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

 

Nathan groaned softly.

 

Something wasn’t right but he couldn’t quite get his mind to focus in the fuzzy darkness enveloping him.

 

All of a sudden it came to him.

 

‘KRISTIN!’

 

His mind screamed her name and his eyes flew open.

 

“Ah… Captain, you’re awake.  How nice of you to join us.”

 

Finding himself bound by his wrists to a large pole, Nathan turned his head to see a figure emerge from the shadows and slowly walk towards the bed where an unconscious Kristin lay sprawled out.

 

“Quite the ornament you have, Captain.  Or should I say, had.”

 

Nathan’s eyes narrowed, shooting daggers at the man.

 

“She is quite lovely,” Zellar said as he reached out, his hand hovering just above Kristin’s head.  “And judging by her… reluctance to join me here on the Kersch, I would wager that she is quite the spitfire in bed.”

 

Nathan bit his tongue.

 

“Not much of a conversationalist are we, Captain?”

 

“Caught me on a bad day,” Nathan replied.

 

“Yes, I would imagine so,” Zellar smiled smugly.  “Oh heavens, where are my manners?  I am, as you know, Captain Rueben Zellar and you are no doubt the infamous Blue Rogue.”

 

“I don’t know about infamous,” Nathan quipped.

 

“Now, come come, Captain.  Let’s not be modest.  We two are the two most feared men on the high-seas,” Zellar told him.  “We are either going to be the best of friends or the worst of enemies, Captain.  Why not let us be friends?  Together we could rule the ocean.”

 

“Thank you but… I’ll have to pass.”

 

“Captain, Captain… you are in hardly a position to be so obstinate.”

 

“I’m not being obstinate… I’m just retaining a modicum of good taste.”

 

Within seconds Zellar was standing face to face with the bound man, a dagger in his hand, pressing it against Nathan’s throat.  “I am not a man to trifle with, Captain,” he said in a low menacing voice.  “Slitting your throat and watching you bleed to death would not bother me in the least.”

 

The two men stared hard at each other until finally Zellar looked away.  He sheathed the dagger and walked slowly towards the bed.  He looked back at Nathan with a thoughtful look on his face then a cruel smile formed on his lips.

 

“Perhaps you would be more amiable if I,” he reached out and stroked Kristin’s hair,  “used your woman… as a means of persuasion?”

 

“Not really.”

 

“You’re telling me you wouldn’t care if I… took your woman?”

 

“Go right ahead,” Nathan told Zellar.  “She’s merely some skirt I picked up some days ago to warm my bed.  I’m a man, I have needs… and she was in the right place at the right time to help ease those needs.”

 

“You’re sure, Captain?”  Zellar ran his hand down over Kristin’s hip to cup her bottom, his eyes not leaving Nathan’s face as he watched for a response.  He’d seen them in Port San Luis.  Seen the way they’d interacted, but judging from the lack of reaction from the Blue Rogue now, he wasn’t sure what to think. 

 

‘But she looks just like…’ Zellar thought to himself.  ‘It has to be her…’

 

Nathan felt his blood boil as he watched Zellar fondle Kristin and wanted nothing more than to tear the man’s head off, but he’d realized very quickly that if he showed even a tiny bit of emotion towards Kristin, Zellar would use it against them.

 

Zellar continued to watch the captive captain as he squeezed the firm globe of the woman’s backside and began to slowly inch the skirt of her dress up.  He swore internally when a sudden knock sounded at his door.

 

“Pardon me a moment, would you, Captain,” Zellar said as he moved to the door.  “Please… just stay where you are, I won’t be long.”

 

Nathan watched as Zellar left the room, closing the door behind him then turned his gaze back to the bed to find Kristin awake and glaring at him.  He couldn’t help but smile at the fire burning in her eyes.

 

“Kris…” he whispered, his eyes darting back to the cabin door.  “Trust me… please…”

 

Kristin stared into his eyes and after a moment nodded then hearing the unmistakable sound of the door opening once again, she gave Nathan a quick smile then closed her eyes and regulated her breathing.

 

“Now, Captain,” Zellar began as soon as he closed the door behind him,  “where were we before we were so rudely interrupted?”

 

Nathan didn’t reply.

 

“Ah yes… I believe I was about to partake of your whore,” Zellar grinned as he stepped over to the bed.  He reached out and slowly began to push Kristin’s skirt up again.  “Such soft skin,” Zellar said as he ran his hand over her bare legs.  “I’ll wager they felt magnificent wrapped around you, no?”

 

Nathan simply continued to stare passively at the man.

 

“Such beauty to be wasted on a harlot,” Zellar continued as he climbed up onto the bed to straddle Kristin’s prone form, his hand still moving against her thigh.  “But I suppose if a man is going to bed a woman… she should be easy to look at… ooopfff!”

 

The low, painful groan echoing throughout the cabin was followed by Nathan’s laughter because Kristin’s knee had suddenly shot up and caught Zeller right between the legs just as her right fist connected with his jaw, sending him tumbling out of the bed.

 

“But this woman will never warm your bed, you bastard!”  Kristin fumed at the monster clutching his hands between his legs as she pulled her skirt down to cover her legs.

 

“To answer your earlier question,” Nathan continued to chuckle as Zellar slowly got to his feet, one hand still clutched between his legs.  “Yes… she is quite the spitfire in bed… as you can see.”

 

Zellar glared at Nathan as he wiped his mouth with the back of his hand, not surprised to see blood come away with the pass.  He pulled a handkerchief out of his pocket and dabbed the injured lip, his eyes dark as he turned them on Kristin.  “Yes… I see that.”

 

Kristin swallowed hard at the look Zellar was giving her and felt her skin crawl at what she could see going through his mind but she refused to look away, instead fixing him with a glare of her own.

 

A slow, almost cruel smile formed on Zellar’s lips and Nathan glanced worriedly at Kristin as Zellar once again moved to the cabin door, opened it and called out for a couple of his men before turning back to smile at them.

 

“I think, Captain,” Zellar said in a quiet voice.  “That it is time for us to part company.”

 

Just then the cabin door opened and two very large, muscular men entered.

 

“Take our guest here to the hold,” Zellar gestured to Nathan.  “Make sure he is… comfortable.”

 

“Yes, sir,” the two men replied.

 

Kristin watched with a growing sense of dread as the two men cut away Nathan’s bonds and none too gently led him out of the room.

