Authors: Jennifer Bray-Weber
Tags: #Romance, #Historical
His smug laugh indicated he had not. “I never renege on a deal, Miss McCoy.”
“I don’t understand.”
“You have misinterpreted the terms. Our agreement stated that
Not the other way around.”
Won’t death spare me this humiliation?
She was helpless. She had never kissed a man, only been kissed. This changed everything. It simply was not proper.
Come now, Gilly. You haven’t been proper since the day Hyde laid eyes upon you. And besides, you want to kiss him.
“All right, Captain Drake. I shall play by your rules.”
She rose to her tiptoes and, quick as a rabbit dashing into a briar patch, she pecked him on his mouth.
“There,” she said. “It’s done. I kissed you.” She grinned a self-satisfied smile. “Come back at the next eight bells. I shall be ready.”
“Uh-uh. Not quite, lass. That’s not at all how I want you to kiss me.”
“A kiss is a kiss.”
“Nay, lass. That is how you kiss a codfish.”
She gasped and her hand flew to her bosom at the insult. “And just how am I supposed to kiss you, Captain? There were no stipulations on the manner of kiss.”
“Kiss me as you did last night.”
She poked him in his chest. “You kissed me.”
“At first, yes. But then you lost your chaste modesty and your voracious appetite took over.”
If she could get her hands on his cutlass, she would end her suffering. Gilly glanced over her shoulder. Both Henri and Willie quickly, but not quickly enough, became occupied, pretending miserably not to have been listening in on their exchange. Henri fiddled with his vest pocket and Willie tapped at the compass he kept fixed to his wheel.
“You need not let shamefulness get the better of you, Miss McCoy. You’ve nothing to be embarrassed about,” Captain Drake said.
She frowned. He did not make things any easier by calling her on her discomfiture.
“Well? I’m waiting.”
What a wicked, wicked man. The only way to wipe that smirk from his face was to give him the best kiss he ever had in his wretched life.
Gilly grabbed the back of his neck with both hands and smothered his lips. Long and hard, she pressed against him. He tensed under her grip. His arms reached out, as if to hold her. But he didn’t. Nevertheless, she felt his smile. And
She broke free of him. Excitement coursed through her veins. Liberation was hers. She could do that again. Eight more times, in fact.
“’Twas a very nice start,” he said. “Now don’t look so troubled. I am happy with your kiss. It is my hope that you will work yourself up to last night’s performance.”
His gaze dropped to the exposed skin of her bosom and lingered. “Sweetling, you are burning. Perhaps you’d like to wait out the next watch in my cabin.”
Her skin did feel warm to touch. However, she did not want to be locked away any more than necessary. She admitted that an invitation to stay in his room was tempting. What treasures would she find in there? Did he trust her enough to keep her in his private cabin? How odd, and alarming.
A revelation struck. She wouldn’t be alone.
“No,” she said. “I prefer to stay topside. ’Twould be a waste to not enjoy this beautiful day.”
“Certainly. I shall have a hat brought to you. It will be difficult to keep on with the wind gusts, but please do your best.” He cupped her face in his rough palm. “I don’t want a sunburn to keep you from your duty to me.” He winked and left her to count out the bells until the end of the next watch.
With eyes upon her back, Gilly took a deep breath and spun around to face Willie and Henri. She felt compelled to share with them the meaning behind her improper behavior with their captain.
“Ah, criminy.” Henri retrieved a flask from his vest and took a quick swig.
“Capt’n be a resourceful one,” said Willie, with a smile.
“It be bad enough havin’ a woman on board,” Henri groused. “He’s just beggin’ fer trouble.”
“Women are bad luck?”
“Capt’n don’ believe in such, Miss McCoy,” Willie said.
Henri eyed Gilly with his curmudgeonly pout. “I do.” He wagged his finger at Willie. “Lookit what happened ta Tyburn and Fox. Lookit all the trouble we had when they let them lasses on
“What kind of trouble?” Didn’t Willie tell her they fell in love? She couldn’t figure out how love would be trouble.
