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Authors: Donna Thorland

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BOOK: The Rebel Pirate
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“I’ve followed her father to sea, man and boy, these forty years. And his daughter might not have been born with a silver spoon in her mouth, but she
is
a lady, and on the
Sally
, she is treated as such.”

“I did not mean to imply otherwise,” Sparhawk said. “Only to observe that she is remarkably brave.”

Lucas Cheap released Sparhawk, stepped back, and looked him over. Finally he grunted and said, “A pretty sentiment, Captain. You might even mean it. But she’s not fair game for your sport.”

Sparhawk’s reputation must have preceded him. The Massachusetts coast, as he was often reminded, was shaped like an ear. It heard everything.

“Understood. I have no designs on her.” His own personal code would not allow it, no matter how intriguing she might be. “And I meant the boy no harm, Mr. Cheap. I went to sea myself at that age.”

Lucas Cheap snorted. “With a midshipman’s berth, a sea chest full of warm clothes, and no fear of the cat. As a young gentleman is privileged to do, eh?”

“As a common sailor,” Sparhawk replied, “with nothing but the clothes on my back.” He risked a great deal saying so. There were only two men in the world who knew how he had been pressed into the navy. One had saved his life. The other had tried to take it from him.

“Then I’ve no need to tell you what might befall a boy under a bad captain.”

He knew all too well. When he thought about it, he could still feel Captain Slough’s hand on the back of his neck. “That does not happen on my ship.” He made certain of it.

Cheap shrugged his powerful shoulders. “It happens enough.
That’s
why the girl was on board, to look out for the young master on his first voyage and after the family interests. The gold was the hired captain’s private cargo. It had nothing to do with her. When you report to your admiral, you’ll leave the girl out of it.”

“I shall do as duty and honor demand,” he said.

Lucas Cheap surveyed him with a jaundiced eye. “I’ve served in your navy. There was plenty of duty and precious little honor in it.” He removed an imaginary piece of lint from Sparhawk’s epaulet, fingered one of the silver gilt buttons atop his snowy lapels, then sliced it neatly off. “Something to remember you by, Captain,” Cheap said, and dropped it in his pocket.

Then he let James into the skipper’s cabin and locked him within.

If Sparhawk were lucky, they wouldn’t take the ship’s log off him when they put him ashore, but he couldn’t count on that. He must read it and find the names he needed now. He had scarcely cracked the book open—had learned nothing more than her tonnage and registry—when the key turned in the lock and the door opened.

The girl—
Sarah
—stood shivering on the threshold. She had changed her clothes, but she was as fascinating in a swallow-tailed calico jacket and rustling silk petticoats as she had been in sailor’s togs. Her eyes fell immediately on the log. “I believe that belongs to the
Sally
,” she said, holding out her shaking hand.

“It should have gone over the side before we caught you,” Sparhawk said, hoping to distract her.

“Captain Molineaux was nothing if not consistent,” she said, her attention still focused on the slim volume in his hand. “He proved unprepared for
every
eventuality.”

There had been no opportunity on deck for her to make any expression of outrage or grief over the death of the captain. It had not occurred to Sparhawk until now that the man might have been someone important to her—a lover perhaps.

An unwelcome thought. Her words now argued otherwise, but he found he needed to know. “Who was he to you?” Sparhawk asked.

“The captain was hired by one of the
Sally
’s investors,” she said. “For his politics, and not, more’s the pity, for his skill as a sailor.”

The ship chose that moment to lurch alarmingly to starboard. She’d walked with an effortless sailor’s gait earlier, but her sea legs deserted her now, and she tumbled into the room, a mess of honey blond hair and pale, cold skin.

He caught her. “You’re trembling,” he said, tucking the log discreetly into his pocket.

“It’s cold,” she said, disentangling herself from his arms.

It wasn’t. Not in the cabin, and not in the stuffy main deck she had just crossed to reach him. “No,” he said. “It is the aftermath of the tension on deck.” He snatched the coverlet off the bed and approached her with it. She backed from him warily.

“You have nothing to fear from me,” he assured her. “If I had the stomach for hurting a woman, I would have disarmed you on deck earlier.”

