Title:  Pirate’s Pleasure

Authors:  ESB²

Rating: NC-17

Pairing:  Nathan & Kristin

Archive:  tay’s site

 

Disclaimer:  Avast ye scurvy dogs… we make no claims to owning any part of seaQuest or its characters, but aarrgghh… any characters we’ve created within Universal/Amblin’s universe are ours.  This story is ours, maties… and woe to the person who claims otherwise… any falsehoods told will see you walking the plank!

 

Summary:  A sweeping drama of epic proportions taking place on the high seas, lush tropical hideaways and exotic foreign ports of call.  An adventurous tale… full of intrigue… revenge… and justice.  A story of destiny.  A man.  A woman.  Two hearts hardened by pain and loss.  Two hearts softened by a love that shouldn’t be… a love that wasn’t wanted… a love that was meant to be.

 

And porridge.

 

Notes: This story was started in February of 2004, after several months of talking, plotting, and mapping out of the story timeline.  We have become quite attached to our characters with this story, especially the ones we made up for it.

 

Warnings:  COLD SHOWER WARNING!!  As stated above, this story is NC-17!  We are not lying!  It is VERY NC-17!!  Other warnings include… hanky warning, humour warning, violence warning (not so much in the story, although there is some but it is mild… the warning is for the violence you will want to commit against one or more of the characters) and lastly, numb-butt and eye strain warning!  Breaks are highly recommended!

 

~sQ~ ~sQ~ ~sQ~ ~sQ~

 

Early eighteen hundreds…  (seaQuest minus two hundred years!)

 

~sQ~ ~sQ~ ~sQ~ ~sQ~

 

Old Peterson smiled at the image filling his sight; a beautiful woman with long auburn curls stood in the bow of the boat as it cut swiftly through the calm sea; enjoying the salty breeze blowing around her.  She lingered there until the sun rose over the horizon, her waist length hair blowing around her face and shoulders in a fiery cloud, while she soaked up the warmth of the sun beating down on her.

 

Finally she stepped away with a deep sigh and Peterson moved to intercept her as she headed back toward the shelter of the cabins.

 

“Fine day for sailing, milady,” he observed.

 

“Indeed it is, John.  I’m only sorry our voyage couldn’t be longer than a few days.  I’ve enjoyed seeing the sunshine.”

 

“It is good for me old bones,” John agreed.  “She’s handling beautifully, fast as any ship I’ve ever sailed and quick to respond to the hand at the wheel.”

 

“I agree.  I took a turn steering earlier today and was amazed at how easy she handles as well.  I think that this design is a good one to add to our line.  When we get back I’m going to have the yard start building another one immediately.”

 

“You’ll make a mint of money to be sure, milady.”

 

“Hopefully we’ll all do well.  I have several buyers interested in purchasing this vessel already,” Kristin Westphalen, Countess of Kilhairn told the old man as she struggled to bring her unruly hair back into order.  Once she had the strands smoothed she bundled the ends into her fist and wrapped a long strand of fabric around the length to secure it in place.  “To that end, I should get back to work.”

 

Peterson laughed quietly as he watched his employer move reluctantly toward the door leading below deck, knowing that she hated to be cooped up in her office when she could be out in the fresh air.  Kristin Westphalen was a model lady in society but her crew knew that she secretly hated the rigid rules that women of her station were forced to follow.  Her frequent journeys on her shipyard’s newly built vessels were one of her few means of escape.

 

The sun was sinking low in the sky when the lookout called down announcing the sighting of another ship.  A quick check with the spyglass showed a friendly flag flying so the crew thought no more about the other vessel.

 

Orange rays were snaking across the blue water when Peterson thought about the ship again and raised his eyes to the horizon to see if it was still visible.  What he saw chilled his blood.

 

“Sound the alarm!”  He screamed over and over, loping as fast as his old legs would carry him toward the owner’s office, pointing at the rapidly approaching ship as he did so.

 

“Milady!  Milady!  Come at once!”

 

Kristin reached the door from the inside just as Peterson reached it from the deck.  “What is all the commotion?”

 

“A ship, milady… with blue sails.”

 

Kristin ran to the railing and stared with rising fear at the vibrant blue sails of the sleek ship that was quickly closing in on them.

 

“It will be all right,” she tapped down her fear as she turned to Peterson.  “We carry no cargo so we have nothing of use to them.  They will leave us alone.”

 

“We do carry something that pirates might find valuable, milady, especially one as dastardly as the Blue Rogue.” 

 

Kristin thought hard, trying to guess what Peterson was referring to, her face questioning him.

 

“You, milady… a titled lady of some means.  He’d hold you for ransom… or he’d misuse you then sell you to white slavers… and your companion, that pretty Miss Hitchcock as well.”

 

“Katie,” Kristin exhaled her friend’s name as she took off running toward her cabin, a plan quickly forming in her mind.  She burst through the door, startling the young dark-haired woman who sat by the window reading quietly.

 

“We’re being approached… pirates.  You have to change,” Kristin threw open a trunk and began to rifle through its contents.  Her hands finally emerged with a pair of trousers and a man’s shirt.  “Put these on… bind your breasts tightly.  I’ve got a hat around here somewhere…” Kristin spied the cap and moved to grab it.  “Wrap your hair securely and cover it with this.”

 

“But, Lady Westphalen… what about you?”  Katie asked as she began to loosen the fastenings of her bodice.

 

“I’ll be fine.  They won’t hurt me.  Now do as I say.”  Kristin grabbed a heavy shawl and threw it around her shoulders, knotting it at the front to effectively cover the low neckline of her day gown.  “Stay in here and bolt the door.  Try not to speak and if you have to, lower your voice.  Don’t reveal your identity.”

 

With that said Kristin moved back to the deck, slamming the door closed behind her.  By the time she returned to the deck her crew stood at the ready.  She was surprised to see that the pirate ship was almost upon them.

 

“Put your weapons away,” she yelled at the men.

 

“But, milady…” Peterson protested.  “I ordered…”

 

“I know that you are the captain of this vessel, John.  But I don’t want to fight if we don’t have to.  Surely they will leave us in peace once they realize that we carry nothing of value.  I don’t want to see any of these men killed or wounded.”

 

“They are willing to fight for you, milady.”

 

Kristin smiled.  “And I’m grateful for that… but please God, it won’t be necessary.”

 

“You should go back below deck.”

 

The scraping of wood against wood told her ears that it was too late for her to retreat and she turned to meet their invaders head on as wiry young men swarmed over the side rails and quickly lashed the two ships together.  Under her orders, Kristin’s crew did nothing to oppose them.

 

“Courage, milady,” Kristin turned to smile bravely at the old man beside her.  She nodded slightly and squeezed his hand.

 

“Well, well… what have we here?  I’ve never seen a sailor quite as pretty as this before,” Kristin turned back at the sound of a male voice to find a muscular chest just inches from her face, the tanned flesh only half covered by a shirt of deep blue.  She dragged her eyes upward to find a bronzed face covered by a neatly trimmed gray beard streaked with brown.  The face was dominated by a pair of the bluest eyes she had ever seen.

 

“You are trespassing on my property, sir, and I would like very much for you to leave,” Kristin affected an air of cold authority, unwilling for the man before her to know her fear.  Those deep blue eyes raked over her form and Kristin knew that he was stripping her mentally.  She drew herself up to her full height, which still left her several inches shorter than the pirate in front of her.  “I spoke to you, sir.”

 

The man before her smiled roguishly.  “It seems to me, good lady, that I have the upper hand here so I suggest that you be silent.”

 

Angry words sprang to Kristin’s lips but Peterson’s hand flew up to grip her shoulder, reminding her that more than just her safety was at stake.  Still, she couldn’t let the handsome stranger think that she was complacent.

 

“What is it you want from us?  We carry no cargo.  Our stores are small; we are only on a short journey,” she demanded as the man she now knew to be the infamous Blue Rogue moved away from her.

 

He turned back to her, an exasperated look on his face.  “Of course you would say that.  Please don’t be offended if I check your information for myself,” he made a motion with his hand and strong hands quickly clamped around Kristin’s upper arms.  “I’m going to speak to the crew now,” he glanced at the young black man holding her.  “If she makes any noise, gag her.”

 

Kristin fought her fury silently as she watched the pirates fan out over her vessel, several of them moving through the entryway to the decks below.  The Blue Rogue moved among her men, stopping to speak quietly to almost every one of them.  She strained to hear the words but they were too far away.  All she could see was an occasional shake of the head from several of her crew.

 

Kristin jumped as a shriek filled the air.  A tall pirate with dark hair emerged from the doorway, dragging what appeared to be a young boy after him.  Kristin’s heart began to pound wildly as she willed the pirates not to notice Katie’s feminine features.

 

“Look what I found hiding below deck, Captain,” the black-headed pirate announced as he slung the body forward.  Katie fell to the deck before the head pirate, her cap pulled low over her forehead.

 

“Good work!”

 

The Blue Rogue moved to grab the lad as Kristin wrenched away from her captor and ran toward them.  Kreig moved to intercept her but his feet got tangled up in Katie Hitchcock’s splayed legs and he stumbled, knocking Kristin away as she passed.  She fell with a thud, a loud cry escaping her lips as her head made contact with the rim of a nearby barrel before falling to hit the deck.  The sound of metal striking metal was the last sound Kristin heard as she lost consciousness.

 

~sQ~ ~sQ~ ~sQ~ ~sQ~

 

Nathan Bridger swore beneath his breath as he stared at the woman lying on the deck, blood pouring from the wound on her head.

 

“Stop him!” He yanked his head toward the single sword fight going on, one of the lady’s men having leapt to her defense.  His men quickly surrounded and disarmed the loyal sailor.

 

Nathan looked back to see that the young lad lying on the deck had crawled to the woman’s side and removed the shawl around her neck to try and staunch the blood flow.  His eyes were momentarily riveted to the generous bosom now revealed and threatening to spill out from beneath the lace edging of her gown.  A sudden suspicion crossed his mind and he yanked the boy to his feet, grabbing the cap away as he did so.  Black hair tumbled out and down. 

 

“Dammit!  Another female?”  Nathan swore loudly as he stared at the girl’s pretty blue eyes and delicate pink lips.  The girl pulled away and bent back to the bleeding woman.

 

“Someone better tell me what is going on.  You!”  Nathan pointed at the old captain.  “Who is this woman?”

 

The old man simply glared at him. 

 

Nathan took a deep breath and motioned the old man to follow him to the railing.  “Look,” he began quietly once they were away from the others.  “I’m not going to hurt them and I’m not going to hurt you.  There is nothing on this vessel that we want.  This was simply a case of mistaken identity.  Now, the lady obviously owns this ship…”

 

Peterson nodded grudgingly.  “Her name is Kristin Westphalen.  She inherited the shipyard from her late husband.  We were on a test run and she decided to come with us.  The other woman is Katherine Hitchcock, her companion.”

 

“Thank you.  Go back to your men now,” Nathan turned back to the group.  “Gator!”

 

A robust man about the same age as the Captain detached himself from the group and moved to join Nathan.

 

“How in the hell did this happen?”  Nathan hissed.  “We don’t have any quarrel with these people.  Her crew all serve freely, down to the last man and every one of them would defend the woman to the death.  She’s obviously a very humane employer for all that she is a British bitch.”