“It ain’t nuthin’ to worry ya.” Willie snatched Henri’s flask away and held it overhead out of the little man’s reach.
“Not until ya shut yer trap. Turn around three times, kiss yer witch’s knot and throw a farthing in the sea, ya superstitious ol’ fool.”
Despite their bickering, the two gruff men had an obvious fondness for each other. In some strange way, she found that comforting. Even pirates had friends.
Listening for the tolls soon became a game. Willie explained that the next two watches, the dog watches, were split into two two-hour shifts. She’d only have to wait two hours between rendezvous with the captain. Gilly anticipated the half hours and perked up each time someone walked near the ship’s bell.
* * *
The next two kisses were much like the first one. There was less talking and each kiss lasted longer than the preceding. No—only flames bursting across every raw spot of her body. But the last kiss left her befuddled. Drake had embraced her and her heart had lurched. He wasn’t merely receiving a kiss, he was an active participant. How much would he participate next time? Her mouth grew dry.
“I need a drink of water,” she said.
“I can’t be leavin’ the wheel, Miss McCoy. Can ya wait for Henri to get back?”
“If he’s in the galley preparing the meal, won’t he be a while? The rain barrel is just down there.” She pointed to the mainmast down on the ship’s waist. “I’ll be within sight the whole time.”
“I promise not to dawdle. Please, Willie?”
“Ah, Jesus. All right. Show a leg, Miss McCoy.”
She gave him a confused look. Why would she show him her legs?
“Be quick,” he clarified.
Gilly nodded and rushed to the ladder and straight to the rain barrel. The cool water, flavored with a hint of oak, refreshed her parched mouth. She dipped the ladle in and bent for another sip. A hand, fisting a knife, came to rest on the cask’s rim. She froze as light glinted from the blade.
“Captain Mott dismissed me from the
He’s heavin’ me to the shore at Nassau.”
Gilly straightened to face Abel. “You deserve far worse.”
“’Cause of you, I ain’t got work, I ain’t got pay, and I got caned.” He shrugged off the shoulders of his tunic, giving her his back. Angry, seeping whelps crisscrossed across his red flesh.
She swallowed back her horror and remembered how he earned the punishment. “You won’t find pity with me, Abel. You were going to let me drown and sooner or later you’ll have to answer for that.”
Abel twisted his repulsive lips into a snarl. “Be well advised, I answer to no one, now.”
Gilly looked beyond his shoulder to Willie on the quarterdeck. The helmsman’s brow furrowed and he waved her back.
Abel followed her line of sight. “Least of all, the self-righteous dogs of this ship.”
“What a foolish thing to say. I understand these men are dangerous. Who are you to insult or defy them?”
“Who are they to call me rotten? Who are they to punish me?”
“Cowards are wont to be imperious and boastful, until they lose. And they always lose, Abel. Then they are weak and sniveling weasels when in the face of judgment. How do you suppose your judgment will end?”
“Bitch.” In an impossibly fast move, he poised himself so she could not escape his rancid breath. “Watch yourself in Nassau.” He flourished the gleaming knife between them, his message clear. “I hear bad things happen to pullets walking the streets alone.”
“Are you threatening me?”
“I ain’t readin’ ya poetry.”
“Pray tell, what do we have here?” Valeryn appeared from nowhere. His shadow cast upon them both.
Abel scurried two steps back and palmed his knife.
“Abel’s threatening me.”
“That so.” Valeryn clamped down on Abel’s shoulder.
“Just offering a little friendly advice for when she’s in port, is all.”
“What a thoughtful thing to do.”
“Aye, bad men be there and I was stressin’ the dangers to the girl.” Abel winced under the pain of Valeryn’s grip digging into an open lash wound.
“Drop the gully, boy.”
The knife clattered to the floor.