 

“Now…” Zellar closed the door and turned to face Kristin.  “Shall we try this again?  This time, without an audience.”

 

“Not unless you want to feel my knee in your groin again,” Kristin spit out at the man.

 

Zellar laughed.  “Oh, you are indeed a hellion.”

 

“You have no idea.”

 

“I can’t wait to find out… I enjoy a challenge,” he smiled at her.  “But first, I must go check on your former lover.  I shan’t be long, my dear.  And then, you and I will get better acquainted.”

 

Kristin bit her tongue, refusing to answer the pirate captain and watched as he left.  When the door closed, she felt her bravado leave her and wrapped her arms around her knees.

 

“Oh, Nathan… what do I do now?”

 

She rocked slowly, remembering just hours earlier how safe and content she’d felt lying in Nathan’s arms after they’d made love repeatedly.

 

“Oh please…” Kristin whispered, looking skyward.  “Please let him be all right.  Let us get out of this…” she felt the tears prick behind her eyes as she realized that she’d not yet told Nathan how she felt about him.  “Please, Lord… please…”

 

‘Enough, Kristin!’  Her subconscious spoke up.  ‘You’re not doing Nathan any good sitting here simpering.  Get up!  Move!  Find something… anything to help yourself out of this.’

 

Kristin nodded to herself and moved off the bed then began to roam around the cluttered cabin belonging to the nefarious pirate. 

 

‘Why does this feel… familiar?’  Kristin thought to herself.  ‘Something about this room…’

 

Kristin shook the feeling away.  The only cabin she wanted to feel familiar with belonged to the man she was sure was being chained down in the hold.  She straightened her spine, determination giving her strength as she continued to search the room, deciding that being in possession of a weapon of some kind would be to her advantage.

 

“I don’t think this Zellar is stupid enough to let me knee him in the groin again,” she said to herself then chuckled at the memory of the man curled up on the floor, clutching his privates.

 

Kristin moved around to the large desk taking up the one corner of the room and sat down in the chair as her eyes moved over the surface, cluttered as it was with papers.  An idea quickly formed. 

 

‘Where is it?’  She thought to herself, carefully lifting papers as she searched.  ‘Where…?’  Kristin stopped and looked at the drawer beneath the desk.  She bit her lip then with a small prayer for it to be unlocked, she gave it a gentle pull.

 

“Oh thank you!”  Kristin whispered as it opened then began to rifle through it.  “Please… oh, ple… yes!”

 

She pulled out the object of her search and grinned in triumph.  It wasn’t large, but even as Kristin slipped the small pearl-handled letter opener into the pocket of her skirt, she felt better.

 

Realizing that she probably didn’t have much time left before Zellar returned, Kristin went to shut the drawer when a dark lump in the corner caught her attention.  She glanced up at the door and bit her lower lip then gave in to her curiosity.  Kristin pulled an object wrapped in oilskin out and placed it on the desk then quickly unwrapped it to reveal a gold pocket watch.

 

A sharp gasp left her lips as she picked up the timepiece and turned it over.  ‘It can’t be,’ she thought as she traced her fingers over the raised lettering on the cover.  Kristin pushed the fob to open the watch.

 

“Oh God!”  The soft sob escaped her lips before she could stop it as the cover popped open.  “…Oliver…” she ran her fingers over the face of the long ago wedding present to her husband.  She closed the watch and rewrapped it in the oilskin then slipped it into her other pocket.

 

With shaking hands, she searched through the drawer some more, almost afraid of what else she would find.  At the back, behind a clump of sealing wax, her fingers encountered a small circular object.  She hooked her index finger inside it and pulled it out.

 

Tears welled in her eyes as she gazed at the gold signet ring she held.  “Oh…” Kristin whispered as she closed her hand around the ring and pressed her fist to her lips.

 

She was suddenly filled with an intense surge of hatred for the man who held her and Nathan captive and given the chance; Kristin knew she would kill him without thought.

 

Kristin reached into the top of her dress and pulled out the tie for her chemise then slipped the ring onto the ribbon and retied it; pushing the signet down between her breasts.  Her head jerked up at the sound of footsteps nearing the door and she quickly closed the drawer then moved away from the desk to stand by the window, her right hand slipping into her pocket to close around the small dagger-like opener.

 

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

 

Nathan grunted as another fist landed in his stomach, knocking the air he’d just managed to pull into his lungs back out.

 

“Wan ‘nother one?  Course ya does.”

 

Nathan tried to prepare himself for the incoming blow but was unsuccessful as the large fist once again impacted against his stomach followed quickly by a second one to his chin.

 

“Now now, Clive, is that anyway to treat our guest?”

 

“He kicked me,” Clive told Zellar.  “Ain’t that right, Jonesy?”

 

“Yes, sir…” the one named Jonesy replied and cuffed Nathan in the head.  “An’e tried to excape too.”

 

“Well, then… in that case, you got what you deserved,” Zellar told Nathan.  He looked at his men.  “Is he secured?”

 

“Yes, Captain.”

 

“Very good.  You may return to your posts.”

 

The two men nodded and left as Zellar slowly began to circle Nathan.  After several minutes of silence and a couple of circuits around his prisoner, Zellar stopped in front of Nathan.

 

“I ask for your forgiveness for the poor accommodations.  We don’t usually have guests onboard the Kersch.”

 

“You don’t say,” Nathan retorted.

 

“You know… you’re not at all what I was expecting, Captain,” Zellar said.

 

“Glad to disappoint you.”

 

“How is that you strike so much fear into the hearts of those who sail the seas?”  Zellar asked as he began to pace again.  “You don’t seem the type…” he stopped pacing to once again face Nathan.  “I watched you in San Luis… watched you with the woman…”

 

Nathan held his breath.

 

“For a mere whore, you treat her quite well.  Not many men would lavish the attention… or the funds… that you have on that sort of woman.”

 

“I’m a gentleman.”

 

“I noticed,” Zellar said.  “So tell me, Captain… where exactly did you find this woman?”

 

“What’s it to you?”

 

“Curiosity…”

 

“She was onboard a ship I attacked.  I have a thing for redheads and as I’ve already told you, she was in the right place at the right time to serve my needs so I took her.”

 

“You wouldn’t be lying to me now, would you, Captain?  Trying to protect the woman?  After all, as I recall, you were quite determined to rescue her… to keep me from taking her.”

