Lady Catherine Aldley was beautiful, and she knew it. She was very much aware of the picture she made as she stood bracing herself against the rail on the deck of the Anna Greer, a light wind ruffling her hair and the setting sun turning its red-gold splendor to a vivid flame. The brisk sea air had whipped color into her cheeks, and her blue eyes sparkled.
She was only seventeen, and had been pampered and protected all her short life. Since her mother’s death ten years before, she had been raised by a nanny and a succession of governesses whose duty in life had been to teach their young charge the things that were important for a lady to know in 1842: to play the harp and the pianoforte, to execute insipid watercolors, to speak the French tongue like a native, and to appear sweetly mindless and childlike at all times. In this last, the good ladies were only partially successful. Cathy could assume the role of a gentle, well-bred young lady very well when it suited her, but when it did not, she was a termagant. Her explosions of rage had sent more than one governess running from the house in tears, vowing never to return. Which, in Cathy’s opinion, was just as well. She had no desire to learn anything that was contained between the covers of a book. She wanted to live life, not read about it!
“The girl’s plain ignorant!” her father snorted indignantly on one occasion, and it was perfectly true. Although her various governesses had labored long and hard, trying to instill the rudiments of education into her saucy head, Cathy remained sublimely indifferent. When it was discovered that the only use she had made of her learning was to read racy novels, her long-suffering father gave up. Cathy was allowed to dispense with the tiresome business of being educated.
Instead, she learned to dance, and her step was the lightest for miles around. She learned to walk with her toes turned slightly inward so that her flounced skirts swayed like a bell. She learned to smile entrancingly through her lashes, and to laugh, like a tinkling, silver bell, at the men who begged her for a kind word, or, more daringly, a kiss.
Most important of all, she learned to hide her true nature from the men who swarmed around. In company, especially the company of eligible young men, her actions matched the sweetness of her face. Her keen intelligence and hot temper were known only to her nanny, who fervently exhorted her charge to keep that one fault hidden until she found herself a husband.
Cathy’s father, Sir Thomas Aldley, ninth Earl of Badstoke and the Queen’s Ambassador to Portugal, loved his only child dearly. He saw very little of her, however, and had no idea of how headstrong and selfish she really was. He only knew that she was beautiful and charming, and a great credit to him in his position. It was unfortunate that she had inherited his own wildness of temperament, but she seemed to keep it carefully under control. It was a good thing, anyway, for a woman to have a bit of spirit. Kept a man on his toes. She was really a very good child on the whole, and it was only recently that she had ever given him cause for concern. But during the past six months it seemed like every young puppy in Lisbon had been making up to her, and his daughter’s marriage to a foreigner could not in any way help his political career. Sir Thomas began to toy with the idea of removing his daughter from harm’s way by sending her, say, on a visit to his sister in England. He could join her there himself next year when his term as ambassador would be ended. In the meantime, he was confident, Cathy would become so caught up in the whirl of a London Season that she would have no time to miss her Portuguese beaus. And sister Elizabeth could be counted on to screen her niece’s new friends very thoroughly. Yes, sending Cathy to England was the best thing to do.
Cathy herself had stormed and cried when she was informed of these plans, but her father, once he had made up his mind, could be as stubborn as she was. In the end he wore her down, and, together with her nanny, was able to convince her of the wisdom of his scheme. It was true that she would enjoy being presented to Queen Victoria, who, in the fifth year of her reign, at age twenty-three, was not much older than Cathy herself. But England was so far away, and it had been almost seven years since they had lived there. What if the men did not find her attractive? Perhaps the fashion was for dark ladies in London, instead of for charming blondes. But her father and nanny both assured her, in their different ways, that her unusual beauty would stand out in any company, and Cathy allowed herself to be convinced. She had been an acknowledged beauty since before she entered her teens, and she could not seriously entertain the thought that any man might not admire her.
When the storm of her objections was safely weathered, the earl heaved a sigh of profound relief, and told himself that he would have to take steps to correct Cathy’s wilfullness when he joined her in England. He then turned his attention to making arrangements for her safe transportation there—no easy task in such turbulent times. Lately there had been much talk of a band of pirates cruising in Portugese waters and preying on unarmed ships. The earl shuddered at the thought of his daughter falling into the hands of men who would have no regard for her innocence or high estate.