“I have the pleasure in saying Captain Drake will be very upset to hear of this. You see, he doesn’t accept threats of any kind against a woman, most certainly a physical one.”
“I weren’t makin’ a physical threat,” Abel replied.
“Tut! I’ll have no lying!”
Valeryn’s fingers pitted into Abel’s injury. The mean-spirited knave whimpered.
He leaned close to whisper in Abel’s ear, but Gilly heard him just the same. “Any man making a threat to a lass, well, Drake sees to it the man suffers a Spanish’s torture, by inches. Have you ever seen a man hang by his bollocks?”
She gasped. Valeryn looked up. Abel’s already distorted face under the duress of Valeryn’s grip squinted imagining the torture.
“I have a threat of my own,” Valeryn added. “Henceforth, I don’t want to see your ugly mug for the rest of the voyage. When we reach New Providence, you make haste out of port and leave Nassau. You are not to come within a stone’s cast of Miss McCoy again. Do this or Drake’s wrath will smite you.”
Abel nodded “Gladly. The bitch ain’t worth the bother.”
Valeryn released Abel. The wretch collapsed to his knees, as if the only thing keeping him upright was Valeryn’s hold.
Valeryn scooped up the knife. “Nice fish-gutter.” He slipped the knife in his waistband and addressed Gilly. “Captain Drake is expecting us in his quarters.” He gestured her toward the hatch.
She glanced up at the helm where Willie stood, shaking his head.
“Is another watch over?”
“Wait up, lass.” Valeryn chuckled. “He’s expecting us both.”
Perhaps she shouldn’t be so eager. She slowed for the quartermaster. “Thank you for intervening back there. I fear Abel has a personal grudge against me.”
“I fear so, too,” he said.
Gilly’s gut curdled. The truth of it smacked her into realizing she was still in great danger. She traded one murderous cutthroat for another. And on a ship full of pirates. Exhaustion drained her soul, but there was no time for rest. Would she ever be safe again?
The dark companionway offered a cool reprieve from the afternoon heat. A faint smell of boiled meat tickled her nose and reminded her she hadn’t eaten since the early morn. She hoped tonight’s supper was enough to fill her belly, for once she left the
she would not know when her next meal might come. She’d given Captain Drake all her money. Without those coins, she’d be without food or lodging. And how would she pay an apothecary in Nassau for more laudanum? Food and shelter—bah! A few days hungry and cold she could handle, but she couldn’t survive without her laudanum. She’d nearly gone mad limiting herself to just nips of the elixir. She must find a way to obtain money.
The captain had been gracious thus far. Mayhap he would return her coins. Nay. He’d make her earn it. How he would make her earn it was the issue. How far would she go to get it was another.
“What kept you?”
The captain stood with his back to Gilly and Valeryn, staring out the bank of windows. Beyond him, the sun had dipped in the sky, tucking into the horizon for another night’s sleep. Golden hues hung on to the clouds and draped the cabin in russet shadows.
“Mott’s rat thought to nibble on your cheese,” Valeryn answered. He stabbed the knife into the table.
Captain Drake turned and stared at the weapon, his nostrils flared. “I knew the scupperlout would cut his own weasand.”
“He’s been warned to stay clear of you. I know how much you like to give quarry a sporting chance.”
Gilly was taken aback. She couldn’t bear having another’s blood spilled on her account. Even Abel’s. The crown of thorns she wore for Hyde weighed heavily enough. “You’re going to kill him? He’s a little sneak, and yes, he threatened me, but you can’t just kill him.”
The room darkened, and she wasn’t entirely sure it was because the sun had settled under the horizon.
“A man who makes threats intends to carry them out,” Captain Drake said. “Even cowards can be dangerous.”
This she already knew. Abel had almost succeeded in killing her.
“If he doesn’t make good on you, he will find someone weaker to prey upon. It’s the craven’s way.”
