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Authors: Katherine Bone

Tags: #Romance, #Historical

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BOOK: The Rogue’s Prize
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sacrifice himself for duty and honor. He

was a man with allegiances. A man who

fought for a woman, not one lying in wait

to stake his claim like that lecherous

lord her father planned for her to marry.

And yet there was a glint in his cerulean

eyes that unnerved her.

“I must go,” he forced between

clenched teeth. His grip on her upper

arm tightened, belying his words. She

quickly assigned his behavior to the fact

that he worried for her safety.

She nodded. “Thank you for coming

to warn us.”

His lip curled to one side and an

odd light illuminated his eyes. Though

Constance yearned to cry out in fear, to

beg him to stay, she preferred the

lieutenant slay the enemy before the

brigands arrived at her door.

“Do not leave this room,” he

reminded them, his eyes an unblinking

beacon of hope. He squeezed her

shoulders with lean stable fingers, bent

to kiss her hand, and then headed for the

door. Before exiting, he turned and

glanced over his shoulder. “Double bolt

the lock. Do not be tempted to escape. I

will return posthaste.”

The cabin door closed with a thud

and the thick scraping of the bolt gripped

Constance’s already fraught nerves. Mrs.

Mortimer assisted her in thrusting the

heavier wooden bar into place. Secure,

but unsure for how long, the two women

struggled to remain calm as sounds of

murder and mayhem above filled their

imaginings with horror.

Cannon shots whirred by the

window. Eerie sounds erupted all

around them. The wooden ceiling

threatened to give way as cascading

veils of dust floated down upon their

heads,

filling

their

nostrils

with

indelicate odors.

Snatching at Mrs. Mortimer’s arms,

Constance gazed into the governess’s

eyes. Instead of being reassured by the

older woman’s strength, however, she

found their roles quickly reversed as a

tear slid down Mrs. Mortimer’s cheek.

She hugged her traveling companion

close.

They were in grave danger. How

long before the enemy breached their

cabin? What if pirates broke down the

door and killed them both, or killed the

elderly woman, saving Constance for a

more horrifying ordeal? Fighting back a

swoon, Constance eyed the doorway,

postured like a prophetic sentinel

awaiting world’s end.

“I will never be able to make

amends to Father now.”

“Shush, child,” Mrs. Mortimer

cooed. “You heard the lieutenant. He

will not allow any harm to come to us.”

No matter how long she held

Morty’s embrace or listened to her calm

assurances, the woman who’d raised her

could not ease her burdens. Memories of

her birth mother jumping to her death, of

long slender arms descending into the

fathomless depths, unable to claw back

to welcoming light, filled her with

despair. She’d been deprived of a

mother as a child. Was she now to be

deprived of her mother’s surrogate? The

four walls of her cabin tapered in. It

became harder and harder to breathe.

“This is my fault,” Constance

suddenly blurted, gazing frantically

about. “I’m being punished for refusing

to wed Burton,” she cried, shivering

uncontrollably.

“You are not being punished,

Constance,” Mrs. Mortimer scolded.

“If only Father had given Uncle

Simon time to prove he had not depleted

our family funds.”

As if sensing the irony, the ship

grew eerily silent. Constance’s ears

drummed.

“Is it over?” Mrs. Mortimer

screeched.

Shouts of barbarity escalated

above, more audible now that the cannon

fire had ceased. Where was Captain

Collins? Lieutenant Guffald? Were they

still alive?

“Pirates won’t stop until they’ve

plundered this
entire
ship and everything

in it,” Constance said. If no one came to

their aide, what then? “They’ll find us,

Morty. And when they do, unspeakable

things will happen. We cannot wait to be

forfeited like senseless lambs. We must

act.”

“No,” Mrs. Mortimer pleaded as

Constance reached for the bolt. “Guffald

told us to stay in this room and here we

shall remain.”

Activity

ignited

in

the

companionway.

Heavy

footfalls

sounded. Constance’s hand dropped

away from the bolt. Mrs. Mortimer

jumped with fright as loud obscenities

rose from the corridor. Merciless

pounding beat on one door to the next,

and the next, a staccato that intensified.

Constance put a fist to her mouth to stifle

a shriek. Just when she thought she could

take no more, a hysterical scream

pierced the night. Mrs. Mortimer’s

scream.

Constance covered the woman’s

mouth and waited in the darkness for

their inevitable discovery. A deathly

silence impaled them. Then, as though

drawn like ravenous bees, their attackers

massed

outside

the

cabin

door.

Constance focused her stare on the bolt,

wordlessly urging it to hold fast. Voices

converged, insistent, merciless, before

an ominous object pelted the door,

cutting the wooden exterior with a loud

whack.

“They’re hacking down the door,”

Constance whispered. “We’ve got no

time to lose. We’ve got to protect

ourselves.”

Mrs. Mortimer snatched at her

clothing. “Constance,” she hissed.

Her nightshift tore in the woman’s

grasp as she broke away to search the

room for a weapon. Rummaging quickly

through their trunks, Constance came up

empty-handed.

