Pirate Heiressby Chloe Flowers A Pirates & Petticoats Novel Publication Date: September 15, 2016 Genres: Adult, Historical Romance, Action & Adventure
PIRATE HEIRESS by Chloe Flowers
CHAPTER ONELetter from Anne Bonny to her father William Cormac: 3 March, 1718 Dear Father, I bid you farewell. I know you disapprove of my choice for a husband. True, he is but a simple sailor. However, I refuse to marry any of those milksops or fortune hunters who continue to darken our door. I love James Bonny and he has sworn his life to me. I ask nothing more from you than your prayers for my health and well-being. Your daughter, Anne July 1811 What the hell. His sister was about to marry his best friend this evening, so he could deal with a cold bath. Conal dragged the copper tub from the pantry closet and poured in several buckets of tepid water. He’d located a piece of lye soap, so at least now the bath would be well worth the effort. The galley stove had been allowed to wane to the lowest of coals, and he, Conal O’Brien, the captain of this vessel, had neither the time nor inclination (or rather patience) to heat the water for his bath. Better to just duck the head down and get it over with. Like pulling out a tooth or a wood splinter, cold water plunges were best done quickly. As he expected, the water was brisk, the soap elusive, the suds painful to his eyes, and the whole notion of soaking in a cold tub remained annoying, to say the least. Yet as always, Conal’s stubborn tendency to fight being bested by anything, including the temperature of his bath, won out in the end. He had to hold his breath longer than he’d have liked, but there were areas that needed extra attention, thanks to Gampo and his damned crew of pirates. If he were honest with himself, it really wasn’t entirely the attack by Gampo that had spurred the extra scrubbing, although his coat had been torn and his breeches stained with grime from helping a mate adjust a ship’s gun. Rather it was the thought of his mother’s look of disappointment that made it necessary to repair his appearance before attending his sister’s wedding. Although they weren’t here, his parents would expect him to see his sister married properly while representing the O’Brien family proudly. He scrubbed a little harder. If anyone had asked him a few months ago if his best friend would marry again, he’d have laughed. Women were too hard a concept to understand, for one. They were weak, silly, helpless and emotional, making them more of a burden than anything else. Aside from the women in his family, females in general weren’t to be trusted, at least not the ones he usually ran across while anchored at port. Suffice it to say that the less he trusted women, the better off he remained. No, the notion of marriage didn’t appeal to Conal in the least, unless...he thought for a moment. If he found a woman more like his sister Keelan, he might consider it. She was as good or better with a blade than any man on his ship. She was quick-minded and independent. He’d never met another woman, save his Aunt Risa, who belonged on the deck of a ship more. Conal’s vessel, the Seeker, had to drop anchor farther out in the harbor due to a thick cloud of fog obscuring everything beyond a couple hundred paces. He’d had to row a canoe back to his ship to bathe and change. His cousin Brendan’s ship, theReward, was docked at the pier, providing a more convenient access to the town’s offerings. In fact, Brendan was probably already back at the tavern and looking like the handsome devil he was, boots polished and collar starched. He would be damned if his cousin would find fault in his mien this day. Brendan always seemed to find a loose chain in Conal’s armor where appearances were concerned. But not today. He’d already trimmed his beard and polished his boots to a glowing shine. Even now, propped against the chair, they reflected the low glow of the lantern swinging overhead in time with the active motion of the water. He leaned over and grabbed for the linen cloth draped over the edge of the tub. After wiping his face, he braced his hands on the rim and pushed himself to his feet. When he raised his head, his nose nearly clipped the barrel of a pistol. A faint acrid smell of gun powder assailed his nostrils. Eyes focused on the cold, grey metal, he was careful to avoid any sudden movement. He raised his gaze to peruse the person holding the weapon, a brigand wearing a wide-brimmed hat pulled low. Beneath the hat, a brightly colored scarf covered his hair. Behind the gun bearer stood a second figure, armed as well. “You have my attention,” Conal said evenly. The one holding the pistol stood between him and the lantern, but from what he could see, the intruder was tall but slight in build. If it weren’t for the pistols, he wouldn’t have hesitated to lunge for both of them. The closer man must have been thinking along a similar line of thought, because the pistol shook slightly. “This ship has been taken,” he said. “If you value your life and the lives of the crew that remain, you will yield.” Conal’s stomach twisted. How had he missed the sound of battle aboard? Granted, all but the watch and a handful of men still making repairs to the damaged sails and yard arms had been allowed to go ashore to attend the wedding celebration, but he should have heard a shout or a pistol shot even down here in the galley. How many of his men had lost their lives? “Do you yield?” The intruder tightened his hold on the pistol. Conal cursed under his breath. “I yield. What are your demands?” He tilted his head and narrowed his eyes. The voice sounded too...soft. A woman, perhaps?
