle swaying of the cruise ship.
“Woo–hoo,” a male voice from the audience shouted. “You go, girl!”
She knew she couldn’t stop... because if she did, people wouldn’t know they were enjoying their deluxe cruise holiday. She knew she couldn’t stop, because she was paid heaps of tax–free money, money she needed urgently. And so she kept on dancing.
“Show the passengers a good time,” her manager had said just a few hours earlier. “They will want to take lots of colorful snapshots to put in their photo albums. Make sure all their friends envy them, will you.” It was an order, not a request.
“I’ll do my best,” she had promised. She always wanted to do her best.
Now she found it hard to keep her promise. This was Taffy’s first night on the cruise and already a trickle of disappointment seeped into the back of her mind. The blue–green–red disco lights by the swimming pool were tedious. The welcome–aboard party a waste of time.
What am I doing here? Taffy tossed her hair from side to side and smiled at the front row of people with too much jewelry. Yes, she did it for the money of course, but.... Where was the magic?
The ship, so majestic in photos and 360–degree views when she browsed the Internet, up close revealed its age. Used by two thousand passengers last week, at present used by two thousand more, only to tart up its grimy surfaces for the two thousand who’d come in seven days’ time....
Hello, who was that? Taffy’s heart dropped a beat mid–dance as her gaze fell on a dark–skinned man… boy… no, his body was that of a man, strong and angular, yet his eyes said they’d never seen sin. The white military shirt identified him as one of the crew. Taffy felt an inexplicable pull. She was certain she’d never met the man before, yet the urge to reach out and touch his cheek was overwhelming.
His mouth... oh, dear gods, she got lost in his grin. Romance books called it captivating, and they got it right. It was an intimate grin, a grin meant only for her, as though she were the only woman in the world. Its warmth percolated into her body, eliciting a smile in return. He grinned as though the world was his lover, and Taffy was next. The thought sent a prickling awareness straight into her inner core.
I want you to look at me like that again. The dance forced Taffy into a slow pirouette.
When she could look toward the audience again, the man–boy was gone. Her stomach clenched with regret. The one magical thing on this enormous ship was gone...
... and Taffy had no choice but to keep on dancing.
The Steinberg emerald, half a foot of pure green set in gold, sparkled against Mrs. Steinberg’s skin, and she posed this way and that with a matching green cocktail in hand, the dance show as the backdrop. The photos soared from her iPhone straight onto her Facebook page.
The thief watched the emerald.
No hurry. Pick the moment. Enjoy the music.
“Another mint mojito, please.”
After the show, people crowded in the narrow isles of the auditorium, eager to get out, afraid to lose another minute of the cruise.
The thief’s hand closed over a pair of miniature clippers. Smiling apologies, the thief navigated the human river, pushed in front of an elderly gentleman, stepped on a teen’s glittering sandal.
"I’m so sorry."
The emerald was now within arm’s length. The thief raised the hand holding the clippers and cut through the gold chain.
Mrs. Steinberg noticed its absence in an elevator mirror on the way back to her cabin. It was so late at night it was already early morning.