Authors: Jennifer Bray-Weber
Romancing the Pirate
Copyright 2012 Jennifer BrayWeber
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All rights reserved. The unauthorized reproduction or distribution of this copyrighted work is illegal. Criminal copyright infringement, with or without monetary gain, is investigated by the FBI and is punishable by up to 5 years in federal prison and a fine of $250,000.
This book is a work of fiction and any resemblance to persons, living or dead, or places, events or locales is purely coincidental. The characters are products of the author’s imagination and used fictitiously.
A heartfelt thank you to my friends and writing buddies for your generous championing and encouragement you’ve lavished upon me every step of the way.
A special thank you to Rhonda Morrow, Kim Killion, Stacey Purcell, and Eliza Knight for the invaluable support in this book’s finishing touches.
Of course, I would be nowhere without the continued love and support from my family
. Thank you for believing in me always.
Caribbean Sea, due north of Anguilla, 1719
“On your feet, boy! Fight like a man.”
Elyssa Calhoun Montgomery scampered on her bottom away from the boorish pirate. Pain shot through her jaw from the hit she took from the invader. Blood, metallic and tart, filled her mouth. She shook away the white dots blurring her vision and flattened her back against the mast.
He mustn’t know the truth
Pirates had boarded the Spanish merchant ship
when her captain failed to outrun their sloop. Steel striking steel, gunfire, and vagrant shouts crowded her ears. Sweat and gun smoke clogged her nose. Chaos poured across the decks. Battles all around her were fought in pairs. Now Elyssa was forced to fight like a real man for her life, or lose it. Only she had no weapon. Nor had she ever hit anyone before. Nor was she a man.
She scooted backward up the pole, her wobbly knees hardly holding her upright.
“Come on, ya little whelp.” The pirate’s sneer spread into a toothless grin. “’Fore I gut ya.” He pulled a gulley knife from the tattered green sash around his waist. Despite the rough-hewn handle, the blade glimmered, well-cleaned and sharpened, in the sunlight. Elyssa swallowed the lump lodged in her throat and tampered down the fear burgeoning her insides. No time for vapors like some mollycoddled gentry, not if she were to survive. On a barrel beside her lay the marlinespike she’d been using to separate the cords of a damaged rope when the pirates appeared. It wasn’t as impressive as the man’s knife, but with its long metal pick, it would have to do. She snatched it up and held it out in front of her.
“Stay back,” she warned. “Or I’ll plug you between the eyes.” She waved the spike making sure the man knew she meant business.
“Blimey.” The pirate chuckled. “This ’ere’s a waste o’ good fightin’. I needs ta find me a tar who ain’t so lily-livered.”
Never had Elyssa seen a man move so fast. He grabbed her wrist and twisted, slamming her against the mast. She yelped at the sharp smarting. Dropping her weapon, the marlinspike clattered to the floor. His retched breath fell upon her face. “Death is but yer due, boy.” The tip of the blade of his knife pricked her throat’s tender flesh. “Unless ye be joinin’ the ranks of the devil.”
Dear Lord, pressed into the service of a pirate crew or die. What choice did she have?
was weeks out from sailing into San Juan. Elyssa was a mere fortnight away from no longer pretending to be a young man working as a deckhand. A fortnight away from freedom. Now, it was gone. Her freedom gone. Again.
This couldn’t be happening.
“Well, boy? Whassit gonna be?”
Elyssa’s heart raced, she couldn’t quite catch her breath as he crushed his slovenly body harder against her. Tears borne of sheer terror threatened and she bit her bottom lip in a desperate bid to control its quivering.
The severe stitch in the pirate’s brow loosened. Confusion first, then recognition of something amiss flickered in his black eyes. Did he know? Had he figured out she was not as she seemed? He swept her features, no doubt looking from some clue.
How long could she keep up her disguise? Surely she would meet an unsavory fate among pirates should her ruse be discovered. But torture and dying wasn’t an option. She’d made it this far without incident. Aye, she’d continue this hoax as long as she could, and at first chance, she’d flee. She had dreams to build.
