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

 

Kristin jumped at the loud banging on the door.

 

“Open this door!”  The voice was unmistakable.

 

She scowled then yelled back.  “Only when I have finished washing and not a moment before!”

 

“If you know what’s good for you, you’ll open this door now… milady!”

 

Glancing at the door to make sure the lock was still in place, Kristin turned back to her ablutions, ignoring the man on the other side of the barrier.

 

Nathan frowned and dropped his boots to the floor as he tried once again to open the door to his cabin.  His eyes narrowed and he stepped back.

 

There was a loud crash and suddenly the door flew open, the small lock-bolt hurtling across the room, followed by Nathan storming inside, his eyes flashing angrily.

 

Kristin cried out, knocking over the bucket of water onto her chemise as she scrambled to pull the sheet off the bed in an effort to hide her nudity.  “Get out!”  She yelled at him, holding the sheet in front of her, unaware that the lantern on the table behind her outlined her silhouette perfectly.  “Get out!”

 

“I don’t think so,” he said slowly, closing the door and locking it with another deadbolt higher up.  Nathan turned to face her.  “You forget yourself, milady.  This is my ship and I am not one of your servants.”

 

Kristin swallowed at the strange look in his eyes as he took a step closer.  “I do not care if this is your ship, you have no right…”

 

“No!  It is you, who has no rights,” Nathan said, taking another step closer; his eyes closing briefly as the scent of her invaded his senses.  “This ship and everything on it, belong to me.”

 

Kristin’s eyes flashed at the implication of his words.  “I do not belong to anyone, and most especially not to you!”

 

“Oh… but you do,” Nathan told her as he reached out to brush an auburn curl from her bare shoulder.  “For as long as you are on my ship…” a low growl sounded from deep in his throat as his hands closed around her upper arms.  “You are mine.”

 

Before Kristin knew what was happening, Nathan’s mouth was on hers in an almost savage kiss.  She clutched the sheet with one hand, and pushed against his chest to no avail with the other.

 

Nathan pulled back from the kiss only to feel her palm connect solidly with his cheek.

 

“Bastard!”  Kristin hissed, raising her hand to slap him again.

 

All of a sudden, Kristin found herself on her back on the mattress, Nathan’s hard body on top of hers, her hands pinned above her head as his mouth once again covered hers in an intense kiss, his tongue forcing its way past her lips.

 

Kristin moaned at the feel of his tongue sweeping possessively through her mouth, tangling passionately with hers; and despite telling herself not to, Kristin felt herself responding to him. 

 

Nathan settled his body against hers, and shifted his hips so that he lay cradled between her thighs, smiling inwardly when he felt her arch up against him; her tongue slowly returning his oral caresses.

 

With his mouth still plundering hers, Nathan secured Kristin’s wrists with his right hand then swept his left hand down along her body, and traced her womanly curves through the sheet.  His hand slid along her thigh to the back of her knee, urging her to bend her leg and allowing him to press closer.

 

Kristin gasped into his mouth at the feel of his hard flesh pressing tightly against her center, the thin sheet and his breeches not enough to keep her from feeling him pulse against her.

 

Yanking down the sheet between them, Nathan’s hand immediately closed around her now bared breast to knead the soft mound, teasing her nipple with his thumb and finger.  Feeling the soft flesh pucker beneath his touch, Nathan suddenly pulled his mouth from Kristin’s, and kissed a heated trail down her neck then over her collarbone to pull the stiff peak into his mouth.

 

“Ooh…” Kristin gasped breathlessly at the feel of his tongue curling around her nipple, her body unconsciously lifting to push more of her breast into his mouth.  Her hands flew to his head as he released his grip on her wrists and slid his hand down between them to capture her other breast.

 

Nathan continued to suckle at her breasts, alternating between the two luscious mounds while he ground his hips against her; pressing his hard length more fully against the heat he could feel emanating from her core.  He shifted above her, moving slightly to the right as he slid his hand down the curve of the left side of her body.

 

Kristin inhaled sharply, and her body bucked beneath him at the feel of his fingers combing through the curls covering her most private parts.  She opened her mouth to cry out but was cut off by his lips once more on hers, his tongue twisting with hers.

 

Nathan groaned as his fingers slipped between her folds and encountered a generous amount of moisture not far below the swollen bundle of nerves he was now circling.  He caught some of the slick fluid and used it to aid his manipulation of her flesh with his thumb as he slowly pressed his middle finger inside her hot sheath.

 

Kristin’s eyes flew open and her body tensed as Nathan’s finger continued to push its way inside her body.  She pulled her mouth from his, whimpering softly as he slowly pulled the long digit out then slid it back in further.  “Ah… oohmmm…” she gasped as he repeated the action over and over. 

 

Nathan lifted his head momentarily to watch her face as he added a second finger, thrusting them both deep into her, his thumb still moving in tight circles over her clit.  He lowered his mouth back to hers just as a knock sounded on the door.

 

‘Damn!’ he swore internally, raising his head and looking towards the door.  “Yes?”

 

“We’ve sighted the target, Cap,” Crocker’s voice responded.

 

“Very good, Manny,” Bridger called out.  “I’ll be right up.”

 

“Aye, Cap.”

 

Nathan turned his attention to the beauty breathing heavily beneath him, noting that her eyes were tightly closed.  Watching her carefully, he slowly eased his fingers out of her slick channel and smiled to himself as she bit her lip to stifle her moan, her hips lifting to follow his hand.

 

Kristin’s eyes opened when she felt his body lever off hers and watched him as he placed his fingers in his mouth.  The sight of him licking the long digits that he’d just had inside her body sent an unexpected spark of heat through her body and her mind back to only moments earlier

 

“Stay here,” Nathan’s low voice pulled her out of her thoughts.  Kristin turned her head to look at him then realized that she was naked from the waist up and quickly pulled the sheet over her breasts and turned away.

 

Kristin kept her face averted until she heard him leave then turned onto her back and stared at the ceiling.  She licked her lips, tasting her captor on the swollen flesh.  She rolled over onto her side, moaning softly as the sheet bunched between her legs, pressing against her center… where his hand had just been.

 

Kristin closed her eyes, the feel of his body on hers still fresh in her mind… and on her body.  She felt her nipples tighten as she remembered his fingers circling and teasing them, his mouth suckling at the hard points while his tongue swirled around the rosy flesh.

 

Another rush of heat shot through her body as the memory of the roguish captain’s fingers moving inside her came to mind.  She squeezed her thighs together, unconsciously rocking against the sheet still bunched between her legs, moaning at the ache she could feel still throbbing within her; the ache his touch had evoked.

 

Holding her breath and with trembling fingers, Kristin slipped her hand beneath the sheet…

 

~sQ~ ~sQ~ ~sQ~ sQ~

 

“Dammit,” Nathan swore as he stormed into his office.

 

“I’m sorry, Cap,” Crocker followed his captain into the small room.  “Johnson…”

 

“Is to be docked four days pay for this blunder.”

 

“Four?!  Isn’t that a might harsh, Cap?”  Crocker asked, watching his friend and captain carefully.

 

“No!  This is the second time this has happened in less than two weeks,” Nathan replied.  “Even Lucas would have been able to tell that that was the wrong ship.”

 

Crocker frowned.  Something other than spotting the wrong ship was bothering Bridger, and Crocker had a fair idea of what it was.  “I’m sorry we interrupted you and the lady…”

 

Nathan glared at the man standing casually before him with a slightly bemused look on his face and felt his anger rise again.  He was indeed furious at them for the interruption, and at the same time beyond thankful…  “You didn’t inter…” Nathan scowled.  “Johnson was negligent in his duties.  That is what we are discussing.”

 

Crocker straightened up.  “Yes, sir.  But four days?”

 

“Four days,” Nathan repeated.  “He’ll learn to be more careful about keeping proper watch.”

 

Crocker nodded, knowing he wouldn’t be able to change his captain’s mind.

 

“Have the men get under way,” Nathan said in a dismissive tone.

 

“Aye, Cap,” Crocker replied then turned on his heel, muttering under his breath.  “I know you wanna sheath your sword in her scabbard, but you don’t have to take it out on us…”

 

Nathan frowned after his first mate as his lowly spoken words floated back to him.  He sank back against his desk and sighed.  As Crocker’s words continued to ring in his ears, Nathan found his attention drawn to the wall behind him; the wall that separated him and…

 

“Damn that woman,” Nathan swore as he straightened up and began to pace the small room.  It’d been less than fifteen minutes since he’d left his cabin, and the moment he’d stepped on deck and spotted the ship Nathan had known it wasn’t the one they were after.  His eyes drifted back to the wall.  ‘Should I…?’

 

He swore again.

 

He could still feel her warm body beneath his.  Could still feel the hard point of her nipple against his tongue and could still taste her sweet flesh…  Nathan brought the fingers of his left hand up to his face, remnants of her tangy essence still clinging to the long digits he tapped against his lips.  He darted his tongue out to flick against the tips as he inhaled deeply.  ‘And her scent…’ Nathan thought to himself.  ‘Never have I smelt such a fragrance…’

 

“Damn!”  Nathan cursed loudly as he moved to the far corner of his office and carefully removed a small knot in the wall and peered into his cabin.  “Oh… God…” he groaned at the sight that greeted him.

 

Kristin Westphalen, Countess of Kilhairn was as he left her, lying in his bed with the damp sheet covering her generous bosom and her long, smooth legs bared to his gaze.  But what really caught his attention was the sight of her arm disappearing beneath the sheet between her legs.

 

Nathan felt a surge of lust roll through him as he realized what she was doing and reached down to adjust his erection to a more comfortable position as he moved his gaze up to her face to see that her eyes were firmly shut and her lips were parted slightly.

 

He remained peering through the wall until he saw her eyes fly open and she yanked her hand from beneath the sheet, her face flaming as she curled up onto her side; the thin blanket bunching between her legs.

 

Nathan straightened up and replaced the knot.  He leaned back against the wall and took several deep breaths before deciding that a little physical labour would be in order before he returned to his cabin.

 

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

 

The feeling of warmth on her fingers pulled Kristin from the lust-filled dream she was having.  She held her breath as she realized that she wasn’t alone and that the moist heat surrounding her fingers was in fact the mouth of the pirate captain.

 

Kristin felt her skin flush pink as the knowledge that the digits in the Blue Rogue’s mouth were the very same ones she’d touched herself with earlier registered in her still sleep soaked brain.  She held her breath at the feel of his tongue flicking against the pad of her middle finger.

 

Sensing she was awake, Nathan slowly pulled her fingers from his mouth and laid her hand on the bed beside him as he stared across the room, illuminated only by the light of the moon.

 

Kristin brought her hand in against her chest as she shifted her gaze from his back to the ceiling.  Several moments of silence passed between them before she heard his softly uttered words.

 

“I wouldn’t have forced you.”

 

Kristin focused hard on the wood above her, willing her suddenly pounding heart to slow back down as she opened her mouth to reply.

 

“You wouldn’t have had to.”

 

Nathan nodded slightly in acknowledgement then stood.  “Here,” he held out a blue shirt.  “I… you might be more comfortable sleeping in something.”

 

“How did you…?”  Kristin began to ask then followed his eyes to her chemise hanging on the post, still damp from when she’d knocked the bucket of rainwater over.  She reached out and took the shirt from him.  “Thank you.”

 

“You’re welcome, my lady,” Nathan replied.

 

Kristin watched him walk over to the hammock, stripping off his shirt as he went before climbing into the hanging bed and then she quickly pulled on the soft garment.  She grasped the outer blankets and lay back against the pillows, pulling the heavier covers up to her chin to wait for sleep to once again claim her.