Her pale complexion turned ashen. “Why didn’t you, then?” she asked.

“Because if I had touched you, I believe your crew might very well have begun a war over it.” He dropped the blanket loosely over her shoulders and stepped back.

Duty said he should push her out the door of the cabin and lock it from inside until he’d memorized everything he needed from the log.

Honor said she was a lovely young woman—with an unfortunate fondness for firearms—in distress.

“I take it you don’t make a habit of kidnapping naval officers,” he said.

It was difficult now to imagine this fashionable young girl leveling a pistol at him. Her jacket was Indian cotton, brightly printed, and smartly laced in front with a green silk ribbon. The glimmering lattice tempted his eye down to a neat, defined waist. Her clothes were stylish and spoke of money and leisure, but her skirts were hemmed country-high, as though she were a farmwife or a shopkeeper. Not that he minded the extra inches of stockinged calf on display.

“No,” she said. “Do
you
make a habit of abducting children?”

The ship rolled once more, and he reached for her automatically. Earlier he had held no doubt that she would have shot him to protect the boy and that the standoff on the deck would have dissolved into a bloody slaughter if he had tried to disarm her. The events of the last hour had taken a toll on her. She was shaking so hard she could barely stand upright.

“Children, no.” He led her to the bunk. “Able-bodied men of seafaring habits, yes. Your brother counts as such if he has been working a merchantman. And manning the
Wasp
is one of my responsibilities as an officer.”

She wrinkled her nose. “You would not have caught the
Sally
had my father been at the helm. Your
Wasp
is a lubberly brig. Sluggish and in need of careening. I grant that you handled her well for all her faults, but she does not, from what I saw of her, have an excellent crew.”

He was most definitely not on his own quarterdeck with this girl. “I might have exaggerated on that point,” Sparhawk said. “But your brother would not have been mistreated on my ship. And it is in my power to press whom I see fit.”

She sat and pulled the blanket tight around herself. He’d had his first glimpses of a tempting female form in three months, and he found he sorely resented the embroidered coverlet. Nevertheless, when she shivered once more, he took his coat off and draped that too around her slender shoulders.

“My brother is hardly a hired hand. This is our father’s ship. And considering that I have kidnapped you,” she said, acknowledging the loan of his coat with a nod of her head, “you needn’t be so gallant.”

Earlier, he’d thought her pretty, but nothing truly out of the ordinary. Now she smiled, and he revised his opinion. It was more than the pleasing curve of her full lips, the light in her wide brown eyes, the hint of strawberry in her honey gold hair. She had a daring and directness that made her an original. He felt strongly the unwanted tug of desire.

He retreated to the other side of the tiny room, putting the table between them.

There were men—like his father—who preferred their lovers vulnerable and powerless. Who preyed on chambermaids and serving girls—women in difficult positions.

Like this one. It was an abuse of privilege, and it was wrong.

Since his first affair with an opera dancer at fifteen, Sparhawk had confined his passions to those who could not be hurt by a liaison. He took care to be certain that his lovers were financially secure and socially immune to censure. He bedded bored wives with open-minded husbands, carefree widows, and members of the demimonde who would not be thrown into the street by an angry father, jailed for immorality, or condemned to spinsterhood and destitution.

Sparhawk had always drawn this line between himself and his father, to prove that they were nothing alike. He had never found it inconvenient—until now.

•   •   •

On the deck above, holding him at gunpoint, Sarah had been aware that Sparhawk was handsome. Up close he was disconcertingly beautiful. She ought to have expected that. Rumor had it that he made too free with other men’s wives. It would be easy for him, with his pale blue eyes and blue-black hair, bleached at the crown by the sun. Six foot aloft, he had the build of a fighting man but the face of a Bernini angel—or a fallen one anyway. His nose was slightly crooked. It had probably been broken at some point.

On deck, his beauty had made it easier for her to focus her anger—and her fear—on him, because he was as handsome as the man who had put her there. Easier to raise a pistol to his head and feel the smooth steel of the trigger beneath her finger.

Especially after seeing the captain’s head torn off by a cannonball.