Elyssa nodded once, not lending her voice to his suspicion. The pirate tilted his head, staring hard. Long moments passed. Her heartbeat thumped louder in her as ears as the sounds of fighting died. She was certain she would buckle under his intense scrutiny.
Elyssa didn’t dare unlock eyes with the wretch to find the source of the deep, rich voice.
“The Spanish bastards have surrendered. We’ve taken ourselves a mighty fine prize. Round ’em up!” Cheers erupted, pistols raised, pops fired in celebration.
Pirates herded the
jack-tars to the center of the ship.
The man pinning Elyssa finally stepped away. He glanced around before his eyes landed upon her again. “Join the others,
She didn’t like his tone, not at all. And with the quick curl of his lip, she reckoned he had her figured out.
Helpless to do little more to improve her situation, Elyssa followed orders and stood among her fellow crewmen. The battle had lasted a handful of minutes. Tangy scents of blood ousted the smoke wafting away on the breezes. Slick red stains soaked through several of
men, but none suffered more than flesh wounds. Elyssa breathed easier knowing all had survived the attack. It had become necessary to avoid friendships with the men she had worked alongside for the past month. Still, she wouldn’t want anyone killed.
“All right, all right. Hold your gab.” A smartly dressed pirate in a fine dark blue vest and black breeches climbed two steps up the quarterdeck ladder. Short blond locks flipped out under the faded yellow scarf wrapped tightly around his head. He flicked his arm up for everyone’s attention. “Capt’n Blackthorn speaks.”
“Obliged, Mister Kipp.”
Elyssa recognized the deep voice as the one who earlier claimed victory. He stepped to the deck railing and her breath hitched.
Perhaps it was his vantage overlooking the flock of them. Perhaps it was how he held his back straight with intense confidence. Whatever the case, the pirate captain seemed impossibly tall. He wore a long black dress coat with shiny brass buttons and clean knee breeches fastened with crimson garters. Indubitably, the rogue could pass for a king. He was trimmed in impeccable finery, from his buckled shoes to his ringed fingers. Despite his gentlemanly fashion, there was no mistaking the impressive bandolier of pistols strapped to his chest. He was a dangerous man, to be sure. She couldn’t make out his features clearly under the shadows of his red plumed hat, but his slow, shrewd scan of the crowd sent shivers across her skin.
“A fair afternoon to you, men. I am called Captain Bran Blackthorn of the
. Welcome to my waters upon which you trespass.” He threw his arms wide, gesturing the ocean near and far belonged solely to him. “Now with pleasantries out of the way, I will speak of the business at hand.”
He waved to men behind him. “Your captain, Alonso, is it?” The pirates brought
captain forward. Like the defeat hung from his frown, shackles hung from his wrists. Elyssa thought Captain Alonso to be an arrogant man. But now ’twas obvious he had been knocked from his grand horse and humbled.
“Aye, Alonso,” Captain Blackthorn said. “Alonso kindly relinquished his cargo of goods. A fair trade for his life, I think. Most especially after engaging me with his pathetic hand piece.” The pirate captain let a small gun hang from his finger. “My men will also seize anything they deem valuable for our trouble, including your weapons, clothing, and tools.” He tossed the pistol to Mister Kipp. “’Tis nothing personal, mind you.” He tipped his head as if it was an unavoidable fact.
“Accordingly, let me lay forth your fates. I am a just man. Am I not, Mister Kipp?”
Mister Kipp, leaning against the ladder, spun a gulley knife in and around the fingers of one hand. The speed and dexterity of his talent impressed Elyssa. More so than his alarmingly relaxed confidence. She wondered how he didn’t slice a digit clean off.
“Aye,” he said. “No better a just man there was, Capt’n.”
“Yes, yes. You’re right of course, Mister Kipp,” he said, nodding. “I believe in choices. And I shall offer one to you. Join my band of merry buccaneers. Adventure, coin, and a taste of wanton women can be yours.”