 

“I’d just spent a fortune on clothes for her… of course I didn’t want her taken away.  I hadn’t gotten my monies worth yet.”

 

Zellar stepped up close to Nathan.  “Tell me… do her breasts look and feel as glorious bared as they look and feel clothed?”

 

Nathan willed himself not to react at the realization that Zellar was the one in the market who had groped Kristin.  “Yes,” he replied, knowing that by not saying anything he ran the risk of tipping Zellar off as well.

 

“Wonderful!”  Zellar grinned as he moved away from his captive and headed for the exit.  “I look forward to finding out for myself.”

 

‘Oh God… Kris…’ Nathan thought frantically.

 

“Oh… and, Captain,” Zellar paused in the open door and smiled at Nathan.  “Thank you for finding her for me…”

 

“Zellar…”

 

The smarmy pirate looked back once again.

 

“I have a lot of money invested in that woman…” Nathan told him,  “and I’m not finished with her yet.”

 

“You are now, Captain.  You are now.”

 

With that, Zellar left, closing the door behind him.

 

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

 

Kristin stared resolutely out the window, refusing to turn as the door opened and closed behind her.  The hands in her pockets closed around the contents, the watch in one and the dagger in the other. 

 

“Come and join me, my dear.  I thought you might like a bit of refreshment.”  Kristin turned to find Captain Zellar placing a tray on his desk then holding out a chair for her.

 

She swallowed hard as she stared at him, wanting nothing more than to drive the dagger through his heart but knowing that she had to play along if she wanted to know about Nathan. 

 

A forced smile found its way to her lips as she walked stiffly across the room and settled into the chair.  Zellar moved to the other side of the desk and sat, his eyes never leaving her.

 

“Would you be mother?”  He gestured at the silver teapot.

 

Kristin poured the tea into the delicate china cups then added sugar to hers, deliberately ignoring the man sitting in front of her.  Zellar simply laughed as he fixed his own beverage.

 

“I guess that we need to come up with something to do to pass the time.  Tell me, pretty lady, do you play chess?”

 

Kristin started.  “I… yes, I play.”

 

“It’s been so long since I’ve enjoyed a game.  Perhaps we might play?”

 

“Perhaps… where is Captain Rogue?”  Kristin quickly stopped herself from speaking Nathan’s Christian name and took a sip of the tea.

 

“So you do care about the pirate?” Zellar observed.

 

Kristin lowered her head.  “He’s the only friend that I have on a ship full of cut throats.  Yes, I do wonder what you’ve done with him.”

 

Zellar regarded her with curious eyes as he sipped his tea.  “The Rogue is tied up down in the hold.  He’s relatively unhurt… for now.  But I could be your friend, pretty lady.” Zellar reached out to trail a fingertip down her forearm.  “You’d find me very friendly.”

 

Kristin pulled her hand back slowly.  “I’ve already experienced your idea of friendship.  I don’t think that I care to explore it any further.”

 

“You’ll change your mind,” Zellar stated, his eyes narrowing as his gaze continued to bore into her.  “Tell me… how did you come to be on the Rogue’s ship?”

 

Kristin thought fast, knowing that Nathan would have kept as close to the truth as possible.  “I was on board a ship that he attacked.  He took a fancy to me and kept me with him when he disabled my vessel.”

 

“Just like that… no fight from you?”

 

“I was unconscious… of course I fought him once I awoke.”

 

“For how long?  How long did you hold the Rogue at bay before you let him split your thighs?”

 

Kristin blanched.  “That’s crude.  My relationship with the captain is none of your business.”

 

“You don’t seem like a typical whore.  You are obviously gentle-bred… your voice and your manners give you away.  What were you doing on that ship?  Why were you sailing?”

 

Kristin lowered her eyes.  “I was sailing to America.  I work as a governess for a wealthy man.  He decided to take his family with him on his business trip and I went along to care for the children.”

 

“A governess?  I would have thought you a woman of circumstance.” Zellar’s sharp eyes watched her like a hawk, looking for any break in her façade.

 

“Once… when my husband died his holdings went to his next male relative.  The small stipend I received was not sufficient for me to survive so I had to find work.  Being a governess was what I was best qualified for.”

 

“I can think of other things that you would have been more qualified for.  With your figure you would have been a most sought after courtesan.  You should have held out for better than the Rogue.”

 

“Someone like you, perhaps?  I don’t think so.  At least the Rogue has behaved very gentlemanly towards me.”

 

“I tire of all this talk about my competitor… my inferior competitor.  Our battle today proves who is the better pirate.  Soon you will know who is the better man.  Let us enjoy a more pleasant pastime.”

 

Kristin took another long sip of the tea as her hand moved over her pocket.  The pirate stood and moved to a cabinet behind him.  He took a small box down then returned to the desk and pushed the tea tray aside to reveal a chessboard inlaid in the desk…

 

 

“Oliver, this is the strangest thing I’ve ever seen!  Why would you want a game board in your desk?”  Kristin ran a hand over the polished wood as she glanced at her husband lovingly.

 

Oliver laughed.  “Because I like to play chess.  A separate board might slide around too much on open waters.  Perhaps the next time we go out you might join me.  I always enjoy our games.  Your are a worthy opponent, my wife.”

 

“You taught me well.  I wish that I could go this time.  I’ve missed sailing.”

 

“The next time… Your brother and I are going to be taking care of some very promising business opportunities on this trip.  You should be in London for the little season.  James and I will be home in time for the holidays.  I shall endeavor to find something very special for Cynthia… and perhaps for you as well.”

 

“All I want is you home safely.” Kristin beamed at her husband…

 

 

“Are you all right, my dear?  Is something wrong?”

 

Zellar’s smooth voice pulled Kristin back to the present to find that he had the chess pieces arranged on the board and was awaiting white’s first move. 

 

She turned away, her eyes scanning the room, understanding now why it felt so familiar.  Time and lack of care had taken its toll on the excellent craftsmanship that Oliver had demanded, but many of his personal touches were still visible throughout the cabin.

 

‘You bastard!  You kept his ship.  You murdered my husband and my brother and you kept their belongings!’

 

Kristin’s fist clenched as every instinct urged her to strike out at the man with the smarmy smile.  ‘Nathan… don’t forget Nathan!’  Her subconscious screamed, stopping her before it was too late.

 

“The first move is yours, pretty lady.”

