Authors: Katherine Bone
Tags: #Romance, #Historical
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
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
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
“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
“Is it over?” Mrs. Mortimer
Shouts of barbarity escalated
above, more audible now that the cannon
fire had ceased. Where was Captain
Collins? Lieutenant Guffald? Were they
“Pirates won’t stop until they’ve
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
“No,” Mrs. Mortimer pleaded as
Constance reached for the bolt. “Guffald
told us to stay in this room and here we
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
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
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
“They’re hacking down the door,”
Constance whispered. “We’ve got no
time to lose. We’ve got to protect
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
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.
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
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.
Wood groaned, forewarning the
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.
Collins were dead, there would be no
leniency. She and Mrs. Mortimer would
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
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
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
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
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
expertly, lass. What
else can you do?”
She frowned. “Come forward and