 

Nathan lay swinging gently in the hammock, his senses acutely attuned to the woman in his bed and wearing his shirt.  He could hear her breathing, hear her skin rustling the sheets as she shifted in the attempt to find a comfortable position.  He folded his arms over his chest and waited for sleep to come.

 

Both closed their eyes at the same time, neither one sleeping… both too focused on each other and the intense awareness they suddenly had of each other.

 

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

 

Nathan slowly drifted to consciousness and caught himself before he tumbled out of his hammock.  Turning his head, he inhaled sharply at the sight that greeted him in the hazy sunlight filtering in through the cabin windows.

 

Lady Westphalen lay in his bed, on her stomach, her one arm curled up beneath her head, her long auburn hair splayed out over his pillow, the other tucked up against her chest below her chin.  The blankets had shifted in the night and one long, smooth leg lay uncovered and bared to Nathan’s gaze.

 

Unbidden, the image of him lying in the bed with the countess sprawled out on top of him, both of them naked, the scent of her… her arousal heavy in the air… entered his mind and he felt his body react to it.  Nathan closed his eyes and tried to rid his mind of the picture.

 

Several minutes later, he opened his eyes and slipped out of the hammock only to hiss in pain as his toe connected with the bucket on the floor.

 

Kristin’s eyes fluttered open as she rose up slightly out of the bed and looked around in confusion until she saw him hobbling across the cabin.  “Wha…?”

 

Nathan’s head whipped around.  “Shit… I didn’t mean to wake you.”

 

“What happened?”  Kristin asked, still propped up on her elbow.

 

“Stubbed my toe on the bucket,” Nathan answered, gesturing with his head at the offending item as he poured some water into the bowl on the credenza he was standing before.

 

“Are you all right?”

 

“Yes… it was just… shocking first thing in the morning,” Nathan said as he dipped the washcloth into the cool water, wrung it out and began to wash his upper body.

 

Kristin nodded in understanding as she settled back against the pillows and closed her eyes on the image of the roguish captain, half naked and wet.  A rush of unwanted heat traveled through her body.

 

Several long minutes later, Kristin heard one of the windows open, followed by the sound of water being tossed and opened her eyes once again to see him placing the bowl back on the stand.  She watched him open a drawer on the credenza, pull out a blue shirt and slip it on.

 

“Thank you,” she said suddenly, feeling the need to fill the silence that had descended in the cabin.

 

“For what?”  Nathan asked as he sat down to pull on his boots.

 

“For not putting the manacles back on me last night,” Kristin replied in a quiet voice.

 

Nathan smiled softly and nodded.  “You’re welcome,” he told her and stood.  “If you’re up to it, I will be back in about an hour or so to bring you up top for some fresh air and a short visit with your friend, Miss Hitchcock.”

 

Not wanting to put a damper on the somewhat fragile peace they seemed to have worked out, Kristin nodded.  “Thank you.  That would be lovely.”

 

Nathan nodded then left his cabin.

 

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

 

Kristin wrapped her arms tightly about herself, feeling very self-conscious in the strange clothes the Rogue had given her to wear for her sojourn up deck as she waited for Katherine.

 

“Kristin?”

 

Kristin turned at the sound of her name to see her young friend walking quickly towards her.  “Katherine,” she embraced the dark-haired woman.  “Are you all right?  Have they hurt you in any way?”  Kristin asked as she pulled back from the hug.

 

“I’m fine,” Katherine assured her.  “And no, they haven’t hurt me.”

 

“You’re sure?”

 

“Yes, I’m sure.”

 

“I’m glad to hear it,” Kristin breathed a sigh of relief as she glanced across the deck at the Blue Rogue who was leaning against the rail watching her intently.  She turned her attention back to Katherine.  “Do you know what happened to the ship?  Peterson and the crew?”

 

Katherine shook her head.  “No… I do know that we made a brief stop after you and I were taken aboard… and there were gunshots…”

 

“Oh God…” Kristin closed her eyes and lowered her head.  “I guess the rumours about him are true…”

 

“It appears so,” Katherine nodded.

 

“I was hoping…”

 

“Hoping what?”  Katherine asked, hearing Kristin’s whispered words.

 

Kristin shook her head then returned her eyes to the young woman beside her to see Katherine’s gaze focused on a dark-haired pirate climbing down the main mast, an almost dreamy expression on her face.  “Katie?”

 

Katherine shook her head and returned her attention to Kristin.  “Yes?”

 

“Is there something you want to tell me?”

 

Katie blushed.  “No.”

 

“Are you sure?”

 

“It’s no… Ben is…”

 

“Ben?”

 

“Ben Kreig, he’s the second mate…” Katherine explained.  “I’ve been staying in his quarters…” she blushed again.  “He and I have been talking.”

 

“Really?  And have you learned anything of value?”  Kristin asked, grabbing Katherine’s arm.

 

“Well… I…”

 

“Time’s up.”

 

Kristin spun around to find herself face to face with her captor.  She opened her mouth to respond, then changed her mind and bit back the retort on the tip of her tongue and simply nodded.  Kristin turned to Katherine and embraced her.  “Take care of yourself, Katie.”

 

Katherine nodded as she returned Kristin’s hug then moved away with Kreig who had, at his captain’s wave, come over to escort her down to his room.

 

Kristin watched her young friend carefully, noting the smiles and easy banter between Katie and the handsome young pirate.

 

“Something wrong, Countess?”  Nathan asked as he grasped Kristin by the arm and led her across the deck and back below to his cabin.

 

“No,” Kristin answered, trying to ignore the heat of his hand on her arm.

 

“I’ll have Lucas bring you some lunch shortly,” Nathan told her as he moved to the door.

 

“Thank you… Captain,” Kristin said softly as he opened the door.

 

Nathan turned back to look at her and nodded.  “Thank you for not trying anything,” he replied.  “I… it was appreciated.”

 

Kristin nodded and watched as Nathan left and locked the door behind him.  She glanced around the cabin as she tried to get a feel for the complex man who was holding her captive.  She moved about the room, noting there was really very little in the way of personal effects to tell her anything about the Blue Rogue.

 

She circled the room twice and was about to complete a third lap when she realized what she was doing and stopped.  Kristin sighed.  ‘If I don’t find something to do soon… I’m going to lose my mind.’

 

Kristin sat on the edge of the bed just as there was a soft knock on the door.  She looked up as it opened to see Lucas holding a tray.  Kristin smiled at the young man.  “Good afternoon, Lucas.

“Good afternoon, milady,” Lucas replied.  “I’ve brought your lunch.”

 

“Put it by the window please,” Kristin told him.

 

“Yes, ma’am,” the young man said and moved across the room to place the tray on the window ledge lining the anterior wall of the cabin.  “I’m afraid it’s not much…”

 

“That’s all right,” Kristin said and watched Lucas uncover the food then head back for the door.

 

“I’ll come back for the tray later, when my duties permit.”

 

“Thank you… oh, Lucas…” Kristin caught the young man before he could leave.  “Do you think…” she stopped and shook her head.  “Never mind.  Thank you for bringing me the food.”

 

Lucas smiled and closed the door behind him.

 

Hearing the lock click, Kristin stood and made her way to the tray.  She frowned at the bowl.  ‘Stew again…’ she sighed as she pulled out a chair from the table, dragged it over to the window then sat down and grabbing the hunk of bread, began to eat.

 

“Dammit!”  Kristin swore as she knocked over the tankard of ale while reaching for her napkin.  She jumped to her feet and moved as quickly as she could to stop the liquid from rushing off the ledge onto the floor but failed.

 

Spotting the chest the captain had gone into the previous week, Kristin stepped over to it then hesitated.  She bit her lower lip as she debated on whether or not she should open it then glanced back at the liquid still dripping down off the liquid onto the floor and made her decision.

 

Slipping to her knees, Kristin quickly opened the old trunk and looked for something she could use as a rag.  Pushing aside a bolt of blue silk, she spotted a leather wallet, carefully bound with a slip of blue ribbon.  With a quick glance back at the door, Kristin lifted the leather case out of the chest and tugged on the knot, releasing it.  She opened the wallet to reveal two small portraits… one of a kind-faced blonde woman, the other of a young dark haired boy.

 

‘Carol…’ Kristin traced her fingers over the name embossed on the bottom of the woman’s picture then moved to the other painting.  “Robert…” she read the name aloud as she gazed at the portrait.  ‘Definitely his son…’

 

“What in the HELL do you think you’re doing!?”

 

The loud, angry voice startled Kristin and she dropped the wallet into the trunk.  She whipped her head around to see the Blue Rogue standing in the doorway, his sapphire eyes flashing.  “I… I was just…”

 

“Who gave you permission to go through my belongings?!”

 

Kristin scrambled to get to her feet but didn’t make it before he strode over and yanked her up by her arm.

 

“Answer me!”

 

“I wasn’t going through… I was looking for something to use to clean up the ale… I accidentally knocked over my tankard…”

 

Nathan scowled as he looked over at the window and saw the overturned flagon, its contents spilled across the ledge and dripping on the floor.  His scowl deepened and Nathan turned his attention back to the woman before him.

 

“Strip.”

 

“Excuse me?”

 

“Strip… take off the shirt and pants now,” Nathan ordered.

 

“I…”

 

“Now!  Or I will do it for you… milady…” he said, tugging on the blue shirt she wore.

 

“You bastard…” Kristin hissed as she glared at him and then with an air of defiance, she began to strip and moments later, stood before him in nothing but her chemise.

 

Nathan grabbed her arms again and propelled her towards the bed.  He pushed her down onto the mattress and quickly put the shackles around her wrists.  When she was secured, he stomped over to the window, gathered the dishes and left the room without any further words.

 

Kristin pulled on the manacles only to find that he’d shortened the chain somewhat, limiting her movements to the bed.  She felt the hot prick of tears in her eyes as she ceased struggling and sank back against the pillows.

 

“What did I do wrong?”  She asked the empty room.

 

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

 

“The first request I made after I obtained my Liberty, was, that I might have License to see Mildendo, the Met… the Me… troo… the Metrop…” Kristin watched Lucas as he carefully sounded out the word.  “The Metropolis!”  He grinned up at her, which she returned as he went back to reading.  “…which the Emperor easily granted me…”

 

Nathan watched Kristin watching Lucas, amazed at how patient and motherly she was with the boy.  She listened attentively as he read, and gently encouraged him when he stumbled over a word, careful not to just tell him how to pronounce it.  It was almost like she was a different person from the sharp-tongued temptress he encountered when they were alone.

 

‘Temptress?’  Nathan shook his head at the word his sub-conscious provided to describe Lady Westphalen.

 

“Something wrong, Cap?”

 

Nathan shook himself out of his thoughts to see Lucas and Kristin staring at him in concern.  “No… sorry, I was just… thinking that you’ve read enough for today and that it’s time we head up deck.”

 

“Already but…” Lucas stopped at the look on his captain’s face and marked his page as he nodded.  “Yes, sir.”

 

“You’re doing wonderfully, Lucas,” Kristin told the youth with an affectionate smile.

 

“Thank you, milady,” Lucas smiled shyly at her as he returned the book to the shelf and the chair back to its spot beneath the table.  He gave her a slight bow then quickly left the room.

 

Nathan watched the door close then turned back to see Kristin still smiling.  “What?”

 

“I still can’t get over how intelligent that young man is,” Kristin replied.

 

“Yes, he is indeed,” Nathan agreed, a small smile forming on his lips.

 

“He told me his mother died when he was young… but what about his father?”

 

“Lucas doesn’t know,” Nathan replied, turning to stare out the window.  “After I caught him trying to pick my pocket and brought him back to my ship, I did a little checking around.  His father died in prison before Lucas was born and his mother was always sick, so she was unable to work.”

 

“Oh my…” Kristin swiped at the tears welling in her eyes.