 

Kristin stared at the board; repulsed at the thought of playing the game her husband had taught her with his murderer.

 

“What are you going to do to us?” She questioned in a low voice as she struggled to maintain control and suddenly felt slightly dizzy.

 

“I don’t know yet.  There are so many things.  Being a pirate has its perks you know.  I’m thinking about having the Blue Rogue flogged… just to teach him a lesson mind you.  Then I’ll probably have him tied to the mast for a day or two without food or water.  Then my crew can have a go at him.  Once he’s recovered from that beating enough to stand I’ll have him shot.”  Zellar smiled evilly at the look of horror on Kristin’s face.  “I’m sorry, I tend to lose a bit of myself when it comes to my work. I sometimes forget there are other pleasures in life, other… indulgences.”

 

He stood and moved around the desk, his hand falling to her shoulder.  “It doesn’t matter what happens to your former lover.  You belong to me now.”

 

“Never,” Kristin hissed and lashed out at Zellar with her fists, only to find her movements sluggish and having no real impact on the man.

 

Zellar laughed.  “Having trouble, my dear?”

 

Kristin shook her head and moaned as the room began to spin.  “Nev… vrrrr…”

 

Zellar watched with an evil glint in his eyes as the woman before him slumped in her chair and her head lolled back on her shoulders, thrusting her ample bosom out.

 

“Never may be shorter than you think,” Zellar chuckled as he reached down then lifted the now unconscious woman up out of the chair and carried her over to the large bed.

 

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

 

The feel of warm hands massaging her breasts slowly pulled Kristin toward consciousness.  “Mmmthnnn…” she murmured and arched into his touch.  “…plssss…”

 

“Yes…”

 

Kristin moaned as she felt her nipples tighten beneath the teasing touches through her chemise and fought to open her eyes, wanting and needing to see Nathan’s face as he lowered his mouth to suckle at her nipple.

 

A strange sensation washed over her as the expected hot warmth surrounded her cotton-covered nipple.

 

Something didn’t feel…

 

Kristin moaned again as his hand moved between her thighs and his long fingers combed through her curls.  “…mmmthnnn…”

 

Something wasn’t right… the touch was…

 

“…wrong… NO!”  Kristin cried out and fought to push the naked male body off of her.  “No!  Stop!  Don’t touch me!”

 

“It is too late to play the shy maiden now, my dear,” Zellar responded as he leaned down to once again bite at her breast while the hand he had between her thighs pressed harder against her.  “After all, we’ve gotten so close already.”

 

Kristin struggled beneath him as she realized that somehow Zellar had managed to remove her dress and worked to get her hand out from beneath him.

 

“Oww… you bitch!”  Zellar swore as her nails suddenly raked across his face.  Strong hands grabbed and clenched her wrists then once again forced them to the mattress as he shifted his weight on top of her.

 

“No one strikes me… especially not a little whore like you.  I’ve tried to be nice but I am loosing my patience.  I don’t know if you are the woman I’ve been dreaming about for all these years or not but it doesn’t really matter.  You look enough like her for me to fool myself.”

 

Zellar’s knees pinned Kristin’s thighs to the mattress as he forced her arms above her head and pinned them together with one hand.  “For fifteen years I’ve stared at her picture and dreamed of her…” Zellar’s free hand drifted down and ripped the front of Kristin’s chemise away tearing it in his desire to get to her,  “… of all the things I would do to her.”  He pushed the torn cotton aside and exposed her breasts to his hungry gaze.  “Now I’m going to do those things to you.”

 

Kristin continued to struggle as the pirate’s hand fell to grab at her bare breast.  “I don’t want you!”

 

“I don’t give a damn what you want.  I’ve dreamed of you… of a woman who looks just like you… a lady of refined birth… I’ve dreamed of her for over a decade.  I’ve imagined having her in my bed… hot and panting for me.  You’re a whore… I’ll arouse you easily enough then you will satisfy my fantasies.  Maybe then I can get the damned bitch out of my mind.”

 

“I will not serve your sick fantasies!”  Kristin felt bile rise in her throat at the thought of this man lusting over her for fifteen years.

 

“Perhaps you think that your handsome rogue will come rescue you.  I don’t buy that he doesn’t have feelings for you… he is very convincing but… the way that he touched you in the market… the way he leapt to your defense… it doesn’t add up.”

 

“You…” Understanding dawned in Kristin’s eyes.  “You were the man who touched me.”

 

“I couldn’t resist a quick feel.  It certainly whetted my appetite for more, which is why you are lying in my bed right now.”

 

His hand once again slipped beneath the skirt of Kristin’s chemise and between her thighs.  Kristin could feel the rough pads of his fingers pushing against her curls and felt a wave of nausea roll over her.

 

“NO!  Please!  I’m… I’m going to be sick!”

 

Zellar’s cruel laughter rang out.  “You’d say anything to get away from me.  Well, that will change soon enough.”

 

“I’m not lying!

 

“Of course you…” Zellar’s eyes grew wide as Kristin’s color faded to green.  He rolled away quickly, hitting the floor beside the bunk just as Kristin leaned over and wretched. 

 

Wave after wave of tea and bile plummeted over him as Kristin lost the contents of her stomach.

 

“You bitch!”  Zellar jumped up and raised drew his hand back as if to slap her.  Kristin stared at him defiantly and the extended limb slowly fell to his side.  He grabbed a strip of cloth and scrubbed the evidence of Kristin’s illness off of his body.  When he finished, Zellar reached for his clothes, swearing to find them covered with the contents of Kristin’s stomach as well.  “Clean this mess up while I go find some new clothes.  I suggest you get control of your unruly stomach before I return.  I want you willing… but even if you aren’t I will still have you.”

 

“I will never be willing.” Kristin bit out at him.

 

“We’ll see, bitch.  We’ll see.”

 

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

 

Kristin ran the cool damp cloth over her face and neck, willing the fear that kept her stomach churning to subside.  When she was done, she pulled her dress back on to cover her torn chemise; breathing a small sigh of relief when her fingers brushed over James’ ring, still tied to the stay.

 

‘I’ve got to convince him that Nathan doesn’t care for me… but I don’t know how to do that unless I…’ A shudder ran through her body at the thought of giving in to Zellar.  ‘What do I do?’