 

“The ship matches the description we have of the naval vessel… that two of this new design could be in the same area… we just didn’t consider that.”

 

“What are we supposed to do now?  We can’t let them go.  If they should run into our quarry… warn them… we’ll have to disable the ship.  We saw an island not too far back.  Get a man on the wheel and head toward that.  We can damage the hull enough so that it will take several weeks to fix and leave them enough stores to survive while they do so.”

 

“What about the women, Cap?  Stranded on an island for all that time… and one of them injured.”

 

“What am I supposed to do about that?  If the harridan had listened to me she wouldn’t be hurt…” Nathan swore again at the look on Crocker’s face.  “All right!  Take her to the ship… the other one too.  Put her in my quarters and tend her wounds.  But, Crocker… tie her up… securely.  I have no wish to be murdered the moment I walk in the door.  And make sure the girl takes that bloody gown off of her.  I don’t want my sheets stained then lock the girl in Kreig’s quarters.  I don’t want the two of them conspiring against me.”

 

Nathan moved back to the prone woman and her caregivers, the woman named Katherine and the old Captain.  He was pleased to see that they appeared to have stopped the bleeding although the woman’s dress was obviously for the rag bag being covered with her own blood.

 

“You, woman…” Crocker cleared his throat behind Bridger.  “Miss Hitchcock, go below deck and gather up a few of the lady’s things… and some of your own.  The two of you are being transferred to my ship.”

 

He heard the murmur travel among Kristin’s crew as well as his own.  And it looked as if the young woman was going to have the audacity to protest.

 

Nathan met Kreig’s eyes.  “Please escort the lady and make sure that she doesn’t give us any more trouble.  Carry out my orders, men.”

 

Nathan moved back toward his own vessel, swearing loudly all the way.

 

~sQ~ ~sQ~ ~sQ~ ~sQ~

 

Kristin moaned at the pain that pounded through her skull as she gradually worked her way back toward consciousness.  She attempted to pull a hand up to her forehead but found that it wasn’t responding to her wishes.  She pulled again and felt a burning sensation around her wrist.

 

Her eyes flew open to find both of her wrists tied together, bound above her head, the rope held securely by an iron circle in the wall above the bed.  She yanked at her bonds but they held tightly.

 

“So you are finally awake,” she recognized the voice as her eyes darted around the dimly lit strange room, looking for the speaker.

 

“You bastard!  Untie me!”  Kristin flinched as her own voice irritated the pounding in her head.  “Where are you, anyway?”

 

Something shifted in the shadows cast by the shaded lantern and the blue-eyed man emerged from the corner where he had been sitting, staring at the woman in his bed.  “At your service, my lady,” he affected a bow as he grinned sarcastically.

 

“What is going on?  Where am I?  Where is my crew?”  Her arms continued to yank at the ropes around her wrists.

 

“Your crew have been dealt with.”

 

“Dealt with?  Dealt with how?  What have you done to my men?”

 

“I did what I had to do.  You needn’t concern yourself with them any longer.”

 

“Oh God… my men!  They have families; children… let them go, PLEASE!  They won’t stand against you if I tell them not to.”

 

“They are no longer any concern of yours.”  The steel in his eyes told Kristin that he would discuss her men no longer.  “Now, I suggest you calm down or you will hurt yourself.  You are on board my ship.”

 

“Why… why did you bring me here?”

 

Nathan moved closer to the bed.  “You were injured… through your own stupidity, I might add, not through any fault of my men.  I couldn’t leave you lying there in your own blood.  As much as I may have wanted to.”

 

Kristin felt his eyes rake over her body and glanced down, shocked to realize that her gown was missing.  Even though she was covered to her neck with a fine linen sheet, she felt exposed.  “What have you done to me?  Where are my clothes?”  She twisted even more vehemently.

 

The cool air brushing over the bare skin of her neck made her realize that her struggle was causing the sheet to slide down and she briefly stopped her fight as she waited for answers to her questions.

 

“I’ve done nothing to you, never you fear.  Why any man would choose a cold-hearted British bitch to ice up their bed is beyond me.  Your gown was removed because it was soaked in your blood and I didn’t want it staining my sheets.”

 

A quick mental inventory told Kristin that she was still wearing her chemise, corset and petticoat and she breathed a silent prayer of thanks for that.  “Who undressed me?”  She demanded imperiously.

 

“Well it for damned sure wasn’t me.  Don’t worry, woman.  I have no designs on your person.  You wouldn’t even be in my cabin if I thought you’d be safe…” Nathan stared down at the woman tethered to his bed and was unnerved by the sudden leap in his own heartbeat.  “I’ve got a good crew of men but we haven’t been in port in a while and some of them might be feeling a little lonely… if you understand what I am saying.  You are in here for your own good.”

 

The woman’s icy gaze told him she didn’t believe him for a minute.

 

“I’m going up on deck.  The sun will be gone soon and I have a few things to deal with before night watch starts.  I have a man posted in the hallway.  If you need anything yell out and he will come and get me.”

 

Kristin watched the man with the intense blue eyes stalk to the door then pull it shut behind him, the sound of metal grating on metal telling her that he was locking it behind him.

 

“You bastard!”  She yelled after him as she once again yanked furiously at her bonds.

 

~sQ~ ~sQ~ ~sQ~ ~sQ~

 

“He could have at least left a lamp on for me,” Kristin grumbled beneath her breath as she lay in the darkness, the disappearing sun and the cover of clouds having left the room inky black.  She yanked at the ropes again, knowing that they wouldn’t release; she was fettered too tightly, so tightly that her hands had gone numb over an hour before.

 

She heard the scrape of the key in the lock and got ready to flay the Blue Rogue verbally but knew immediately that the person entering wasn’t her nemesis.  The form was too small. 

 

The approaching lantern light revealed an adolescent boy carrying a small cloth-covered tray.  The lad set his load on the table then carefully lit the wall lamp before moving to the side of the bed and smiling tentively.

 

“Hello, ma’am.  The captain sent me down… I’ve brought you something to eat… and a drink that cook said might help your head if it still hurts.”

 

The child was so sincere that Kristin couldn’t help but smile back at him.  “My head does still hurt a bit.  I must have taken quite a hit.”

 

“I didn’t see it but Mr. Kreig, he’s the second mate, he said that you almost broke the barrel.”

 

“Barrel?”  Kristin questioned.

 

“A barrel… that’s what you hit your head on.  Mr. Kreig accidentally tripped over the other lady and knocked you off balance.”

 

“Other lady… oh dear!  They found Katie.  Did they… where is she?”

 

“She’s confined in Mr. Kreig’s cabin.  She isn’t very happy about not being able to see you but the Captain says you have to be kept apart so you can’t plot against us.”

 

Kristin filed the information away, one more tidbit that her captor was going to catch the sharp end of her tongue for when he finally returned.  “That smells nice.”

 

“It’s only chicken broth… cook didn’t think you needed anything heavier, what with your head being hurt and all.”

 

“How am I supposed to eat with my hands tied up?”

 

The boy looked ashamed.  “I can’t untie you… Captain’s orders.  But I will help you.  I’ll be very careful… I can help you sit up, if you’d like.”

 

Kristin couldn’t detect anything but sincerity in the boy’s voice so she nodded.  He came to the edge of the bed, stuck his arms beneath hers and pulled her up into a sitting position.

 

“What is your name, child?”  Kristin asked the boy as he picked up the tray and headed back toward the bed.

 

“Lucas, ma’am,” he laid the cloth carefully over Kristin’s chest and shoulders and picked up the bowl of broth.  “Would you like for me to spoon it or would you like to drink it?”

 

“I think that drinking would probably be better.  Your captain seems to have a problem with getting anything on his sheets.  How old are you, Lucas?”

 

“I don’t really know, ma’am… somewhere around fifteen or sixteen we think.  My ma died when I was young… I don’t really remember how old I was,” Lucas held the bowl to her lips and tilted slightly.

 

“How did you end up here?”  Kristin asked after she swallowed the broth.

 

“I was working the docks one day… ‘bout four or five years ago, I guess.  I made the mistake of trying to lift the captain’s wallet and he caught me.  Instead of giving me over to the watch he brought me on board his ship.  Best day of my life.”

 

“But… you don’t… you’re too young to be fighting.”

 

“The cap doesn’t let me join the battles.  I keep his quarters, look after his clothes… he’s teaching me about navigation.”

 

Once Kristin finished the bowl of broth Lucas carefully washed the wound on her forehead.  “It’s not bleeding anymore, ma’am and I don’t think it will leave a scar, at least not a bad one.  I’ve washed the blood out of your hair best that I could.”

 

“Thank you, Lucas,” Kristin sipped the cup of warm liquid that he held to her lips gratefully.  “Mmm… willow bark.  I hope it helps.  My head is aching a bit.”

 

After a few more sips of the bitter brew, Kristin pulled away from the cup.  “No more.”

 

Lucas moved to a small crock and ran some water into a cup, proffering it to Kristin to rinse her mouth.  “Can I get you anything else, ma’am?”

 

“No thank you, Lucas.  My head is hurting a bit so I think I’ll try to rest.  Could you… would you be in trouble if you left the lamp burning?”

 

“No, ma’am.  I’m supposed to come in and light it for the captain anyway.”

 

“Thank you, Lucas.  You’ve been very kind.”

 

The boy smiled widely.  “I’ll see you tomorrow.”

 

Kristin closed her eyes and laid her head back against the wall as the boy closed and locked the door, willing her head to stop pounding and her arms to quit aching.  After a few minutes the pounding lessened and she opened her eyes just a bit and glanced around the cabin.

 

The bed that she was lying in was comfortable and spacious, big enough for two people to sleep in.  She blushed slightly at that thought and turned her eyes toward the small table and two chairs, an open trunk with various garments hanging out and a bookcase overflowing with reading material.

 

‘He’s obviously not illiterate… but then I guess a pirate captain would need to be intelligent.’  Kristin suddenly grew weary of sitting up and decided to squirm her way back down the bed.  She swore as she felt her petticoat bunch up beneath her but there was no way for her to straighten it.  Finally she was lying flat again, a load of material waded up beneath her.  After wriggling for several more minutes she finally gave up and fell back against the pillow, exhausted.

 

~sQ~ ~sQ~ ~sQ~ ~sQ~

 

Nathan breathed a sigh of relief when he entered his cabin to find the woman sleeping.  He’d been working hard along side his crew to wreck the other ship then put her crew ashore.  Tomorrow they would most likely find the hidden supplies but Nathan hated having to abandon the men, especially after they’d shown such loyalty to the woman that he now held captive. 

 

‘Why do you inspire such loyalty?  Very few men I’ve met command as much respect as you do,’ he sighed and moved to one of the deep drawers beneath his bed.

 

“What are you doing?”  Nathan swore when he heard the feminine question.  He’d been trying so hard to be quiet.

 

“I’m pulling out a hammock so that I’ll have some place to sleep,” he saw the relief that crossed her face.  “You didn’t think I’d be climbing in there with you, did you?”

 

“No… of course not.  Go away,” Kristin was obviously still half-asleep.

 

Nathan looped one end of the cloth swing around an iron loop in the wall and tied it securely then attached the other end to the support post near the center of the room.  He could feel the woman’s eyes on him as he moved but he deliberately didn’t say anything else to her, hoping that she would go back to sleep.  Once his bedding was secure he sat down and worked his boots off then stood and yanked his blue shirt over his head.