【⚓】Stevie swallowed and gripped the pistol handle more firmly. Her arm was beginning to tire from holding it for so long, but she didn’t dare lower it. The mountain of a man in the tub looked as if he could crush her head like a grape with one hand, and her younger brother’s with the other one. More often than not, she could look an average man straight in the eye. However, with this one, her head would barely reach his nose. He cocked his head, still awaiting her answer. His eyes narrowed before sliding down to her soft doeskin boots and back up again. She should have stayed more in the shadows; she would have been a bit more intimidating that way. “Stevie,” Remi whispered from behind her, bringing her attention back in line. What was the question? Oh, yes. Demands. “You’ll relinquish the ship and all its cargo,” she said, barely able to keep the tremor from her voice. Her gaze paused at the gold ring on the man’s finger. If they were going to become pirates, she might as well start acting like one. She took a deep breath and drew her shoulders back a little. “Let’s start with your ring,” she said, holding out her hand. The man’s jaw clenched and the knuckles gripping the tub’s edge whitened. What thoughts were flying around in his head? He was contemplating his chances of overpowering her and taking her pistol; she could see that in the way his gaze shifted back and forth between her and her younger brother. If he had a weapon, and if it had been a one-on-one situation instead of one against two (with guns), he likely wouldn’t have paused to contemplate it this long. He would have defended himself. She eased a step back, careful to keep her pistol well within a lethal range. “Please don’t try it,” she said. “I’d prefer to save my shot.” His eyes widened and his brows raised in surprise. She’d been right in her assumptions, then. She usually was. Her intuition annoyed her brothers no small amount, and they always avoided her when they wished their thoughts to remain...theirs. Only one of them could hide from her, but he was a gambler and so it was expected, otherwise he wouldn’t be a very good gambler, would he? The man twisted the ring from his finger and tossed it to her. She placed it on the only finger it would fit—her thumb. Keeping her focus on their hostage, she moved behind him to the stack of clothes on the galley table and removed the dagger and pistol next to them. She’d have to keep a close watch on him; he looked like the type of man who’d rather fight against the odds than give himself over. They needed to get him up on deck with her other brothers before she fainted from the trauma of this whole episode. She was far from her cozy little room off the kitchens of her brother’s gaming house. Before they’d boarded the ship, Uncle Bernard had given her a brief lesson on managing a pistol, but it still terrified her to hold it. “Get dressed,” she said, with as much authority as she could muster. He reached for the linen rag. Stevie felt her eyes widen. She was wrong. Very wrong. The top of her head would barely reach his chin, let alone his nose. Wide, thick shoulders took up most of the space in the galley. His muscles rippled as he moved. A long scar trailed from the top of his shoulder to the middle of his ribcage. A fighting man. A very strong, very muscular, very handsome, very naked man. She should shut her eyes, avert her gaze, something...but to do so would be foolish right now. She’d never seen a naked man as perfectly proportioned as this one. To be honest, she’d only seen one other naked man (other than her terribly immodest brothers while growing up). Remi’s mortified expression from the doorway prompted her to roll her eyes and give him a pointed look he interpreted perfectly. She’d changed his diapers when she was eight. She’d also lost her virginity after falling foolishly in love with a gambler who’d promised her a life of travel and