When the earl heard through a friend that the Anna Greer was soon to sail for England, it seemed like the answer to a prayer. On loan from England to the Portuguese navy, the Anna Greer was outfitted with an awesome array of armor and cannon. No pirate would dare to attack such a formidable ship!
It had been surprisingly easy to arrange for Cathy to be taken on board. She joined a small group of passengers on a ship that had, until this voyage, been confined solely to military operations. Neither the earl nor his daughter thought to wonder why the Anna Greer had so suddenly been permitted to carry civilians.
When the time came, Cathy parted from her father with scarcely a qualm. By then she was far too excited at the idea of taking London society by storm to feel sad about leaving a father of whom she really saw very little anyway. Besides, he would be joining her in England shortly, and he had assured her that she would love her aunt Elizabeth on sight.
It had been understood from the start that Martha would accompany her young mistress. With Martha along, Cathy could not possibly feel homesick, and the earl would be certain that his daughter was in good hands.
Two weeks later, with the Anna Greer well out to sea, Cathy was cursing the day she had ever consented to make the voyage. She was bored almost to the point of tears. The other passengers were all old enough to be stuffed and put on display in a museum, and the captain was more interested in sailing his ship than in entering into a light flirtation with the loveliest lady on board. She had attempted to try her charms on various members of the crew, some of whom were attractive in a rough sort of way, but Martha was always hovering nearby to spoil such sport.
Cathy sighed, leaning her chin on her hands and staring out over the rail disconsolately. If only something, anything, would happen to relieve the awful boredom!
The sun glinted on a thread in her peacock-blue brocade gown, and Cathy looked down at it absentmindedly. It really was a beautiful dress, she thought, as she smoothed the sleeve and admired the elegant way the cascade of lace at her wrists fell over her hands. It was, in fact, one of her favorites. The deep green-blue of the material made her eyes seem as dark and mysterious as the sea itself, and the tight-fitting bodice accentuated her tiny waist and rounded breasts. It was no wonder that she was attracting the attention of a good many of the sailors who were busy with chores about the deck.
Cathy tapped her foot against the deck impatiently, and her bottom, clearly outlined as she leaned over the rail, bobbed up and down in time to her tapping. A husky blond sailor who had been coiling rope nearby stopped what he was doing to stare openmouthed at the befuddling sight. Cathy saw his absorption out of the corner of her eye, and, with a little gurgling laugh turned around. She smiled at the man, her blue eyes sparkling provocatively, and started to speak. But before she could say a word a plump hand tugged at her sleeve.
“Don’t you be talkin’ to them rough sailors, now, Miss Cathy.” Martha had crept up behind her as quietly as a cat. “What would your papa say? Besides, you know yourself that you don’t want to have anything to do with ’em. You’re goin’ to be marryin’ some rich duke or count or somethin’, when we get to England.”
“Oh, hush up, Martha!” Cathy scowled at the gray-haired little woman who was clinging so doggedly to her sleeve. “I shall talk to whomever I please. Besides, I was just going to ask this fellow how long it will be before we reach England.”
“Be at least another week, ma’am,” the sailor said, grinning at Cathy and cheerfully ignoring the frown that Martha directed at him.
“Another week!” sighed Cathy, demurely lowering her dark lashes and allowing her dimples to come into play. “It sounds like forever! And sea voyages are so deadly dull! I wish there was something to do to occupy the time.” She smiled at the sailor, who flashed another of his impudent grins at her.
“Now, Miss Cathy, you hush talkin’ like that!” Martha said, scandalized by her charge’s bold behavior. She grasped Cathy firmly by the arm and attempted to drag her away. Cathy resisted indignantly, and, in desperation, Martha turned on the grinning sailor.
“And you, sailor, if you don’t get on about your business and stop annoying innocent young ladies, I’ll report you to the Captain. That I will!”
The sailor made a face at her, and opened his mouth to give voice to what Cathy was certain would be a very pithy reply. Fortunately, a cry from overhead cut him off.
“Sail ho!” The words came echoing down from a man high aloft.
“Where away?” a chorus of voices demanded at once.
“Off the port bow!” boomed the reply, and immediately everyone on deck peered to the left, across the open sea.