 

He heard Kristin’s voice catch as his hand fell to the button of his trousers and he paused.  ‘Guess there is a bit of gentleman left in you after all, Bridger,’ he dropped his hand away but couldn’t resist one final tease.  He walked slowly toward the bed and deliberately leaned over the woman until his face was just inches from hers.  Her body went rigid as she stared defiantly at him.

 

Nathan’s left hand reached out and yanked a second pillow from the bed as he abruptly straightened.  “You don’t mind, do you?”  He muttered sarcastically then moved back toward his hammock, stopping to douse the lamp as he did so.

 

Heavy clouds hung over the moon so little light filtered through the large bank of windows that faced the back of the ship.  Nathan settled into the hammock thinking that he would fall asleep immediately but to his surprise he did not.  The events of the day continued to play over in his mind.

 

‘How could we have picked the wrong ship?  That was a stupid error and it could cost us greatly.  Hang on, Will.  Don’t give up on us.’

 

Sleep had just begun to overtake him when the rustling in his bed pulled him back to wakefulness.  He glared at its occupant through the darkness but, of course, she couldn’t see him.  The twisting continued, seeming to get louder every time that Nathan got near sleep.

 

“Be still, dammit!”  He sat up and yelled, then swore loudly as the hammock flipped and he landed on his bottom on the hard deck.

 

“Didn’t you hear me?  Stop moving around and go to sleep!”  He exclaimed again as he stood.

 

“I’m trying, you dolt!”  Kristin fired back.  “Have you ever tried to sleep in a corset!?”

 

The scrape of flint told Kristin that he was lighting the lamp and a second later she saw the tiny flame being applied to the swinging wall device.  Once he lowered the globe back in place he stormed over to the bed and yanked the sheet away from her.  Kristin tried to turn her body away but he clamped a hand on her shoulder to hold her in place.

 

Finally he spoke.  “Fine!  So I’ll take it off,” his hands moved to the criss-cross lacing on the front.

 

“Stop it!  I don’t want you…”

 

“Look… I am exhausted and I intend to sleep tonight.  If this…” his hand shook over the cloth cage locked around Kristin’s torso,  “implement of torture is preventing that from happening I am going to rid you of it.”

 

He yanked one criss cross of lacing free then stopped.  “I’ll be here all night doing this,” Nathan said as he walked over to his chest and reached in, his hand emerging seconds later holding a large knife in a scabbard.  “Be still and I won’t hurt you,” he told her as he approached the bed.

 

“What are you going to do?”  Nathan detected the note of fear in her voice even though she tried to hide it.

 

“I’m going to take your corset off, my lady,” he slid the knife beneath the waistband of the petticoat that covered the lower half of the stomacher and lifted, the fine cotton splitting easily beneath the sharp blade.

 

Nathan yanked the ripped cloth from beneath her and threw it to the floor, trying not to notice the shape of her legs, now bare from mid thigh down.  One hand grasped the edge of the corset and pulled it away from her waist as he slid the flat edge of the knife along her body beneath the ties.  When the knife was all the way in he turned it sharply and lifted.

 

As the confining strings fell away the garment loosened around her body and Kristin took a deep gulp of air.

 

Nathan tugged the mass of cloth wrapped whalebone from beneath her body then turned back to look at her and swore.

 

“Why in the hell didn’t you say something earlier?  How can you women wear that damned contraption?”  His hand fell to her side to gently pull at the soft linen embedded in the skin of her torso.  He refused to allow his brain to register his fingers accidentally brushing over the swell of one of her more than generous breasts, even more prominent now that they’d been freed from their confines.

 

Kristin gasped as the cloth turned loose from her skin.  “I hate it!  But society demands that all well-bred women wear a corset.  Can you imagine the talk if the Countess of Kilhairn went without one?”

 

Kristin bit her lip, knowing that she’d made a crucial error when she saw the spark in his eye.  “So I have a countess in my bed now, do I?  You are obviously a lady of gentle breeding… but a countess…”

 

“I’m not the countess… at least not any more.  The title belongs to my daughter now that her father is dead.   Killed by pirates…”

 

For just a moment Kristin could have sworn that she saw a hint of… something… in the rogue’s eyes but it he covered it instantly.  “Do you think that you can sleep now, milady?”  He exaggerated her title sarcastically.

 

“I think… well… there is one thing…”

 

Nathan cursed.  “What now?”

 

“I need… that is to say… I had the broth for dinner and some of the tea and…” Nathan realized the problem, as Kristin blushed crimson.  For a moment he thought to have a bit more fun but the lurking gentleman inside won out again. 

 

“I’ll cut you free for a moment but no tricks.  There is a pot on the ledge beneath the head of the bed.”

 

“You’re not… you have to leave.  I can’t!  Not with you…”

 

“I am not cutting you free and giving you the run of my quarters.  If you have to go so badly you’ll overcome your embarrassment,” he pointed to the drape hanging on rings at the foot of the bed.  “If you give me your word that you won’t make any mischief, the word of the Countess of Kilhairn, then you may pull the curtain while you do your business.”

 

“I hate you!”  Kristin responded vehemently.  Nathan simply stood and stared at her with his arms crossed.  Finally she nodded.  “You have my word.  What could I accomplish anyway?  We’re in the middle of the ocean.  My ship is gone, my crew gone.  I have very few clothes… I have no option but to remain your most unwilling captive.”

 

Nathan grasped the rope and sliced it away from her wrists.  He stared as her arms fell limply to her side. 

 

“Why in the hell didn’t you say something?”  He yanked one wrist up; staring at the deep cuts surrounding it and the rivulets of dried blood staining her arms nearly to her elbows.

 

Kristin stared at her wrists as well.  “I don’t know… I didn’t realize… they went numb hours ago.”

 

“Well they aren’t going to stay numb.  In a few minutes those cuts are going to be stinging like hell then you are going to be in a great deal of pain.  Stay there.”

 

Nathan moved to the water crock and dipped some into a small bowl.  He grabbed the bowl and a drying rag then moved to a small chest and pulled out a brown glass vial.

 

By the time he returned to the bed Kristin’s face showed that feeling was coming back to her deadened limbs although she was struggling not to make a sound.  She shied back when he sat on the edge of the bed but he reached out and grabbed one arm, pulling it toward him.  Kristin fell forward, rewarding the Rogue with a quick glance down her chemise, through the smooth white valley of her breasts to the flat plains of her stomach before she quickly jerked up and straightened the garment.

 

Nathan washed her arms gently, first one and then the other, until all the blood was gone.  The lady was biting her lip to keep from crying out by the time that he finished; he admired her fortitude though he was loath to admit it.

 

“This should help the sting,” he told her as he unplugged the vial and dipped his fingers into it.  Nathan carefully coated the open wounds with soothing ointment, taking care to cover every inch of the raw area.  When he was done he glanced around then, spying her petticoat on the edge of the bed, grabbed it up and began to rip it into strips.

 

Kristin started to protest but at the look on his face thought better of it.  He carefully bandaged her forearms then stood and cut the rope away from the loop with a disgusted look on his face.

 

“It was never my intention to hurt you.  I should have checked the knots myself.  I can’t let you roam loose but I will see that you are more comfortable.  Are you able to see to yourself now?”

 

Kristin nodded.  “Your salve seems to be helping.  The sharpness is fading into a dull ache,” she lifted her hands and flexed her wrists for the rogue captain to see.

 

Nathan took the bowl of water and towel and stood.  He heard the curtain rings rattle across their wooden rod as he moved toward the back window and flipped a latch.  The glass flew out and he dumped the bloodied water into the sea below then stood a moment, enjoying the fresh salty air.

 

Nathan was careful to secure the latch before leaving the window and moving back to the water crock where he refilled the bowl.  He walked to the curtain and stuck the dish around the edge along with a fresh towel.  “I thought you might like to freshen up a bit more before I have to retie you.”

 

Kristin took the offerings without a word. 

 

‘What did you expect, Bridger?  You are going to chain her back up, after all.’

 

He moved to a hidden door and slid it open, seeing what he was looking for immediately.  He pulled several sets of manacles out before finding one with a chain that was long enough.  The Hitchcock woman had left Kristin’s bloodied dress in the corner of his cabin so he took his knife to the silk, shredding the stained parts out as he cut.  By the time that Kristin pulled the curtain back Nathan had thick padding covering the iron wristbands.

 

Kristin had climbed back beneath the sheet and blanket, pulling them both up to her neck.  She said nothing as the Rogue came toward her with the manacles.

 

“Do you need anything else?”  He asked as he removed both the basin of water and the chamber pot.

 

“No… I’ll be quiet now.”

 

Nathan held his hand out and Kristin reluctantly pulled one arm from beneath the blanket and laid it in his palm.  He fastened the iron manacle carefully in place, taking care that it didn’t fit too tightly over her bandages.  Her face showed surprise when she realized that he had padded the metal bracelet.  He shoved the second bracelet through the metal holding loop on the wall and equalized the length of chain before attaching it to her other wrist. 

 

Kristin pulled her arms down to her side, surprised at the range of motion the new bonds allowed her.

 

“Good night then… Countess.”

 

Nathan had killed the light and climbed back into his hammock when he heard the whispered ‘thank you’.

 

He sighed, knowing that sleep would be a long time coming this eve.

 

~sQ~ ~sQ~ ~sQ~ ~sQ~

 

Nathan smiled contentedly as the sun’s warmth caressed his face.  He turned into the heat as he slowly began to rouse from sleep… and found himself once again flat against the wood floor of his cabin, the hammock swinging wildly above him.

 

He swore when the distinctly feminine giggle reached his ears.  ‘So much for yesterday being a dream!’

 

Nathan rubbed his neck as he sat up and glared at his bed a few feet away.  The woman was peeking around the edge of the recessed sleeping area, a devilish twinkle in her eyes as her shoulders shook with mirth.  He stood guardedly.

 

“Let me get this straight in my head,” he started as he walked menacingly toward the bed.  “You’re my captive… my prisoner.  You are chained to my bed… completely at my mercy… practically naked… and you are laughing at me?”

 

Kristin gripped the sheet and blanket close to her neck.  “I’m your captive… your prisoner,” she mimicked his words.  “I am chained to your bed… completely at your mercy… practically na… well, why shouldn’t I find amusement in your clumsiness?  What else is there to find humorous in my life at the moment?”

 

Surprised at the lady’s quick wit, Nathan couldn’t help the tiny twitch of his lip but he quickly pushed it back into a frown.  “Do you realize how much you have disrupted my life, Lady Westphalen?  I did not want you on this ship.  I’m not really sure why I even bothered.  One thing is certain… I don’t like to be laughed at.  Just be grateful that I let you have the bed instead of chaining you up in the hold… or climbing in there and joining you.”

 

Nathan laughed inwardly as the lady bristled visibly.

 

“You wouldn’t dare.  If you don’t want me on this boat then take me someplace where I can get passage for myself and Miss Hitchcock back to England and let me go.”

 

“And how do you propose to pay for this passage?  Oh, I’m sure that you could manage quite easily… especially dressed as you are… but the captain is sure to demand… something… up front.”

 

Kristin struggled to pull herself upright while keeping the sheet and blanket over her body.  “Give me back my clothes!”  She demanded.

 

Nathan barked with laughter at her order.  “I think you look quite… fetching… as you are.  Any of my men would think the same should you manage to free yourself and go wandering… so don’t even try.”