 

“That was when I decided to keep him with me,” Nathan told her.

 

“I am glad you did…” Kristin said.  “He is a delightful young man… I would be proud to have him as a son.”

 

Nathan looked back at the woman sitting next to him, hearing the sincerity in her voice, something telling him that she was indeed a wonderful mother.  “I would too,” he told her in a quiet voice.  “He’s a good kid.  Kind of reminds me…”

 

Kristin caught the tremor in his voice as it trailed off and instinctively knew he was thinking about his son.  She wanted nothing more than to ask him what happened, but they’d once again managed to work out an uneasy truce since the day he’d walked in to find her with the portraits and she was loath push it.

 

“Are you… all right?”  Kristin asked quietly as she stood and stepped over to him, laying her hand on his arm.

 

Nathan felt the heat of her touch and felt his body respond to her nearness.  Angry at his body’s reaction to the woman, he shook off her hand, brushed past her and headed for the door. 

 

“I’ll ask you to remove the silk and remain here,” he told her gruffly before opening the door and leaving; pulling it shut behind him.

 

Kristin sighed as she heard his retreating footsteps and began to unwind the soft blue material from around her body.  “One step forward, two steps back,” she muttered to herself.  She shook her head and folded the silk, laid it on the table then moved over to the bed and sat down.  As she reached for the book she was reading, Kristin couldn’t help but let her gaze drift upwards to where she knew he was.  ‘What is it about you… that I find so…’

 

Her thoughts were interrupted by the sound of a large explosion, followed by the boat rocking fiercely beneath her.

 

“Captain!”

 

“Oh God… I think the cap’s been hit!”

 

Without thinking, Kristin jumped off the bed and yanked on the door.  Surprised when it swung open, she dashed out of the room and quickly made her way up deck; her heart pounding wildly in her chest as she looked around frantically.

 

“What is she doing up here?”

 

“Who?  Oh oh…”

 

“Cap… we have a problem…” Crocker said to his captain as he gave the uninjured man a hand up.

 

“What?”

 

“Lady Westphalen, look out!”

 

Nathan’s eyes widened at the sound of O’Neill’s shout and turned to see Kristin standing on the deck, her hair and chemise whipping in the wind; a look of dread on her face as she glanced about the boat anxiously, totally unaware of the danger behind her.

 

“Oh God…” he gasped, knowing he was too far away to get to her in time.  “Kristin…” he whispered her name as the barrels behind her exploded and burst into flames.  Nathan turned his head instinctively from the intense light but not before he caught a glimpse of O’Neill diving at the countess and knocking her out of harms way.

 

“Get those flames put out!!”  Nathan yelled out the order as he made his way across the deck.  He turned to Crocker who was moving next to him.  “Find out how the hell this happened and who is responsible.”

 

“Aye, Cap.”

 

Nathan dropped to his knees next to the woman lying prone on the deck, pulled off his shirt and wrapped it around her, his hands moving carefully over her body as he checked her for injuries.

 

“Kindly keep your hands to yourself…”

 

Nathan couldn’t help the smile that formed on his lips at the mumbled accented words and felt a wave of relief wash over him as he realized that she was all right.  Just as suddenly, Nathan felt his anger rush up and consume him.

 

“What the hell are you doing up here!?”  He yelled at her.  “Have I not told you to remain below!?  You could have gotten your fool head blown off!”

 

Nathan didn’t give her time to respond as he climbed to his feet and yanked her up with him.  “How is O’Neill?”  He asked Crocker.

 

“Minor burns on his back, Cap,” Manny answered.  “A good coating of Bess’ ointment and he will be just fine.”

 

“Good.  Get this mess cleaned up,” Nathan said then turned back to Kristin, noting that she was holding his shirt tightly around her.  His eyes narrowed.  “You… you will be punished for this.”

 

“For what?”  Kristin lifted her chin and held his gaze.

 

“For disobeying my orders and for endangering the life of one of my crew.”

 

“And just what is this punishment?  It can’t be worse than what I’ve already endured being your prisoner.”

 

“For direct disobedience of Captain’s orders, three lashes,” Nathan answered and held his hand up to stall the protest he could see forming on his first mate’s face.  “For endangering the life of Mister O’Neill, another two lashes.”

 

Kristin continued to stare defiantly, refusing to cower before him.

 

“But, Cap…” Crocker finally broke in.  “She’s just a woman…”

 

“Who still disobeyed orders and almost got herself and one of my men killed,” Bridger told him.  “She was told to obey my orders; she chose not to do that so she must accept the punishment.”

 

“But…”

 

“And on this ship, I am the law,” Nathan finished, not once taking his eyes from hers.

 

“Fine… then let’s get this over with,” Kristin told him in a cold voice.  “Where would you like me?  And should I remove my chemise as well or will you provide me with a new one as you’ll no doubt ruin mine with the lashes you apply?”

 

“Over there,” Nathan gestured to the main mast.

 

“Cap…”

 

“Not now!”

 

With a flip of her hair and her chin held high, Kristin marched over to the mast, Nathan striding after her. 

 

“But, Cap…” Crocker stepped in between Bridger and the woman.  “If you’re intent on doing this, then I invoke my right to step in after her first lash is applied and take the remaining four in her stead.”

 

“I beg your pardon?”  Nathan looked at Crocker incredulously.

 

“No, Gator… I won’t let you take my punishment,” Kristin interjected but the man ignored her.

 

“It is my right and is acceptable under the code,” Crocker told him.

 

Nathan scowled at him.

 

“And I too will take a lash for the countess.”

 

Nathan turned to see Kreig stepping forward.

 

“I’ll take one too,” O’Neill’s weak voice reached Bridger’s ears from somewhere behind him and Nathan watched as he carefully walked across the deck to stand beside Crocker and Kreig.

 

Nathan released a deep breath as he surveyed his men.  He let his gaze drift over to Lady Westphalen, not surprised to see the defiant look still on her face.  Nathan frowned.  “Fine… I will come up with a more… suitable punishment,” he said and with a grunt of annoyance, he grabbed her by the arm and pulled her across the deck with him back to his cabin.  Nathan kicked the door open and pushed her into the room before him then slammed it shut.

 

“Since my crew seems to feel that because you are a woman and shouldn’t be subjected to the lash, I think that I will have you perform a chore that is more appropriate to your gender,” Nathan said in a low, thoughtful voice.  “We have two torn sails… you will mend them.”

 

“I’d rather take the lashes,” Kristin muttered under her breath.

 

“I could accommodate that wish now if you like?”  Nathan retorted.

 

Kristin whirled around to face him.  “If you hate having me on your ship so much, then why don’t you take me to a port and put me off?”

 

“I’ve been wondering the same thing, Countess,” Nathan replied sarcastically.  “Now, tomorrow at dawn, you will be woken.  You will dress in the clothes you wore above deck the last time and you will repair the torn sails,” he told her.  “And just so you don’t try anything, you will be chained up.”

 

Kristin glowered at him.

 

“Except for Lucas, who will continue his reading while you sew, you are not to talk to any member of my crew.  Is that clear?”

 

Kristin turned her back to him, refusing to answer him.

 

Infuriated, Nathan reached out and spun her around to face him.  “Is that clear?”

 

Kristin bit her lip, her eyes flashing as they held his.

 

“Dammit… what in the hell are you up to?  What is about you that inspires such… how are you able to entice my crew?”  The questions tumbled angrily out of Nathan’s mouth as he walked her back against the wall.  “How…?”

 

“I’m not…”

 

“Why…” Nathan spoke over her protest as he grabbed Kristin’s shoulders and began to shake her.  “Why can’t I get you out… it won’t work dammit!  It won’t…”

 

Nathan’s words came to an abrupt halt as he swooped down and took her mouth in a possessive kiss, his tongue pressing past her lips to tangle with hers.  A low growl sounded deep in his throat as her sweet flavour exploded over his taste buds once again.

 

Kristin responded immediately to his heated kiss and whimpered softly into his mouth as he pressed his body closer, forcing her up harder against the wall.  Her arms wrapped around him and she clutched at his shoulders to pull him closer.

 

Nathan could feel her nipples harden through her chemise and his shirt, which she still wore and felt a sudden urge to have them pressing against his bare chest.  Without breaking the kiss, he quickly worked his shirt off her body, tossing it across the room before he returned to the soft cotton slip that now separated them.

 

Kristin gasped as she felt the cool air of the room breeze over her breasts and then moaned at the feel of his hair-roughened chest rubbing against her sensitive peaks, causing them to stiffen even more and send small waves of sensations shooting through her body.

 

Nathan continued to plunder her mouth as he slowly let his hands slip down from her shoulders to cup her breasts, gently squeezing the generous mounds before his fingers moved to play with the taut tips; feeling them harden even more beneath his touch.

 

Kristin mewled softly and pressed her chest into his hands, wanting more of the pleasurable feelings his touch was invoking.  As if sensing her need, Nathan pulled his mouth from hers and trailed his way down to her breasts.  Kristin gasped as he swirled his tongue over her nipples, her head swimming as she drowned in the sensations intensifying throughout her body.

 

After several minutes of feasting at her bountiful chest, Nathan kissed his way back up to her lips where he sucked her tongue into his mouth.  His hands slid from her breasts, down the sides of her body to cup her bottom and pull her tighter against him as he pressed his hips to hers.

 

Kristin shuddered at the feel of his hard length pressing against her center and moaned at the sudden spark of heat that rushed through her.  She arched into him. 

 

Nathan felt the tremor pass through her and ground himself hard against her, the heat he could feel emanating from her body calling to him.  He moaned as her hips rocked back against his and slid one hand down from her waist to her thigh.  He coaxed her leg up to hook around behind his knee.

 

Kristin tightened her arms and leg around him as she thrust against him.  “Please…” she moaned into his mouth as an unexpected and unfamiliar ache began to form at the apex of her thighs and spread throughout her body.  “Oh please…”

 

Nathan heard the need in her voice, felt it in the rising pressure of her form and felt a matching tension in his own body.  He drove his hips faster into her while his hands tugged at the hem of her chemise, pulling the material up so that his hands could mold to the smooth bare skin of her rear.

 

“Mmm… please…” Kristin murmured against his lips, not knowing what it was she was asking for… what it was that she needed and wanted; only that she sought relief from the overwhelming vibrations and feelings coursing through her body and knowing instinctively that she would find it in his touch.  “Oh please… I…”

 

Nathan plundered her mouth, his tongue matching the thrust of his hips, faltering only when he felt the first wave of his release wash over him.  Realizing that he was on the verge of orgasm simply from kissing and grinding against her, Nathan ripped his mouth away from hers.

 

“Dammit!” 

 

Kristin’s eyes flew open as he pushed away from her and she watched through glassy eyes as he stormed across the room, threw open the window and climbed out onto the small balcony she knew to be there.  Kristin fought to catch her breath as she slowly sank to the floor, her body vibrating with a need she didn’t understand.

 

Glancing down at her torn chemise, she pulled the ripped garment closed and felt the tears begin to well in her eyes as she tried to understand what had happened.  A sudden groan, followed by a hoarsely shouted, ‘oh God’ pulled her attention to the window. 

 

Moments later, the captain crawled back into the cabin; his face and upper body flushed and glistening.  Kristin felt a tightening in the pit of her stomach as she watched him move to the credenza, pour a small amount of water into the bowl and splash his face with the cool liquid.

 

When he was finished washing, Nathan quickly dried himself, grabbed his shirt off the floor and pulled it on as he walked over to Kristin.  Without speaking a word, he bent over, yanked her to her feet and dragged her to the bed where he unceremoniously pushed her onto the mattress.  If he was surprised at her lack of resistance, Nathan didn’t show it as he quickly and efficiently locked the manacles around her wrists then left.