Cathy stood on tiptoe, straining her eyes for a glimpse of the approaching ship. She could see nothing but an endless expanse of water, broken only by tips of white, as gentle waves broke into the sea. The horizon was a fiery orange as the sun sank beneath it, and Cathy was certain that there was no ship anywhere near at hand.
“It’s just a mistake,” she said to Martha, disappointed. “There’s nothing out there. I can see clear to the horizon, and there’s not a thing.”
The blond sailor turned from the rail to smile at her. “It’s not likely that you could see anything, ma’am. That ship is pretty far away. But there’s a ship out there if Dave says so. He’s up a lot higher than we are, and he has a spyglass. Likely we won’t be able to see her until tomorrow morning at the earliest. That is, if she’s coming this way.”
It seemed as though he was right. Cathy stayed out on deck until long after dark, hoping for a glimpse of the ship, but she could see nothing. Finally, the cold and Martha’s repeated admonishments drove her to her cabin. Once there, she wrapped a blanket around herself and huddled, shivering, on the edge of her bunk while Martha prepared her bath. Under the old woman’s disapproving eye she sprinkled rose bath salts liberally in the water, and then lay back, luxuriously to soak the chill away.
As she bathed, Martha bustled about the cabin, picking up Cathy’s discarded clothing and putting it neatly away. She grumbled loudly as she did so, scolding Cathy for her boldness in speaking to a common sailor in such a familiar way. And as for putting scent in her bath water, well, it was all of a piece. They both knew that only one kind of woman acted that way. Martha sighed and said that Miss Cathy’s poor mother must be turning in her grave to see her daughter acting so common.
Cathy smiled faintly at the tirade, closing her eyes and sinking deep into the water. Martha’s scolds didn’t upset her in the least; she was used to them. She ignored the angry muttering and turned her thoughts to what she would wear the next day. She wanted to look her best. She had enjoyed talking to that sailor today, and seeing the admiration in his eyes. Tomorrow she intended to thoroughly bewitch him. Perhaps the primrose silk. … She went on making plans until she fell asleep.
Dressed in pale-yellow silk, with her red-gold curls piled high on her head, Cathy was a vision to rival the sun the next morning. As soon as she had completed her toilette she rushed up on deck to see if she could catch a glimpse of the approaching ship. She saw it as soon as she reached the rail. It looked like a beautiful ship, far different from the flat, military vessel on which she was traveling. Under full sail, the other ship was as graceful as a bird, and its proud, high prow rode the waves with ease. It grew larger as Cathy watched, entranced, and she realized that it was closing on the Anna Greer with amazing speed.
“It … it’s so beautiful!” she murmured aloud, as the blond sailor she’d met the night before came up beside her.
“She is that,” he said. “But Captain Hogg. … Well, he don’t remember that the Frogs had a ship like that under sail, and she’s flying a French flag. She looks more like one of them new clipper ships, from New England out in the colonies. Until we find out for sure, the Captain requests that you ladies retire to your cabin. Just in case, you know.” He squirmed uncomfortably as Cathy turned to look at him.
“What do you mean, in case? What does Captain Hogg think it is? Not … surely not … pirates!” Her voice rose on the last word, and the sailor stared down at her, alarmed. The last thing they needed, with a possible pirate ship closing in, was an hysterical woman. He swallowed, and spoke up hastily.
“No, ma’am, probably not. The Captain just wants to make sure … just in case, you know. Most likely she’s just a new ship we’ve not seen before. But until we find out, it’d be healthier for you ladies in your cabin.” He turned to Martha, who had just come up on deck, and repeated the warning. Then, in response to a hail from the quartermaster, he hurried away.
“Miss Cathy, we must go below at once!” Martha said, clutching at Cathy’s arm and attempting to drag her away from the rail by main force.
“I’m not going anywhere, Martha, so you can just let go of me!” Cathy cried, and shook off Martha’s hand with determination. “I want to be up on deck where I can see whatever happens. You know yourself we’d both go crazy down in the cabin, not knowing what was happening or if it was a pirate ship. No, there will be time enough to go below if trouble starts.” She shook her head decidedly, and Martha, long familiar with the stubbornness of her charge, gave up arguing. Sir Thomas should really have done something about Miss Cathy’s willfulness years ago. Now it looked as though it might get them both killed! Angrily muttering, Martha remained at Cathy’s side.