 

“Where is my dress?  You can’t keep me here… like this,” the lady’s anger was growing and Nathan found that he was spoiling for a fight.

 

“I can do anything that I want… it’s my ship.  Besides, you are already wearing your dress… in a sense,” he gestured toward the iron bands clamped around her wrists.

 

Kristin knew that the manacles were padded but she hadn’t noticed the pattern the previous night.  She now recognized the cloth as being from the dress she had been wearing the previous day.

 

“You cut up my dress?  You bas…”

 

“Be nice, Lady Westphalen.  The garment was so stained with your own blood that it wasn’t salvageable anyway.  Let me look at your wrists.”

 

Kristin yanked both arms away from his reaching hand.  “I don’t want you to.  I don’t want you to do anything for me.  Where is my companion?  I want to see Katie.”

 

Nathan smiled.  “Young Miss Hitchcock is doing well.  She is being made very comfortable by my second mate.”

 

Kristin’s eyes blazed when she realized what the devil in front of her was implying.  “If she is hurt in any way, so help me I will…”

 

“You’ll what?”  Nathan swooped in over her, his face coming to a halt just inches from hers.  “You don’t get it do you, Countess?  I don’t give a damn about your title.  I don’t give a damn about your wants.  If it were possible I’d have you off of my ship this instant.  As it is you have to be my… guest… for a while, but rest assured that I will get rid of you as soon as possible, even if I have to throw you overboard myself.”

 

“You wouldn’t dare!”

 

“You forget whom you are talking to, my lady,” Nathan reached out and grabbed her forearm, yanking it toward him as he fished the key out of his pocket.  He quickly unlocked it then snapped it closed around the length of chain holding her opposite wrist.

 

Kristin kicked at him once from beneath the bedding but quickly realized that she couldn’t do very much without losing her cover so she contented herself with an evil glare.  The rogue captain ignored her as he carefully unwound the bandage from her wrist.

 

He was pleased to note that the cuts were no longer bleeding and didn’t seem to be infected.  He dropped her hand to her lap. 

 

“Don’t move,” he ordered as he moved to his desk then returned with the brown vial of ointment.  He slathered a thick coat on the wound then grabbed clean strips of cloth from the pile he’d left at the foot of the bed.  Kristin continued to glare as he repeated the procedure with the second wrist.

 

Once he had secured both bands in place he gave the chain a good tug then moved over to an open chest and grabbed a clean white shirt.  He felt her glare follow him as he shrugged it on then sat down to pull on his boots.

 

“I’m going up on deck now.  The rules are the same.  Someone will be posted outside.  If you need anything yell and they will come and get me.  I have the only key to this room so no one else will step through that door without my knowledge.  I also have the only keys to the manacles.  The added length of the chain gives you freedom enough to move around a bit… take care of any business.  But know this… if you give me reason to regret my generosity you’ll be tethered so tightly that you can’t move at all.”

 

“I will make you pay for this someday,” Kristin bit out at him, her brown eyes blazing with hate. 

 

“I am looking forward to that day, Countess,” Nathan laughed as he closed the door behind him.

 

~sQ~ ~sQ~ ~sQ~ ~sQ~

 

“Lucas!”  Kristin was genuinely pleased to see the young man when he appeared with her breakfast tray.

 

“Good morning, ma’am… I mean milady.  The captain says that is what I have to call you.”

 

“The captain is…” Kristin quickly clamped down on the expletive threatening to spill from her lips.  “…teaching you proper manners.  But you don’t have to call me that.  Why don’t you just call me Kristin?”

 

The boy blushed.  “I couldn’t, ma’am… milady.”

 

“Then ma’am is fine.  My title isn’t worth anything on this ship anyway.  Your captain has no respect for it.”

 

“The captain doesn’t respect anything British.  He hates all of you.”

 

“But why?”  Kristin latched on to this brief insight into her captor’s motives.

 

Lucas shrugged.  “He just does.  I’m glad to see that you can move around a little better.  The captain chewed Mr. Crocker out but good for tying you up so tightly.”

 

Kristin wrinkled her nose at the bowl of mush that Lucas handed her.  “I’ve always hated porridge, even as a child.”

 

“I fixed it up a little, added some sugar and honey plus a little milk.”

 

“Milk?”  Kristin asked, surprised.  “Where did you get milk in the middle of the ocean?”

 

“We got it day before yesterday when we were in port.  The cook stores it way down in the hold to keep it cool.”

 

Kristin took a tentative taste.  “This is delicious, Lucas.  Where were you when I was six?  Oh, the fights I had with my nurse over my refusal to eat my porridge,” she smiled warmly at the boy.  “So… the captain doesn’t mind chaining me himself but is angry about how someone else did it?”

 

Lucas blushed.  “The cap told Crocker to tie you up so that you couldn’t escape but he didn’t mean for you to be hurt.  He said your wrists were really bad, bleeding and everything.”

 

Kristin lifted a wrist.  “Whatever your rogue captain put on them seems to have worked a miracle.  They don’t hurt anymore and they are healing nicely.”

 

“The famous ointment… Be… an old lady on the cap’s island plantation makes it.  She won’t tell what is in it but it works wonders on everything.”

 

“Your captain owns a plantation?”

 

Lucas bit down on his lip, realizing that he’d given away too much information but at that moment a knock on the door saved him from answering.

 

“May I come in, milady?”  Manilow Crocker stuck his head in the door; cap in hand, a questioning look on his face.

 

“This is Mr. Crocker, our first mate, ma’am,” Lucas told her.

 

“Come in, Mr. Crocker,” Kristin handed Lucas her now empty bowl and checked the placement of her covers.

 

A much ashamed Crocker slowly approached the foot of the bed.  “I just wanted to apologize…  I never meant to tie the ropes tight enough to cut into you.  I just knew that the captain would have my hide if you got free.  I should have taken more care.”

 

Kristin was impressed by the man’s sincerity, both in his voice and his face.  “It is all right, Mr. Crocker.  I did a great deal of struggling against my bonds once I woke up.  I’m sure that was the cause of my cuts.  I am sorry that your captain called you on the carpet for it.”

 

“I should have taken your struggling into account, milady.  After the way you stood up to us on your ship… I should have known you wouldn’t accept being tied up meekly.”

 

“Nonetheless, I refuse to allow you to blame yourself when the fault was mine.  I will be sure to tell your pig-headed captain that when I next see him.”

 

“Oh… no, ma’am.  You don’t have to do that.  I just wanted you to know… I never would have hurt you intentionally.”

 

“What a funny pirate you are, Mr. Crocker,” Kristin’s infectious smile finally teased an answering grin out of Crocker. 

 

“I’d never hurt a woman.  I just wanted to apologize.  I’d better get back on duty now,” Crocker backed out of the room, still beaming.

 

“I’ve got to go too,” Lucas picked up the bowl and tray.

 

“Can… will you be coming back later?  I enjoy speaking with you.”

 

Lucas nodded.  “I’ll bring your lunch.”

 

Nathan stood in the shadows of the hallway and watched until Lucas had secured the door and disappeared down the hallway.  He moved back toward the entrance to his cabin and stared, willing the oak planks to disappear so he could see what the woman within was doing.  She’d behaved like a harridan towards him less than an hour ago but judging by the conversation he’d just heard, Lady Westphalen was well on her way to charming at least two of his crew. 

 

“Whatever you are up to… it won’t work!”  He swore quietly then turned and stalked away.

 

~sQ~ ~sQ~ ~sQ~ ~sQ~

 

Kristin popped one eye open when she heard the key in the lock but closed it again as the door began to swing open.  She hoped that her visitor was the rogue captain.  Time had become her worst enemy and the only thing she had to look forward to in her long boring day was a visit from Lucas or a good verbal fight with her handsome captor.

 

‘He isn’t handsome, Kristin!  He’s a bloody pirate for God’s sake!’ she chastised her subconscious but it didn’t seem to help. 

 

“She’s asleep,” Lucas’ whispered voice drifted across the room.  “I guess that we’ll have to try again tomorrow.”

 

“Wait… we can still have a reading lesson,” Kristin was surprised to recognize the captain’s voice.  “Get your book and we will go to my office so we won’t disturb Lady Westphalen’s nap.”

 

‘Reading lesson?’ Kristin opened both eyes and watched as Lucas moved to the large shelf of books and chose one then moved back toward the door.

 

“You don’t have to go,” she called out as the two fellows moved back toward the door.

 

“I’m sorry, milady.  I didn’t mean to wake you,” Lucas came forward, a contrite look on his face.

 

“You didn’t wake me, Lucas.  I wasn’t really asleep… only nodding a bit.  Sitting here all day gets quite tedious.  If you are going to have a lesson can’t you have it here?  I’d love to hear you read.”

 

Lucas turned back to look at the captain eagerly, his face falling at the dark scowl on Nathan’s features.

 

“I am teaching him quite well.  I don’t need any interference from you.”

 

“I… I don’t mean to… I won’t interfere.  It’s just that… I’m going to go mad if I don’t have something to do and then you will have an insane woman chained to your bed.  You don’t want that do you?”

 

Nathan couldn’t help the small smirk that touched his lips.  “I don’t think that that would be particularly pleasant, no,” he nodded at Lucas.  “Put the chairs over by the window.”

 

Lucas quickly jumped to do his captain’s bidding.

 

Nathan stared at Kristin for a moment then approached her.  He pulled a small key from his pocket and unclasped one manacle, snapped it around the chain at the loop and relocked it. 

 

“Why don’t you join us, Countess?”

 

Kristin glanced down at the sheet covering her body then shook her head.  “I can’t… he’s just a boy!  I can’t let him see…”

 

Nathan nodded and moved to a large oak chest on the opposite wall.  He lifted the lid and pulled out a large piece of bright blue cloth. 

 

“Lucas!  Look out the window!”  He commanded as he moved back toward the bed.  Lucas obeyed immediately. 

 

“Stand up,” Nathan told the countess in a softer tone.  Kristin clutched the sheet as she swung her legs off the bed and stood.  “Turn around and hold out your arms.”

 

Kristin turned her back and stretched out as bidden.  Nathan shook the cloth out and wrapped one end of it around her side.  She gasped as he tucked the corner into the neckline of her chemise, cheekily giving the swell of her breast a quick grope as he did so.  He enveloped her in the blue silk, winding it around her body several times before pulling the end up and over one of her shoulders.

 

“Will that do?”

 

Kristin glanced down, pleased to see that she was covered from neck to foot.  The cloth was form fitting but concealed her very nicely, leaving only one shoulder bare.  She nodded in answer.

 

Nathan gestured toward the chairs by the window and Kristin moved haltingly toward them, her leg muscles protesting at being used after several days of inactivity.  She stumbled once but the blue-eyed man was there to catch her, a hand at her waist and on her elbow guiding her the rest of the way.

 

The chain was just long enough so that Kristin could sit comfortably.  Lucas flopped down in the other chair, a loud throat clearing from Nathan causing him to quickly sit up and position his book to catch the light.  Nathan propped against the window beside Lucas.

 

“Begin, Lucas.”

 

Lucas read better than Kristin had expected and she was soon caught up in his reading of one of her favorite stories, that of the travels of a man named Gulliver.  The boy stumbled over an occasional word but Kristin resisted the urge to help him, especially after receiving a very hard stare from the captain.  She soon realized that Lucas was perfectly capable of sounding out the words. 