Sick with frustration at Molineaux’s incompetence, she had been standing quite close when it happened, watching the
Wasp
overtake them. The ball had struck him and then the mast, exploding in a shower of blood and splinters and lodging in the heart of the hewed pitch pine. The impact had been so loud, it had temporarily deafened her.

She watched the top of the mast strike the water in eerie silence.

Then her hearing came back in a rush of sound, of flapping sails and shouts and the ring of axes. Mr. Cheap shook his head and pushed her down the hatch, ordering her to don her brother’s clothes and tuck the sailing master’s pistol in her sash and cover it with her jacket.

Then the British had boarded them, and found the gold, and tried to take Ned.

After she had faced Sparhawk down and they were well away, she knew she must confront him, this splendid naval officer with his glittering braid and buttons. She wished she could put herself on an equal footing with him, armor herself in silver lace and silk damask, but she had only her faded calico jacket and petticoat, the one she had worn to buy the French molasses and trade on her father’s name in Saint Stash—Saint Eustatius, the Dutch free port in the Caribbean where anything could be had for a price.

She had entered the cabin expecting Sparhawk’s haughty disdain, but he was outmaneuvering her with his kindness. He draped his soft wool coat, still warm from his body, around her shoulders.

“I kidnapped you,” she said. “You needn’t be so gallant.”

“You did it to protect your brother,” he replied, “and I cannot fault your motives. In the navy we celebrate the courage of our enemies. Without it, we would all be on half pay.”

Handsome
and
charismatic. He was trying to charm her.

“I’m not your enemy, Captain Sparhawk. Even loyal Englishmen find the press barbaric.” The words carried slightly less dignity than she intended, because the
Sally
rolled again and threw her off the bunk.

Sparhawk caught her, his hands warm and reassuring around her waist, and replied almost without missing a beat, “It is how Britain has manned her navy for a hundred years. It is how she keeps your coast safe from French incursions. The press may be a trifle . . . callous, but it is legal, and you would not enjoy such security without it.”

She had not been so close to a man since Micah Wild. And she had never been so close to a man like this. Sparhawk’s face and form approached a heroic ideal, like an engraving she had once seen of a statue of Achilles.

The deck pitched again and she grasped him for balance. Her fingers discovered a lean, hard body beneath the fine tailoring of his uniform, and something hidden in his pocket. Her hand slid down. It was the briefest movement, disguised by the wild motion of the deck, and he did not appear to notice. “This is not Britain. And just because it is legal does not mean that it is right.”

“Now you sound like a Rebel,” he chided, but his hands were still around her waist, and his warmth was tempting her closer.

Sarah knew where such temptation led. With regret, she disentangled herself and stepped back.

“I’m no Rebel,” she said. “You will want the name of the man expecting that French gold, which I can tell you, and you will require this as evidence if he is to be arrested.”

Sarah held up the
Sally
’s log, which she had just picked out of his pocket.

He moved to pat his coat, then stopped, a self-deprecating smile playing across his lips. “That was very deftly done,” he said. “What is it you want in return?”

“I want my father and the
Sally
’s crew cleared of any suspicion of treason. They are not Rebels, and they should not be treated as pirates. They knew nothing about the gold.”

“Forgive me, but I am hesitant to trust the word of a woman—no matter how lovely—who has just picked my pocket. Where did you acquire such a skill?”

She blushed at the compliment, but she knew better than to answer truthfully. “Dame school,” she said. Her father had been pardoned long ago, but some of the rogues in his crew had not.

“In between needlework and penmanship?”

“After music but before drawing. Will you help us?”

“What you ask may be difficult. A hold filled with French molasses is hardly a testament to your loyalty.”


Everyone
smuggles. Even the admiral drinks Dutch tea, for heaven’s sake. That does not make the man a Rebel.”

“But treating with foreign powers does. And someone aboard this ship most assuredly did.”

“The
Sally
,” she said, anger warming her, “is my father’s ship, but he did not hire the captain, nor did he give the man his instructions.”

“Then who did?”

“An investor,” she said. If only Micah Wild had been
just
that.

BOOK: The Rebel Pirate
5.11Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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