 

Hearing the door close and lock behind him, Kristin pulled against the manacles, not really surprised to find that he’d shortened the chain so that her arms were stretched high above her head.  Kristin released the breath she didn’t realize she was holding as confused tears streamed down her face.

 

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

 

“Uh oh…” Manny Crocker muttered beneath his breath as he watched his captain storm onto the deck and begin to pace back and forth.  After a few laps moving from bow to stern and back, the angry man stopped beside the main mast and grabbed the rope netting that soared upward to the crow’s nest.  He climbed the ladder, as agile as a squirrel, to the top most point and clung to the mast staring out into the deep waters around them.

 

Over half an hour passed before Nathan finally released his death grip on the pole and slowly began to make his way back toward the deck.  Once he finally touched the wooden floor he moved to the bow of the boat and locked his hands over the sides, his back rigid with tension.

 

Crocker took a deep breath and squared his shoulders before waving everyone away from the area and moving in beside his captain.

 

“Do you want to talk about it?”

 

“NO!  I most certainly do not want to talk about it.  And you… you practically mutinied… my command crew… what has this woman done?”  Nathan turned on his first mate angrily.  “How has she bewitched you to the point that you would turn against me?”

 

“No one turned against you, Captain.  Every man on this boat would still lay down his life in your defense in an instant.  But she’s a woman… she didn’t know that what she did was foolish… or dangerous.  She heard someone scream that you were hit and her only thought was your safety.”

 

Nathan whirled to stare at Crocker.  “She came up because… how do you know that?”

 

“The timing.  I heard the shout… then she appeared, looking for you.”

 

Nathan looked stunned for a moment before the hardness returned to his face.  “That is ridiculous.  The woman hates me as much as I hate her.  You should have just let me give her the lashes,” he quickly blocked the memory of the concern he had heard in the countess’ voice after their battle with the British ship.

 

“Perhaps I should have let you try… I don’t think you would have been able to swing the whip even once.  There are a hell of a lot of things that you want to do to that woman but whipping her isn’t one of them.  You agreed to lessen her punishment… why are you so angry with her now?”

 

“She is the damndest… most infuriating woman I have ever met.  I backed down… for the first time I backed away from one of my own rules.  I decided that instead of the lashes she could spend her time productively, sewing the two torn sails.  Women sew, right?  And that bitch had the audacity to look at me and say that she’d rather take the lashes!”

 

Crocker chuckled in spite of himself.  “Somehow I wouldn’t have pegged her for a sewer so that doesn’t surprise me at all.  Then what happened?  And don’t tell me nothing because something obviously did…”

 

Nathan turned back to face the water.  Crocker stood quietly knowing that his captain wouldn’t say anything more until he was ready.  Finally Nathan spoke.

 

“I… I kissed her.  I swore after the first time… after you interrupted us… that I wouldn’t touch her again.”

 

“You don’t know how sorry I am that I did that.”

 

Nathan glared at him for a moment.  “I didn’t kiss her then because I wanted her.  She was questioning my authority… I intended to punish her, to remind her that I was the one in control.  That’s the only reason I touched her.”

 

“And this time?”

 

“I don’t know why.  I don’t know how… or why… but suddenly I was kissing her again… oh God, Manny, the taste of her… her skin feels like silk… her scent is sweeter than any perfume I’ve ever smelled.  She wrapped her arms around me and rubbed her body against mine… I couldn’t stop myself from touching her back and it just kept getting closer and closer…”

 

“It sounds like the lady wanted you as much as you wanted her.  You did nothing to be ashamed of…”

 

“She… she wanted me… she begged me to… and I was so close, Crocker… so damned close… but I couldn’t… not like that.  I won’t take her in anger.”

 

Crocker breathed a small sigh of relief, knowing that if Bridger had completed what he’d started he would never completely forgive himself, even if the lady had been more than willing.  “So you stopped before you took her?”

 

Nathan snorted.  “Barely.  I broke away and left her there… she couldn’t even stand… she just sank to the floor.  I had to get away… I went out on the balcony and… took the edge off,” Nathan paused a moment then stamped his foot against the deck as he turned back to face Crocker.  “I hate the English!  I loathe everything about them!  She is the embodiment of everything that I detest!  Why does she get to me this way?  Why am I so drawn to her, Gator?  In spite of everything, I want…”

 

“The lady has been burrowing underneath your skin since the first moment you laid eyes on her,” Crocker chuckled.  “And I think that she has finally pierced a vital organ.”

 

Nathan’s eyes bulged at Crocker’s words.  “That is the most ridiculous idea you have ever had.  I am NOT in love with that woman!  I’ve only known her for a few days and she is the most annoying female I have ever met… she’s British, for Christ’s sake!  I’ve just been too long without a woman.”

 

“Mmm… your wife has been gone five years and I suspect that if you’ve had any women since her they’ve been few and far between.  I know that after your son was taken by a British press gang your wife… wasn’t well… so at least six years since you’ve had more than just a casual roll in the hay.”

 

“And that’s all that this woman would be if I were to take her,” Nathan stated vehemently. 

 

Crocker took another deep breath and pushed forward, knowing that he was treading on dangerous ground.  “You can tell yourself that all you want but with all due respect, I don’t believe you, sir.  Hell! If a good screw was all you wanted… you’ve had her trussed up in your cabin mostly naked for the last few weeks…”

 

“She was hurt,” Nathan started defensively.

 

“The first day.  After that she was yours for the taking… from what you’ve said she was even willing.”

 

Nathan’s eyes closed for a moment as he remembered Kristin’s husky answer to his quiet declaration that he wouldn’t have forced her.  “Look, Crocker… I want this woman but what I feel for her is nothing like what I felt for Carol.”

 

“I agree.  Your parents arranged your marriage.  You didn’t even meet your bride until your engagement party,” Crocker waved Nathan silent when he would have interrupted.  “I know that over time you and Carol grew very fond of each other… grew to love each other but I was there also.  I never saw any emotion between you and your wife that can rival the spark between you and Lady Westphalen.”

 

“That’s ridiculous,” Nathan protested again.  “Any woman would do.  I could go out tomorrow and find a wife.  Several of my friends have offered their daughters… why I could have Wendell Smith’s daughter in a heartbeat.”

 

“I am not denying that.  You could have any woman that you want.  The problem is that you don’t want any of them… especially the Smith chit.  All of those girls may be young and pretty and good breeding stock but not one of them has inspired a tenth of the passion… of the love… that your captive has.”

 

“A good marriage isn’t based on love.”

 

“A good marriage shouldn’t be based on anything less than love.  How long did it take you to feel passion for your wife?  Years, I bet.  But in spite of the circumstances, desire sparked between you and the countess the moment your feet hit the deck of her ship.  Take a few minutes and step back from the situation.  Look at your actions since she’s been on board.”

 

“My actions haven’t changed.”

 

“Your actions haven’t…” Crocker shook his head in amused amazement.  “Do you know how long it has been since I’ve seen you smile, Nathan?  Years… until she came on board.  You are happier.  Your mood is much lighter.”

 

“I haven’t noticed any difference,” Nathan grumbled, knowing in his heart that Crocker was right. 

 

“I’ve seen women sniff around you for years, even before your wife died.  You never showed them any interest.  But you’ve had a hard on we could use as a mast replacement since the first argument you had with Lady Kristin Westphalen.  You could have put her in the hold, or in Kreig’s cabin with the Hitchcock woman… but you kept her in your cabin.  You’ve made time to spend with her every day… but as badly as you want to bed her, you haven’t.”

 

“I am NOT in love with Kristin Westphalen!”  Nathan replied forcefully.  “I am NOT…” his voice trailed off as he realized that he had for the first time spoken her name above a whisper.  “I can’t be in love with Kristin,” his lips held the form of her name and savored it.

 

“What happened after you stopped yourself from hiking up her skirts, Captain?”  Crocker’s words interrupted Nathan’s moment.

 

“Wha… oh… I… oh God, I behaved like a monster.  I grabbed her off the floor then threw her on the bed and chained her,” Nathan swore vehemently.  “I left the chain too short.  She’s trussed up like a chicken, dammit.”

 

“Then why don’t you go release her?”  Crocker suggested gently.

 

Nathan nodded.  “I’ll do that right now.  God, she’s going to be furious at me.”  Crocker noted that a tiny smile touched the captain’s lips at that thought.  “I… thank you for listening, Manny.  I’ll think on what you said,” Nathan darted quickly toward the hatchway.

 

Crocker smiled as he watched Bridger move away.  “No, captain… you are not in love with the lovely countess,” he muttered sarcastically.  “But I’m not the one who mentioned marriage, now am I?”

 

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

 

Nathan closed the door quietly and moved to the side of the bed, shame slowing his steps.  He braced himself for the strong tongue-lashing he expected to receive but no sound came from the lady’s lips.  He moved a little closer and was surprised to note that from the speed of her respiration, Lady Westphalen appeared to be asleep.

 

The sun was riding low in the sky, casting eerie shadows around the room as it bid the horizon good-bye for another night.  Nathan pulled a curtain over the window to block the worst of the rays then lit the wall sconce before moving back to the side of the bed.

 

A wave of sorrow washed over him as he noted the deep tear stains on Kristin’s face and on the pillow beneath her.  He carefully released the manacles from her wrists and lowered her arms, folding them over her abdomen as he tried not to notice her state of undress.

 

Judging from the state of the bedclothes, Kristin had wriggled quite a bit in order to get her chemise back down over her hips but she’d been less successful trying to get beneath the blanket using only her feet.

 

Nathan wet a cloth with water from the crock then sat on the edge of the bed to carefully wash away the tears from her cheeks.  He held his breath as she murmured in her sleep at his touch, half hoping that she would wake up and half hoping that she wouldn’t.  Kristin turned into his palm, a crooked smile touching her lips.

 

Once the tears were gone, Nathan carefully brushed her tangled curls out with his fingers, his gaze eventually falling to rest on her exposed chest.  He ran a finger along the edge of the cloth, realizing for the first time that he’d ripped her chemise from neckline to waist earlier in his desire to get to her breasts.

 

One glorious mound lay fully exposed along with a generous portion of the inner swell of the other one.  His finger drifted lightly over creamy skin to brush the flat nipple, pleased to see it peak immediately at his touch.  He circled the nubbin gently, feeling the rosy flesh pucker even more beneath his fingertip.  A soft moan escaped Kristin’s lips as her back arched slightly, pushing her breast more fully into his touch.

 

Nathan drew back quickly, almost overwhelmed by the desire to feel the pointed nipple beneath his tongue.  He pulled her chemise closed then straightened the blankets and covered her.

 

“Sleep well… my lady.”

 

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

 

The sound of movement woke Kristin and she slowly stretched her still sleeping muscles.

 

“Good morning, Countess.”

 

Kristin turned to see her captor sitting on the window ledge, staring out into the morning.  She couldn’t stop the involuntary shiver that passed through her at the way the sunlight played over his angular features.

 

“Good morning,” Kristin replied quietly then realized that she was no longer strung up.  ‘And I haven’t been for most of the night,’ she thought judging by the fact that her arms weren’t aching.

 

“I want to apologize for my behaviour yesterday,” she looked up as Nathan spoke quietly.  “I shouldn’t… it was appalling, and I’m sorry… I shouldn’t have trussed you up the way I did…”

 

Kristin didn’t reply as she sat up, holding the blanket to her chest, watching as he slowly turned to face her.  Their gazes locked and Kristin could see the sincerity in his deep cerulean eyes. 

 

She nodded.

 

He stood and with measured steps, walked across the cabin to stand before her.  He gestured to the table.  “Your breakfast is on the table.  The clothes you are to wear are on the credenza next to the wash pot,” Nathan told her.  “I will leave you here to take care of your morning ablutions and will return in twenty minutes to escort you up deck so you can begin mending the sails.”