 

She moved to the window and stared out at the sun sinking steadily toward the horizon, dreading what the night might bring.  A ripple in the water caught her eye.  A streak of gray broke the water, the dolphin arching high into the air before slicing neatly back beneath the surface.  Three more acrobats followed.  Kristin watched the school’s playful antics, and chuckled softly, grateful for the momentary distraction it brought.

 

“You have a beautiful laugh.” Kristin hadn’t heard Zellar enter.  She cringed as he moved in behind her and ran his fingers over her neck.

 

His free hand clamped around her opposite arm, preventing her from pulling away from his touch.  “I hope to hear it more often.  Let me be your friend.”

 

“Where is the rogue?”  The question slipped out before Kristin could stop it.

 

Zellar’s hands fell away.  “I’m glad you asked.  I’m going to take you to see your precious rogue in just a few moments.  Perhaps after you’ve seen him you will be more grateful for my… patronage.”

 

Kristin tried not to show her joy but Zellar turned suddenly, catching a glint of something in her eye before she dropped her head.  “He isn’t worth your affection, my dear.”

 

Kristin’s refusal to answer angered Zellar.  “Come!” He grabbed her arm and dragged her out of the cabin.

 

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

 

Nathan dragged his feet and swung his shoulders at his escorts, trying to keep them from noticing that he had loosened the bonds around his wrists.  He blinked as they emerged into bright light and quickly glanced around to find the position of the sun.

 

He swore silently when he realized that twilight was fast approaching, knowing that if he didn’t get Kristin off the pirate ship soon… Nathan quickly cleared that thought from his head.  The pirates pushed him roughly up against the railing and secured him there, leaving him to stare out at the ocean.

 

A smile touched his lips at the same instant that he became aware of Kristin’s presence on deck.  He turned slowly to face her and the pirate captain standing at her side.  Kristin stepped toward him but Zellar grabbed her hair and yanked her back.

 

“You know that my men will come after you and the next time they will be ready.  She’s damned good in bed but was she really worth it, Zellar?  Worth being hunted like a dog?  They won’t give up, you know.”

 

Anger flared in Kristin’s eyes as she jerked away from her captor and walked toward Nathan.  “I thought you… but I guess I was wrong… I really was just your whore.”  Her palm delivered a solid smack across Nathan’s cheek.

 

Nathan pulled his gaze back to hers, holding it intently as he willed her to read his mind.  His lips carefully formed the word ‘trust’ over and over until she was yanked back once again.

 

“Thank you, Captain.  You are making my work much easier by showing your true colors to the lady. Don’t worry.  I’ll look after your woman… or should I say my woman.” Zellar wrapped a possessive arm around Kristin’s waist.  “And soon she won’t have to worry about you any longer.”

 

Zellar jerked his head toward an opening in the railing and two burly men moved up to wrestle Nathan onto the long board jutting out from it then stood at the end to prevent him from trying to get back down.

 

The sun glinted off the shiny knife in his hand as Zellar approached the Rogue.  He used the weapon deftly, slicing through the fabric of Bridger’s already torn blue shirt until it came off in tatters.  “A little souvenir for the lady.”  Zellar walked back to Kristin and forced the fabric into her hands.

 

“Walk, Rogue!”

 

Nathan stared at the long board in front of him as his mind raced.  He turned back toward the assembled company.  “Enjoy her company while you have it, Zellar, because you won’t have it for long.” When Kristin directed a faint nod in his direction Nathan turned back and began a slow walk down the plank.

 

“No… don’t make him do this!”  Kristin’s plea rang in his ears as he reached the halfway point.  “I’ll do whatever you want… just let him go!”

 

“Forget him.  You belong to me now.”  Nathan wanted to turn back and pound Zellar’s head into the deck but getting Kristin to safety was much more important right now.  He approached the end.

 

“Jump, you bastard!”

 

The solid board fell away from his feet as Nathan jumped, Kristin’s scream echoing in his ears as he plunged toward the waves below.

 

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

 

“How… How could you?  You’ve killed him!”  Kristin stared at Zellar with loathing, her eyes filled with hate.  “You are the most vile creature I’ve ever known and I wish to God I’d never laid eyes on you!”

 

Zellar laughed, many of his crew joining in with him.

 

“So now your protector is gone… all that remains is a shred of blue silk.  Would you like for me to be your new friend now, my dear?  Or would you prefer that I leave you here as sport for my crew?”

 

Kristin glanced around the mob of stinking sailors and shuddered.  “And give up the prospect of having your fantasies fulfilled?  I doubt you would do that.  I accepted the attentions of one pirate captain and look where that has brought me.  I didn’t ask for your attentions and I do not accept them.”

 

“You don’t have any choice, my dear.  What makes the damned Rogue better than me?”

 

Kristin’s fingers wrapped around the letter opener in her pocket.  “You are the last man on earth that I would ever choose.  I’d rather be a dead pirate’s mistress than a murderer’s whore.  You killed my husband and my brother and you stole this ship!”

 

Realization dawned.  “It really is you!”  He whispered.  “You are really here with me.”

 

“I’ll see you in hell, you bastard!”  Kristin hissed as she plunged the weapon deep into his shoulder.

 

Zellar screamed and blood spurted as Kristin whirled and ran the few feet that separated her from the gangplank. 

 

“Stop her,” Zellar gasped then found his voice. “STOP HER, DAMMIT!”

 

The end of the board loomed in her vision but Kristin never hesitated as she rushed to join her love.

 

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

 

Cold dark water closed above her head but Kristin didn’t fight it. She slipped deeper into the ocean’s embrace, as unconsciousness threatened.  When she felt a bump at her back she reached out instinctively, her hands grasping Darwin’s dorsal fin tightly.  The dolphin took off at an angle toward the surface, his speed quickly putting them behind the ship looming overhead.

 

Kristin flung her head back as she broke the surface of the water.  She sucked air into her burning lungs in great gasps as she tried to brush her streaming hair from her eyes.

 

She screamed when strong hands closed over her arms and pulled.

 

Nathan quickly clamped a hand over Kristin’s open mouth and pushed the remaining strands of red away from her eyes as he brought his other hand up to his lips in a gesture to remain silent. He levered her out of the water to join him on the narrow ledge running along the back of the pirate ship, his arms moving to embrace her.

 

“Sound travels a long distance out here.  We can’t take a chance on them hearing us and realizing that we are alive,” he whispered into her ear.

 

Kristin nodded.  “But how do we…?”