The ship drew steadily closer until Cathy was able to make out the name, Margarita, painted in bold black letters across its prow. She could see men, looking no bigger than ants, scurrying about the deck. On the quarterdeck a lone figure motionless, staring across at the Anna Greer through a spyglass.
As Cathy watched, the fluttering square of silk that had been flying at the Margarita’s flagpole was slowly lowered. In its place rose a black flag which was all too obviously the emblem that had been described to her at sedate afternoon teas. When she had heard about the black flag and what it stood for, Cathy had said proudly that she would never be afraid of any pirate, and that, indeed, she would quite like to meet one. Now her fear was like an iron band closing around her throat, cutting off her breath.
“Miss Cathy, it’s pirates! Pirates! Oh, my land, Jesus and his saints preserve us! What shall we do?” Martha’s hand was cold with fear as she pulled on Cathy’s wrist. “We must go below, Miss Cathy! There’s going to be fighting up here!”
“Wait a minute, Martha. I must see … maybe they won’t fight.”
Even as she spoke, a cannon roared, a round black missle soared high in the air and then arched back until it hit the water with a loud splash.
“They want us to surrender!” came the cry from the crow’s nest.
“May the fishes feast on my bones if we do!” roared Captain Hogg. “If they want a fight, we’ll give ’em a fight!”
He clambered down from the quarterdeck and strode furiously toward the forward cannoneer, bellowing urgent directions to his men.
“Take your positions! Load that cannon! The bastards’ll wish they’d stayed home planting crops after this fight, I fancy!”
The captain caught sight of Cathy and Martha standing as though frozen to the deck and swore roundly. He stamped across to them and looked them over for a moment in silence. When at last he spoke, he made an obvious effort to be courteous.
“Lady Catherine, Miss Jameson, you must go below at once!” His control deserted him abruptly. “Damn it, there’s going to be fighting up here! With real guns and ammunition! Don’t you women have any sense? Get below, and lock yourselves in your cabin!”
He turned on his heel and marched away, not trusting himself to say more. Martha tugged frantically at Cathy’s hand as another cannon roared from the pirate ship.
“Miss Cathy, we’ve got to get below! You heard Captain Hogg! And they’ve started shooting! Please, Miss Cathy!”
Martha sounded terrified, and Cathy didn’t blame her. She was frightened half to death herself, and she allowed Martha to drag her toward the open hatch. Just as they reached the opening the cannon from both ships boomed simultaneously. Cathy swallowed a sob. This would be a wonderful tale to tell in a London drawing room, modestly downplaying her own heroic bravery; but what if the pirates should actually succeed in capturing the ship? Would they all be murdered, or worse?
Of late, the sadistic cruelty of pirates toward passengers and crew members of captured ships had been a favorite topic of conversation among the ladies of Portuguese society. They whispered of women being stripped naked, searched for loot, and then raped by entire pirate crews. If the women were young, and pretty, the pirates might let them live until they reached some port and let them go. Or they might throw them over the side to drown after having had their way with them. Listening to these tales, Cathy had felt a pleasant shiver of excitement go down her spine. But now … now it might happen to her! Suddenly the prospect did not seem exciting—it was terrifying.
“Dear God,” she prayed. “Please help me. I’ll be so good, if only you’ll help me.”
“But of course they won’t win,” she comforted herself, thankful for the first time that her father had insisted on putting her aboard a military ship like the Anna Greer. It would certainly be impossible for a motley crew of pirates to capture such a heavily armed vessel!
Martha, nervously clucking, herded Cathy inside the small cabin that they shared. Cathy crossed to one of the narrow bunks and sank down upon it while Martha bustled about, first bolting the door, then piling all the movable furniture in the room up against it. Cathy laughed out loud. The furniture looked so funny, piled up against the door that way! Martha looked at her sharply.
“You’ll not be gettin’ hysterical on me, will you, Miss Cathy? There’s no need to be frightened. Like as not, them devils will never even set foot on this ship.”
But even as Martha spoke, the harsh shriek of wood scraping on wood told a different tale. The pirates were trying to board the ship! Hoarse cries and the clang of steel against steel rang out loud as the pirates threw grappling hooks to hold their prey, then rushed the crew of the Anna Greer in a body. The roar of the cannon shook both ships and Cathy felt the Anna Greer heel sharply to port as a cannon ball found its mark in her side. Then came a sound like rain against a tin roof as bits of metal from a cannon ball raked the deck of the Anna Greer like hail. Screams of men in mortal agony made Cathy turn white, and Martha quickly clapped her hands over the girl’s ears.