“Killing him is barbarous,” she said. “His blood will be on my hands, not yours, Captain Drake. ’Twould be without justice. ’Twould be murder.”
Oh, what foolish things to say to these men. Valeryn tightened his lips, shaking his head, and stepped clear of her, grabbing for a cup. The captain moved with stealthlike fluidity around the desk.
“No.” His fingers wrapped around the knife’s handle. “Luring a woman into a dark recess and slicing her from neck to navel is barbarous. Strangling the life from her is barbarous.” He yanked the blade from the wood. “Holding her down while man after man after man takes his pleasure with a piece of her virtue is barbarous. Ripping her babe from her bosom and—”
“Drake. That’s enough.”
The captain’s eyes blazed and his sight slid to Valeryn. Valeryn locked stares with his captain. Valeryn stiffened, rising in height. One by one, Captain Drake lifted a finger from the knife’s handle only to be replaced with a tighter grip. Fear mixed with an odd sense of fascination anchored Gilly in place. Had he witnessed such atrocities? Had he taken part?
The tension snapped. Captain Drake spun around, his arm a blur, as the knife speared with precise accuracy the ropes of his hanging Japanese wind bells, the blade embedded in the wall beyond. The glass balls shattered on the floor. A deadly kill had the target been human.
* * *
Red thunderheads in Drake’s mind’s eye faded and the lovely Gilly came into view. A single tear rolled down her cheek and her bottom lip quivered. He’d gone too far with his ranting. She was too naive to introduce such atrocity and he hated himself for his lack of indiscretion. Damn it! He wanted desperately to wipe her tears away, to hold her, to let her know he would never let such a thing happen to her.
How utterly foolish! By this time tomorrow, the
would be bound for Havana and Gilly would be but a memory. She was nothing more than a fond distraction for a short time.
“I…I…” The lass cleared her throat and words poured out. “Have you considered Abel may have friends? Friends who may want to extract revenge for his murder? And even if he doesn’t have friends among the
crew, these men have lost their jobs, forfeited their pay on the cargo you have claimed and were forced to work in the salvage. Certainly they are angry enough to act upon the slightest injustice. I’m in enough trouble, Captain Drake.”
Drake thought back to his earlier conversation with the Irish bastard Lynch spouting accusations. Accusations heard by a few
tars milling about within earshot. Where the men once were indebted to Drake for saving their lives, disbelief heralded sneers of disgust in crossways glances and hushed talk. Gilly was right. If harm came to Abel while on board the
Drake would be making her a target.
He replaced the knife for his cup. “Fear not, Miss McCoy. I’m sure Valeryn scared him enough that the bilge rat will not seek to harm you. That will be his saving grace. If it is your wish, I won’t hunt him down. This time.”
She said nothing, only nodded. And still he wanted to hold her.
Gilly stepped to the knife plugged into the wall. With her delicate hand, she tried to free the blade. It took both hands to wiggle it out. Quietly, she set it on the table before him. A curious thing for the girl to do. But once her eyes rose slowly to meet his and a sweet smile graced her lips, he knew. She trusted his word and his pride remained intact. Damn. The lass was good.
“Have a drink with me, Miss McCoy, and let us talk of finer things.”
She nodded again, blinking away the remaining tears threatening to spill.
He poured her a cup. Topside, the bell rang and he smiled to himself. What bliss awaited him? With the end of each watch, she became more voracious, and more desirable. With each kiss the flower bloomed. Ah yes, ’Twas a very good way for her to pay her passage. Hell, the lass had done so tenfold. Maybe he should circle the island a couple of times to extend her stay.
