Authors: Jennifer Bray-Weber
Tags: #Romance, #Historical
Lynch dropped Gilly’s hand and lifted his hard stare. He flipped his pipe, dumping the smoldering leaves on the deck, and gave it a tap on his boot. “Here our ways divide, Miss Gillian McCoy.” He tipped his hat to her. “Top of the day to you.”
“Go your ways, conch,” Drake said.
Lynch paused at the ladder, Jamison standing at his side, and hurled a futile vow. “I’m lookin’ to nail yar arse to yar mast, Drake. We wreckers don’t need a bastard with malign motives robbing our waters. So help me, I’ll heave ya to the shore.”
Drake smirked. “Rot you, Lynch.”
“Is it true?”
Gilly watched the longboat row the Irish captain back to his waiting boat. The hairs on her arms prickled at the sight of two cannons on the nearby sloop pointed directly at the
“What are you doing out of your cabin, Miss McCoy?”
She turned and flinched. He hovered so near, glaring down into her face, her eyes. Staring down into her core. He captured her, a prisoner under his ravishing allure. With hands bound, she would freely go as he willed. She blinked out of the trance.
“It’s been nearly a fortnight since I’ve walked in the warmth of the sun. I had but an hour in the dusk yesterday. I couldn’t stand another minute locked away, cramped, squashed, folded. Please, you must understand. My room is wonderful, to be sure. But tiny. It’s a horrid feeling to have no space. I’m certain there’s very little difference between a ship’s inner compartments and a pine box. Do you know just how maddening it can be to be unable to move? You’ve only yourself to keep you company and honestly, how long can one person stand themselves. Have you ever been trapped with just yourself, Captain, for so long you go astray from reality?”
Captain Drake’s eyes lost their starkness during her rambling and glossed over. Now, they pivoted into a sinister pike skewering her to her spot.
“You don’t know what insanity is, chit.” He took an impossible step closer leaving hardly enough space for a breeze to pass. “Let the devil lead you through his inner sanctum then speak to me of madness.”
His reply came more as a threat. The air around them suddenly seemed as chilly as winter’s first frost.
She swallowed. “I came in search of you. I knew you’d be displeased if I wandered about. You warned me of beasts prowling your ship. I fear I have made a mistake seeking out your company. My apologies.”
“Nonsense.” He dipped his chin contritely and stepped beyond her to the railing. “’Tis I who should apologize.”
“Captain Lynch and I are not on cordial terms as you may have noticed by our, shall we say, disagreement.” He scrutinized his rival.
Captain Lynch had boarded his boat and activity increased. What the seamen were doing she could not say. However, it appeared they were not readying to set sail.
“He may convince other salvagers to go into contracts and divide profits,” Drake continued. “The
will do no such thing. The crew is quite capable of handling wrecks ourselves. We’re not of the mind to share the wealth.”
He signaled one of his crew to join them. “Willie, see to it the gunners are ready should Lynch be so imprudent as to fire his guns.”
Would the conch, as Captain Drake called him, really attack their ship with her on board, even after he was so kind to her? She shivered.
“’Twas foolish of you to step between men willing to meet with death,” he said.
“You might have shot each other if I hadn’t.”
The captain laughed. “Sweet child, never underestimate hatred between men. A woman, even one as fair as you, wouldn’t stop the pull of a trigger. Be sure of that.”
Her blood ran cold. Mother of heaven. What had she done? She could’ve been killed! How often did Hyde warn her there was no place for a woman in the business of men? How often did she not listen? ’Twas what got her here. Likewise, ’Twas why she still breathed.
“You didn’t answer my question,” she said.
“What question was that?”
“Is it true? Do you lead ships to run aground?”
Captain Drake spun from the railing. “Valeryn! Willie!”
The first mate and helmsman joined him midship. Gilly followed, too afraid to be left alone, especially so close to the edge of the ship where cannons would surely blow her to bits.
“Get Sam and the others back on board. Leave the rest of the metal parts. We need to get underway. Lynch will be heading back to Nassau to cause us trouble. Let’s not let him stir up too much before we exchange our goods. I want to rid ourselves of Mott and his men, and then make our course to Havana.”
“Havana,” Valeryn said. “I like the sound of that.” He promptly left to do as his captain bade.
“We be searchin’ for our own bit o’ trouble in Havana, Capt’n.”