 

Nathan pointed across the dark sea, his finger aimed at a small island barely visible in the twilight.  “We have to swim there.”

 

He saw the worry in her eyes, the way she nibbled thoughtfully at her lower lip but she didn’t protest.

 

“I’ll help you.  Darwin will help us as well.”  Nathan slid silently into the water and held out his hand to Kristin.  She joined him, a trembling smile on her lips. 

 

“Make as little noise as possible and pray for an overcast night.”  Nathan brushed his lips across hers then lay back and began his swim toward the island.  Kristin followed.

 

Soon the last touch of the day faded from the sky and darkness surrounded them.  Someone must have listened to their prayers because the night was overcast… so dark that they could see very little around them.  Nathan kept stopping so that Kristin could go on in front of him but she never held that position for long.  He could see that she was tiring quickly.

 

“Kris,” he wrapped his arms around her and helped her tread water.  “You are going to have to take off your dress.  It is weighing you down too much.  I’ve already gotten rid of my boots.” His fingers tugged at the row of buttons.

 

A heavy weight pressed against Kristin’s thigh, reminding her of the stolen treasure she had recovered.  “I can’t… I have something in my pocket that I have to keep.”

 

“Where… You can explain later.  How big is it?”

 

Kristin pulled the carefully wrapped package from her garment and held it up so that Nathan could feel it.  He took it from her.  “It will fit in my pocket.  Now will you take off the dress?”

 

This time Kristin allowed Nathan to work the buttons free, not even cringing when he swore in a loud whisper as he reached her mid back and tore the remaining fabric away.  The garment slid down into the murky sea.

 

“I’ll buy you a dozen more just like it.”  Nathan promised, feeling how sad she was.

 

Kristin brushed a kiss across his cheek.  “It wouldn’t be the same.  That was the first one… let’s go.  We still have a long distance to cover.”

 

Free from the dragging weight of the skirt Kristin was able to make better time but the island was still several hundred yards away when she began to lag again.  Nathan missed the sound of her stroke in the water near him and halted, a stray beam of moonlight breaking through the cloud cover to reveal Kristin floating in the water, her shoulders sagging.

 

“We aren’t that far now, my lady.  Just a little bit further.”  He encouraged her as he paddled to her side.

 

“…too tired…” Kristin’s head sagged to his shoulder.

 

“I’ll help you.  Just lay back and float.  I’ll help you.”

 

Kristin tried to push Nathan away.  “I’ll drag you down.   Just let me rest a minute.  I’ll catch up.”

 

“I’m not leaving you,” Nathan told her adamantly.  “Now float, dammit!”  He tugged Kristin onto her back and pulled her with him as he set off once again toward the island.  He was exhausted after just a few yards.

 

‘What am I going to do?  I didn’t get us this far just to lose her now.’ Nathan contemplated the distance before him.  ‘Maybe I can push her.’

 

A bump at his shoulder brought a sigh of relief to Nathan’s lips as he turned and saw Darwin floating nearby, a toothy grin framing his fishy face.  He chattered noisily at his human friend, swimming round and round the couple as he tried to get his meaning across.

 

Finally Nathan understood and stretched out beneath Kristin, one arm locked around her waist and the other hooked over Darwin’s fin.  The dolphin took off toward the island at a rapid pace.

 

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

 

With their arms still around each other, Nathan and Kristin slowly stumbled through the waves to shore.  Once they were far enough out of the water, they fell to their knees where Kristin pulled herself out of Nathan’s arms and began to pummel his chest with her fists.

 

“A skirt to warm your bed!?”

 

Punch.

 

“A whore?!”

 

Punch.  Punch.

 

“A harlot!?”

 

Nathan caught her wrists.

 

“I never called you a whore or a harlot!”

 

“You certainly didn’t try to convince him otherwise!”

 

“What was I supposed to do!?  If I’d told Zellar the truth… if he realized that I was in love with you, he would have used it against us!”

 

“You’re in love with me!?”  Kristin’s arms fell to her sides.

 

“Yes!”  Nathan pulled Kristin into his arms.  “I am in love with you.”

 

“You… you are?”

 

“Yes.”

 

“Really?”

 

“Really.”

 

“Oh, Nathan…” Kristin gasped as he reached up to cup her damp cheek.  “I… I’m in love with you too.”

 

A broad smile formed on Nathan’s lips at her words before he pulled her closer and covered her mouth with his in a passionate, celebratory kiss.

 

Their arms wrapped around each other as they kissed hungrily and sank back onto the wet sand.  Hands caressed up and down through wet clothes as they sought to bring their bodies closer.

 

“I love you,” Nathan murmured against Kristin’s lips before he trailed hot kisses down her jaw and over her collarbone to her breasts; pulling aside the soaked material of her chemise to suck a peaked nipple into his mouth, not noticing the ring falling to the side of her body, nor the fact that her chemise was torn. 

 

“Nath…an…” Kristin hissed with pleasure at the feel of his tongue swirling around the hard tip.  She arched beneath him as she wrapped a long, smooth leg behind his knee and reached down to grasp his rear to urge him closer.  “…love… please…”

 

Nathan smiled around the rosy peak in his mouth before he released it to lick and nip his way back to her lips.  He groaned as she sucked his tongue into her mouth while her hands moved to pull at the fasteners of his britches.

 

They kissed with reckless abandon, both lost in the joy of finally having voiced the feelings they’d fought against from the moment they’d met.

 

“I love you…” Nathan told her in between kisses.  “I love your smile and the way your eyes light up when you’re happy… the way they flash when you’re angry…” he smiled against her lips before moving his down to kiss her neck.  “…the way they darken when you’re aroused…”

 

“I love the way you smell…” Nathan inhaled deeply, knowing in that moment, the scent of the ocean mixed with Kristin’s unique fragrance would forever more be a stimulant he would be helpless to resist.  “The way you taste…”

 

Kristin cried out his name softly as he once again drew a pebbled nipple into his mouth.

 

“…like the sweetest ambrosia…” Nathan spoke around the dusky peak as he pulled it deeper into the hot cavern of his mouth.  He suckled her ravenously before moving to take her other breast into his mouth.  “I feel like a god… but I don’t think I will ever be satisfied…”

 

“…Nathan…” Kristin gasped at his words as she continued to pull at his wet pants.  A small smile of success crossed her lips when she finally opened them enough to slip her hands beneath the dark cotton and grasp the firm skin of his butt.