 

At the almost pained look on her face, Nathan bit back the smile he could feel forming on his lips.

 

“I’m sorry, Countess,” he said.  “But even if I wanted to commute your sentence, to do so would invite anarchy on my ship and I can’t have that.”

 

“I know,” Kristin replied softly.

 

Nathan nodded briefly then turned and left.

 

Kristin stared at the door for several moments then pushed the blanket aside and holding her torn chemise closed, she moved over to the table.  As she poured some water from the jug into the bowl, she noticed the pile of clothes.  And lying folded on top of the shirt and britches the captain left for her to wear, was one of her chemises.

 

She shook her head in a combination of exasperation and amusement before turning back to the bowl of water and starting to wash.

 

Fifteen minutes later, the cabin door opened and Nathan walked in to find her finishing her porridge.

 

Kristin looked up at him and gave him a tentative smile.

 

“Are you ready?”

 

“As I will ever be,” Kristin replied as she stood then grabbed the waist of the pants he’d given her to wear.  “Uhm…” she bit her lower lip.  “Do you have some rope or… something I can use to tie around my waist to hold the britches up?  They’re a bit big.”

 

Nathan nodded and moved across the room to the hidden panel in the wall, slid it aside and pulled out a length of rope.  He slid the panel back in place then moved back over to her and handed her the rope.

 

Kristin nodded her thanks as she began to work the twine through the loops on her pants, swearing softly as she tried to reach behind her, continually missing the one loop.

 

“Here, let me…” Nathan moved behind her and took the rope from her hands.

 

Kristin’s breath caught in her throat when she felt his fingers brush against her back as he maneuvered the cord through the loop.  She swallowed hard as she realized that she could feel his warm breath on the back of her neck and closed her eyes, willing her heart to stop its sudden pounding.

 

“Here,” his voice low in her ear startled her and she opened her eyes then looked down to see his hand holding up the rope at her waist.  “I think you should be able to manage the rest.”

 

“Thank you,” Kristin replied softly as she took the rope from him.  She felt a brief chill pass through her when he stepped away from her but shook it off and quickly tied up the rope.  Kristin looked up at him as she dropped her hands from the knot.  “Now I’m ready.”

 

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

 

“Lord… I don’t think I’ve ever been so tired in my life,” Kristin murmured as she preceded the Blue Rogue into the cabin.

 

“That is what happens when you actually work,” Nathan’s flip comment left his lips before he could stop it.

 

“I beg your pardon?!”  Kristin whirled around to face him.  “I’ll have you know that I lead a very full and busy life.”

 

“I’m sure you do, Countess,” Nathan told her, stepping past her and moving deeper in the room.  “Parties, teas and more parties,” he muttered under his breath.

 

“Raising my daughter alone for the last fifteen years, managing the estates left to me after my husband died… not to mention all his other business interests.  The shipyard and the stud farm… and what little free time I do manage to find when all that is finished is spent studying the medicinal uses of herbs.”

 

Nathan held his hands up in surrender.  “I’m sorry, Countess.  I forgot that…”

 

“That my husband was killed by a man much like yo…” her voice trailed off.

 

“Much like me,” Nathan finished for her.  “A pirate.”

 

“Yes,” Kristin nodded sadly.

 

They fell into an uncomfortable silence as Nathan moved to the credenza and filled the waiting bowl with water.  He dipped the cloth in the cool liquid, wrung it out and began to wash his face.

 

While he was busy cleaning, Kristin moved onto the bed and drew the curtain.  She paused a moment and stared at the dark shape on the other side with an almost wistful look on her face then began to strip off the shirt and pants.

 

Moments later, she pushed open the curtain, climbed off the bed and quickly folded the clothes.  “Where would you like me to put these?”

 

Nathan turned at her softly spoken words and felt a heat rush through him at the sight of her bare shoulders, wisps of her long hair escaping her braid and curling around her face.  He hadn’t realized when he’d grabbed it out of the trunk but her chemise was obviously one designed to go with an off the shoulder dress.

 

‘God, she’s beautiful,’ he thought as he continued to stare at her.  “On the table is fine.”

 

Kristin nodded and walked across the cabin.  She placed the clothes on the wooden surface then turned to head back to the bed.

 

“Would you like to wash up before you retire?”  Nathan asked in a quiet voice.

 

“Yes… I would like that,” Kristin nodded.

 

Nathan grabbed the bowl, moved to window, opened it and tossed the dirty water out into the ocean then moved back to the credenza and poured some fresh water into the container.  He moved to the door and opened it.  “I’ll be back… in a few minutes.”

 

“Captain,” Kristin called to him before he closed the door.  “Thank you,” she said when he turned back to face her.

 

“You’re welcome,” Nathan replied then left.

 

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

 

“She’s doing a pretty good job on them sails.”

 

Nathan nodded at the sound of Crocker’s voice behind him but didn’t turn from his perch on the railing of the upper deck.  “Yes she is,” he replied with a hint of admiration in his voice, his gaze still locked on the woman below mending the sail.

 

“So, I take it the two of you are getting along better now?”

 

“I think we’ve come to an understanding.”

 

“That’s good to hear,” Crocker said.  “I noticed that you haven’t been chaining her up the last few days.”

 

“Well, it’s not like she has anywhere to go,” Nathan replied.  “And we do still have her friend on board.”

 

“Who doesn’t seem to really mind being here anymore,” Crocker chuckled.  “She and Ben have hit it off quite well.”

 

Nathan let a small smile grace his lips.  “Yes, they have.”

 

“You know, Cap…” Crocker began a few moments later, glancing about the seaQuest at the men loitering around, their attention fixed on the woman mending the sails.  “Maybe you ought to have let the countess wear one of her dresses instead of your shirt and britches.”

 

Nathan finally turned to meet Manny’s eyes.

 

“It’s just… well…”

 

Nathan arched an eyebrow at his first mate.

 

“The pants do rather… fit her very well, all things considered,” Crocker said looking very uncomfortable under the steely gaze of his old friend and captain.  “And if I’ve noticed… I am more than certain that some of the other men have as well.”

 

Nathan turned his attention back to his captive countess.  ‘They fit very well indeed,’ he thought to himself.  “I know you’re right, Gator… but the dresses young Miss Hitchcock grabbed for the countess were… are much too elegant for working on dirty sails.”

 

“You have a point,” Crocker grinned to himself as he noticed Nathan focus his attention back on the British beauty.  “The sun’s gonna be going down soon.”

 

“Yes, I’ve noticed that,” Nathan replied and slid off the railing.  He tugged his shirt back into place.  “I think I’ll go… escort our guest back to the cabin.”

 

Crocker’s grin grew as he watched his captain head down to the lower deck.  “Oh, you’ve got it so bad, Nathan!”  He chuckled softly.  “And I can’t wait to see the explosion that occurs when you both realize it.”

 

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

 

Nathan stared at the sun sinking low on the horizon.  “I think that is enough for today.”

 

Kristin let the heavy blue silk slide off of her lap as she stood and stretched, Lucas laying his book aside then following her movements.

 

Her eyes glanced at the sun’s position as well.  “We have another hour of light at least.”

 

“Yes, but even an hour wouldn’t be enough time to finish this particular section.  You’ve made excellent progress, better than I thought you would knowing your hatred of the needle.  Is something wrong, milady?”  Nathan noticed Kristin glancing around the deck.

 

“No,” she answered him in a somewhat distracted tone.  “I just… I’m probably just imaging it but I feel as if someone has been watching me.”

 

“I’m sure that my entire crew has been watching you,” Nathan offered, knowing that the eyes she had felt had been his.  “I’ll escort you back to the cabin.”

 

“Yes… I am feeling the sun a bit.”

 

“I’ll see if we can’t find you a hat tomorrow,” Nathan told her as he gestured toward the door.

 

“Captain,” Nathan turned at the call to see Ben Kreig beckoning him from the bow of the deck.  “I need you to see this.”

 

“This shouldn’t take long.”

 

“I understand.  If it’s all right with you, may I go back to the cabin to refresh myself?  Also, may I bolt the door if I open it when you knock?”

 

Nathan nodded, his mind already wondering what was causing the worried look on Kreig’s face.

 

“Bolting the door is fine.”

 

Kristin moved slowly through the entryway and down the hall toward her cabin, her stiff muscles protesting the use after being stationary all day.  She lifted a hand to her neck and rubbed; rotating her chin to help ease the tight muscles there.

 

Rough hands grabbed her and slammed her against the wall forcefully enough to knock the breath from her lungs.  A heavy hand clamped down over her mouth, the elbow planted firmly in her shoulder.  She struggled against the large mass pressed against her but to no avail.

 

“Now you keep quiet, pretty lady.  I’d hate to have to gut you right here.”  Dark eyes leered down at her as the sailor’s free hand roamed over the curves of her body.  “I knew by the way them britches fit you’d be a curvy one.  We are going to have some fine time together.”

 

The horrid smell of the man assaulted Kristin’s nostrils as he dragged her toward the hatchway leading to the cargo hold.

 

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

 

“We’ll remove the sail just as soon as the countess finishes mending the first torn one then use it to replace this one until it is repaired as well.” Nathan told Kreig as they stared up at the small tear in the forward lower sail.

 

“You’ll have Lady Westphalen mend this one as well?”  Ben asked.

 

Nathan laughed.  “Her punishment was mending two sails.  I suspect that if I tried to add a third one she’d be coming after me with that needle or perhaps something even more deadly.  The woman does NOT like to sew.”

 

Ben smiled as he watched Captain Bridger scan the deck, his blue eyes unconsciously looking for the object of their conversation, the disappointment in his face when he didn’t find her obvious.  ‘Crocker is right.  You really do have it bad for the countess!’

 

‘Where… she was going back to the cabin… alone.’  The tiny hairs on the back of Nathan’s neck began to prickle.  “Did you notice any of the men paying… undue notice to the woman today?”

 

“As a matter of fact I noticed several of the men watching Lady Westphalen but then that is hardly surprising.  She is very beautiful.”

 

“Yes… she is… Crocker commented on her attire and the attention it was attracting…” Suddenly Nathan broke away from Ben at a run.

 

“Sir?”  Ben took off after him.

 

“I let her go back to the cabin alone.  I need to make sure…”

 

Crocker had seen Nathan race across the deck and met the two men at the entryway to the command crew’s quarters.

 

“Account for the men, every one of them!” Nathan yelled as he continued on toward the cabin. 

 

To Ben’s surprise, the captain stopped and pounded on the door loudly before turning the handle.  The older man swore loudly as it swung open.  “Kristin!  Where the hell are you?”  Nathan quickly checked the bed then began to examine every nook and cranny of the room.  “She hasn’t been back here.  I want this ship searched from stem to stern,” he told Ben as he strode back toward the door.

 

“Maybe the countess went to find Katie.”

 

“She said she was coming straight to the cabin.  She wouldn’t lie to me.  If she wanted to see Miss Hitchcock she would have told me.”  At that moment Nathan’s eyes spied a strip of blue cloth lying on the floor in the hallway not far from his door.  He quickly bent and grabbed it.  “This was holding Kristin’s braid.  She made it this far…” He stared at the wall, willing the wooden planks to reveal to him what had happened.  “One of the men must have her.  Where would he take her?”

 

Crocker ran up puffing.  “All accounted for, sir.  Except for McLeary, one of those rescued on our last raid,” Crocker paused for a moment to catch his breath.  “McLeary is one of the men that I was concerned about when we talked earlier.  I didn’t like what I saw in his face when he looked at the lady.”