“That we will, Willie. That we will.”
Willie straightened and grinned big. He strode away hollering, “Cinch up, scratchlings! We set sail!” Willie pointed this way and that to the men scurrying to their duties. “Yarely, now. Heave ho!”
“Miss McCoy.” The captain did not turn to face her as he spoke. Instead, with his hands clasped behind his back, he watched his crew toil about. “I’ve given thought to a way you might earn your passage.”
“I have as well,” she said. “I know how to sew. I can mend clothing, darn stockings, even stitch up sails.” She could be useful not just to him, but to the entire ship.
“A nice suggestion. But, no. I have something else in mind.”
Uh-oh. The last time he had something else in mind, she nearly compromised herself.
Gilly waited, wringing the strings of the bag she still carried, anticipating what he would require from her. Would she be able to follow through with his demands?
“Tonight, I will expect you to sing for me again.”
She relaxed, loosening the grip she had on the twisted cords. “Of course.” To watch him watching her with the appreciation he showed last night would be divine. She wanted to please him. Why, she couldn’t be sure. His confidence, his dominance, his decisive mannerisms, he fascinated her.
“That is not all, my sweet.”
She looked up at his profile. His smile flickered. She should’ve known better. He was a pirate. She wouldn’t get off that easy. Pirates did not have a speck of respect for their victims. He planned to treat her as the spoils of plunder. And there wasn’t a thing she could do about it.
Nay, he didn’t act like the pirates of Hyde’s tales. If Captain Drake had wanted to rape her, he would have already done so. No, there was something about him he kept hidden, a gentleness. She saw it in his smiling eyes as she sang for him. She wouldn’t refute that he was dangerous though. He controlled his world and everyone within it.
“We’ll be making port in a day and a half with favorable winds.”
Less than two days. Not a terribly a long time. Or an eternity, depending on what the captain planned for her to spend her time.
“Our shipboard day is divided into seven watches. The end of each watch is marked by eight rings of the
’s bell. Watches begin at midnight. At the moment, we are nearly two bells into the forenoon watch.”
“I see. You want me to ring your bell?” she asked.
Captain Drake took a deep breath. Still, he did not look her way. The tip of his mouth twitched and she realized what she inadvertently implied. Her cheeks heated.
“Oh, um, please, continue.”
“When eight bells are struck—” his gaze slowly, finally, befell upon her, “—you are to give me a kiss.”
Her head spun into a flurry. “Why that’s…” She counted, numbers swirling around in her brain. “That’s, that’s nine kisses!”
“I think that’s fair, don’t you, Miss McCoy? Given the predicament you face and the many other dastardly things I could demand of you, including the one you just proposed.” Wickedness shimmered across his coal-black pupils.
She bit her bottom lip. He was right.
“Come now, Miss McCoy. Your bridegroom will be none the wiser, unless you wish for him to know.”
He lifted his eyebrows.
“Oh, yes, my bridegroom. The one I have refused.” Did he still believe her story of fleeing a jilted betrothed or had she exposed her lie? “No, he must never know.” By now, she hoped Hyde’s killer had forgotten all about her.
“So you agree to my terms,” he said.
A kiss, nine kisses, was more than fair. She quite enjoyed kissing the captain. Perhaps she was the one being paid for passage.
“Yes, Captain Drake. I agree.”
“Very well. You may remain topside on one condition. You must stay on the quarterdeck within sight of the helmsman at all times. You are not to wander around the ship. Should you want to return to your cabin, Willie or Henri is to accompany you. Are we clear?”
“Oh, very.” He led her to the ladder leading to the deck above. “You have become very generous with me, Captain Drake.”
“And I am expecting the same from you at the end of this watch.” He gestured for Gilly to climb the steps. Leaving her, he said, “Eight bells, milady, eight bells.”
Gilly had sat on a barrel beside the wheel for most of the rest of the morning, only going to the railing to wonder at the sea turtles dotting the bright blue sea. The sun’s rays brought warmth to her cheeks and her soul. Crisp, tropic breezes seemed more refreshing out on the ocean than the winds that blow across land. But they blew her hair in boisterous chaos and she had to tie her locks back. Henri would not give up one of his beard ribbons, yet, oddly, he had a spare in his pocket. He offered to give it to her if she’d stop prattling on and on about how lovely sailing on the open waters was or how she could understand why men were drawn to become sailors by trade. He shoved the ribbon at her and was quick to explain how living by the sea was hard labor. Never mind that. She felt alive.