 

The fading light finally made reading too difficult and Nathan gently told the boy that he’d done enough for the day.  Kristin made note of how the man encouraged the boy without being overly effusive.  She stood and began to walk carefully across the floor while Lucas returned the chairs to their place beneath the table.

 

“Lucas… go to the galley and get the lady’s dinner.”

“Aye, Cap.” 

 

Nathan moved the edge of the bed and waited for Kristin but she stopped a good length away from him.  He could see her internal battle rage on her face and waited patiently until she finally spoke.

 

“Could I… could you leave the chain like this?  Just for a little while.  My legs are weak and I need to walk… to exercise them,” Nathan could tell how much she hated asking him for any concession… hated it almost as much as he enjoyed it.

 

He let her stew for a few moments before nodding.  “You can walk until your dinner gets here… your word?”

 

“I won’t try anything,” Kristin promised.

 

Nathan moved to the window and opened it, climbing out onto the small balcony and taking in deep breaths of fresh air to try and clear his head.  ‘What in the hell are you doing to me, lady?’

 

He turned his back to the ocean to stare at the woman moving around his room.  Nathan was pleased to note that her walking was improving and resolved to give her a few minutes walking time everyday.  He didn’t want her muscles too atrophied to move once he was able to get her off of his ship. 

 

Lucas returned with a linen covered tray and placed it on the table then held out a chair.  Kristin spared a glance at the dark figure outside the window, silhouetted against the setting sun, before sitting down.  Nathan watched the scene with interest, the improvement in Lucas’ manners, the loving way the woman reached out and ruffled the boy’s hair. 

 

A huge grin covered Lucas’ face as he removed the linen cloth covering the tray and placed a large bowl in front of the countess.  He took a second bowl and placed it in front of the empty seat then put a large plate of fresh bread between them.  He turned toward the window and jumped, surprised to see the captain had returned to the room so quietly that he hadn’t noticed.

 

“What is this?”  Nathan glowered down at the boy.

 

“I just… I thought that I would bring you your dinner as well, sir… save you the trouble of having to go… I’m sorry.  I shouldn’t have presumed…”

 

“No, you shouldn’t have.  Go get your supper then get some sleep.  Tomorrow might be the day…”

 

Once Lucas had left the room, carefully closing the door behind him, Nathan joined the woman at the table.  He hoisted his tankard of ale and took a long drink then slammed it on the table and grabbed the bread loaf.  He tore off a large chunk then dropped the loaf back on the plate.  Kristin simply sat and watched.

 

His inner gentleman won out in the end and he ripped the bread in his hand into two pieces then handed the woman one of them.  She smiled prettily as she took it from his hand.  They began to eat in silence.

 

“I’m sorry that dining with me is such a chore,” Kristin finally spoke.

 

“Hmm?  Oh… I didn’t… I’m sure that you don’t particularly wish to eat with me either.  A meal should be enjoyed… not battled over.”

 

“Then… let’s not battle.  Surely we can spend a few minutes eating without ripping into each other?”

 

Nathan laughed.  “I wouldn’t lay odds on that.  Why are you so jovial all of a sudden?”

 

“I… I enjoyed this afternoon, listening to Lucas read.  He really is a very bright boy.  And I’m glad for the opportunity to move around.  I am not, by nature, a sedentary person and I do find having my mobility limited quite… difficult.”

 

“I appreciate that but I can’t afford to take any chances.  You are my prisoner… not my guest… and you don’t need to forget that!”

 

“Believe me, I can’t forget it.  I’m the one chained up… we’re doing it again… we are fighting.”

 

Nathan dipped his bread in his stew then savagely tore a bite of the gravy-drenched loaf off with his teeth.  Silence fell between them once more.

 

Finally Kristin decided to try again.  “Where did you get the cloth?  This lovely blue silk you’ve draped me in?”

 

“I bought it on a trip to the Orient.  The color appealed to me.  I have several bolts of it.  Pirates tend to go through shirts rather quickly.”

 

“Thank you letting me wrap myself in it.  I couldn’t expose myself in front of the boy,” Kristin’s cheeks turned pink.

 

Nathan’s gaze raked over her still covered form and an image of him taking the silk off of her formed in his mind… rubbing the soft fabric over her naked body, feeling her nipples pucker through the barrier into his hands…

 

He grabbed his tankard and took another long drink.

 

The meal was almost done before Kristin made one last try at conversation.  She took a dainty sip from the tankard that Lucas had brought her, wiped her lips carefully with the linen napkin then spoke.

 

“What might happen tomorrow?”

 

Nathan’s head jerked up.  “What?!”

 

“You told Lucas that ‘tomorrow might be the day’.  I was wondering what might happen.”

 

“That is none of your concern.  Nothing that happens on this vessel is your business.  You would do well to remember that, Countess.”

 

Kristin’s brown eyes blazed for a moment, answering the fire in the captain’s cerulean blue orbs, but she quickly hid her ire, unwilling to jeopardize the small amount of freedom that she’d been given this day.

 

She finished her meal quickly then took a little more ale before standing and gathering up the empty dishes and placing them back on the tray.  Nathan watched her as he slowly finished eating then did the same with his empty bowl. 

 

Once Nathan took his last spoonful of stew Kristin moved back toward the bed.  “I trust that I’ll be allowed a few more moments or do you wish to chain me back up now?”

 

“Go!”  Nathan waved his hand toward the bed and Kristin fled into it, yanking the curtain shut behind her.

 

Once again Nathan felt the urge to clear his head of the image of the woman draped in his silk and he climbed back out onto his private balcony.

 

“Dammit, dammit, dammit!”  He swore at the lonely sea.

 

When he returned to his cabin the length of silk lay carefully folded on his hammock.  Kristin was in the bed, the blankets pulled to her neck; she averted her head, refusing to look at him as he locked the manacle back in place, once again limiting her mobility.

 

~sQ~ ~sQ~ ~sQ~ ~sQ~

 

“You’re doing very well, Lucas.  I’ve noticed a marked improvement in your reading in just a few days,” Kristin told the boy as she settled onto the chair beside him, the length of blue silk once again covering her body.

 

“Thank you, ma’am… I mean milady,” Lucas blushed slightly, his head bending at her praise.

 

“You still have a great deal of improvement to do,” Nathan cautioned, angry with the woman for her words of encouragement.  “But… you are doing well,” he finished with a crooked smile.  “Now read…”

 

Lucas was halfway through the next chapter, all of them caught up in the travels of Lemuel Gulliver, when a sharp rap came at the door. 

 

“Come!”  Nathan called with an annoyed look on his face.

 

“Sorry, Cap,” Crocker entered, cap in hand.  He nodded politely at Kristin.  Nathan scowled and moved to stand between them, blocking his first mate’s view of the beautiful woman.  Nathan was absolutely sure of Crocker’s loyalty but he was still just a man… and Kristin Westphalen was gifted with an exemplary figure…

 

“What is it?”  Nathan snarled, angry at his own thoughts.

 

“Message coming in, sir.  I’ve ordered the sails lowered… we’re slowing.”

 

“Finally!”  Nathan turned toward the window.  “We’ll finish later, Lucas.  Back in the bed with you, Countess, and pull the curtain.”

 

“But…” Kristin began to protest as Nathan pulled her to her feet and motioned for Lucas to take the chair.

 

“GO!”  Nathan thrust her toward the bed.  Kristin climbed onto the mattress and slowly pulled the curtain, managing to see Nathan climb out of the window before she had it fully drawn.

 

Crocker followed Nathan out onto the ledge as his captain grabbed a rope running from an iron hook just above his head.  Nathan threw his legs over the railing and began to lower himself down, hand over hand, toward the waiting ocean.  He was halfway down when a bell above his head began to ring.

 

“Hey, Darwin!  I see you.  Just give me another minute!”  A genuine smile touched Nathan’s face as he stared at the water below.

 

~sQ~ ~sQ~ ~sQ~ ~sQ~

 

Within the cocoon of the curtained bed Kristin jumped when she heard the clang of the ringing bell.  She heard the rogue’s voice call out although she couldn’t make out his words, and strained to hear a reply.  ‘Perhaps I can smuggle a message out through his courier,’ she thought.  She twisted in the bed, grateful that the captain had forgotten to recapture her freed hand, and shifted the curtain just an inch or two.  From her limited vantage point she could see Crocker’s broad back outside the window and Lucas standing within but she couldn’t see the lean figure of the handsome captain or the person he was speaking to.

 

~sQ~ ~sQ~ ~sQ~ ~sQ~

 

When Nathan’s feet were only a few feet above the rolling waves he threw his body weight back toward the ship.  The rope began to swing as Nathan worked himself toward the narrow ledge that ran across the back of the ship.  Finally his feet caught the wood and he was able to keep his balance.  The rope was quickly tied to a hook then Nathan carefully knelt down and reached into the water.

 

A gray dolphin immediately appeared, butting its snout against Nathan’s open palm in greeting.  Nathan stuck a second hand out to rub the mammal’s sensitive gray melon.

 

“How are you, boy?”  Nathan asked, firmly convinced that the dolphin understood him.  The dolphin chattered back, telling Nathan that he was fine.  Nathan’s fingers brushed over a scar running along side Darwin’s dorsal fin, checking to make sure that the old wound hadn’t reopened.

 

Darwin shook his head again and Nathan laughed as he was doused with cold water. 

 

“Okay, I know you are anxious to get rid of this,” Nathan carefully pulled the length of rope running through the dolphin’s mouth over his teeth and lifted the attached glass cylinder from the water.

 

“You go find something to eat while I read this.  I’ll have a reply soon.”

 

The dolphin nodded his head again then slid beneath the waves with one last cackle.

 

“I’m coming up!”  Nathan yelled to Crocker as he looped the short handle of the glass vial over his shoulder and loosened the rope.  Muscles bulged against his sleeves as Nathan climbed back up the wooden siding, bracing his feet against the ship for added leverage.  When he neared the top Crocker offered him a helping hand over the balustrade then tied off the rope while Nathan used his knife to strip the wax covering off of the cylinder’s cork. 

 

Crocker took the cork and container as Nathan slid a piece of dry parchment free and unrolled it to quickly scan the contents.

 

“The Wayfarer believes they have sighted our target,” he glanced up at the position of the sun in the sky.  “We should be able to overtake her by sunrise.”

 

Nathan stepped over the window ledge and moved toward the table.  He grabbed a map and spread it out, his mind quickly doing the necessary calculations for a course change.  Crocker was right behind him both physically and mentally. 

 

“I’ll take the helm right away, Cap.”

 

“Say a prayer, Crocker.  This could be it.  I’ll be up in a few minutes to talk to the men.”

 

“Aye, Captain.”

 

Nathan paced the room, struggling to get his thoughts in order, happiness at the prospect of completing his goal continually disrupting his mental processes.  He completely forgot about the other occupant of the cabin until he heard a muffled sneeze.

 

“Dammit!”  Nathan strode over to the bed and yanked the curtain back.

 

Kristin grabbed frantically at the hem of her chemise which had worked its way up to her hips while she struggled to unwind the blue silk.  ‘At least my back is to him,’ she thought thankfully, never knowing that the rogue behind her had gotten an eyeful of her naked rear.