 

“DAMMIT!  Where would he take her?  Somewhere that he thinks he wouldn’t be interrupted…” Nathan practically leapt in the direction of the entryway to the cargo hold.  He flung the door open and froze momentarily as a loud feminine scream filled the air but the sound of ripping fabric quickly sent him into motion once again.

 

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

 

Kristin felt her body slam into the support post as the brutish man tore at her clothing.  Soon the sapphire blue shirt lay in tatters on the floor.

 

“The captain will kill you for this,” Kristin told her attacker as he pawed at her breasts.

 

He grabbed her throat with one hand and tightened his fingers.  “The captain hasn’t been fair keeping a bounty like you locked away for his own use.  He’ll probably thank me for taking you off his hands.  Not that he’d believe a slut like you… parading around in the trousers… you’re just asking for it and this time I’m gonna be the man to give it to you.”

 

His hands fell to the wide neckline of her chemise.  “I had me eye on the other bitch but Kreig, he don’t let anyone near her when she comes out for air.  You’ve got a bit more age on you but you are still a pretty piece.  If I get caught I’ll tell the captain that you lured me down here… tried to seduce me into helpin’ you escape.”

 

“He won’t believe you,” Kristin pushed futilely at his hands, trying to stop them from ripping her slip but the fabric tore easily leaving her chest bared to her attacker’s gaze and touch.

 

The sailor backed up slightly and bent, his mouth open.  Kristin twisted her body, deflecting his teeth away from her breast.  He bit the flesh below her collarbone angrily.

 

Kristin lashed out, her nails sinking into the surface of his cheeks.  He swore loudly and flung her to the ground, blood rising from the long scratches on his face as her nails tore down his skin.

 

Her attacker ripped his trousers open, his hard erection springing free immediately.  Kristin skittered backwards as fast as she could but the sailor quickly caught her and pinned her to the ground as he fell to his knees over her.

 

A shrill scream escaped her lips as the man tore at the knot of her rope belt before giving up and grabbing the fabric beneath.  At the sound of her scream a hand flew up then back, striking her hard across the cheek.  The sound of tearing fabric filled the air as the placard of the britches flew apart between the man’s meaty hands.  Kristin screamed again as her attacker thrust his fingers between her parted legs, trying to yank the bottom of her tucked in chemise out of the way.

 

The large hand flew back, poised for another slap.  Kristin closed her eyes in anticipation of the blow but it never came.  She felt the heavy weight roll away from her thighs and opened her eyes in time to see the Blue Rogue land a solid punch to her attacker’s mouth followed by another to his gut.  Crocker and Kreig moved in to grab the man, other sailors moving into position to back them up as the captain turned back to her.

 

The look on his face scared her and she once again tried to back away.  “I didn’t… it wasn’t me… I swear… he made me…” Kristin sobbed as Nathan loomed over her, knowing that he would immediately assume that the attack was her fault.

 

Nathan swore softly as he moved into position to block the sight of her exposed body from his men and quickly stripped his shirt off.  “Ssh…” he soothed her as he pulled her into a sitting position and wrapped the shirt around her shoulders.

 

“Put your arms around my neck.”  Kristin’s arms were trembling as she fought to lift her limbs.  Nathan slid his arms beneath her; one behind her back and one behind her knees then lifted her into his arms, sparing a glance to make sure that she was completely covered.

 

He turned and stared with furious eyes at Kristin’s attacker, his voice emotionless when he spoke.  “Throw him in the brig, Mr. Crocker.  You don’t have to be gentle about it.  Mr. Kreig, go get Miss Hitchcock and bring her to my quarters.”

 

Nathan carried Kristin as easily as a baby, moving carefully up the ladder then along the hall quickly; the trembling of her body telling him that she was going into shock. 

 

Lucas was waiting when Nathan kicked open the door to his cabin, moving rapidly toward the bed.  “Go fill up a pitcher of brandy from the cask.  HURRY!”  The boy skittered off to fulfill Nathan’s order.

 

“He is gone.  I will not let him hurt you.  You are safe now,” Nathan told Kristin as he pulled back the blankets and lowered her to the bed.  Kristin whimpered in reply, her arms staying locked around Nathan’s neck.  He wrapped his arms around her and held her closer, quietly soothing her until he heard movement behind him.

 

Nathan turned to see Katherine Hitchcock waiting at the door, Ben Kreig close behind.  He motioned Katie in.  “Mr. Kreig, close the door and make sure that no one enters except Lucas.”

 

Kristin didn’t seem to register Katie’s presence.  Nathan carefully loosened Kristin’s arms as he asked, “Did Kreig tell you what happened?”

 

Katie nodded.

 

“Good.  We need to get her undressed.  I’m sure that she won’t let me do it but she might let you.”  He lowered Kristin’s arms to her side then brushed her bruised cheek with his thumb.  “Miss Hitchcock is going to help you undress while I find you something to wear.”

 

Katie worked quickly, stripping Kristin naked then pulling yet another of the captain’s blue shirts back on her while Nathan moved around the cabin, filling a bowl with water and gathering supplies.

 

Lucas burst through the door with a large pitcher, which Nathan took from him and then shooed the boy out.  He poured a generous cup full of the amber liquid then headed back to the bed.

 

“Drink this for me.”  Nathan pressed the cup into Kristin’s hands but she stared at him blankly.  He swore internally again at the blank look in her eyes.  At Nathan’s look, Katie moved to help support Kristin’s head while Nathan led the cup to her lips.  She swallowed obediently then sputtered as the stinging liquid hit the back of her throat.

 

“Oh God!  That is awful,” she gasped.

 

Nathan chuckled with relief.  “I’ll have you know that is the finest French brandy that money can buy.”

 

“It’s still horrid.  I don’t drink strong spirits.”

 

“I want you to drink all of this.  It will help.”  Nathan pressed the cup to her lips again.  Kristin grimaced but drank.  This time she managed to swallow the alcohol with only a slight grimace.

 

“Very good, milady.”

 

Kristin smiled when she realized that Katie Hitchcock was providing the support for her back.  “Katie… are you well?”

 

“I’m fine, milady… just concerned for you.”

 

“I’m… I’m fine.”  A look of horror passed over Kristin’s face as her eyes closed and she shuddered.

 

“You are fine now.  That man won’t ever hurt you again… I swear.”  Kristin opened her eyes to stare at Nathan, grateful that his voice was caring and not angry.

 

“I didn’t… I swear I didn’t entice him.”  Her voice quivered as she spoke.

 

“I know you didn’t.  He’d been watching you… you told me that you felt someone’s eyes on you and Crocker noticed his interest as well.  I should have never left you to return to the cabin alone.”  Nathan traced his forefinger along the line of her cheek, the beginnings of a bruise already beginning to form.  “Miss Hitchcock, will you go tell Mr. Kreig to help you draw a bucket of cold water out of the sea?  I think some cooling compresses are going to be in order.”

 

“Of course, Captain.  I shall be back in a few moments,” she told Kristin, pleased to see that the captain reinforced her statement with a nod.

 

Once Katie exited Nathan collected up the supplies he had gathered and returned to the side of the bunk.  “Countess, I need to ask you… it didn’t appear that McLeary had succeeded… did he?”

 

Kristin swallowed hard and shook her head.  “No… he was very close but he didn’t actually…”

 

Relief washed over Nathan.  “I need to check you… to tend your injuries.”

 

“I don’t… he only roughed me up… except…” she lifted a hand and touched her chest just above her left breast.  “He bit me.”

 

Nathan pulled the shirt away from her shoulder, hissing as he saw blood welling up in the teeth marks.  “I need to cleanse it.  Bites can get infected very easily.  I need to… I need to pull the shirt away.”

 

Kristin nodded, a different kind of shiver shaking her body as his strong hand gently eased the sleeve over her shoulder and down her arm.  She brought her hand up to hold the silk over her breast while Nathan doused a piece of soft cotton with brandy.

 

“This is going to sting.”  An anguished cry emerged from Kristin’s lips as the alcohol seeped into the wounds, purifying them with its burning.  She reached out and gripped his shoulder with her free hand, her nails digging into tough flesh as she leaned forward and buried her face in his neck.

 

“Ssh… I know it hurts.  It will be over in just a minute.”  Nathan cleaned the wound thoroughly then slathered Bess’ ointment all over it and used the last of the cotton strips from the lady’s petticoat to bandage it.  Once he was done he gently pulled the shirt back up and fastened the top button.

 

“Did he hurt you anywhere else?”  Nathan’s hands rubbed her back soothingly as he loosely embraced her.  “Can you tell me what happened?”

 

Kristin lifted her head smiling weakly as the brandy began to take effect.  “He grabbed me before I got to the cabin then he dragged me down to the hold and slammed me against the post.  He ripped your shirt off… I clawed his face and he hit me.”  She touched her rapidly swelling cheek and winced.  “He… he bit me… and he touched me.  It was so awful… his touch made me feel sick… it was nothing like when you touch…” her voice trailed off as the memory overwhelmed her.

 

Nathan saw the green tinge rise in her face and grabbed the chamber pot from beneath the bed, getting it into her hands just in time for Kristin to be sick in it.  When she was done he tenderly washed her face then settled her back in the bed.

 

At this point Ben and Katie returned with a bucket of water pulled from deep beneath the surface of the sea.  Nathan saw Lucas lurking in the hall just outside the doorway and called him in as well.  After letting the boy spend a few minutes talking with Lady Westphalen to reassure him that she was okay, Nathan sent him to the galley to have the cook prepare bread and a light broth.  Katie went to work with the cool water, holding damp compresses to the bruises forming on Kristin’s cheek.

 

Nathan pulled Ben to the side and spoke in a hushed tone.  “McLeary is locked up?”

 

“All secured, sir, and awaiting your orders.”

 

“Dammit!  Why in the hell did he do it?  Didn’t he know that I would… would what?  What the hell do I do with him?  I can’t strangle him although I would dearly love to.”

 

“I know that you try to avoid it as a form of punishment, sir, but I would suggest that this offense is so heinous that it calls for lashes.”

 

“I can’t administer them, Mr. Kreig.  I would remember how she looked… the sound of her screams… I would not be able to stop.”

 

“I would like to administer the lash, sir.  As a matter of fact several of the men have approached me.”

 

“To take the lash for him?”  Nathan looked surprised but was even more stunned by Kreig’s answer.

 

“To administer a stroke against him.  Crocker, O’Neill, Ortiz, Ford… we’ve all noticed how much Lady Westphalen cares for the boy… how much she cares for you.  Those of us who have sailed with you from the beginning view her as part of our family now.  When someone hurts family they hurt us.”

 

Nathan nodded in agreement.  “I leave the punishment to the five of you.  But you must be fair.  Even though I don’t understand how he could have…”

 

“Not all men hold the female sex in as high regard as you do, sir.  McLeary made excuses about how long he had been at sea.  He intimated that Lady Westphalen had been eyeing him.”

 

“That’s preposterous!”

 

“I don’t believe him either but that is the excuse he is offering.  He also suggested that Katie had been flirting with him as well and I know that isn’t so.”

 

“I don’t want to see him again.  I won’t be responsible for my actions if I do.  Keep him locked up until we put into port then get him off of my ship.”

 

“Do you want Katie to stay here tonight?”

 

Nathan thought for a moment.  “No.  I’ll look after Lady Westphalen.”

 

Ben nodded understandingly.  “Yes sir.  We’ll go now but if you should need us…”

 

The dark-haired man moved to the bunk and gently detached Katherine.  Nathan appreciated the worried look on her face as the couple departed but he felt that the countess’ care was his responsibility.

 

“Is the cold helping any?”  He asked as he placed another compress against her cheek and held it there.

 

“Some,” she answered, “but I am afraid that I will have a lovely bruise in the morning.  Do you think that I could have some more brandy?”