luxury. The next day, after losing everything he had as well as several hundred dollars in credits to the house, he disappeared and never returned. Lesson learned. Men would tell a woman anything to sway her attentions to the bedroom. Their captive turned toward her and reached for his clothes. Her tongue stuck to the roof of her mouth and she could barely swallow. He had a chiseled chest with a faint layer of fine, light brown hair that darkened to a burnished auburn as it trailed past his navel to his...his... Oh, my. When she turned her attention back to his face, his expression was rather mocking. “Satisfied, little rabbit?” he asked. So he’d already guessed she was a woman in men’s clothing. She assumed he was talking about her perusal, which she wasn’t about to address. No need to give him a burst of confidence right now. Her mouth was still dry. Instead, she asked a question. “Little rabbit?” She looked nothing at all like a rabbit. Her ears, along with her hair, were covered. “You look as if you’re ready to jump out of your skin. Perhaps you’re afraid of me?” He leaned toward her. Yes. “No.” She barely managed a response. Her attempt at laughter was pathetic at best. “Well...little rabbit...you should be.” He jerked on his clothes. A pair of shiny cordovan boots stood next to the tub, and he pulled them on while he muttering obscenities about someone named Brendan. That task complete, he stood up straight, crossed his arms over his very impressive chest and glowered at her. His eyes were a grey-green with a golden band around the pupil, reminding her of a tiger she’d once seen in a traveling show. She wanted to swallow, but she was paralyzed. Was this how a tiger’s prey felt just before it became dinner? He’d already figured out she was female. Now he was studying her, calculating the odds on a successful confrontation. If he charged her right now, she’d probably squeal and tumble into a terrified heap on the floor. She pulled back the hammer of her pistol until it clicked to help him with his decision-making process, and hopefully to fortify hers. Still, terror gripped her heart, forcing it to pulse and throb in uneven beats. Until a short time ago, she ran the kitchens in her family’s hotel and gaming house. Pirating was not on her short list of talents. In fact, she was rather pleased she’d pulled back the hammer without accidentally discharging the gun. “Remi,” she called to her brother over her shoulder, inwardly cursing at the way her voice trembled. “If he makes a move toward either of us, shoot him.” Remi’s hammer clicked back. Good. Pointing toward the door with the pistol, she gestured for her prisoner to go topside. Almost soundlessly, he moved in long, sinuous strides through the passageway and up the ladder. He smelled of soap, new leather boots, and a musky scent she knew was all him. The vision of that tiger from long ago crept into her thoughts again as she eyed his movements. Her thoughts jumped to her family up on the main deck. They’d sent her to the galley to see what kind of stores the ship held. No one expected she’d find a man down here, which was a stupid assumption, apparently. The Sauvage family wasn’t used to this kind of life. Sure, her brothers and cousins could recognize a cheat and a thief when they saw one, but that was the limit of their skills when it came to interacting with the more nefarious slice of humanity. They’d spied on the ship for a couple of hours; their chance came when most of the crew departed for shore. The rest stayed topside. Her uncle said the men were probably told to keep watch, but perhaps assuming the dense fog would cloak them in safety, the crew gathered around an upturned crate and played cards, enabling Stevie and the rest of the band to surround them. The crew had surrendered with barely a word. It had been a foolhardy plan. Ridiculous. Dangerous. Crazy. And absolutely imperative they succeed.