“Don’t you listen now, my lovely. Don’t you listen,” she crooned, rocking the terrified girl back and forth in her arms.
The sounds of the battle raging above them grew more terrible. Cathy broke into tears and clutched at Martha frantically, pressing her head into the woman’s ample bosom and sobbing as though she were seven instead of seventeen. Martha held her tightly, and Cathy took absurd comfort in the childish conviction that if Martha were there nothing bad could happen to her.
The fighting continued for what seemed like hours. In the close confines of the cabin Cathy and Martha lost all track of time. Hoarse screams and the rattle of gunfire made them hide their heads under their pillows. But finally, and abruptly, there was silence.
After a long, agonized moment in which both women strained to hear any sounds that would tell them the outcome of the battle, Cathy sprang to her feet, clenching and unclenching her fists. She had to know. She couldn’t bear not knowing. She began to walk toward the door like a sleepwalker. Martha scrambled after her, catching her around the waist and attempting to pull her back to the safety of the bunk.
“Let me go!” Cathy cried. “I have to get out of here! I can’t stand it! Please let me go!”
She tried to wrench herself free but Martha hung on grimly.
Footsteps sounded in the hallway outside the cabin. They both froze, eyes and ears trained on the door. The same question burned in both their minds. Who had won, the crew of the Anna Greer, or the pirates?
The bolt rattled as someone on the outside tried to get in.
“Hey, Quincy, it’s locked! Over here!” The voice was hoarse with excitement.
Cathy swallowed convulsively, her knees suddenly weak. She sank back down upon the bunk, clinging to Martha for support. That voice, with its strange, twangy accent, certainly did not belong to a member of the Anna Greer’s crew. The pirates had taken over the ship!
“Everything’s going to be all right, Miss Cathy,” Martha whispered fiercely. “The good Lord will see to that. Just you be quiet now and hide yourself in that wardrobe. Martha’ll keep ’em off.”
Cathy protested tearfully, but Martha dragged her over to the tall oak wardrobe and thrust her firmly inside. Cathy stumbled, half falling in the suffocating darkness. There was barely enough room for her to stand upright. Martha closed the wardrobe door without a sound and Cathy heard the click of the latch as it slid into place. She whimpered, like a small, frightened animal. Martha whispered to her reassuringly through the thin panel.
“Everything’ll be all right, my lovely. You’ll see. Just you be quiet in there and look to yourself. Martha’ll take care of you.”
Cathy could hear Martha’s footsteps receding as she moved away from the wardrobe. Left alone in that small space, Cathy was terrified. She shook with fear, and had to press both hands tightly against her mouth to stifle her sobs. Her heart was beating so loudly that she was certain it would burst through her chest, at any moment. She could hear the pirates, outside in the hallway, as they began to hammer on the door.
“Open up in there!” the thickly accented voice ordered.
“Open up in there or we’ll set fire to the door!”
A heavy crash shook the entire cabin, and Cathy’s heart lurched sickeningly. The pirates were going to break down the door!
She sank abruptly to her knees. Her legs felt like they had suddenly turned to water. Her teeth chattered with fright.
“Please, God,” she prayed mindlessly. “Please, oh, please!”
Another crash shook the cabin. Then another. And another. When a last splitting sound announced the surrender of the door, Cathy thought she was going to faint. Only the thought of being helpless in the hands of savages kept her conscious. Tears ran down her cheeks, and she had to stuff her skirt into her mouth to muffle the sound of her ragged breathing.
“I must stay calm,” she told herself firmly. “If I make a sound, they will surely find me.”
From the other side of the partition, Cathy heard grunts and the tramp of heavy feet as the pirates surged into the room. She heard Martha’s voice, shrill now with fright, as she berated the invaders.
“Get ye gone, ye heathens!” Martha shrieked. “The good Lord will smite ye with his sword for this day’s work!”
Martha’s words ended with a gurgle. There was the sound of a blow, and then a thud as though something heavy had fallen to the floor.
“Oh, dear God, no!” moaned Cathy, wanting to rush to Martha’s defense but knowing that it would be worse than useless.