 

Nathan grinned as he reached for the cup.  “I thought you didn’t drink hard spirits.”

 

Kristin smiled ruefully.  “I normally don’t but my cheek is beginning to ache a bit and the brandy seems to help.”

 

“Just a sip.  You need something in your stomach so you don’t get sick again.” 

 

Lucas chose that moment to enter with a tray.  Kristin stared skeptically at the steaming bowl Nathan removed from it.”

 

“I’m not sure…”

 

“You have to eat something.  Try for me.”  Nathan coaxed her.  “Lucas, why don’t you get your book and read to the Countess while she eats.”

 

Lucas settled in a chair by the window and read until the waning light blurred the words to his book.  While the boy read Nathan carefully spooned the light broth into Kristin’s mouth, interspersing it with small bites of bread and sips of brandy.  By the time the light was gone the broth, bread and brandy were done as well.

 

“That was very very good, Lucas,” Kristin told the young man as he gathered the dishes onto the tray.  The crooked smile on her face told Nathan that she was definitely feeling the effects of the spirits.

 

Lucas realized this as well and left with a smile on his face.  Nathan slid the bolt into place behind him then returned to her side.

 

Kristin pulled her hand to his cheek, her finger rubbing over the line of his strong jaw as she struggled to push herself into a sitting position.

 

“You have been very good to me tonight.”

 

“I should have protected you.  I am so sorry.  I’ll make it up to you somehow, I promise.”

 

“Mmm… I know how you can do that.”

 

“How?”  Nathan asked warily.

 

“You can kiss me.”  Her face drifted toward him, her lips pursed.

 

Nathan pulled back slightly, his hands rising to her neck to caress her, the imprints of McLeary’s fingers clearly visible on her skin.

 

“I am not sure that is such a good idea, my lady.  You are just a little tipsy and I suspect that you might regret that request in the morning.”

 

Kristin’s eyes closed for a moment.  Nathan groaned internally as her tongue darted out to wet her lips.  “I won’t regret it.  Please kiss me.”

 

“Why?”  Nathan asked, his lips drifting toward hers.

 

“He made me feel unclean.  Your touch makes me feel so special… I have never felt like that… Make me feel that way again.”

 

Nathan couldn’t resist the plea in her voice and lowered his lips to brush lightly over hers.  She responded immediately, parting her lips and running her tongue over the seam of his mouth.  Nathan stabbed into her willing orifice, his tongue tangling with hers in a wild mating dance.

 

Nathan tried to keep the kiss confined to their lips but when he felt Kristin’s fingers rake through the soft curls on his chest, seeking and finding one of his nipples, he gave in to his baser desire and slid his hands down to mold and lift her breasts into his palms.  She moaned into his mouth as she pushed her chest forward.

 

Her hand moved to the back of his head, fingers threading through his hair as she tugged lightly.  Nathan knew what she wanted and reluctantly broke from her lips to trail light kisses down the side of her throat.  The nipple of her right breast was puckered and ready, begging to be taken as he approached it.  Kristin moaned loudly, her fingers tightening on his scalp as he took the silk covered peak in his mouth and suckled, his tongue lapping the tip causing it to distend even more.

 

Nathan knew he was approaching the point of no return and was attempting to pull away when he felt her hands fall from his head and chest.  With one last hard tug he broke away and lifted his head, not knowing whether to laugh or cry when he saw that she had passed out in his embrace.

 

He shifted her down in the bed then covered her, folding the blanket back just below her chest.  A satisfied smile marked her face as she snuggled into the pillows.

 

“I hope you enjoyed that as much as I did,” he whispered as he watched her sleep.  “I wonder… do you care for me?  Kreig seems to think so and so does Crocker.  Could you really care…”

 

Nathan stood and walked to his hammock, kicking off his boots before he climbed in and attempted to sleep.

 

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

 

Sleep once again eluded Nathan, his mind too busy reliving the kiss he had shared with Kristin, his body still on fire from that memory.  Because of this he was awake when the first anguished cry escaped Kristin’s lips.

 

Nathan swung out of the hammock and made his way through the dark toward the bunk as she screamed again. 

 

“NO!  STOP!  Captain… help me!”

 

He reached out toward her, his hands brushing her shoulders then gripping tightly.  Kristin screamed again and lashed out at him in her nightmare. 

 

Nathan pulled her quickly toward him, trapping her flailing arms against his body to protect them both.

 

“Ssh… Kristin… I’m here.  He can’t hurt you anymore.  I will keep you safe, I promise.”

 

Eventually his voice broke through her nightmare and she came awake, sobbing in his arms as she clung to him.

 

Once Kristin had calmed down, Nathan washed her face then gave her another sip of brandy.  “Okay, now?”  He asked as he smoothed her hair down.

 

Kristin nodded.  “Could you… would you hold me?  Just for a few minutes?”

 

Nathan sat down and slid his legs beneath the blanket, taking care to leave the sheet beneath him to separate their bodies.  He leaned back against the wall at the head of the bed and pulled Kristin into his arms.  She curled up against his chest.

 

Nathan stroked her hair, pleased to feel her relax against him.  “Talk to me.  Tell me about… your daughter.”

 

Nathan felt her smile against his shoulder.  “My daughter… Cynthia is my greatest joy… and my worst nightmare.”

 

“How old is she?”

 

“She was twenty-three on her last birthday.”

 

Nathan was surprised.  “That old?  You don’t look old enough to have a grown daughter.”

 

“Thank you for that, Captain Rogue.”  Kristin chuckled.  “I was just a few days shy of my twentieth birthday at her birth.  I’ve aged considerably since that day.”

 

“A handful?”

 

“I believe Cynthia feels that irritating me is her primary purpose in life.  When she was seventeen she refused the marriage proposal of a Duke.  I didn’t really mind that but my father was livid.  Her response to his anger was to have her beautiful waist length hair cut off above her shoulders.”

 

“That was a bit extreme.”

 

“She has no desire to do anything proper.  She doesn’t give a fig about fashion or parties.  Cynthia would rather spend her time with her nose buried in a book.  Society has written her off as a bluestocking spinster.”

 

“You don’t like her literary tendencies?”  Nathan was a bit surprised.

 

“Oh no, I encourage them.  But sometimes I do wish she was a bit more conventional.  What would an occasional ball or garden party hurt?”

 

“You know who she reminds me of?”  Nathan glanced down, barely able to make out Kristin’s answering gaze in the darkness.  “She reminds me a little of her mother.”

 

“Oh… I’m much more conventional than my daughter.”

 

“Umm… running a shipyard, sailing off with a ship full of men, even thinking about forgoing your corset?  That doesn’t sound very conventional to me.”

 

“I don’t know how…” Kristin muffled a yawn against his chest, Nathan fighting back a groan at the feel of her lips against his flesh, “I will ever convince myself to wear a corset again after being without one these last weeks.”  She snuggled deeper into his embrace, a second yawn rocking her body.

 

“Sleep, my lady.  I’ll be here to protect you.”

 

The morning sun found them still locked together sleeping peacefully.

 

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

 

Nathan wrinkled his nose and swatted at the pesky insect crawling across his cheek but seconds later it was back, tickling him in to wakefulness.  He grudgingly opened one eye and glanced down to see that his pest was actually an auburn curl.  Lady Westphalen shifted and both of Bridger’s eyes flew open wide as he realized that sometime during the night she had shifted almost completely on top of him.  The sheet barrier was still between them but did little to hide the press of his arousal into her or the feel of her leg draped across his hips.

 

Just a hint of a smile touched Nathan’s lips as he allowed his hands to drift along Kristin’s generous curves and he tilted his head down to find her lips.  He stopped just shy of her mouth, his eyes lighting on the large purple bruise on her face as well as the smaller bruises in the pattern of gripping fingers on her neck.

 

Nathan felt sick as he stared at her welts, feeling that they were his fault… he hadn’t done enough to protect her.  He rolled carefully, shifting out from beneath her.  Kristin protested his departure sleepily then curled into the warm spot he’d vacated to doze again.

 

A good dousing with cool water helped to cool his ardor as well.  Nathan dried and shrugged into a shirt as he opened the door, surprised when a sleepy Lucas fell forward into the room to land at his feet.

 

“What the hell are you doing?”  Nathan asked the boy as he helped him up.  “Did you stay here all night?”

 

“I… I thought she might need something… I wanted to be close by if she needed me.”  The boy stared at the sleeping woman with tears in his eyes.  “I know… I haven’t known her long but… sometimes I like to pretend… just for a little while… that she’s my moth… I’m sorry, sir.”

 

Nathan placed a hand on the boy’s shoulders.  “Lady Westphalen thinks the world of you too, son.  She’s doing very well… I promise.  As a matter of fact, I bet the lady is going to be very hungry when she wakes up.  Why don’t you bring a breakfast tray?”

 

Once Lucas had departed Nathan moved to another hidden panel in the wall and slid it back, revealing the small trunk of Kristin’s clothing that Katherine Hitchcock had packed.  He rifled through the dresses and pulled out the last chemise.  After a few more moments thought he grabbed the most practical of the dresses as well.  He held it up and considered the neckline critically, his practiced eye judging that the garment would reveal a great deal more of the countess’ chest than he wanted his crew seeing.

 

At the stiffening in his groin he quickly shut that thought away along with the chest before moving to the support post and hanging the dress from a hook.  He turned back toward the bunk to find Kristin staring at him, her head propped up on her bent elbow.

 

“I wondered if the chemise fairy had delivered the last one.”

 

Nathan grinned crookedly.

 

“And I am probably right in thinking that I have other clothing on board as well?”

 

Nathan gestured toward the dress.  “I didn’t want you to feel comfortable roaming around the deck… that’s why I made you wear the trousers.  I’m sorry.  If I had let you wear the dress then yesterday…”

 

“… I probably would have still been attacked.  He just wanted a woman, Captain.  What I was wearing made no difference at all.”

 

Kristin swung her legs out of the bed and stood, making sure that the long blue shirt she wore was pulled down.  She raised a hand to her cheek.  “As sore as this is, I am sure that I make a lovely sight.”

 

“Lovely…” Nathan breathed as he watched her move toward the small mirror he kept on the credenza for shaving, although he hadn’t used it in months.

 

“Oh dear… I am a sight.”  Kristin laughed slightly, almost but not completely hiding the sob that escaped when she saw her bruised face and neck.

 

“Are you in pain?”  Nathan flew to her side.

 

“No, not pain… my jaw is just a bit sore, honestly.”  She glanced down at the chemise Nathan still held in his hand.  “Could I?”  She gestured at the garment.

 

Nathan held it out to her.  “Why don’t you go back to bed?  Lucas should be back with breakfast any moment.”

 

“Breakfast actually sounds good.  A drink of water sounds even better.  My mouth is quite dry.”  Kristin smacked her lips.

 

“A side effect of the brandy you consumed last night.  You, my dear Countess, have a slight hangover.  Sleep will help.  Come on, back to bed with you.”

 

“Why, Captain Rogue… trying to get me into bed so early in the day?  If it were anyone but you I’d be suspicious of your motives.”  Kristin laughed at the captain’s astonished stare.  “But I can’t sleep.  I have a sail to mend.  My punishment, remember?”

 

Nathan was astonished that the lady even thought of completing the sail.  “Your punishment has been commuted.  No one expects you to…”

 

“I expect me to.  I will complete the task.  Do you… could I borrow another pair of trousers from you?”

 

“You don’t want to wear the dress?”  Nathan gestured at the gown, knowing that she had seen him hang it.

 

“I… I’d be more comfortable in your clothes.  My dresses tend to draw attention to my…” she glanced down as she gestured in the general direction of her chest.