Willie had been friendlier. They chatted about how turtling kept their stomachs and coin pouches full. How turtles could be kept alive for weeks by flipping them on their backs. And how Henri made a delicious turtle soup. Gilly learned a great deal about what makes a ship run efficiently and the varying duties of each man. He explained techniques using the winds, depth and speed to steer. It was all very intriguing. She had asked about pirating but Willie plainly stated that a lady shouldn’t be privy to such things. Not once did he make her feel uncomfortable. In fact, with how pleasant the conversation, a passerby could easily mistake them for old friends.
Willie also spoke of the colorful pirate captains who had mastered the
in years past. And of the spirited women who tamed them. His kind eyes, crinkled with ages of squinting against the harshest of weather, twinkled as he recalled their adventures. He had paused then and given her a long thoughtful regard.
She pondered about the ship’s present captain. What was his story? What were his adventures?
“That be best if the capt’n told ya,” Willie had said.
Henri offered his opinion. “He’s a hardened bastard with a black heart, he is. He ain’t ever said, but he weren’t born mean. Somethin’ made him that way. Somethin’ bad.”
Gilly didn’t think he had a black heart or was mean, but she wanted to know what made him callous. Whatever that something bad had been, it undoubtedly cast him into the formidable man others feared and respected.
Shortly after leaving the
wreckage, Captain Drake had become intensely focused on a new ship anchoring beside the Irishman’s
He rubbed his chin, deep in thought. He had been suspicious for he watched until nothing but the tips of their masts were visible on the horizon. Gilly, too, had been watchful. She had watched him for some time and took note of the wide berth many crewmen made around him. He did not welcome conversation, did not acknowledge those nearby. Had any of those men ever
to strike a friendship with their captain or was he that unapproachable and scurrilous? The winds had ruffled his long hair and whipped the sleeves of his bleached tunic. She had fallen enamored by him and studied him as if he were a fine specimen under a naturalist’s glass dome. Without his jacket, she had a sublime view of how well his trousers fit his backside. But he had turned and disappeared, and that was the last she saw of the captain. She had been quite disappointed, too. As beautiful and fascinating sailing across the pristine sea had been, he was far more pleasing to the eye.
However pleasing, she grew more anxious about the bargain she agreed upon with each passing moment.
The sun now blazed from its zenith in the sky. Only slivers of shade from the canvas sails overhead could be found hugging to the crevices and corners of the ship. Heat rose from the baking deck, and without the constant breezes, she would suffocate from the hot air.
The ship’s bell struck and Gilly counted the rings. It was time to pay her debt to the captain. She’d been tallying the bells as they struck every half hour all throughout the watch.
Her chest tightened. Mixed emotions churned in her stomach.
She wanted to kiss him, didn’t she? Of course she did.
Was she supposed to go to him? Where would he be waiting? In his cabin? She glanced at Willie and Henri. They didn’t seem to know of her quandary. She couldn’t ask them for an opinion. How mortifying to think of it.
Would she be good at it, good enough for him? How would she compare to others he had kissed?
Lord help her, she surely was going to faint.
Before the final peal of the bell faded into the winds, Captain Drake appeared at the top of the ladder. Time slowed as he glided toward her. She slid off her perch and met him halfway.
“Eight bells, milady.”
“I’m ready,” she said. Closing her eyes, she puckered, waiting for his lips to descend upon her. Waiting to inhale his delicious musk. Waiting for his hands to roam across her back and his fingers to thread through her hair. Waiting. Why hadn’t he kissed her yet?
“What’s the lass doin’?” Henri asked. “Is she alright?”
“Maybe the heat’s done gotten to her,” Willie answered.
She popped open one eye. Gone was the captain’s mask of steely austerity. His amusement beamed brighter than the unforgiving sun. The heat couldn’t compare to her swill of embarrassment. Sweat beaded on her brow and she wished with all her heart she could disappear. Why didn’t he kiss her? How idiotic she must look. She huffed, angry now. Mustering up a scrap of dignity, she confronted the cur.
“What’s wrong? Why won’t you kiss me?” She propped her hands on her hips. “Have you gone back on our accord?”