He turned to hand her the drink. She grabbed his face and planted her mouth to his, causing him to drop the cup. One moment, then two passed. He slowly bound a hand to the base of her neck and pressed his other hand to the small of her back, pulling her closer. It’d been hell resisting taking the lead on her kisses. He wanted so to ravish her. But likewise, he relished letting her discover herself. This whole travesty was to be a lusty game meant for his selfish gain. Drake wanted a reason to kiss her again and again, but he wouldn’t force her. He had wanted the spirited armful to squirm, as so-called
doxies always do, and perhaps to put on a mock fight. She didn’t. Instead she surprised him with rising to the challenge even as she was unsure how. Somehow, she endeared him in his farce. She made it hard to let her have control. She made
Valeryn cleared his throat. He wore a grin that beamed
well done, mate.
Henri and Jack stood at the threshold with trays of food. “Blind me,” Henri said. “Again?” He shuffled to the table and set down the food. “Of all the places I could be this very minute.” He shook his head.
Valeryn clapped his shoulder. “And yet, ya couldn’t tear your deadlights away.”
“I weren’t watchin’, not no more than you, ya barnacle.” Henri ruffled up like a wet hen. “Jack, clean up that mess off the floor.” He curled his lip. “Damn shame to waste rum like that. Damn shame.”
Drake disagreed. A little spilled liquor was well worth the taste of Gilly’s lips.
“Ignore Henri, Miss McCoy.” Drake reached for her arm and guided her to sit. “I do.” The little manikin let a metal plate drop noisily to the table at Drake’s setting. Drake grinned and Henri proceeded to toss the other two plates to their places. “We only put up with him because his fine cooking skills are beyond measure.”
“Best barbeque you’ll find this side of Cape of Good Hope,” Valeryn said.
“I have to agree,” Gilly said. “You have surprised me with your delicious meals, Henri.”
“Thank ya, lass.”
“This boiled pork smells wonderful,” she continued. “I can’t quite make out the spice.”
“Clove. Some fine clove, too, from a merchant run aground on the Tortuga shoals.” Henri puffed out with pride and served up the meat with a helping of white cabbage. “I boiled some cloves with the boar. Then rubbed on more, with cinnamon.” His lopsided grin disappeared and he prickled up. “But that’s all I’m goin’ ta say. I’m not gonna give away me secrets.”
“Just as well, Henri,” Drake said. “Better see to feeding the crews.”
“Come, Jack,” Henri said. “Let’s give ’em their privacy. Get off the floor, boy! Criminy!”
Hardly any words were spoken during dinner. Gilly had asked about Henri and his fondness for his beard bows. Valeryn suggested all Frenchmen were foppish. But Drake suspected it had something to do with the young daughter Henri lost many years ago.
Gilly indeed had been properly schooled in genteel conduct. The way she picked with her fork the bits of meat, small enough to offend a church mouse, and chewed was both maddening and curious. He wondered if she took that much care with all manners of ministrations. And then she slipped. Her tongue had flicked out to lick juice from her lips and Drake nearly came undone. What was it about this girl? He couldn’t remember a time when he wanted a woman. And he wanted her. Not like his paramours in random ports. Not like the tail in a nanny house. Those doxies were a means to an end. It was always about the coitus. No, with Gilly, he wanted more. He wanted
That was not to be. There was work to be done and he had no room for that kind of silly longing.
“Is there something on my face?” Gilly looked to Drake and then Valeryn, wiping at her mouth. “You’re staring at me as if I’ve got something on my face.”
Drake smiled. “I’m terribly sorry. I was in deep thought.” He shoved a forkful of pork in his mouth and glanced at Valeryn, who wore a smug grin. Drake scowled at his mate.
“I told Valeryn of your magnificent performance last night, Miss McCoy, and asked him to join me for an encore.”
“Oh, that would be wonderful.” Gilly perked up. She patted a napkin to the corners of her mouth. “May I have that drink now?”
Fresh cups were poured and Valeryn set the bottle in front of Drake. The man knew him all too well.
Gilly scooted out of her chair, took a healthy drink and stood. “I usually sing to music,” she said apologetically to Valeryn.
“The captain has assured me that you are the finest singer he has ever heard and I will no doubt agree.”
