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Authors: Katherine Bone

Tags: #Romance, #Historical

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I’ll show you.”

“This

one’s

a

fighter,”

he

announced absurdly. His voice was

intense, commanding. The pirate’s lip

curled, as if he challenged her to rebuke

him.

Constance

refused

to

cower

beneath the man’s impossible stare. She

tossed her head back, firmly intent on

surviving whatever these pirates forced

upon her. Quirking her brow, she raised

the bed warmer. She wasn’t afraid to

fight. Dying would end ten years of

misery and guilt. It was the minutes and

hours before death that frightened her.

Finding her voice, Mrs. Mortimer

screeched into the void, “Leave us be!”

“Never fear,” the demon said.

“We’ve never misused a wench who

didn’t welcome the attention.” A buoyant

cheer rose, forcing a heart-wrenching

sob from the fearful woman. “You may

be common,” the blackguard stated,

looking Constance up and down, “but
we

aren’t particular, are we men?”

She did not miss his emphasis on

“we.” Immediately, she wondered if they

were to be passed from one man to

another like common doxies. Constance

lifted her chin another notch.
Common,

indeed!

“Your desire to fight is natural,” he

assured. “But I promise you, the

temptation will pass.”

The leader paused, wanting her to

digest the futility of the situation. And

the glint in his eye promised he’d enjoy

reaping his reward. But then he did

something completely unexpected. He

tilted his head sideways and stepped

forward, his hand held up to suggest he

wouldn’t hurt her. In disbelief, she

positioned the bed warmer between

them.

“Don’t come any closer,” she

warned.

His eye narrowed. He took another

step closer, slapped the bed warmer

aside,

ignoring

her

threat,

and

scrutinized her, head to foot.

“I stand corrected,” he said,

placing

surprisingly

warm

fingers

underneath her chin, tilting her head left,

then right, as if searching her features for

something — familiar. “You, my little

blossom, are anything
but
common.”

A frown creased his brow. He

pulled away, breaking contact, and her

skin burned where his fingers had been.

Shock infiltrated her senses. Had he

recognized her? Why, the very idea was

absurd. He was a pirate! It wasn’t as if

they frequented the same social circles.

And

yet

something
had
registered

between them. She’d felt it in his gaze,

his touch. But she was given no time to

dwell on her absurd thoughts however,

because he turned away and addressed

the men in the room.

He spoke loudly to the brigands.

“Search the room. Report whatever you

find to me,
then
the captain.”

The rogue and his men pilfered

through

her

belongings,

scattering

petticoats and stockings about the room

as if they were rags. Temporarily

forgotten, Constance focused on escape.

A captain was mentioned. How many

others were in charge? And what greater

misery waited above deck?

She

followed

the

leader’s

movements. What part had he played in

the attack upon the
Octavia?
The fact

that he might have killed Lieutenant

Guffald or Captain Collins hit her full

force. His size and skill certainly proved

him capable of performing such a

sickening feat. And yet there was

something about him …

Fabric ripped. Mrs. Mortimer

shrieked, startling Constance away from

her speculations about the man. But it

was too late. The thieves had torn the

hem of her green lined riding habit and

were

only

seconds

away

from

discovering her money pouch, which

held the last valuable farthing she’d

saved to procure transportation to Aunt

Lydia’s home. Without those funds, she

and Mrs. Mortimer would be destitute.

The one-eyed brigand cocked his

head sideways as she stepped forward

to intercept the garment.

“Stay back,” he warned. His voice

was dagger sharp.

He stretched out a well-muscled

arm to bar her way and Constance

watched her future fade before her eyes

as one of the rogues ripped into the wool

cloth. Grinning, the rotten-mouthed man

produced the pouch and threw it into the

one-eyed pirate’s hand. Satisfied, the

jackal produced a lop-sided grin, tossed

the purse, weighed it, nodded, and

ordered his lackey to take the money

topside.

With nothing left to distract them,

her captors turned away from her to

plunder another one of her trunks.

Constance stood by helplessly as one by

one, men filtered in and out of the room,

passing along information to their leader

about the melee above. Clothed in black,

wearing

tall

Hessian

boots,

the

overseeing pirate loomed larger than life

in her cabin, his dark, wavy hair draping

away from his beard at the slightest tilt

of his head. His leather eye patch, held

in place by a blood-red scarf, gave him

a sinful demonic air that made Constance

quiver. His facial features, concealed as

they were beneath a mustache and beard,

kept her from judging the man’s

character. From head to toe, the blaggard

was a frightening specimen. She knew it

would do no good to beg and plead for

clemency, though she feared she was but

moments away from resorting to those

tactics.

She had to escape. But how? The

room was too small to rush by him

without getting snagged by an arm. Men

shuffled

about

in

the

hatchway,

preventing her passage. She’d be a fool

to think she could outmaneuver men

who’d been trained to scuttle a ship and

wreak havoc on human life. Was escape

even possible?