Although she strained to hear, there was no further sound from Martha. Cathy listened with helpless terror as the pirates tore the cabin apart. They left nothing undisturbed in their search for valuables, and Cathy knew it was just a matter of moments before they looked into the wardrobe. She hid herself as well as she could amidst the clothes that hung there, but she knew she would be immediately visible to anyone who chanced to open the door.
She heard footsteps approaching and braced herself. This was it.
The door to the wardrobe was jerked open. Light flooded in. The flushed, bewhiskered face of a man old enough to be her grandfather blinked at Cathy bemusedly. His teeth, exposed in a wide grin, had rotted to black stubs. Cathy shuddered, straining as far back into the recesses of the wardrobe as she could. She screamed as the pirate closed one grimy hand over her arm and dragged her from her hiding place.
The old man chuckled at her screams, and pulled her tightly against him, attempting to press his wet mouth to her lips. His breath was fetid and Cathy’s stomach heaved with revulsion. She fought him fiercely, silently, too sick with fright to force enough air into her lungs for a scream. He sniggered, clearly enjoying her struggles, and held her out at arm’s length while he lewdly ogled her from head to toe.
“Ain’t she a beauty?” he marveled over his shoulder, and Cathy saw that there was another man who was bending over Martha’s crumpled form. The second man straightened at his companion’s words, and stared at Cathy with undisguised desire.
“By God, Quincy, she is that! We best hurry up and take a turn on her before the Cap’n gets a gander at her! We likely won’t get another chance!”
“My thoughts exac’ly!” chortled Quincy, and he released his hold on Cathy’s arm only to lock his hand over the neck of her gown and jerk downward with all his might.
The thin silk gave with a loud rip, and Cathy’s muslin chemise ripped with it. She stood exposed almost to the waist. She looked at the two leering men with dawning horror. It was true, then, about what happened to ladies taken prisoner by pirates! Her reflections were cut short abruptly as Quincy reached out a hand to fondle her breasts. At his touch Cathy screamed like a demented creature, and tried frantically to pull away. The man giggled, on fire for the wench already, and his companion laughed out loud, adjuring him to be quick about it.
Quincy jerked her up against his chest, locking her hands behind her back as he pawed at her breasts. He tried again to kiss her, his slimy tongue leaving a wet trail across her face. She felt as though she would vomit.
“For God’s sake, get on with it!” the other man urged hoarsely, wetting his lips as he stared at Cathy’s naked bosom.
Quincy began to force her down on the bunk, and Cathy fought him with a strength born of terror. She bit him, her teeth sinking deep into his hand, and when he jumped back she managed to free one hand and rake her nails viciously across his face. He swore, and balled his fist, ready to knock her unconscious and have done with the fight. Cathy screamed desperately one last time.
“What in sweet hell is going on down here?” a man’s voice demanded harshly.
“God, Quincy, it’s the Cap’n!” gasped the watcher, and the old man dropped Cathy as though her flesh had suddenly burned him.
She caught her breath in an outraged sob, and swung her hand in a wide arc that found its mark below Quincy’s ear. He yelped, jumping back, and Cathy stormed after him to press home the attack. But she found her hands caught from behind in a grip like iron, and kicked and fought in a blind panic against her new captor.
“That’s enough!” the unseen man said sharply, and the hands that held her shook her until she thought her head would fly from her shoulders. When at last she was still, the shaking stopped, and she looked up to meet the coldest, most merciless eyes she had ever seen in her life. They were gray, as hard as the granite they resembled, and their expression was distinctly menacing. The face that went with them was no less so, and Cathy trembled under its stern regard. When the man saw that she meant to stand quietly, he transferred that unnerving gaze to the two men. Cathy still stared at him, transfixed.
His hair was coal black and wavy, and his skin was dark too, in odd contrast to those icy gray eyes. His nose was long and arrogant, and his mouth was a thin, cruel line. He looked at least thirty, and Cathy could feel enormous strength in the grip he kept on her hands. His arms and shoulders were thick with muscles, and he was very tall. He was also one of the handsomest men she had ever seen in her life.
The two sailors cowered under his gaze, and he contemplated them with a frightening calm. Quincy started to speak, then fell silent as the captain’s face darkened ominously. After a moment, his hard gray eyes swung back toward her, and Cathy hastily lowered her gaze. His eyes narrowed slightly as they took in for the first time her beauty, and lingered on the display made by her heaving bare breasts. Cathy colored hotly when she realized where his eyes rested, but she had no means of covering herself and was forced to remain passive under his regard. After a long moment he took his eyes away.