“You must believe I am not given to exaggerate,” Drake said.
She smiled and began her musical selection with a poetic love song. As her song ended, Valeryn clapped wildly and stood.
Drake chuckled. “More, please, Miss McCoy.”
Bright with color in her cheeks, she launched into an operatic piece about star-crossed lovers. Valeryn sat on the edge of his seat enthralled. Drake leaned back in his chair, closed his eyes and drank his rum, lulling in her angelic tone. The song drew on, but her voice never wavered.
Ending her song, Gilly snapped up her cup. “You gentlemen are in good spirits,” she said. “Let me sing for you the tavern ditty about a sailor and his captain’s daughter.” She wetted her throat and began singing and dancing.
Gilly skipped and twirled to the silly song. The tune was indeed catchy. Valeryn clapped along and Drake tapped his boot. Soon the jollity had swept them away. Gilly pulled Drake to his feet, encouraging him to dance with her. He spun her around and around, and she laughed as she sang. He became dizzy with her jauntiness. Or was it the booze? Most probably, it was the spinning. He fell back into his chair, bringing Gilly down with him. She landed in his lap. Again. Without letting his muddled mind clear, he kissed her.
Valeryn laughed. “’Tis time I take my leave.” He stood and raised his cup. “A very fine performance indeed, Miss McCoy. I thank you for the wonderful entertainment.”
Drake hardly heard her reply or his cabin door close. He couldn’t take his eyes off her. And she had yet to try to get off his lap.
“What a wicked spell you have me under.” He cupped her cheek. “I never imagined I would pull a siren from the sea.” He stroked her face, rubbing the pad of his thumb down her bottom lip. She parted her mouth. “Yet here you are, luring me, a man whose soul is blacker than the onyx pearls I long to hang upon your bosom.”
She gazed at him with those gray eyes through coy lashes.
“I would have never imagined that I would find myself in the lap of a deadly—and handsome—pirate.”
He leaned in and ever so slowly her lids fluttered closed. Their lips met in a tender caress. Sweet rum sugared her taste. He deepened their kiss, careful not to become too greedy. His patience was rewarded as she granted his tongue access into her mouth. Her hand roamed along his back. Waves of desire surged through his body, changing course rapidly through his mind. His own hands took their pleasure in seeking out her curves, nestling in their dips and kneading their bows. He drank her like the rarest of wines. Savored her leisurely and appreciatively. He could stay like this, with her, forever. Treasuring this chaste embrace like a coveted prize.
No. He must stop. He could not allow the folly to continue.
He could not open his heart for her, this slip of a girl. Keeping his heart closed meant he could not feel pain. He was too damn close to letting her have a piece of him. How could he have let this happen? She disrupted his blissful solitude. He could not allow himself to drag her into his suffering. Even for this fleeting moment, he refused to open his heart.
He pulled her away. “Get up.”
Confusion burrowed in her brow. “But—”
“It’s time for you to return to your cabin.”
She slid from his lap and backed away. Her chest rose as she sucked in a large breath and bit down on her bottom lip. Tears, once again, sprang to her eyes. “You bastard.” Her voice wobbled, but her tune quickly changed with her building anger flushing her cheeks. She clenched her fists and took a step forward. “You filthy bastard. This is a hateful, despicable game you play with me. Charming me with your words. Forcing me to kiss you. Seducing me. How bloody dare you. You have humiliated me for the last time!”
“I didn’t force you to kiss me,” he corrected.
She shrieked. Grabbing an unopened bottle from his chest, she glared at him. Gilly raised the bottle, ready to hurl it against the wall as he had the knife. Instead, something came over her. A draw in the unseen battle raging within her. “Go to hell.” Her calm voice cracked on the words. She smacked the bottle onto the table and stormed out, slamming the door behind her. A saber on a wall display clattered onto a trunk below. The bottle tipped, rolled off the table and smashed to the floorboards.