 

“I’ll have a man posted with you at all times.  If you feel the least bit uncomfortable or if your wounds begin to hurt you simply say the word and I’ll bring you right back down here.  You must promise me this or I won’t allow you to go on deck.”

 

“I promise.”

 

“One more thing… I’m going to show you a technique you can use to defend yourself should any other man press his unwanted attentions on you.  Come here.”

 

Kristin moved to stand in front of him.  He lifted his arms and wrapped them lightly around her shoulders.

 

“A man is very sensitive around his privates.  If anyone ever gets you in a position like this...” he tightened his grasp, “ then you move your knee up like so.”  His hand slid down along the back of her thigh.  When he touched bare skin he pressed up and her knee lifted between his legs to brush against his rapidly swelling rod.  “Only you do it very hard and very quick.”

 

Nathan rubbed his hips along her thigh allowing her to adjust to the feel of his body then positioned her leg just so.  “Try to get the ball of your knee right here to do the most damage.”

 

He stepped back and gestured, “Try it.”

 

Kristin brought her knee up sharply, lowering it just as quickly when she realized how much of her thigh the move exposed.  “That will really work?”

 

“You’ll have any attacker rolling on the floor clutching his co… private parts as he screams.  You know… teaching you that move may not have been such a good idea after all.”  Nathan flashed her his patented rogue grin.

 

Kristin couldn’t help but laugh.  “What if I promise never to use it on you?”

 

Nathan nodded.  “I’ll remind you of that the next time I infuriate you. I’ll step outside and leave you to change now.”

 

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

 

“…well quilted underneath, furnished it with her Baby’s Bed, provided me with Linen and other Necessaries…”

 

Kristin looked up from her mending as Lucas’ voice trailed off to see the boy swaying slightly in his chair.  “Lucas?”

 

Lucas shook his head and looked at her.  “Yesh…?”

 

Kristin reached out a hand to his forehead.  “You’re burning up!  Oh…” she glanced around looking for the rogue.  “Captain!”

 

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

 

Nathan’s head snapped up at Kristin’s call, pulling his attention away from the map on his desk he and Crocker were studying.

 

Crocker, being closer to the door, stuck his head out.  “Cap… it’s Lucas!”

 

Nathan flew out of his office to see Lady Westphalen cradling an unconscious Lucas in her arms.  His eyes met hers across the ship and he could see the worry in her eyes.  Nathan quickly made his way down to the lower deck, Crocker hot on his heels.

 

“What happened?”

 

“He passed out,” Kristin told him as he bent over the youth in her arms.  “He’s running a very high fever.”

 

Nathan reached out a hand and laid it on Lucas’ forehead.  “How on earth did this happen?”

 

“Perhaps, one of the men we rescu…captured… had the fever when we brought them on board.”  Crocker quickly corrected as he watched Nathan scoop the boy into his arms and carry him in the direction of his cabin.

 

Kristin pushed the blue sail aside and quickly followed.

 

“Put him in the bed,” she instructed the captain as she moved over to the credenza,  “then strip him.  We have got to get his fever down.”

 

Nathan did as she commanded and laid Lucas out in his bed then quickly removed his shirt and britches, a small smile touching his lips as he realized the teen had once again been running around barefoot.  “What am I going to do with you?”

 

“Pardon?”

 

“Lucas… he’s not wearing his shoes again.  No matter how hard I’ve tried over the last four and a half years, he just hates wearing shoes,” Nathan explained, covering Lucas to the waist with the sheet.  “Not that I blame him… if I could be barefoot all the time, I would be too.”

 

Kristin smiled as she carried the bowl of cool water over to the bed.  “Makes three of us,” she said as she sat on the edge of the bed.  She reached into the bowl and grabbed the cloth she’d dropped in.  Kristin wrung it out and began to wipe Lucas’ face and chest with the cool cloth.  “He’s going to need to need fluids.  Water, juice… and at some point, even some broth… I take it you don’t have a doctor on board?”

 

“No… we normally do have one with us, but he was badly injured just before we… before you joined us… and we haven’t found a replacement.”

 

Kristin merely nodded.  “Then could I see your stores… whatever medicinal items you have aboard?  And oh yes… some willow bark tea, Lucas brought me some when I first came aboard.  That will help too.”

 

“Anything else?”

 

“Some colder water.  We need got to get his fever down and this water isn’t cool enough,” she said as she dipped the cloth back in the bowl.

 

Nathan nodded and left the cabin.

 

Kristin stroked the teen’s cheek as he began to moan softly.  “It’s okay, Lucas.  You’re going to be okay.  I promise.”

 

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

 

“Alcohol.”

 

“I beg your pardon?”

 

“You have alcohol on board do you not?  You gave me brandy.”

 

“Yes.  We have several cases.  Why?”

 

“I want to use it to help bring his temperature down.”

 

“Isn’t the water helping?”

 

“Not a lot, no.  The alcohol would actually work better.”

 

“Any particular alcohol?”

 

“As strong as you have.”

 

“Will rum do?”

 

“Yes.”

 

“I’ll be right back.”

 

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

 

“Bloody hell!”

 

“What’s wrong?”  Nathan moved across the room to stand beside Kristin and looked down into the bed to see Lucas shaking.  He met Kristin’s eyes.  “Chills?”

 

Kristin nodded.  “We’re going to need as many blankets as you can find.”

 

“I’ll see to it,” Nathan said as he moved to the door.  “And I’ll get the cook to fix us something to eat.”

 

“I’m not…”

 

Nathan waved off her protest.  “You’ve barely eaten the last few days.  You need to keep your strength up too.”

 

Kristin gave him a small smile and nodded her acceptance as she watched him leave.

 

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

 

A low moan from the bed drew the attention of the two people eating in silence at the table.

 

Kristin stood and quickly made her way over to where Lucas lay, sweating and trembling beneath a large pile of blankets.  “He’s still burning up,” she told Nathan as he stepped up beside her.

 

“He’s got practically every blanket on the ship piled up on top of him,” Nathan told her and looked down at the young man in concern.  “I don’t… what are you doing?”

 

Kristin glanced up at him as she lifted some of the blankets and slid in next to Lucas.  “Body heat is helpful too,” she told him as she pulled Lucas into her embrace. 

 

“Lucas is like a son to me,” Nathan said as he pulled off his boots then crawled in at the foot of the bed.  “And I’ve already lost one son,” he murmured quietly as he slipped under the blankets on the other side of Lucas.  “I’ll be damned if I lose another one.”

 

Not knowing what to say, Kristin remained quiet while Nathan slid his arm beneath Lucas’ shoulders and pulled them closer.  Silence fell between them and Kristin allowed her eyes to shut, only to open them seconds later when she heard a soft chuckle.  She looked over at the captain and noticed a small smile tugging at his lips.

 

As if feeling her eyes on him, Nathan turned to see Kristin watching him.  His smile grew.  “I was just remembering a time when my son was little, no more than five years old… he’d gotten sick and much like his father, he complained bitterly about it too.”

 

Kristin smiled as Nathan continued.

 

“Only my promise to take him out on the boat got him to settle down so that the fever could run its course.”

 

“And did you?”

 

“Take him out?”  Nathan asked and Kristin nodded.  His smile grew.  “Yes I did, much to his mother’s chagrin.  Robert loved the sea… loved playing in surf, sailing into the ocean… he just loved it.”

 

“Is your wife fond of the sea as well?”

 

Nathan shook his head.  “No… Carol was never overly fond of the sea.  She liked it… she just never developed the love for it that I or our son had.”

 

“Was?”  Kristin repeated and then her eyes widened at she realized.  “You’re widowed?”

 

“Yes.”

 

“I’m sorry,” Kristin reached out to cover his hand where it rested on top of the blankets.  “I didn’t mean to…”

 

Nathan turned his hand over beneath hers, curling his fingers around hers.  “It’s all right.  She passed away several years ago… after we… she caught a fever…” he glanced down at Lucas at that point.

 

“He’s going to be okay,” Kristin told him, squeezing his fingers.  She held his eyes when he looked up at her.  “I refuse to accept any other outcome.”

 

Nathan smiled.  “Thank you.”

 

“You’re welcome,” Kristin replied, continuing to hold his gaze.  “So… tell me more about your son’s boat trip.”

 

Nathan’s face lit up as he began to regale her with the tale of Robert’s promised boat trip.  “It was his first real trip on the ship, Carol didn’t like me to take him sailing with me on my business trips, but I’d promised him,” his smile grew and he laughed softly.  “You should have seen him… he had the biggest smile on his face when I let him steer the boat out of the harbour…”

 

Kristin listened attentively as Nathan continued to tell her about Robert’s first time at sea; biting her lip as he told her about his worry when the youngster got lost down in the cargo hold then grinned at the image of a younger Crocker chasing Master Bridger all over the deck of the ship.

 

“And then,” Nathan was laughing softly.  “All of a sudden, we hear this tiny voice shout out from above, ‘Land ho!  Heave ahead full, ya scallywags!’  I look up and there in the crow’s nest is my five year old son shouting out orders to the crew.”

 

Kristin joined in his laughter.  “Oh, that is priceless,” she said softly.  “Tell me more.”

 

Nathan shook his head.  “It’s your turn.  Tell me about your daughter as a little girl.  You did tell me at one point that she was your greatest joy and your worst nightmare…”

 

Kristin smiled.  “Let’s see… oh she was very precocious my Cynni was,” she told him.  “I knew from the moment she was born, screaming her head off that she would be a handful and I was right.”

 

“What’d she do?”

 

“Despite my not wanting one, her father hired a governess.  I didn’t like the woman much, I found her entirely too rigid, and as Cynthia grew I think she sensed my dislike for Miss Sloan and took to terrorizing the woman.”

 

Nathan raised his eyebrows.

 

“My little girl would traipse all over the estate, collecting all manner of bugs and other hideous creatures then place them in Miss Sloan’s bed, her bath… oh and even in the poor woman’s dress pockets,” Kristin shook her head.  “I always knew when Cynthia had been on a bug hunt whenever I heard Sloan scream.”

 

Nathan chuckled and listened as Kristin told him about five year old Cynthia refusing to wear shoes, stripping down to her all together and splashing around in the estate pond.

 

“And then one night, there was a very bad thunderstorm which frightened her terribly,” Kristin’s voice softened and lost some of its humour as she continued.  “Cynthia came running into my room and crawled into bed with me,” she smiled.  “The one and only time she ever…”

 

“What happened?”  Nathan gently squeezed her hand.

 

“My husband… he came to visit my room that night,” her voice grew to just above a whisper.  “Intent on… anyway, when he spotted Cynni curled up beside me, he got very upset and lost his temper… which was strange, as normally, Cynthia could do no wrong in his eyes,” Kristin’s voice trailed off.  After a moment or two she continued.  “After that, whenever there was a thunderstorm, I would go to her room and curl up with her.”

 

“I used to do the same with Bobby,” Nathan said.  “He’d always pretend to be so brave, but thunderstorms frightened him as well.”

 

A low mumble caught their attention and they looked down between them to see Lucas’ lips moving silently.

 

“Lucas here isn’t too fond of them either,” Nathan told her then smiled conspiratorially.  “But don’t tell him I told you.”

 

Kristin laughed softly.  “The secret is safe with me,” she said as she released his hand and brought it up to cup Lucas’ face.  “I think his fever has finally broken.  He’s feeling a little cooler…”

 

Nathan released a sigh of relief.  “I’m glad to hear it,” he smiled at her.  “So, why don’t you lay back and try to sleep.  I’ll do the same.”

 

Kristin nodded, knowing they were both tired.  She settled back against the pillows and closed her eyes.  Kristin was almost asleep when she heard the rogue’s softly whispered, “Sleep well, my lady.”

 

A soft smile touched her lips.

 

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

 

sail ahead...