Chapter One

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The ship was large – larger than any hotel I had ever been in, and far more opulent. But my eyes swept the room not to take in the several chandeliers, or the elegant furnishings that surrounded me.

I was looking for him.

The blonde-haired boy with the angel's face. With the strangely haunted dark eyes. With the light scars that ravaged his skin.

An image flickered to life, and I felt my heart accelerate in anticipation. I walked quickly over to the elegant dining room, perching myself on a tall barstool to wait. He would come here. I closed my eyes again. He would come in two hours, after he had put away his trunks. I considered getting up to put my room in order, but the fear of missing him was too great. So instead I closed my eyes and thought of him. Of the way my heart felt when I saw his face – how suddenly I felt so complete. It was strange … so strange.

People swirled about me. I could hear their voices – their worries, their petty concerns. I could feel their glances as they wondered why such a young girl was sitting all by herself in the dining room. Especially sitting on a barstool. How scandalous. I merely smiled to myself, leaning into my hands to ponder.

After a long length of time absorbed in thought, there suddenly was a subtle shift in the air. My eyes flew open, searching. Hordes of people swarmed before me, but instantly my eyes locked on him, like a compass needle pointing to North. A shock of wild blonde hair. Tanned skin, with sinuous muscles. Covered with a spider's web of light scars, making him as terrifying as he was entrancing.

A ripple of shock went through me as I realized he was looking at me, too.

I hopped lightly from the barstool and walked up to him, feeling more joyous than I had ever felt in my life. Especially from my height, he was incredibly tall. As I got closer, his posture subtly shifted – he leaned away, as if apprehensive. And his hands tensed to fight. And strangely, I seemed to feel his emotions like I would feel my own. Confusion radiated from him. And something else – something I couldn't quite put my finger on. I looked up into his dark eyes, trying to see the answer in their depths.

Then something clicked. I felt a missing part of me slide into place. I felt so happy and right and whole that I couldn't be afraid. I reached out to take his hand. It was warm, and I felt a jolt go through me.

"I've been waiting for you for a very long time." I couldn't stop my smile. His eyes widened in surprise.

"I'm sorry, ma'am," he stammered.

We stood there for a moment, our hands together. He seemed to be wrestling with curiosity and a gentlemanly chivalry. Finally, courtesy won. "Would you care to take a stroll on the deck, miss?"

I nodded, and although he took my arm easily, I could feel his caution. We went out the door together, and I closed my eyes happily to let the cool sea air hit my face, sprinkling a fine mist upon my skin. I had never felt so wonderful in my life. I felt just about to burst with happiness.

When I opened them, he was gazing curiously at me.

"What?" I asked, smiling slightly.

"Nothing." He smiled, too, but it was hesitant. "You're happy about something."

I grinned. "Am I that obvious?"

He looked at me with a strange expression. "I suppose so, miss …" He paused awkwardly.

"We haven't been introduced, have we?" I smiled. "Why don't you start? My name is much too long to make a good first impression."

He chuckled quietly. "Whitlock. Major Jasper Whitlock." He inclined his head. "Pleased to make you acquaintance, miss."

Very formal, but it seemed so natural and unpretentious that I loved it. "You were part of the army?" I asked curiously. Maybe that was where his scars were from…

His face hardened. "Yes." And I could tell he did not want to talk about it. So I easily changed the subject.

"I'm Mary Alice Brandon, Major Whitlock."

He laughed, seeming glad to be off the topic of his history. "You can call me Jasper, Miss Brandon."

"And you may call me …" I hesitated. "Hmm … there's just so many names to choose from, isn't there?" I grinned.

He raised his eyebrows. "So are you Mary? Or Alice?"

"Brandon," I answered. He chuckled again, and I went on. "Well, my sisters used to call me Mary. My mother called me Mary Alice when she was angry. My father called me Allie," I said brightly. "So you can choose." I smirked. "Heaven knows there's a lot of variations, too. Mary. Marie. Maria."

He flinched, and instantly I snapped to attention. "What?"

"Nothing." His face was too innocent.

"You don't like the name Maria?"

He shrugged. "It's fine."

I grinned wickedly. "Then I would like you to call me that, then."

"Maria?" he asked weakly. I nodded, and he sighed and became silent for a while, brooding out at the sea. When he spoke, his voice was tired. "How about Mary?" he asked, still turned away from me.

I pouted. "That's my sister's name for me. I'm Maria now."

He turned back to me, his eyes weary. "Allie?"

"My father's name."

He paused. Then when he looked at me, his gaze was so intense I felt my knees grow weak. "How about Alice?" he asked softly.

I considered. Alice. I used to read Alice in Wonderland as a child. How she went on all kinds of adventures with all sorts of fantastic creatures. Looking up at him, I felt like I was on an amazing adventure too. I smiled. "That suits me well," I said, trying to keep my voice steady.

When I reached out to take his hand again, he didn't flinch. And when I pulled him to the edge to look out at the rippling waves, I felt his hand tighten protectively around mine.

"Scared I'll fall?" I asked playfully. When he didn't answer, I turned to look at him.

His eyes were deadly serious, and as tortured as the crashing waves. "Yes."

"We've just met."

He gripped my hand tighter, and when he spoke I could barely hear him.

"And already I can't stand to lose you."

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Author's Note: I just got one of my idea explosions, so I'll update pretty soon. Please, please, PLEASE review. This is my first AU fanfic and I need all the help and encouragement I can get! Thanks everyone!