【⚓】Of all the damned, rotten luck. Conal heaved himself up the last two steps and perused the deck. Remus and his watch were all tied to the mizzen mast in the center of the animal pen amidst a couple of pigs, two goats and the cow. The first mate was busy cursing at the goat currently munching on his hat. So much for rallying a rebellion anytime soon. To resist now would be foolish. It was best to wait until a more opportune moment, after they had time to evaluate their captors’ strengths and weaknesses. He glanced at the woman called “Stevie.” She was taller than most women. Her long, slender limbs moved fluidly, like a dancer he’d encountered once when he was in Arabia. It was hard to draw his gaze from her face. Dark, exotic lashes framed the grey eyes beneath delicately arched brows, and her curves were in all the right places. Even the long vest she wore couldn’t hide her form. She had a French heritage. Her English was flawless; so she was probably American. Women weren’t usually wanted, needed or appreciated aboard a ship. There were always exceptions, like his sister and aunt, but in general, having a woman aboard brought bad luck. Chances were that she was important to at least one other person in their group, or else she wouldn’t be here. Taking her hostage would be his first move when the time was right. Surrounding the pen was a group of well-armed men. From what Conal could discern based their mannerisms and stance, they were landlubbers. A couple of members with greenish tints to their faces hugged the rail on the larboard side. Only old two salts stood with their legs braced wide and confident. Those two were definitely seamen. Without waiting for a pistol to poke him in the back, he strolled over to the pen. Stevie and Remi followed, keeping a wary distance. “Is your watch unharmed, Remus?” he asked the first mate. Remus looked up and his cheeks reddened. “Yes, sir. Sorry, Captain.” He added in a chagrined tone, “We just didn’t expect...” The man didn’t need to finish the sentence, really. Even Conal wouldn’t have expected anyone to do something this audacious so close to Harbour Town in the late afternoon, fog or no fog. Conal scanned their captors. He’d earlier assumed they were pirates, but that seemed incorrect now. There were four other full-grown men, two of which were obviously twins, and all most certainly had to be related in some way. Along with light eyes and hair the color of black coffee, there were similarities in build and stature, as well as in certain facial features. The only exception was one of the grizzled sailors, who looked to be about sixty. Remi stood next to Stevie, and in the light of day, it was more obvious he was still a boy, maybe thirteen or fourteen. Conal was an idiot for allowing those two to take him without a fight. Pistols notwithstanding. A tall, trim man about Conal’s age strode forward, a scowl on his face. “What’s this?” “Remi and I found him in the galley,” Stevie said. “Hiding?” “Bathing.” The man’s eyes widened and he spun to face the two. Stevie just shrugged. “Why didn’t you call for help?” “Quite honestly, Victor, there wasn’t time,” Stevie said. “We found him in a vulnerable situation and easily handled it on our own.” Victor rubbed his forehead before brushing a dark lock of hair from his eyes. “Adrian, toss him over with the rest.” Adrian strode toward him and Conal swallowed. He was normally the tallest in the room, but this one had him by almost a head. Stevie touched Victor’s arm. “Wait, we might need him. He’s their captain.” A quick flicker of relief crossed Victor’s stern features before he turned his attention back to Adrian. “Never mind. Make a sweep of the lower decks instead.” Adrian gave Conal a shrug followed by a humorless grin, then headed toward the ladder. An angry shout came from the water below on the port side of the Seeker. “At least toss over the oars, you sons of bitches!” Conal started to walk toward the voice, but at Stevie’s raised pistol he stopped. “What have you done with the rest of my men?” Victor answered. “We sent them off in longboats.” He grabbed two oars, walked to the starboard side of the ship and heaved them overboard. “You half-masted, verminous dawcock!” came the reply from the water below. At least the men had oars available to row them to shore, although there was no guessing how long it would take to get to them. Conal doubted there were any swimmers among the crew on the longboat. It would take some time to paddle with their hands to where the oars floated on the opposite side of the ship. Meanwhile, Victor moved Conal near the mizzen close to the other men then bound his hands and hobbled his legs in irons, effectively depleting his mobility. The pirates gathered together and the two old seamen began assigning tasks, and it wasn’t long before they were in an argument. “The anchor has to be brought up before ye can do that, ye dim-witted dog.” “I know that! But we need feet on the yards and arms on the sheets if we’re going to get underway, you vermin-ridden old goat.” Not only did their captors walk the deck like lubbers, they didn’t even look like pirates. There were no missing appendages except for two fingers gone on the oldest salt’s left hand. There were no visible scars, and for the most part, none of the younger men showed the effects of sun-darkened skin or scurvy. Curious indeed.
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