 

Nathan felt his member begin to rise at the glimpse of rounded bottom that he got before Kristin yanked her garment back into place, not realizing that the dousing he’d received from Darwin dampened his trousers sufficiently enough that he was clearly outlined against the straining placket of his trousers.

 

Kristin turned and held out the rumpled silk, her eyes widening slightly at the captain’s obvious arousal.  Her eyes slid slowly up his body, her fingers clenching as she fought the strange, unfamiliar urge to reach out and run them through the curling chest hair revealed by his open shirt.  She licked her lips unconsciously as her gaze locked with his.

 

Nathan was the first to pull away from the stare, warning bells in his brain telling him that he was about to do something he was afraid he wouldn’t regret.  He reached out and grabbed the silk she offered, wadding it up and throwing it in the general direction of the chest.

 

“You should fold it… or I will do it.  I just didn’t have room in here and I didn’t want to come back outside with your first mate still here.”

 

“I would have had you flogged if you had done so,” Nathan’s eyes raked her body.  “You will not attempt to entice my crew.”

 

Daggers shot from her eyes as she grabbed the blanket and pulled it over her before wiggling down into the bed.  “As if I would… contrary to your obvious opinion, I am not a harlot or a loose woman.  But I really don’t care what you think of me,” she held out her free wrist.  “Just lock me back up and then go away.”

 

Nathan did as the woman told him although he was quick to let her know that it wasn’t because she had commanded it.  “As it happens I have a great deal of work to attend to this evening so you probably won’t have to suffer my company at all.  Lucas will bring your dinner at sundown.” 

 

Kristin didn’t answer and Nathan didn’t really expect her too.  He started toward the door then had a pang of conscience, recognizing that he had picked the fight to diffuse a potentially dangerous situation.  He changed his course and ended up in front of the bookcase where he pulled out two volumes and carried them back to the bed.

 

“Here… something to pass the time.”

 

Kristin picked up the books and held them as if they were an infant child or a lost treasure, her face conveying her delight.

 

Nathan turned and left the room, locking the door behind him then leaning his forehead against it.  ‘God, you are so beautiful when you smile.  I wish you would look at me the way you looked at those books…’ He jerked up with a start, slamming his fist into the wall before turning and heading toward his office.

 

~sQ~ ~sQ~ ~sQ~ ~sQ~

 

Kristin slept fitfully, waking several times in the night to find herself listening for the sounds of gentle breathing that weren’t there.  ‘I don’t miss him!’ she told her subconscious vehemently but it didn’t believe her.  She was aware of something happening in the room next door; thought that she caught the inflection of the rogue captain’s voice several times but she couldn’t make out the words. 

 

The first rays of sunlight streaking through the cabin roused her for the final time, her eyelids fluttering open with the dull light.  She sat up and stretched, noticing that the cabin was dark and guessing that Lucas must have come and doused the lanterns.  She shifted her legs over the edge of the bed and stood, her arms stretched behind her by her bonds.

 

The almost imperceptible sound of a breath being caught alerted Kristin to the rogue captain’s presence.  Her eyes swung around the room, finally landing on his dark form

shadowed deep in the room’s corner.  She gulped as he stood and stepped forward but made no move to cover herself or retreat into the bed.

 

Nathan stopped just a foot away from her and lifted his hand toward her cheek.  Although he didn’t actually touch her he cupped her cheek less than an inch from its surface as he caught her gaze and held it.

 

“Something… something is going to happen, is it not?  Soon…” Kristin whispered, seeing a strange look in his eye.

 

Nathan nodded slowly, seemingly unwilling to break the silence.  Finally he answered, “Something is going to happen.  We are going into battle.  I wish… I wouldn’t have you endangered if there were any other way, Countess.  In a few minutes we are going to overtake and board another ship.  No matter what happens I won’t allow them to hurt you.  One of my men will be armed and left within the cabin to protect you.  He has orders to kill.”

 

Kristin trembled at the intensity of emotion in his voice and in his eyes.  This man would be a formidable opponent in battle.

 

“You…” Kristin swallowed the expression of concern for his safety, horrified that she’d almost given voice to it.  “Lucas… you will keep him safe?”

 

Nathan nodded, “Lucas will be here with you as well.”  His gaze finally broke with hers to travel up to the ceiling, heavy pounding from overhead signaling the increased activity of the crew.  “We don’t have long now.  You need to take care of… your morning toilet… before I send O’Neill in.  I’ll get your water.”

 

Kristin nodded and backed up to the bed as she watched him walk toward the water jar.  Nathan listened to the sound of the curtain being pulled behind him then began to dip water into the bowl.  He closed his eyes against the image that sprang unbidden to his mind’s eye; that of Kristin dressed in only her chemise stretching by the bed, beckoning to him to join her…

 

Nathan dipped a hand in the bowl and threw cold water on his face, dragging his mind back to the coming battle.  He cleared his throat as he approached the bed the handed the bowl around the curtain.  The woman worked quickly and a few moments later she hauled the curtain back, her face freshly scrubbed.

 

“I should get you the silk…” Nathan’s words were cut off by banging on the door. 

 

“This is the one, Cap’n!  She’s running but she’s no match for us.  We’ll have her inside of five minutes.”

 

Nathan’s gaze fell to Kristin’s face, locking with hers again for just an instant.  She nodded, knowing his thoughts even though no words had been spoken, and climbed beneath the covers.

 

Nathan picked up a strip of cotton, one of the bandages he’d ripped from Kristin’s petticoat and placed it over her mouth then tied the ends firmly behind her head.  Kristin jumped and tried to fight him but he moved too quickly.

 

“I’m sorry… I can’t take a chance on you screaming out…” With one final look he was gone.

 

~sQ~ ~sQ~ ~sQ~ ~sQ~

 

The first blast of cannon fire caused Kristin to sit straight up in the bed, her head turning toward the deck above.  The young man the captain had sent to guard her gripped his weapon even tighter.

 

“We’ll be coming up on the other vessel just any time now.  We’ll probably scrape as we come along side so don’t be alarmed,” young Timothy O’Neill told the captive woman in a flowing Irish brogue.

 

Kristin nodded and tried to settle back against the pillows, her eyes making contact with Lucas and smiling reassuringly.

 

Although she’d been warned, the sound of metal and wood scraping caused her stomach to roll, reminding her of the day she’d been taken captive.  Soon the sound of clashing swords could be heard between the sounds of gunfire.

 

Kristin unconsciously strained against the manacles as she worried about the battle above.  O’Neill realized how nervous she was so he dragged a chair up along side the bed and sat where he could see both the lady and the door.

 

“I wish I could remove the gag but the captain would throw me overboard,” he was glad to see the countess nod her understanding.  She gestured with her head toward Lucas and the boy moved over to the foot of the bed and sat down.

 

“I know why the captain keeps you locked up in here… a lot of the men would… well… when we are out on a mission we go a long time without seeing a woman and… you are very beautiful.  He has to keep you safe.  That’s why he brought you on board in the first place.”

 

“O’Neill!”  Lucas shook his head furiously at the older male, his eyes cutting toward Kristin.

 

“I’m sorry!  I just thought that talking might help keep Lady Westphalen’s mind off the fighting.”

 

Kristin reached out a manacled arm and touched the bespectacled young man’s arm.  When he looked at her she smiled and nodded, then pointed at him.

 

“Me?”  He shrugged self-consciously as Kristin nodded again.  “There isn’t really much to tell.  I’m Irish… the second of four boys.  My da worked on the docks in Dublin.  I was lucky enough to attend the local Catholic school where the priests found I had a talent for languages.  When I was sixteen I was taken by a British press gang.  The captain res… he took me in one of his raids and when he found out my talent he kept me on.”

 

Kristin thought a moment then picked up her left hand and wiggled her ring finger.

 

“Oh no, milady.  I’m not married.  You don’t really get a chance to meet a lot of girls when you sail the high seas.  One day… someday I’d like to meet a nice girl and get married… have a house full of kids.  After I’ve made my fortune on the ocean, of course.”

 

Kristin smiled around the gag.

 

“Do you have any children, Countess?”  Lucas asked.

 

The smile on Kristin’s face grew as she nodded somewhat ruefully and held up a single finger.

 

“A boy?”

 

Kristin shook her head.

 

“Oh… a girl,” Lucas looked disappointed.

 

“Is she… will your daughter be all right while you are with us?”  Tim asked delicately.

 

Kristin’s eyebrows furrowed for a moment and then a muffled chuckle emerged around the gag.  She held up two fingers on her left hand and then three on her right.

 

“Two… three…  oh… she’s twenty-three.  You must have been a very young bride, milady.”

 

Loud banging on the door brought Tim to his feet instantly, gun in hand as he stepped away from the bed.  He took careful aim.

 

“It’s Crocker, O’Neill.  The fighting is done and we need you topside.  We’ve got a few frenchies in this lot and two speaking something I’ve never heard before.  I’m going to unlock the door now so don’t shoot me.”

 

The key turned in the lock but O’Neill kept his rifle trained on the door until Crocker had entered the room completely and closed the door behind him.  Crocker nodded his approval at the younger man’s diligence.

 

“Go on.  I’ll take care of things here,” Crocker inclined his head toward the bed.

 

O’Neill nodded and handed the weapon over before departing.  Crocker laid the gun on top of the credenza before moving back to the bed.

 

“The captain…?”  Lucas asked, a touch of worry in his voice.

 

“The cap is fine,” Crocker answered, his gaze covertly locked on the woman.  Her eyes closed and her head fell back as a quiet sigh of relief rushed from her.  Crocker’s eyes widened slightly as a thought struck him…

 

He moved behind Lady Westphalen and loosed the knot then pulled the gag from her mouth.  “Lucas, get the lady some water.”

 

“Thank you, sir,” Kristin told him, her voice huskier than usual.  She took the cup of water Lucas handed her gratefully and sipped it.

 

“Was it a great battle, sir?  Lot’s of fighting?”  Lucas’ eyes glowed with curiosity.

 

“It was a battle, son, neither good nor bad.  I’m sorry that I can’t remove the irons, milady, but with those captive limeys on board…”

 

“Lime… you attacked a British naval vessel?  Are you mad?  You’ll have the entire fleet chasing you!”  Kristin sat up, her eyes blazing as she yanked the falling sheet back up.

 

“They already are, Countess.  Have been ever since we started this… Please don’t make trouble or I’ll have to muzzle you again.  Lucas, we’re about to start the interrogations so you will be needed on deck.  I’m going to leave you here alone, Lady Westphalen, but you are in no danger now.  Do you need anything before I go?”

 

“Could… could I have another book, please?  I’ve read both of these,” she pulled the slim volumes the captain had given her the previous day out from the corner of the bed.

 

Lucas took them carefully and moved to replace them.  “What would you like in return, ma’am… milady?”  He added as Crocker shot a hard look at him.

 

“Anything will do.”

 

Lucas pulled a book from the case and crossed the room to hand it to her before joining Crocker at the door.

 

Kristin sighed as the key turned in the lock, leaving her once again all alone.  Even though she hadn’t relished the thoughts of the battle raging above them she had enjoyed Lucas and O’Neill’s company.  She really liked the young Irishman in spite of his role in her captivity.

 

‘And he was stolen from his family… so young as well… is that what happened to Lucas?  Did the Blue Rogue steal him?’

 

Kristin was so caught up in her thoughts that she didn’t realize the object of her mental musings had entered until he was looming over her.  She yanked the shifting blankets back up with a start.

