“I should be able to find the birth certificate pretty easily,” Aloise said, entering her parents’ master stateroom. Behind the bedroom door, under a non-descript desk, she opened a cabinet that looked like it would contain file folders. Instead it contained a safe. She turned a couple of dials to line up the way she wanted them and then pulled the handle, opening the safe. “Our most valuable documents.”
“Not having a permanent residence would make me uncomfortable,” Manny said, tucking his hands in the pockets of his slacks, watching her sift through files. “I like having a place to come home to.”
“I think I’m going to like that too.” From where she was crouched on the floor, Aloise looked up at Manny with a thoughtful expression.
“You take my breath away.” Manny’s heart raced gazing into her eyes. “I love your snark and humor and feistiness, but also, you really are beautiful.”
“Thank you,” she said with sincerity. “I don’t think women get told that often enough.”
“What do you mean?” Manny leaned against the wall of the stateroom and folded his arms across his chest.
“That we’re beautiful. Men are so afraid of offending us or not valuing us for our brains and personality that they forget we also want to be told that we’re desirable physically.”
“Trust me, I desire you physically.” He chuckled. Do I ever? “I’ll be sure to tell you every day how beautiful you are.”
“Good.” She turned back to her task, thumbing through files. “We’ll have a very happy marriage.”
“But… what if I don’t know how to be a husband, and you don’t know how to be a wife?” Manny asked, vulnerability seeping through his tough exterior. “What if we fail miserably and you hate me, and your parents sail off into the sunset and you regret staying with me?”
Aloise shrugged. “That’s a possibility. There are no guarantees in life.”
“And you’re okay with that?”
“Tell you what”—she looked up at him again— “Let’s plan to succeed and we’re less likely to fail.”
“Okay.” He nodded and she went back to work.
Outside a car door slammed and then another. A man and a woman were talking but muffled. Aloise startled and pawed through the paperwork faster. “Go sit in the salon,” she hissed. “If they get in here before I find the certificate at least you weren’t alone with me in their bedroom.”
Manny slipped out the bedroom door and lounged on the bench seat, propping up his feet and holding his cell phone, scrolling through social media posts. He tried to appear bored. He willed Aloise to hurry. He didn’t want to meet her parents alone. Nor did he want to try to explain why she was in her parents’ stateroom.
He forced himself to maintain his composure as her parents traipsed down the stairs into the smaller salon near the galley. They dropped some bags on the table, talked to one another as they unloaded groceries, and didn’t seem to notice him. Granted he was up one small flight of steps but if he could see them, they could probably see him if they glanced his direction.
“Come on, Aloise, hurry up,” he mumbled under his breath, bouncing his knee. He forced himself to hold still. The longer they stayed in the galley, the more likely Aloise would be finished and leave their stateroom.
After several minutes, Aloise’s mother noticed Manny and he waved lightly. She said something to her husband and looked nervous as if she thought Manny was an intruder.
Manny stood and slid his hands into his pockets, attempting to look as sweet and innocent as he could. As they came up the stairs Manny said, “Hello, Mr. and Mrs. Ashish, I’m a friend of your daughter, Aloise. My name’s Manny.” He reached out his hand, hoping one of them would reciprocate.
“I’m David, this is my wife, Shira.” David shook Manny’s hand. “Where is our daughter?”
Manny hesitated. “Uhh…” Just then the toilet flushed in their suite and Manny took that as his cue. “She needed to use the restroom. She must have eaten something that upset her stomach.” He wrinkled his nose, impressed with himself for coming up with that off the cuff.
A few clunks sounded from within the suite, right behind the door, and Manny suspected Aloise was quickly locking the safe. He hoped she’d had enough time to find the birth certificate.
Aloise opened the door to her parents’ suite and took a deep breath. “Sorry about that. I don’t know what came over me. Papá, I found your spray, but you might want to steer clear of su baño for a little while.”
“Are you feeling better?” Her mom came and held the back of her hand to Aloise’s forehead.
“Yeah, I think I must have eaten something that disagreed with my belly.” Aloise stepped over to Manny and wrapped her arm through his. “I see you met my new boyfriend.”
“¿Novio?” David raised his eyebrows. “He told us él era tu amigo. When did you meet? We’ve been at dock less than 24 hours.”
“He rescued me when I got lost on a back road and my car ran out of gas. It was love at first sight.” She exaggerated a sigh and blinked her eyes at Manny playfully.
“You’re too young to know what love is,” David grumbled.
“You and Mamá have been such great examples of a loving relación.” Aloise wrapped her arm around Shira’s shoulders. “I know I’m going to make a great wife someday.”
Today, Manny thought, coughing lightly.
“No te casarás ante su hermana,” David said. “You will have to wait to prove yourself a good wife.”
“That’s not fair, Papi,” Aloise whined. “Alondra’s not even looking for a husband. And I’ve found a maravilloso man who loves me and wants to marry me.”
“You’ve known him for less than a day.” David raised his eyebrows.
“Like she said”—Manny reached for Aloise’s free hand— “It was love at first sight.”
“When is it you think you’re going to get married?” Shira asked. “We’re only going to be docked a few weeks.”
“Today, if possible,” Aloise said, smiling over at Manny. He returned her smile.
“Absolutamente not,” David said. “Lo prohíbo!”
