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Authors: Katherine Bone

Tags: #Romance, #Historical

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Percy sidestepped Frink’s lunging

thrusts, challenging him jab for jab. Step

by step, their sword play sapped his

strength as they parried closer to the

hatch and the collapsing deck along the

bow. Eight long months of anger and

humiliation fueled the duel. As the

combat continued — lunge, parry, lunge

— the ship, gutted for everything it was

worth, listed. The
Octavia
had little time

left before it slipped beneath the surface.

For Constance’s sake, Percy needed to

end this quickly, so he could give her

what he’d never been able to give his

own sister. Freedom.

Debris cascaded down upon them,

hampering the fight. Frink baited him

with riotous vigor, the strains of his

insanity

tightening

Percy’s

corded

nerves. An explosion below rocked their

feet, sending them reeling sideways.

Percy moved in for the kill as the

Oc t a v i a
dipped, growing miserably

defiant.

“She’s goin’ down, Sexton!”

Frink propelled his blade forward,

nearly burying it into Percy’s side.

Warmth seeped down Percy’s hip.

Ocean spray moistened his face. He

couldn’t back down. He had to put an

end to Frink’s tyranny even if it cost him

his last breath.

The ship rolled backward, pitching

them both forward. Unable to catch his

footing, Frink stumbled headfirst into the

hold. Percy ran toward the hatch and

peered into the darkness, searching for

any sign that Constance was still alive.

Groaning

in

agony,

the
Octavia

measured her fate by inches. If he was

going to get Constance off the ship alive,

Percy knew he was going to have to

jump in after her.

Without hesitation, he leapt into the

hold. Landing unsteadily on his feet, he

took a moment to get his bearings, but

was

immediately

pummeled

from

behind. Scrambling to protect himself,

he sighted Frink out of the corner of his

eye as the man attempted to slam another

piece of wood onto his back. The blow

struck him across the shoulder. He

reared backward, then lunged forward

and caught the wooden beam, jerking it

out of Frink’s hands. He then slammed

the jagged wood into the captain’s side.

Frink fell to the bottom of the hull,

cursed, and rolled onto his feet,

producing a knife. Dodging a few well-

placed thrusts that caught him along the

sleeve, Percy pivoted around Frink,

jerked the knife free, and locked the

captain into a choke-hold.

Fury unlike any he’d ever known

seethed within him and a satisfied smile

curved the corners of his mouth as he

strangled the man unconscious. If he

couldn’t find the man who’d financed

Frink’s endeavors, at least he could gain

satisfaction from killing the one who did

his bidding, a man responsible for the

demise of innocents.

Light flickered above, illuminating

wreckage floating about his feet. He

scanned the frothy surface, his eyes

searching hull to hull for any signs of

Constance Danbury.

“Constance!” he yelled.

His ears alerted to every sound, he

let Frink go and watched the man slip

underwater. The burden of an empty

future was a weightless concern

compared to the life of the woman he

had yet to find. He called her name

again. Not long after, he heard a

groaning plea rise above shifting timber,

swelling water, and the bedlam above.

“Constance?”

“Help!” He heard the faint request

and sped into action.

Searching the darkness, he spied

fabric floating atop the foamy surface.

He saw a hand claw the air and a head

rise out of the freezing wash. Wood

wept. Beams burst at the seams, spewing

salt water about them in flowing

rivulets. Shouts to abandon ship rang out

above deck as the ship reeled at an

awkward angle. The vessel moaned like

thousands of murdered souls pleading

release.

Percy

waded

through

the

quickening wash and lifted Constance

into his arms. Her head sagged. She

appeared lifeless. He slapped her cheek.

When she still didn’t respond, he dunked

her into the water quickly rising up to his

hip. The woman came up gasping,

sucking in life-giving air.

She screamed. The ship pitched

again.

Percy gave her a rough shake. “Do

you know how to swim, woman?”

CHAPTER

THREE

“Swim?” She couldn’t swim.

“If you don’t,” he said, “we’re as

good as dead.” He reached for her arm.

“Take my hand. We’ve got to reach the

top of the hold or we’ll go under with

the ship.”

“I’ll never make it!”

“Trust me,” he pleaded.

Constance sobbed. “I can’t,” she

said. This time, she wasn’t talking about

trust.

Water swirled about her waist,

inching higher and higher, the icy lather

nearly reaching her breasts. He did not,

could not know the demons he asked her

to face.

“You must,” he said.

“I can’t!” she exclaimed, her body

and mind shutting down.

“You can and you will.”

He spoke as though surviving

shipwrecks had been a daily affair. His

eye commanded her obedience. Every

ounce of her being wanted to comply, to

believe this devil meant to help her, but

horrors of the past, pirates, her mother

descending beneath the foamy spray,

took an unrelenting hold upon her mind.

He grabbed her waist. She yelped.

“Do you want my death on your

conscience?”

“Nothing would please me more!”

she cried. She didn’t want to die. Her

eyes searched the dwindling space in the

hold. She began to doubt getting off the

Octavia
was even possible.