 

“You scared me.  You could have knocked.”

 

Nathan was taken aback momentarily.  “Knock?  These are my quarters, dammit!

 

Her eyes raked over his body, taking in the torn shirt and the black gunpowder residue coating his face and hands as well as his bleeding knuckles.  “You are hurt.  Mister Crocker said that you were all right.”

 

Her concern shocked Nathan even more.  He couldn’t remember the last time a woman had cared… “This…” he glanced at his knuckles then waved his hand dismissively.  “This is nothing.  A bullet or a knife wound… that is being hurt.”

 

He moved over to the credenza and dumped some water in the bowl then stripped his ragged shirt away and splashed water over his face and arms.  The strip of linen he picked up to run over his body quickly turned black.  When he was finished he pulled a fresh shirt from a drawer and slid it on before turning back to her.

 

“O’Neill said that you behaved very well during the battle.”

 

“While you were attacking one of his majesty’s ships!  How dare you!  Don’t you know that the royal navy will be after you if you don’t turn that ship and its crew free?  How could you endanger Lucas like that?  How could you endanger yourself?”  Kristin halted her speech suddenly, realizing that she’d said much more than she intended.

 

“I couldn’t expect a blue-blooded British bitch like yourself to understand but I have to do this!  You may rule most of the world but you don’t rule my country and you certainly don’t rule me!”

 

By this time he had reached the side of the bed.  He placed one knee against the mattress and bent over her, one hand on either side of her body.  If he expected the countess to cower before his rage he was doomed to be disappointed.  She held his gaze, fire flashing in her own eyes.

 

“I never claimed to rule you,” she hissed back, “but if you attack a British ship you must expect retaliation!  What Englishman hurt you so badly to make you hate an entire nationality so fiercely?”

 

“All of you, milady… every damned one of you… especially you blue bloods and your House of Lords… and your insane king and his degenerate heir.  Due to your occupation of MY quarters I am forced to conduct my interviews in my office next door.  If you so much as utter one single sound that gives away your residence here…” Nathan paused, an enigmatic glint coming to his eye, “I will make you regret it.”  His threat was low and menacing and an involuntary shiver ran through Kristin’s body.

 

“Don’t doubt me, Countess.  I will do what I say,” he tossed a final warning out as he slammed the door shut behind him.

 

~sQ~ ~sQ~ ~sQ~ ~sQ~

 

Kristin threw her book down in disgust, the increased movements on the deck above constantly reminding her of the day’s earlier events.  She stretched her neck and stood, moving as far as her bonds would allow her.  ‘I guess we will not be reading today.’

 

At that moment her ears caught the low murmur of masculine voices drifting through the wall.  She strained to hear what was being said but only bits and pieces were understandable.

 

“Seven all together…” she recognized Crocker’s voice.

 

“Two from eastern Europe… Poland, I think.”  The thick brogue quickly identified Tim O’Neill.

 

“What about the officers… the captain and his command staff?”  Kristin immediately recognized the tone of the rogue’s voice.

 

“Plans… made… walk the plank… few hours.” 

 

Kristin could not believe what she was hearing.  To her it sounded as if the Blue Rogue was going to make officers from his majesty’s navy walk the plank.  Her heart warred with her mind momentarily, refusing to believe that the man who had been so gentle with a young boy could be so cruel but then she thought of her own crew.  She still didn’t know their fate although she feared the worst.

 

Despair washed over her as she wondered if she would ever be free again.

 

~sQ~ ~sQ~ ~sQ~ ~sQ~

 

“Are all the arrangements in place?”  Nathan asked Crocker as he scribbled a note at his desk.

 

“Everything is ready.  The men all understand.  Sunset should be about an hour away.  We are passing the island cluster now and Kreig is commenting on it to the British captain.  Our gray friend was spotted near the seaQuest twenty or thirty minutes ago.”

 

“Good,” Nathan signed his note with a flourish, rolled it tightly and sealed the edge with candle wax then slid it into the canister that he’d taken from Darwin earlier.  “I’ll send this off once we are done.  Let’s pray for an overcast sky tonight.  That will make the ‘escape’ much easier.”

 

“What about your… guest?  What will you tell her?”

 

“Nothing.  She knows what the rest of the world will hear.  The Blue Rogue attacked, took captives, and stole supplies.  The ship was damaged then set adrift with the majority of the crew on board.  Those members of the crew that were held captive were all forced to walk the plank.  Nightfall prevented the dastardly pirates from completing their foul plans and the captain along with his first and second mate managed to fight their way free of the pirate hordes and steal a boat, making a daring escape.  They will be lauded all over the British Empire and we will have achieved our goal.”

 

“But she will think…”

 

“She already suspects that her own crew was killed.”

 

Crocker was aghast.  “You didn’t tell her that they were only stranded?  You are deliberately letting the lady think that you had those men killed?  I don’t understand.”

 

Nathan grimaced.  “She’s a Countess, an aristocrat.  You know how those circles work, Manny.  If she doesn’t have the prince regent’s ear then she will know someone who does.  If our mission is to succeed then we need the edge that fear gives us.  We can’t have her returning home to tell of the ship that captures then frees their captives.”

 

“She will think you are a murderer.”

 

“I know that,” Nathan admitted grudgingly.  “It is best this way.”

 

~sQ~ ~sQ~ ~sQ~ ~sQ~

 

Kristin wasn’t aware of the spectacle taking place on deck but she could feel the drumbeat humming through the ship.  She felt it rumble once again as a dejected Lucas came through the door and flopped down on the floor beside the bunk.

 

“What’s wrong, child?”  Kristin asked.

 

“The captain won’t let me stay topside.  He never lets me watch the ending… I would like to see a plank walking but he says I’m too young.  I’m probably fifteen at least… best I can remember… that isn’t too young!”

 

“Fifteen is very young.  And I agree with your captain.  You don’t need to see that ugly business above.  At least he sent you away.  I can’t believe that he is going through with this.  Doesn’t he realize the danger?  The British navy will never overlook the attack on one of their ships or the murder of that ship’s officers.”

 

“The captain knows that but he isn’t afraid of them.”

 

“He should be.”  Worry lined Kristin’s face.

 

~sQ~ ~sQ~ ~sQ~ ~sQ~

 

Heavy clouds covered the moon, leaving the seaQuest bathed in a cloak of darkness.  Bridger and Crocker stood in the shadow of the mast and listened to the sound of oars stroking the smooth water in the distance.

 

The ‘escape’ had gone cleanly.  Nathan’s sailors pretended to drink a great deal in celebration of their defeat of the British naval vessel, enough of them passing out to encourage the captured officers to attempt to escape.  The three men had easily picked the simple lock on the door of their holding room then slipped onto deck and stolen the boat, never realizing that either Nathan or Crocker was watching them every step of the way.

 

When he deemed that the escapees were far enough away Nathan waved his hand at Miguel Ortiz who was standing at the entry door.  He nodded then yelled into the deck below, raising the alarm about the breakout.  The sound of the crew’s yells raced over the water.  Nathan knew that the officers would embellish the story, making their escape even bolder.

 

“I think they are far enough away now.”

 

Crocker nodded and followed Nathan as he moved down the deck toward his cabin.

 

“What about the countess?”  The first mate asked as Nathan pulled the key to the door from his pocket.

 

“She’s chained.  I’ll pull the curtain just as before.  I don’t want her to know about any of this.”

 

Crocker nodded although his facial expression made his opinion of the captain’s decision clear.

 

A rapid glance at the bed revealed that Lady Westphalen was asleep and Nathan breathed a silent sigh of relief.  Kristin lay on her side, one arm pulled up to rest on the pillow beside her, the other draped across her hip.  The blanket was bunched at her waist, the soft rise and fall of her chest clearly visible above the low neckline of her chemise.

 

Crocker watched with interest as Bridger moved in front of him, effectively blocking his view of the beautiful woman.  The Captain carefully brushed a curl away from Kristin’s face then gently lifted her arm and pulled the spread up to cover her completely.

 

He felt Crocker’s eyes burning into his back so he grabbed the edge of the curtain and eased it along the wooden rod until the woman was completely blocked from view.

 

“Let’s go.”

 

The two men moved onto the balcony. 

 

“I’m getting damned tired of it always being the wrong ship!”  Crocker heard Nathan mutter as he held a shaded lantern and watched as the captain lowered himself to the small ledge and transferred the canister to the waiting dolphin, taking a few moments to murmur quietly to the animal.

 

The first mate extended a helping hand as Nathan swung his legs back over the railing.  “Tell the men to call off the search… they are probably out of range now.  Set up the night watch and get some sleep.  It’s been a long day.”

 

“You too, Cap.  Why don’t I tell the galley to send you some dinner?  You haven’t eaten all day.”

 

“That sounds… shit!  I haven’t eaten all day and neither has the woman.”

“It’s been a busy day.  Maybe Lucas…”

 

Nathan shook his head.  “Not without my permission.  Tell the galley to send enough for two.”

 

“Aye, Cap.”  Crocker replied as he left the cabin.

 

Nathan lit the wall lamp and shaded it before dragging back the curtain hiding the occupant of his bed.  Lady Westphalen still slept, her countenance peaceful.  When Nathan realized how long he had been staring at her classic features he pulled back into the shadows, confused by his desire to gaze at her.

 

A tap on the door heralded the arrival of dinner.  Nathan took the tray from his crewman at the door, unwilling to let the man in although his curiosity about the captain’s guest was evident.

 

‘Should I?’  Nathan moved back to the bunk after depositing the tray on the table.  His hand fell to touch her bare shoulder, his fingers caressing the soft flesh.

 

Kristin’s chest rose as she took a deep breath in her sleep then sighed as she turned into his touch.  Her eyelids fluttered open as she smiled up sleepily at him.

 

Nathan stepped back guiltily.  “I… dinner was just delivered and I know you haven’t eaten all day… unless you would rather sleep?”

 

Kristin pulled herself up as she shook her head slightly, attempting to clear the cobwebs from her mind.  The reality of the blue-eyed captain was so much more stimulating than the one she had just been dreaming about.  She blushed and looked away as she held out her right wrist.

 

Nathan unlocked the manacle then wrapped it around the chain and was in the process of locking it back when he stopped.  He stared down at the woman for a moment.

 

“Hand me your other wrist.”

 

Kristin was confused but did as he asked.  Her astonishment grew as the captain quickly released the other bracelet, freeing her completely for the first time since she’d been manacled. 

 

Nathan helped her to her feet and pulled her toward the gleaming lamp where he carefully inspected the healing cuts around her wrists.

 

“No sign of infection.  I’ve never known Bess’ ointment to fail.  Are you still in any pain?”

 

Kristin shook her head, her mind still whirling as she tried to comprehend the complex man now leading her toward the table.  The captain pulled out the chair and seated her as grandly as if they were in the most luxurious restaurant in London. 

 

“It’s stew for dinner again tonight.  I’m sorry, but we don’t get a lot of variety on board ship.  Once we put in to port again we’ll have something a bit nicer,” Nathan handed Kristin the piece of bread he’d torn from the loaf for her.

 

“Thank you,” Kristin mumbled as she took the bread and carefully bit into it.

 

“We’ll settle back into our routine tomorrow.  I don’t want Lucas missing too many reading lessons.”