“Padre, I’m an adult,” Aloise said, her voice less placating to her daddy and more standing up for herself as the woman she was. Manny was impressed at how quickly she flipped that switch. “You can’t force me to do anything.”
“As long as you live under my security, you will do as I say.”
“Está bien, Padre.” She nodded.
“Good, I’m glad we got that settled.” David turned and stomped back down the stairs. “I’m going to finish putting the groceries away.”
“As of today,” Aloise called after him. “I will no longer be living under your security.” She raised her chin with confidence.
David turned slowly, a fire brewing behind his eyes. “You will be cut off.”
Manny squeezed her hand to give her reassurance that she will never be destitute.
“I am aware of that.”
“I will take care of her, Mr. Ashish.” Manny tried to keep his voice respectful but confident.
“You are just a little boy yourself.” David started back up the stairs, his stance offensive.
Manny gulped and fought the urge to take a step backward, keenly aware that David was in between them and the door leading out of the yacht. He spoke very quietly out of the side of his mouth, hoping only Aloise would hear him. “Did you get what you need?”
“Yes,” she said.
Manny sighed in relief. “You ready to leave?”
“Glad to have met you, Mrs. Ashish,” Manny said, nodding respectfully to Shira. “I’m sorry we have to leave on such unfortunate terms.”
“You are not taking my daughter anywhere,” David commanded with a growl.
“You’re right, Padre,” Aloise said. “I’m leaving on my own accord.”
Aloise pushed past her father, dragging Manny by the hand.
David reached out and grabbed Manny, shoving him up against the wall. “You will not be taking my daughter.”
“Please remove your hands from me, sir.” Manny maintained firm composure, looking David in the eye. “You are on American soil now, and I have rights.”
“And I have a shotgun,” David said with a sneer.
“David, you can’t be serious,” Shira said. “Let go of that young man.”
David cocked his head to the side, finally looking more closely at Manny. “¿Quién eres?” He let up a bit and Manny shook him off, lifting his chin confidently.
“I think you already know who I am… don’t you?” It wasn’t really a question.
“Which of the little thieves is your father?”
“You’re a smart man, David. You tell me.”
David took a step back and looked Manny up and down. “Too old to be Joseph’s kid. Too young to be from Nicholas. Sam? Or Jacob?”
“You have a fifty-fifty chance of getting that right.” Manny didn’t give in.
“Padre, what do you have against the Cohens anyway? What did they ever do to you?”
David turned to look at his daughter, his hard expression unchanged. “They stole money from my business partner, dragged all of us across the globe because Nicholas murdered a man, and their holier-than-thou attitude was stifling.”
“M—murdered?” Manny faltered. Nicholas Cohen? The man everyone idolized? The philanthropy-minded man who gave to others and helped out the less-fortunate? “Uncle Nick could never murder anyone.”
“Maybe you should ask your daddy about that.”
“Maybe I will,” Manny said. “But first we need to deal with a more time-sensitive topic. I’m going to marry your daughter this afternoon.”
“Over my dead body,” David said.
“I only shoot deer, pheasants and rabbits.” Manny said, pursing his lips. “So that is not an acceptable scenario.”
“What are you hoping I’ll say right now? No te estoy dando mi permiso!”
“I’m not asking you for your permission.”
“What are you asking for?”
“I’d very much like for you to not disown your daughter,” Manny said. “She loves you, and respects you, and wants you to support her decision.”
“I will not condone that!”
“For what reason? Because I’m Jacob Cohen’s son? Because her older sister isn’t married yet?” Manny shook his head in frustration. “Those are stupid reasons not to support your daughter.”
“You met her yesterday.” David moved right up in Manny’s face again. “You don’t even know her. What’s her middle name? What’s her favorite food? When’s her birthday?”
“Those are things I will learn as we get to know each other,” Manny reasoned.
“You’re not in love with her.”
“Love grows over time,” Manny said.
“Then get to know her over time,” David said, stepping back. “There is no hurry to get married.”
“Valid point, sir. But are you, or are you not, planning to sail this boat out of this harbor and leave forever?” Manny pointed his finger in the direction of the vast expanse of water of Lake Huron.
“I could sail out of here today and you couldn’t stop me.”
“Which is one of the reasons we need to get married.”
“Are you threatening to kidnap my daughter?”
“Are you threatening to kidnap my wife?”
“She is not your wife. She is most certainly my daughter.”
“She will be in a few hours,” Manny said.
“Young lady”—David turned toward Aloise— “As long as you live under my roof, you will do as I say.”
“And as long as she lives under my roof, she will be protected.”
“Lo siento, Papi, but this is a choice I’m making for myself.” Aloise tugged gently on Manny’s hand. “Come on. Let’s go.”
Manny stepped around David and followed Aloise down the stairs. She stopped at her stateroom and reached inside for her phone charger and a small backpack that must have contained everything she thought she was going to need because she didn’t even open it to check what was inside.
“I’ll come back for the rest of my stuff tomorrow,” she said. They ascended the ladder near the galley and walked down the deck and off the boarding ladder. The dock was sturdy but had a little give as they hurried toward the parking lot and climbed into Manny’s Jeep.
“Are you sure you’re making the right decision?” Manny asked, lifting her hand and kissing the back.
“I’m positive.” She pulled the birth certificate out of her pocket and held it up with a smile. “Let’s go find yours.”