Nerve-wracked,

she

scanned the room until she spied a bed

warmer poking out of a pile of debris

their belongings had formed near one of

the walls inside the cabin. She picked up

the copper contraption and held it close

to her chest, then returned to Mrs.

Mortimer’s

side.

Ushering

her

companion into the far corner of the

room, she had every intention of hiding

long enough to plant the bed warmer

onto their attackers’ heads.

The walls vibrated. The cabin door

groaned. Shrinking back, Constance

fought back tears as she flinched with

every agonizing wallop on the wooden

portal.

The Lord will save us, Constance.

Have no fear.
Her mother’s fateful

words filled her with determination.

Them lives what saves themselves.

Odd that she also heard the advice of the

pirate who’d stood against the horde in

order to protect her years ago. She was

only alive due to the ambitious challenge

he’d given his captain.

“We’ve tempted the devil,” Mrs.

Mortimer sobbed.

Wood groaned, forewarning the

cabin

door’s

collapse.

Constance

squeezed her eyes tightly shut as Mrs.

Mortimer recited the Lord’s Prayer,

sobbing between each verse. Her actions

brought back another memory of her

mother chanting the prayer to calm her

tears while they’d waited for pirates to

escort them to their deaths. Yet, despite

the horrific expression on her mother’s

face, there had been hope, a burgeoning

will to fight to the last, to see her only

child survive unscathed.

Constance thought of her father. He

needed her, above and beyond using her

as a means to save the family’s

reputation. More importantly, she knew

he could not withstand the sorrow of

losing another woman he loved.

Wood splintered around the door

hinges. Constance’s heart thumped

wildly against her ribs.
If
Captain

Collins were dead, there would be no

leniency. She and Mrs. Mortimer would

find

themselves

in

gruesome

circumstances. At that realization, fear

unlike any she’d ever known wedged in

her throat, making it harder to breathe

inside the thick and oppressive cabin.

Her heart beat to the hammering rhythm

of her enemy’s labors until the thrashing

suddenly stopped.

The calm before the storm.

Constance held her breath and

prayed for hopeful pardon, for an angel

of mercy to champion her cause. The

voice she heard in response to her

prayers bellowed loudly in the bowels

of the ship — deep, menacing, more

ferocious and demanding than any other

sound she’d ever heard before. Orders

dispatched. Boots scraped against the

floor, eager to fulfill the directive. A

foreboding chill saturated her thin shift

in response. Prepared for the worst,

Constance stared at the door and took

her place behind it, bed warmer in hand.

Tears swept over her cheeks.

“You’ve been a real mother to me,

Morty,” she whispered. “No matter what

happens, I shall always be grateful.”

Mrs. Mortimer sobbed quietly and

nodded, incapable of speech. Constance

gazed down at her shaking fingers, a

grim reminder that her entire body

rebelled. All that kept her from a

deplorable fate was a wooden partition

and one long-handled bed warmer.

Sweltering in the suffocating cabin, she

watched the hatches give way until the

door splintered with a resonant bang.

Shards of wood blasted into the room

above the reinforced bolt, which

remained

surprisingly

intact.

Mrs.

Mortimer shrieked as a large ringed

hand appeared and reached deftly

through the hole created in the door to

grab the bolt and lift it off of the hinge.

Now, unobstructed, the rest of the

door deteriorated, splintering forward

against the tanned man’s weight.

Strutting into the room, the burly man

kicked debris out of his way and entered

the cabin. He crouched low, searching

the darkness, prepared for resistance.

Sensing this was her only chance,

Constance wielded the bed warmer high

in the darkness and slammed it over the

man’s skull. He crashed to the floor in a

heap.

Desperately, she lifted the copper

monstrosity to strike again. But just as

she swung to hit the second man, a meaty

fist swatted it away. This man

immediately focused his gaze upon her.

A patch covered his eye and his scowl

provided him a rebellious, angry

countenance. Caught in the man’s

spiteful stare, Constance recognized the

lustful turn of his thoughts as if

succumbing to a descending flood with

no apparent foothold. She stood her

ground as the man’s eye swooped up and

down her body.

Behind him, pirates moved in to

pillage the room, laughing riotously,

desiring a go at the “appetizing

wenches.” But the man before her

extended his hand into the air, bringing

them to a halt.

Constance fixed vulnerable eyes

upon her enemies. Large men with

heaving chests and torn clothing,

spattered with blood. Captain Collins

and his crew must have proven their

worth, given the appearance of these

men. That thought alone brought her

some amount of hope that members of

Collins’s crew might still be alive and

yet able to help her.

Suddenly aware the men were

undressing

her

with

their

eyes,

Constance peered downward at her state

of undress and righted her torn shift

across her breasts.

Clearing his throat, the broad-

shouldered man she’d tried to flummox

motioned to his mates. “The way this

cabin had been fortified, I expected to

find the Queen.” Laughter erupted. “You

handle that
weapon
expertly, lass. What

else can you do?”

She frowned. “Come forward and

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