Dr. Nikhil ‘Nic’ Joshi had it all—marriage, career, purpose. Until, while working for Doctors Without Borders in a Mumbai slum, his wife, Jen, discovered a black market organ transplant ring. Before she could expose the truth, Jen was killed.
Two years after the tragedy, Nic is a cruise ship doctor who spends his days treating seasickness and sunburn and his nights in a boozy haze. On one of those blurry evenings on deck, Nic meets a woman who makes a startling claim: she received Jen’s heart in a transplant and has a message for him. Nic wants to discount Jess Koirala’s story as absurd, but there’s something about her reckless desperation that resonates despite his doubts.
Jess has spent years working her way out of a nightmarish life in Calcutta and into a respectable Bollywood dance troupe. Now she faces losing the one thing that matters—her young son, Joy. She needs to uncover the secrets Jen risked everything for; but the unforeseen bond that results between her and Nic is both a lifeline and a perilous complication.
He was walking away from her, dragging himself past the neatly arranged deck chairs as empty as his eyes had been. The wind was too high tonight and they had no audience.
Jess couldn’t let an opportunity like this go. She followed him. He was going to turn around. Somehow she just knew he was. He had to.
“I’m not a psychic,” she called out. “I swear to you.” She knew she had to be patient, give him as much time as he needed to come around. But every minute that ticked by was a minute she shouldn’t be here. Please, please turn around.
“I just need five minutes. Please.” She was begging. But she’d do so much more. She’d do whatever it took to get him to listen.
He stopped. He turned around. His white shirt billowed in the breeze, curving inward and hollowing out his moonlit form. Well, wasn’t the universe just poetic tonight?
She walked up to him, hooking her focus on her own movements, not on the anger on his face. Not the broken trembling in his body. It was just the waves and the cruise ship. The ringing in her ears was just the wind whistling. Empathy, sympathy, generosity were luxuries people like her couldn’t afford. Don’t deviate from the script, she told herself. Do not deviate from the script.
She planted herself a few feet from him and grounded herself in the moment, mirroring the way his body was rooted to the spot, absolutely frozen. Except his thumb. His thumb worked furiously on the thick gold band on his ring finger, spinning it and spinning it.
“You have five minutes.” For all his stillness he was a rock loaded on a catapult, ready to fly out of her hands.
But she had her five minutes.
“I’m not a psychic or a medium. I’ve never seen a ghost, or any dead person. But . . . but, I’ve been communicating with Jen.”
He squeezed his eyes shut and his thumb went crazy on his ring. Other than that he didn’t respond.
“She, your wife, she loved you very mu—”
“What do you want? Is it money?” He opened his eyes and looked at her and she felt a little sick.
“I feel like I know her.”
“How much do you want?”
The girl with Jen’s hair whipping around her face like flames in a storm looked fragile enough for the wind to carry her away, and yet she was clobbering him with her bare hands, uprooting him like the Incredible Hulk going to work on a tree.
She ignored his question the way she was ignoring the windstorm raging around them. Composed. She was so damn composed. No guilt on her face for sucking at his pain, pecking at it like a sharp-beaked vulture.
He’d seen too many of these scavengers on the streets of Mumbai, the villages in Malawi, the lanes of Peshawar. One glimpse of exposed innards and they thought it was their moral right to feed off them because they were starving.
But for what she was making him feel, for even mentioning Jen’s name, he was going to make her regret ever finding him. He was going to make sure she never did this to another human being again. It had been so long since he’d felt anything but dead, the sheer volume of his anger made him sway on his feet.
“I told you, I don’t want your money. I just need to tell you what Jen—”
“Stop saying her name. Stop fucking saying her name.”
“Okay, I won’t say her name, but I do need to tell you what she wants you to know.”
“Oh and what is that? My bank account number? My debit card PIN maybe?”
“At least hear me out, Nikhil.”
“Don’t say my name either. You have one minute left. After that you don’t say anything to me at all. Ever.”
Instead of opening her mouth and parroting the same drivel she’d been laying on him, she unzipped her sweatshirt. It instantly billowed around her, bloating her tiny form. In the floodlit night her cheeks flamed with an almost bruise-like flush.
She looked down at the shirt she was wearing under the sweatshirt and lifted her fingers to the buttons. For one terribly potent second, her hands trembled in place before she took a breath and started unbuttoning her shirt.
What the hell? She’d just tried the “I see dead people” routine on him and now she was going for seduction?
Her fingers clutched the edges of the shirt and started peeling them apart. He was about to turn away. He’d seen enough. But her hands stopped after opening the shirt only a sliver, exposing no more than a mere inch of her sternum.
His eyes locked on that narrow, exposed strip of skin.
She held the fabric in place as the wind tried to pry it apart. The lamp behind him hit her like a spotlight. She lifted her chin, elongating her neck.
His eyes traced the exposed strip of flesh and his dead heart slammed to life in his chest.
Etched into the pale bronze skin was a clean, straight, pink gash starting at the base of her throat and slashing her chest in half right down the center.
“I have your wife’s heart,” she said so quietly that if the words had been any different he would never have heard them.