“Quincy, O’Halloran, I gave orders that all prisoners were to be treated with consideration. ‘Consideration’ does not include forcible rape. Nor does it include physical violence against an old woman,” he added, seeing Martha for the first time as she groaned. Cathy pulled away from his hands and ran to Martha at the sound. He looked after her briefly, then returned his attention to his men.
“But, Cap’n, we was only …” Quincy whined, then fell back a pace at the naked fury in his captain’s eyes.
“Be quiet!” he said coldly, and then shouted a new command. “Harry!”
A young man, impeccably dressed in the garb of a second officer in the British navy, hurried through the door and saluted smartly.
“Escort these men back to the Margarita. I’ll decide what to do with them later.”
“Yes, sir!” Harry saluted again, then gestured to Quincy and O’Halloran, who followed him glumly through the shattered door.
Cathy listened to their retreating footsteps with mixed feelings. She was glad of course, to be free of Quincy and his friend, but she didn’t like being left at this man’s mercy. There was an air of ruthlessness about him that told her plainly that if he’d been her attacker, nothing and nobody could have stopped him.
“I must apologize to you for the conduct of my men,” he said, turning to her as she knelt beside Martha and bowing with what seemed like great politeness. “Captain Jonathan Hale, entirely at your service.”
“Your apology is accepted, Captain,” Cathy replied with dignity, pulling the front of her gown together and getting to her feet as she spoke. She looked at the man distrustfully. His unexpected courtesy was vaguely alarming. She felt as though he was testing her in some way. She decided that her best course of action was to simply follow his lead, and extended one small hand to him accordingly.
“I am Lady Catherine Aldley, daughter of the Earl of Badstoke.”
“I am honored to make your acquaintance, ma’am.” He took her hand with just the right degree of gallantry and pressed it to his lips. The feel of his hard mouth on the back of her hand made her skin tingle. At his apparent gentlemanliness her fright and wrath ebbed somewhat, and she felt safe enough to dare a faintly imperious tone.
“My maid has been injured by your ruffians. She needs immediate attention.”
“I will see to it at once, ma’am,” he promised gravely, then laughed out loud, flinging her hand back at her.
“So it’s ‘my lady,’ is it?” He grinned, surveying her from head to toe. He strolled toward her until he stood directly in front of her. She had to tilt her head way back to see his eyes.
“And just how old are you, my lady?”
He flicked her chin playfully with one finger. Her eyes shot bullets of blue fire at him, and he laughed again, as though she was the most amusing thing he had ever encountered.
“Best answer me, sweeting, before I begin to wonder if perhaps you’re older than you look, and act accordingly.”
His mocking words enraged her, and she kicked out at him, her daintily shod foot coming in contact with the hard muscles of his lower leg. He winced, caught her by the shoulders, and pulled her hard up against him. When she tried to claw his face, he easily caught both of her flailing hands in one of his and held them pinioned behind her back. He smiled lazily down into her contorted face, then lifted his free hand and ran it casually over the soft mounds of her breasts.
Her skin felt as though it were on fire! The nipples hardened abruptly under the intimate caress, and the physical sensation made Cathy gasp. She writhed, trying with all her strength to break free, but he held her easily. He continued to caress her breasts, looking down at her with something that was not quite a smile in his eyes.
“How old are you, sweeting?” he asked again. His voice was very soft, but the grooves in his face had deepened with amusement. At her continued silence, he brushed the tips of his fingers ever so gently across her nipples. Cathy felt what was almost a pain deep in her belly. She was horrified by what was happening to her. She was a lady, a virgin, daughter of one of England’s most distinguished families. And when this animal, this canaille, dared to put his hands on her bare flesh, instead of screaming or fainting dead away as a lady should, she was actually standing quietly in front of him while he did it! A wave of fury and shame, stronger than anything she had ever felt before, swept over her, and, before thinking further, she spat into his mocking face.
After a stunned instant his brows rushed together ominously and his eyes began to glitter in a way that frightened her. He wiped the spittle very deliberately from his face. Cathy was truly terrified by the look in his eyes, and was almost as startled by her action as he was.