The pirates chuckled, as though no better life could be had.
“Be apprised,” Captain Blackthorn continued. “’Tis grueling work. And you will be an enemy to every country, hunted down and quite possibly hanged from a hempen necklace. Or, should this sound unsavory, then you shall chance the sea with your captain.”
He cast his judgment toward the defeated captain, shaking his head in disappointment. “Captain Alonso’s unfortunate mistake cost him. As a consequence, those of you loyal to your leader will do so with the provisions of one day.”
The lad beside Elyssa should have kept quiet, but he continued to wag his unwise tongue.
He immediately met with a punch to his gut by the nearest pirate. Elyssa cringed. The poor fellow buckled, spitting, gasping for air.
Captain Blackthorn descended the ladder and crouched down in front of the unfortunate man. “Boy, you know nothing of starvation. Nothing,” he growled. He stood and his height matched his formidable authority. With biting sarcasm, he added, “Let us hope the winds deliver you to a safe port and you do not suffer too terribly from your hunger.”
With keen eyes, he scanned the crowd. He radiated malice. But Elyssa found herself more curious than scared. She fixated on those eyes, eyes not as brown as his long hair tied at the nape of his neck. Their unusual light color contrasted with his swarthy skin. How could a man, indeed a villainous pirate, have such beautiful eyes?
“Those of you wishing to go on account step forward,” Captain Blackthorn said.
Glances to one another, marked by indecision, flitted through the
men. One by one, men moved out of the crowd to join Captain Blackthorn’s crew.
She searched for the pirate who threatened her. The wretch leaned against the mast, cleaning his fingernails with his gulley knife. He pinned her with an expectant stare. She gulped down the sickened taste building in her mouth. No doubt should she refuse, she’d be exposed on the spot for the sham she was, or worse, dead before the last chest of slops exchanged ships. Elyssa took the step forward, knowing her life may change forever.
Captain Blackthorn measured up those who chose to join the
. What a sorry excuse for seamen. Green and desperate, not fit for a jollyboat. Blackthorn’s own ragtag and bobtail men fared in better shape than these labbernecks.
“Only twelve…” His gaze landed upon a young lad to his left. What a pitiful looking choir boy. Probably cried for his mama when he received that split lip. Blimey. The beanrake hardly reached his chest. Small shoulders, tiny hands, probably couldn’t lift more than a bucket of water. Perhaps those spindly arms offer him advantages climbing the rigging.
“Make that twelve and a half, brave souls, eh? So be it. Welcome to the brotherhood, lads.”
Blackthorn couldn’t afford to be particular. He’d lost several fine men to sickness and several more in battle. He needed as many men as willing to sign the
He spun on his heel, strode to the side of the ship, and jumped to the gunwale. Hanging onto a line, he turned around, flashing a smirk. “Tonight, we celebrate our latest victory.”
A roar of joy erupted from the pirate crew. Talk of rum and music added to the good cheer. This night his men would have full bellies, as well. ’Twas good fortune to cross courses with the Spanish vessel. Rations were running dangerously low and Blackthorn didn’t expect to meet up with Christensen for another month. Maybe two. When Christensen did find him, Blackthorn hoped his old friend came bearing good news, not open gun ports.
Kipp addressed the newest recruits. “Honeymoon’s over, boys. Go below and help fetch up the cargo. The rest of you set yourself down. They’ll be no need of yer sorry arses. And doncha even think of doin’ somethin’ foolish, lest ye be thrown to the sharks.”
Blackthorn stepped over to the
gunwale and hopped down, his coat billowing behind him. He stopped before the hatch leading to his quarters and looked back. The young boy stared at him as if were the King of Spain. Blackthorn chuckled. Poor runt. In awe of a pauper instead of a prince. But then Blackthorn could very well call himself royalty. He ruled this part of the Caribbean. ’Twas all a matter of perception.