“Plotting a getaway, eh?” he asked,

while studying the state of his fingernail.

Had she been that obvious? “Don’t try

anything foolish. That could get you

killed.”

Did he think her a fool? Did he

expect her to follow him blindly to the

side of the ship and obey his command

to jump or worse, succumb to a pirate’s

lust? No. If she was going to die, she

would rather die struggling to survive,

like her mother. Her heart sank as she

remembered how terribly wrong her

mother’s plan had gone. But had she had

any other choice? She shivered at the

thought as the brigand’s eye bore into

hers. He gave his head a negative shake

as if reading her thoughts — again. Time

stilled as she waited for him to tell her

where she fit into his plans. Finally, he

frowned. His demonical gaze brought an

unwelcome flush to her cheeks as he

moved

forward.

She

flinched,

instinctively backing away.

His laughter ricocheted off the

ceiling as he tossed her a wrap. “No

harm will come to you as long as you do

as I say,” he said.

Constance placed her arms through

the linen sleeves and pulled the wrap

closed, thankful for some measure of

modesty. Two men entered the cabin,

spoke quietly with the tyrant, looked at

her, smirked, and then left. Concerned

for their safety, Constance drew Mrs.

Mortimer close, making sure to shield

the woman who’d mothered her to

adulthood. But as they clung together in

earnest, praying silently, a short-legged

pirate walked forward and snatched the

woman from her arms.

“No!” she cried, daring not to let go

of Mrs. Mortimer’s hand.

Morty whimpered. “God be with

you, child.” And then she was gone,

spirited out the door without a backward

glance.

Constance stood quietly listening to

Morty’s ranting curses as the woman

was carried through the passageway and

up the stairs to the deck. Left the primary

focus of the wicked devil, she didn’t

know how to react. Lord Burton paled in

comparison to the confident killer

standing before her.

A lean man with rotting teeth seized

her by the arm at that moment, nearly

pulling her off her feet. She screamed.

“She stays!” the one-eyed man

commanded.

“The captain wants this chit

topside,” the foul man challenged.

“Tell him I’ll bring her myself.”

His voice brokered no argument.

Constance shrank back, afraid of what

the combustive atmosphere would yield.

Apparently, she wasn’t the only one

who felt threatened. The smaller man let

her go, mumbled something obscene, and

moved quickly out of the room.

The devil stared at her for an

inestimable time. “I’ve an eye for beauty

and,” he paused, “I never forget a face.”

“Beauty is in the eye of the

beholder,” she snapped.

First and foremost in her thoughts

was the way the other men had raked her

flesh with their beady eyes. To be alone

with this dangerous man now surely

meant he intended to ruin her. After all,

he was no different from the others. How

could he be? As the truth settled in

Constance’s mind, she wondered if this

was what her mother had had to endure,

fear,

uncertainty,

and

desperation.

Would

she

be

as

courageous?

Swallowing hard, she hoped to survive

the hours ahead without resorting to

begging for death.

Remember, there can be no

bargaining with pirates.
Her mother’s

final words cut her to the quick. Some

lessons weren’t meant to be learned.

The demon moved. He stood face

to face with her now, though he was a

head taller. His height posed a strategic

problem. Should she try to resist, there

would be no way to get around him.

“You’re a beauty,” he admitted.

“Perhaps a physician should check

your good eye,” she snapped.

He tossed his head back with

laughter, then moved back toward the

center of the room and quirked his brow.

“Do you intend to slay your enemy with

wit or a bed warmer?”

Censored by his amusement of her

predicament, Constance sheathed her

arms about her like a protective cocoon.

He was but a few steps away. She was

not safe by any means. He could attack at

any time. Fearing that possibility, she

watched him closely as he leaned on one

of her trunks, his thigh straining against

the dark fabric of his breeches. She

closed her eyes, revolted that she’d been

caught staring. But he was incredibly

big, large enough to kill her with one tap

of his hand. The fact that he could

overpower her in seconds toppled any

hopes she had of knocking him

senseless.

“What is your name?” he asked,

interrupting her thoughts.

“Who is doing the asking?”

His loud guffaw only exasperated

her stubborn streak. The man was

arrogant, a character trait similar to her

father’s. Constance understood pleading

for her life, for Mrs. Mortimer’s, would

be useless. But she had few options left.

If she expected to live, she would

eventually be expected to give in to the

rogue’s

demands

or

perish.

She

understood this better than most. Forcing

a pirate into a bargain had backfired on

her mother. Yet, this night she’d come

full circle. It was now her turn to

choose. Her mother had given her that

right, shown her the true measure of

courage. Could she do the same for Mrs.

Mortimer, the woman who’d shown her

every kindness and taken her mother’s

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