“Oh, dear God, he will surely murder me now!” she thought.
He looked at her for a long moment without speaking, and Cathy felt what little courage she had managed to hang on to leave her. She began to tremble with fright. At her obvious terror, the tense muscles around his mouth relaxed slightly and some of the anger left his face.
“What you need is schooling, my lady,” he drawled, and pulled her roughly into his arms. His mouth came down over hers, hard and hot and demanding, and he kissed her as she had never been kissed before. The chaste pecks she had had bestowed on her once or twice in the past had been nothing like this, and had in fact left her feeling faintly contemptuous of the boys who had been reduced to trembling incoherence because of them. But she was being kissed now by a man, not a boy, and it was she who was on the verge of trembling incoherence.
His tongue parted her lips and probed deeply inside. Cathy nearly swooned as she felt its scalding heat enter her mouth. She pushed vainly at his chest, feeling both hot and cold at the same time. He twined one hand in her long hair and held her, tugging cruelly at the roots when she moved. At last she lay against him quietly, submitting to his embrace. He caressed her trembling breasts with expert hands, gently titillating the nipples, and Cathy felt a scalding heat pulsating upward from the very center of her being. Horrified, she made one last convulsive effort to escape. He jerked on her hair so viciously she cried out.
His mouth was stopping her breath and she felt as though she would faint. The cabin swam before her eyes in a sickening swirl. She closed them, leaning heavily against him as the only solid thing in a swaying, unsteady world. She could feel the hardness between his legs as he pressed her closely against him.
His touch, his primitive male nearness, awoke something equally primitive in her. She felt strange, unlike herself. She hated and feared him, but his hands on her body made her burn as though she had a fever. She shivered, and without conscious thought her arms slid up around his neck. She was kissing him back.
When he drew away at last, she was shaking so badly she could hardly stand. He stared down at her, his expression unreadable. Cathy blushed hotly under his steady gaze, and hastily dropped her eyes.
“So you’re not quite as young as I thought,” he said slowly, and her whole body felt on fire with embarassment.
“I hate him, I hate him,” she thought wretchedly. “Whatever possessed me to behave like that?”
He stood looking down at her a moment longer, then swooped her up in his arms. The movement was so unexpected that she was temporarily shocked into silence. He held her cradled against his chest as he stepped through what was left of the cabin door. Outside in the hallway, Cathy saw the still body of what had once been a member of the Anna Greer’s crew. His head had been cleanly separated from his shoulders, and he lay in a pool of drying blood. Cathy shuddered, and turned her face away from the horrible sight. The captain’s arms around her were oddly comforting.
“He did this!” she thought, stiffening. “And now he’s carrying me away to do God knows what with me!”
She wriggled violently in his grasp.
“You put me down, you murderer!” she hissed, trying vainly to throw herself from his arms. He ignored her struggles, which did not seem to hamper him in the slightest. Desperately, Cathy raked her long fingernails down the side of his face, drawing tiny drops of blood. The raw anger that blazed in his eyes made her suddenly go limp, but he made no attempt to avenge her violence. Instead, he swung her up over his shoulder where she was left to dangle head down like a sack of meal. This ignominious position infuriated her, and she screamed at the top of her lungs. His hand came down in a hard wallop against her conveniently placed backside. Cathy gasped with pain and shock. No one had ever dared to hit her before!
She kicked at him viciously. The hard toe of her pointed little shoe caught him squarely in the stomach, and she smiled with satisfaction when he grunted. The next instant his hand whacked down against her bottom with a stinging slap that made the first seem like a mere love-pat.
A whimper of pain escaped her. She writhed, trying to throw herself to the floor. He smacked her bottom again, and she screamed with fury and pain, calling him all the filthy names she had ever heard. When at last she ran out of breath, she pounded her fists against his back for emphasis. He spanked her bottom again, hard, and continued spanking as he climbed the narrow stairs.
By the time they reached the main deck, Cathy was lying across his shoulder quietly. Tears poured down her cheeks and her bottom felt as though it were on fire. She closed her eyes at the sight of mutilated bodies sprawled where they had fallen, and, with a supreme effort of will, managed to bite back a sob. With all the strength that was left in her she hated the man who had done this to her, to all of them. Her mind seethed with impotent hatred and rage and shame.
© 1981 Karen Robards