 

Kristin’s spoon clattered against the pewter plate as she stared at the stranger before her, dumbfounded.  “What are you playing at?  Are you insane?”

 

Nathan’s jaw muscle began to work as he struggled to control his temper.  “I am trying to be pleasant.  It’s been a long day…”

 

“Of course it has been a long day.  You attacked a British ship this morning!  You took her crew captive and you forced them to walk the plank!  Then you come in here trying to pretend that nothing happened?  You can’t be so witless that you don’t realize what you’ve done!”

 

Nathan slammed his fist to the table.  “Now look, Countess… you have absolutely no idea what motivates me so get off your moral high horse and finish your dinner!” He roared at her.

 

“I don’t want it.  I don’t want anything from you.  Being near you sickens me!”  Kristin started to stand but Nathan beat her to it, his hands clamping down on her shoulders.

 

“Finish your dinner.”  His voice was so quiet that his words were almost a whisper, but the steel was evident beneath his dulcet tones.  Hard blue eyes warned her not to defy him.

 

Kristin picked up her spoon and began to shovel stew into her mouth as fast as she could swallow it, glaring at him all the while.  Nathan took a long swallow of ale then plunked his tankard back down with a smile on his face, determined to show the woman that she couldn’t get to him.  The only problem was that, deep down; he did feel guilty about deliberately misleading her.

 

The last bit of bread raked across Kristin’s plate, wiping it completely clean.  She popped it into her mouth and chewed defiantly before swallowing hastily.  Kristin gagged then began to cough as the bread stuck in her throat.  The captain was at her side instantly.  He wrapped a strong arm around her torso just beneath her breasts and hauled her to her feet, his other hand hitting her sharply between her shoulder blades.  The lodged object finally came free and flew from her mouth as she coughed violently.

 

The captain pressed her ale tankard into her hands and helped her hold it to her lips while she drank, the wet liquid soothing her irritated throat.  Kristin sagged back against him as the tankard left her lips.

 

Nathan relished the press of her body against his, even tightening his hold around her chest to pull her closer.  The increased pressure caused Kristin to realize where she was and she pulled away quickly, moving back from the table as she watched the blue-eyed devil warily.

 

“Did you have to kill them?”  She asked in an anguished voice.

 

“I did what had to be done.  I don’t take life lightly, Countess.  But I… I made a vow and I have to keep it.  What happened today is a necessary part of that vow.”

 

“How… how could it… how could you take a vow that means death… and a price on your head and on those of your men?”

 

Nathan snorted.  “If it is any consolation to your wounded British pride, the price on our heads probably decreased greatly.  We didn’t get around to the officers today and after the sunset they managed to escape.  I doubt that the Admiralty will give a damn about a few low-ranking sailors disappearing.”

 

“Escaped… from you?  I find that hard to believe.”

 

“Nonetheless it’s true.  But don’t let their flight give you any ideas about attempting one of your own.  My crew would never lose sight of you.”

 

Kristin’s eyes followed his gaze as it roamed over her body making her feel even more naked than standing there in just her chemise did.  She turned away self-consciously; unaware of how the fine cotton clung to her shapely bottom.

 

“My crew…” Nathan dragged his eyes up to find Kristin staring back over her shoulder at him, her arms wrapped protectively around her body.  “What did you do to my crew?”

 

A flicker of something that might have been sorrow was visible for just an instant before the blue eyes hardened to black again.  “I told you… I did what I had to do.”

 

A sob escaped from Kristin’s throat.  “Then… oh God… Martin… Sal… John… I knew those men for most of my adult life.  To think… HOW COULD YOU!?”  She launched herself at Nathan, her fists pummeling his chest as grief overtook her.

 

The desire to pull her into his embrace and comfort her came out of nowhere, shocking Nathan almost as much as her attack had.  He fought back both the sensation and the woman, grabbing her shoulders and giving her a hard shake.

 

“I am the Captain of this ship.  No one questions my decisions, especially not you!”

 

“DON’T TOUCH ME!”  Kristin broke away and fled back to the bed.  She grabbed the manacles and fastened them around her wrists then held them out to the man staring at her.  “Lock them and then go away.  I don’t want to see you or talk to you anymore.  Do whatever you are going to do to me… kill me or free me… but don’t make me look at you any more.”

 

Nathan did as she bid then gathered up the empty dishes and left the cabin without another word.

 

~sQ~ ~sQ~ ~sQ~ ~sQ~

 

“Looks like we might be getting rain, Cap.”

 

Nathan looked up from his ledger to gaze out the open door and nodded slowly.  “You may be right, Manny.”

 

“Should I have the men get things ready?  Just in case?”

 

“Probably a good idea,” Bridger nodded.  “And while you’re at it, set up a couple of catch buckets for our guests.  I’m sure they’d appreciate the chance to clean up a little too.”

 

“Aye, Cap,” Crocker said with a quick salute then turned to leave.  He stopped at the door.  “Nathan… is everything all right?  You seem a little… out of sorts today.”

 

“You can say it, Gator,” Nathan told his friend, using the childhood nickname of the boy who spent his youth hunting alligators in the southern swamps.  “I’m mean and cranky and completely unreasonable.”

 

“I wouldn’t go quite that far, Nathan.  The buckets for the ladies are a nice gesture.”

 

“And one that the good Countess of Kilhairn is likely to throw right back in my face.”

 

“The two of you have another fight?”

 

“You could say that.  I thought that she would be happy that the naval officers escaped but she was more upset about the supposed deaths of the crew members… and those of her own vessel as well.”

 

“She sounds like a very compassionate woman… not really what one would expect of a blueblood but refreshing don’t you think?”

 

“She’s a pain in the ass, Crocker.  She had the audacity to question my decisions then order me out of my own cabin.”

 

“So… where did you sleep last night?”

 

“In the chair in…” Nathan regarded his first mate with a hint of laughter in his eyes.  “Very good, Gator.  How did you know I didn’t stay in my cabin anyway?”

 

Crocker smiled.  “Because I’ve been your friend for almost fifty years, Nathan.  Maybe the countess will take the water by way of a peace offering.”

 

“Not bloody likely,” Nathan muttered as he watched Crocker leave and then went back to his books.  Several minutes later, the distinct sound of rain hitting the deck could be heard.  With one final stroke of his pen, Nathan laid it down on the desk and sat back, looking out the door at the falling drops.

 

He wasn’t surprised to see that his men had shed their clothes and were moving about naked in the rain, bars of soap being passed around.  While his crew was always clean, something Nathan insisted on, they always took advantage of the summer showers to clean up a little more and not have to use up their limited supply of reserve water.

 

Nathan closed the ledger, put it in his desk, locked it and then stood.  He slowly removed his shirt, folding and placing it on his desk.  His boots and britches followed before he made his way out of his office and onto the deck.

 

He inhaled deeply the scent of the rain as he lifted his face up towards the heavens, sighing happily as the cool water cascaded down his tan, naked body.

 

“Isn’t this great, Cap?”  Lucas asked excitedly, dancing around happily in the pouring rain.

 

“Yes it is,” Nathan agreed, his face still upturned.

 

“I think I like cleaning up this way better than washing,” Lucas laughed.

 

Nathan smiled.  He knew exactly what Lucas meant.  There was just something about standing beneath the rain as it showered down, feeling the water glide down his skin, washing the dirt away.

 

“Lucas,” Bridger said suddenly, bringing his gaze down to the young man.  “Those two buckets there,” he pointed across the deck.  “Bring those to our guests please.”

 

“Right away, Cap.”  Lucas said; handing the bar of soap over to Bridger then headed immediately across the deck.

 

“Put your pants back on first, Lucas.”

 

Lucas glanced down, turning bright red when he realized that he was still naked.  “Good idea,” he stammered, quickly locating and pulling on his britches.

 

Nathan chuckled to himself as he watched a still scarlet Lucas grab the buckets and begin to head below deck.  “Oh and Lucas…”

 

Lucas stopped and looked back at the captain; just managing to catch the set of keys Bridger tossed at him.

 

“You can loose Lady Westphalen, but advise her that she’s to wash up.  Nothing more.  She’s not to wander about my cabin or I will toss her below in the hold.”

 

“Yes, sir.”

 

~sQ~ ~sQ~ ~sQ~ ~sQ~

 

Knocking softly at the entrance to the captain’s cabin, Lucas slowly opened the door.

 

“Lady Westphalen…” he called, peering around the door.  He flinched at the angry glare the woman tied to the bed shot him.  “It’s uh… it’s raining.”

 

“I can hear that, Lucas.”

 

“Right.  Uhm… well, we caught some of the rainwater,” he held up the bucket in his hand.  “And the captain thought you might wanna wash up some.”

 

“How very thoughtful of him,” Kristin replied, her voice dripping with sarcasm.  “And how pray tell am I supposed to do that shackled to this bed?”

 

Lucas moved further into the cabin, placing the bucket on the floor near to the captain’s desk before stepping over to the bed.

 

“Well, the captain said I could remove the manacles,” Lucas began.  “However, he also told me to remind you that you’re to stay in here.”

 

“Is that so?  Aren’t you just going to lock the door again anyway?”

 

“Yes, milady,” Lucas replied.  “But… he… the cap… if you manage to get out of his cabin, or go through his things, he’ll toss you down into the hold.”

 

Kristin scowled and then gestured to her hands.  “Let me loose.”

 

Lucas unlocked the manacles as quickly as he could and then left the cabin in a rush, pulling the door shut behind him.

 

Kristin slowly sat up on the bed, rubbing her wrists to get the circulation back in her hands as she shot dirty looks through the cabin door at Bridger up on deck.  Getting to her feet, Kristin moved towards the door, having not heard the sound of the lock when Lucas left and opened it, determined to have words with the captain. 

 

“I wouldn’t if I were you, milady,” came a male voice in the shadows by the door.  “I heard what the cap told Lucas he’d do to you if you left his cabin.  And the captain always means what he says.”

 

Kristin threw a glare at the voice before stepping back and slamming the door then leaning back against it.  She growled in frustration as she glanced about the room for something to throw.

 

“Damn the man!”  Kristin swore as she began to pace the room.  “Who the hell does he think he is!?”

 

After several minutes, Kristin stopped and sighed, glancing down at herself in the process.  “Probably a good thing I didn’t go.  I am definitely not dressed for it.”

 

Sighing again, Kristin moved towards the bucket of rainwater the young boy had brought in, deciding she might as well make use of her limited freedom before it was revoked.  She loosened the tie on her chemise and began to shrug the garment off when she suddenly stopped.

 

Moving quickly across the room to the door, Kristin slid the lock into place.  Feeling a little more secure, she quickly dropped her chemise and moved back to the bucket of water.  She lifted it onto the small table beside the bed and began to wash up.

 

She sighed happily at the feel of the cool water on her skin and while she would have liked some soap and a cloth, she made do, starting to hum softly to herself as she washed.

 

~sQ~ ~sQ~ ~sQ~ ~sQ~

 

“Hey, Cap… where you goin’?”

 

Nathan turned to see Crocker starring curiously at him.  “I’m going to go check on our guest,” he told his first mate.  “Once the men have washed themselves… have them return to their duties.

 

“Aye, Captain,” Crocker nodded and watched Bridger walk, barefooted, to the back of the ship towards his cabin, his shirt and boots in his hands.

 

~sQ~ ~sQ~ ~sQ~ ~sQ~

   

sail ahead...