“Do you want to live?”

“Y-yes … ” she finally stammered.

He pulled her toward the hatch

opening,

and

then

released

her

momentarily to get a grip on the ledge.

Almost immediately, a blunt object

scraped her leg, knocking her out of his

reach. She cried out and snatched for his

hand. He grasped her hair, yanking her

back toward him as the sea roiled like a

living being beneath them.

“Leave me,” she gulped, gasping

for air. “I’ll only get you killed!”

“Grab hold of my neck and don’t let

go. We’ll climb up to the hatch and make

for the
Striker
.”

“I’m … a-afraid,” she cried, teeth

chattering.

“Concentrate. I’ll get you out of

here if it’s the last thing I do. I swear it

upon my sister’s grave. Trust me,” he

implored. His entreaty robbed her of all

thought. She nodded. “That’s it. Hang

on! Let me do the work.”

He swam them to a beam in the

hull, dodging wood fragments flooding

past. With the strength of what seemed

like ten men, he reached up for the edge

of the hatch, pulled himself up, and then

dangled his body above her.

“Keep a firm grip on the rail,” he

shouted.

Stars sparkled above as he deftly

swung himself up and out of the hold.

For a moment, the outline of his body

was blocked from sight. The ship

groaned. Water swirled like a whirlpool

about her. The momentary joy she felt

upon seeing him free of the chaos

beneath them, knowing he’d promised to

save her, fled as a wave crashed over

the hatch dousing him with a terrifying

sea wash.

Water flooded over her head,

temporarily submerging her. Constance

struggled to keep her grip, but her hands

slipped. She sank, swallowing her fill of

seawater as she tried to claw her way

back up to life-giving air.

The willowy form of a woman

appear ed.
Take hold of my hand,

Constance. Don’t give up. Grab my

hand!

Constance kicked her feet and

stretched out her hand. But the hand she

grabbed didn’t belong to her mother, but

a devil with a worrisome snarl. The

brute yanked her upward and onto the

Octavia
’s sloping deck.

“You’re a lot of trouble.”

“Mrs. M-Mortimer,” she said,

choking

out

the

seawater

she’d

swallowed.

He slapped her on the back. “Your

maid is already aboard the
Striker
,

along

with

Guffald

and

Captain

Collins.”

“Make way for the captain!” an

order sounded in the semi-darkness.

The ruffian — lifted her and

carried her to the edge of the
Octavia
’s

deck. “No! You can’t mean to — ”

“Grab the girl, Jacko,” he ordered,

throwing her overboard. “Clear the

ship!”

She landed with a big splash, and

then found herself clawing mindlessly at

water again until she was quickly fished

out of the sea by two sneering crewmen.

Once inside the boat, she glanced

furiously over her shoulder and held her

breath as the brigand dove into the sea,

effortlessly swimming to the side of the

gig, where he grabbed hold of a

proffered arm and swung himself deftly

aboard.

“She’s goin’ down by the head,

Captain.”

“Aye,” he said. “Get us clear,

Jacko, before she takes us under.”

“Row, men! Steer us free!” Jacko

bellowed. But as the distance grew

between the boat and the sinking ship,

Constance

wondered

if

drowning

wouldn’t have been the better choice.

• • •

Jacko’s bark stung the night air almost as

much as salt in his bad eye.

Percy’s men heaved forward and

back to spin the oars, muscles straining

against the currents. He sat at the head of

the gig and watched the
Octavia
tip bow

to stern. The sea devoured her whole,

taking Frink and all connection to

Celeste’s killer down to the bottom of

Davy Jones’s locker.

Irritated that he’d come so close to

learning

the

identity

of

Frink’s

benefactor only to lose all he’d worked

so hard for in the time it took to sink a

ship, his eyes settled on the bedraggled

Lady Constance. He wanted to strike out

at her for coming between him and what

he wanted most in the world. But as Her

Ladyship tried desperately to maintain

her modesty, he saw the purity he’d long

ago vowed to protect. Celeste, his

innocent sister, in need of his help, her

limp body ravaged by disease after

being sacrificed to the highest bidder

and left upon the altar of pestilence. He

turned away and cast his gaze out to sea,

content remnants of the man he used to

be still resided, however hidden, within

him.

When, at last, his emotions settled,

Percy peered across the gig and

searched the faces of his remaining

crew, men who refused to leave without

their captain. Ten worked the oars. As

their commander, he could taste their

bitter disappointment. They’d placed

their lives in his hands, endured endless

cruelty, followed every order he ever

gave and he’d led them to this — failure.

Yet, none of their gazes accused. None

seemed to care they’d wasted nearly a

year of their lives for naught.

Constance coughed uncontrollably,

diverting his attention. His wary eye

searched out her form as she stretched to

gag over the side of the boat. Salt water

did not sit well on the stomach. Thusly,

the little fool was sick. He scrutinized

her, head to foot. In the moonlight, he

could see that her coloring had slightly

paled, though her body was primed for

attack as she gazed about prepared to

strike the first man who came near.

Scantily clothed, eyes wide, she

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