 

Nathan moaned against her breast at the feel of Kristin’s hands squeezing his rear, pulling him closer.  He thrust gently against her, the heat of her core warming him through the wet cotton of his pants.

 

Nathan pulled his mouth from her breast and rose up onto his arms over her.  He felt his breath catch in his throat at the sight of her bathed in the moonlight… hair fanned out over the wet sand, lips parted and swollen from his kisses… her eyes glassy with desire and love…

 

“You are so beautiful,” Nathan whispered.

 

“…Nathan…” Kristin slipped one hand out of his pants to clutch at his shoulder and urge him back down to her, moaning happily when he complied and his chest pressed against her bared breasts.  “I love you…” she whispered just as he captured her mouth in a searing kiss.

 

A loud whistle broke through the haze surrounding the embracing pair.

 

“What… what was that?”  Kristin asked breathlessly as Nathan broke off the kiss and raised his head to look around.

 

“Darwin,” Nathan answered.  “He’s calling us… warning us about something.”

 

“Do you think it could be Zellar?”  Kristin asked with a touch of fear in her voice.

 

“I…”

 

“Nathan!”

 

Nathan looked down at Kristin and they shared a smile.  “Gator.”

 

“I think we’d better get up.”  Kristin said then glanced down between them,  “and that I’d better…”

 

Nathan followed her gaze and groaned.  “God… Gator’s timing is as bad as Lucas’.”

 

Kristin laughed and Nathan grinned at the sound.  He then rolled off onto his side, effectively blocking her from view so that she could pull her chemise back over her breasts.

 

“I think…” Nathan reached out to circle a still peaked nipple through the wet, sheer cotton,  “we need to get you a blanket.”

 

“That would be…” Kristin said with a smile as she clutched the torn edges of her chemise together,  “very nice.”

 

Nathan chuckled and climbed to his feet then pulled her up to stand behind him.  When the rowboat drew closer, he shouted out to Crocker,  “Gator… toss me a blanket would ya?”

 

“Sure thing, Cap!”  Crocker answered as he felt about for one of the blankets they usually kept in the boat.  Once he located one, he hefted it over the water to Nathan.

 

Nathan caught the blanket with one hand.  “Thanks, Manny.  Give us a minute.”

 

Crocker watched as Nathan turned, shaking out the blanket at the same time then wrapped the wool sheet around the countess’ shoulders and body.  A grin formed on his lips at the delighted squeal that came from Kristin when Nathan suddenly scooped her into his arms and carried her to the waiting boat.

 

“Your timing could have been better, Gator,” Nathan quipped to his first mate as he settled onto the seat of the rowboat and cradled Kristin in his lap.

 

“Nathan!”  Kristin hissed and slapped his chest.

 

Crocker laughed.  “Sorry, ‘bout that.”

 

Nathan chuckled.  “Row us home, Gator.  Row us home.”

 

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

 

‘Nice view,’ Nathan thought as he slowly made his way up the rope ladder.

 

“Stop that!”

 

Nathan chuckled at the soft voice that floated down to him.  “Stop what?”

 

“You know what.”

 

Nathan laughed again then sighed as the view above him disappeared.  He quickly scrambled the rest of the way up the ladder and hauled himself over the railing to come face to face with a blushing countess.

 

“You’re terrible!”  Kristin told him a low voice as she held the blanket tightly around her.

 

“But you love me anyway,” Nathan replied as he pulled her close.

 

A beatific smile lit her face and she reached up to cup his cheek, not caring that his crew was most likely watching.  “Yes I do.”

 

“But it really was a fantastic view,” Nathan told her and brushed a quick kiss over her lips.  “Come on, my lady… let’s go get into some dry clothes.”

 

Kristin nodded and allowed Nathan to lead her to his cabin.

 

“How is Will fairing?”  Nathan directed the question over his shoulder to his first mate who was a step or two behind.

 

“Not too well, Cap,” Crocker admitted in a quiet voice.  “His wound is badly infected and he’s got a very high fever.”

 

“Dammit!  I…”

 

“Gator, gather all of the medical supplies in your cabin.  Make sure there is a needle and some thread,” Kristin suddenly spoke up.  “Get some whiskey… or other strong spirits and clean bandages.  We’ll be right there.”

 

“Yes, Countess,” Crocker nodded and took off to do as she asked.

 

Nathan grinned at her and shook his head.  “Yep, I was right,” he said as they entered his cabin.  “You’ve bewitched my entire crew.”

 

Kristin blushed.  “I’m sorry… I shouldn’t have…”

 

“It’s all right, Kristin,” Nathan told her as he shut the door.  “I’m glad and very thankful you want to help.”

 

“I know how much Will means to you,” Kristin said as she dropped the now wet blanket to the floor, quickly followed by her chemise.  She looked back over her shoulder to see Nathan staring at her, a deep hunger in his cerulean eyes, and blushed.

 

“I will never tired of seeing you like this…” Nathan told her in a soft voice as he stepped over to her.  “You have bewitched me too, my lady.”

 

Kristin smiled as he pulled her into his arms.

 

“I want so badly to make love to you right now…” he whispered in a deep voice.

 

“But Will needs us…” Kristin replied, her voice also husky with arousal.

 

Nathan nodded.  “But as soon as that boy is well… and he is going to get well…” he slid his hands down her back to cup her rear and pull her closer.  “I am going to spend the week in bed, making love to the woman I love.”

 

“And Lord help the person who interrupts us,” Kristin smiled at him.

 

Nathan laughed.  “Amen!”

 

Kristin joined in his laughter.  “Let’s go take care of your godson.”

 

Nathan nodded.

 

They shared a quick but meaningful kiss then quickly changed and left the cabin.

 

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

 

“Boy, Crocker was right.  You do look terrible.”

 

William Noyce Junior looked up at his uncle and gave him a weak smile.  “You don’t look so ship-shape yourself, sir.”

 

Nathan smiled wryly, knowing his face was covered with bruises from his beating.  “I’ve had better days to be sure.  I want you to meet someone, Billy boy.  This is Kristin Westphalen, La…”

 

A spark of interest entered William’s eyes as Kristin moved to the side of the bed, cutting Nathan off mid sentence. 

 

“Hello, William.  I’m very pleased to meet you.  I’ve heard so much about you.”  Kristin grasped the hand the young man held out.

 

Kristin knew that if young Mr. Noyce had more strength he would have been full of questions from the look in his eye.  “I want to take a look at your wound if you will let me, William.  Perhaps I can help.”

 

William drew his leg back, grimacing as he did so.  “I don’t want anyone to look at it.  They want to cut it off but I won’t let them.  I’d rather die than lose my leg!”

 

Kristin fell to her knees beside Will’s bed, her hand still clasping his.  “You don’t mean that, Will.  Your parents have missed you so much.  How do you think they would feel if they knew that you’d been found, only to lose you again?”

 

“I… I don’t want to lose my leg.  I don’t want to be a cripple.”

 

“Please let me look at the wound, Will.  I promise that I will do everything in my power to try and save it.  I won’t let it be removed unless there is absolutely no other option.”

 

“You promise?”  Will was surprised at the trust he felt in this woman’s word.

 

“I give you my solemn vow.”  Kristin held the boy’s gaze as she gave her word.

 

After several long moments William moved his leg back toward the edge of the bed.

 

“Nathan, I need light… as many lanterns as you can find,” Kristin commanded as her hands fell to the filthy bandage wrapped around Will’s thigh.  She pulled the edges of his torn trousers apart then carefully pulled the cloth away.

 

The men in the room, Nathan and Crocker included, blanched then began to turn green as the smell of rotting flesh filled the air.  Kristin simply stared at the wound with interest.

 

“I need a knife… a large one.  Bring me as much fresh water as we can spare.  Find some clean cloth and tear it in to bandages then boil them.  I need basins and lots of rum… Nathan, is there anyway that we could have a fire in here… something a little bigger than a lantern flame?  I will need to sterilize the knife.”

 

Nathan nodded, trying desperately not to be sick.  “I’ll see what I can do.  Crocker, open that porthole.”

 

The room burst into a flurry of activity but Kristin remained where she was, whispering reassurances to Will while her requests were carried out.  Once Lucas appeared with several large basins she directed him to take her place while she inspected the various medicinal herbs that Crocker had brought from the limited medical stores. 

 

“What is she doing?” Will asked Lucas, straining his head around in an attempt to see Kristin.

 

“She’s mixing something… she’s good, trust me.  The lady nursed me through a very bad fever a few weeks ago.”

 

“Don’t let her give me anything to make me sleep.  They might take my leg off while I’m out.”

 

Lucas shook his head.  “The lady promised that she would do her best to save your leg.  She will.”

 

Nathan entered the room at that moment followed by several men carrying an iron stand and an enormous copper bowl.  They set the brazier up in the corner beneath the open porthole then filled it with coal and lit it.

 

“The bandages are boiling in the galley.  Miss Hitchcock should be bringing the first batch down any moment.  What can I do now?” Nathan asked as he moved to stand beside Kristin.

 

“I need some hot water to mix this poultice.  I’ll also need help holding William down while I probe the wound and clean out the infection.”

 

Once everything was in place Kristin returned to the side of the bunk, gently shooing Lucas out of the way.  “I’m going to have to clean the cut now, Will, and it will hurt very badly I’m afraid.  I can give you a sleeping draught if you like.”

 

“No!”  Will refused quickly, still afraid of losing his leg while asleep.

 

Kristin smiled.  “You can trust me, Will.  How about a shot of rum?  That might help take the edge off.”

 

Will took the drink gratefully and gulped it down, causing Nathan to have to pound his back soundly while he coughed.

 

“Slowly,” Kristin cautioned as she poured another shot and handed it to the boy.  This time Will sipped the drink then fell back to the bunk. 

 

“I’m ready,” he gasped through clenched teeth.

 

Katie and Ben entered with steaming hot water and clean cloths, placing them on the table then moving back to the wall out of Kristin’s way.  She moved to the water and dipped her hands in then picked up the bar of soap and scrubbed her hands and arms all the way to her elbows.  Katie grabbed a clean cloth from the top of the pile and draped it over Kristin’s outstretched hand so that she could dry off.

 

“Nathan, will you lay the knife in the coals?  Put it in at the hottest point.”

 

Deft fingers calmly grasped both sides of the wound and pulled as gently as possible but a cry of pain still escaped Will’s lips.  Dried blood slowly broke away as the cut parted, releasing another wave of rotting aroma.

 

Kristin gnawed on her lower lip as her fingers probed the torn edges.  “Katie, hand me a hot damp cloth.” 

 

A thin trickle of pus oozed out of the wound as Kristin carefully cleaned away blood and filth so that she could see the extent of the saber slash clearly.  She worked methodically with cloth and water, flushing away the rotting flesh along with the outward signs of the infection bit by bit.  Will tried to be brave, his teeth biting down on his lower lip while his hands clenched Nathan’s in a death grip.

 

Finally Kristin looked up, pulling the cloth from the cut that she had lain open.  Blood seeped out of the raw flesh.

 

“Will, I’m going to have to cauterize the wound to try and stop the infection from spreading.  Are you sure that you don’t want a sleeping draught?”

 

“My leg… do you think…?”

 

“I’m going to be honest.  I won’t make you any promises but… with the proper care… if we can arrest the infection here and now… I think that we can save it.”

 

“Then do it.  I can take it.”

 

Kristin nodded and stood, taking just a minute for her numb legs to regain feeling, then moved toward the brazier.  She wrapped the cloth in her hand around the hilt of the knife for added protection against the heat then turned back to the injured boy.

 

Will closed his eyes tightly as Kristin approached, not wanting to know when the pain was coming.  She felt Nathan’s gaze and her head fell, not wanting to see what must be there.

 

“Kris…” she barely heard his whisper but knew that he wanted her to look at him so she raised her head, surprised to see blue eyes full of complete trust.  He gave her a tiny nod of approval.

 

The smell of burning flesh and the sound of Will’s horrific scream filled the air a millisecond after Kristin laid the knife on the weeping wound.  She held it there for several seconds then pulled it away, pleased to see that the worst bit of infection had been burned away.

 

“Very good,” she announced as she turned to look at Will.

 

Nathan laid the boys arms down over his chest.  “He passed out the second you touched him.”  He took the knife that she held out from her and laid it back in the coals, staring a moment as the fire burned the infection away.  “Do you think the leg has a chance?”

 

“I do,” Kristin spoke confidently.  “I’m going to put a poultice on it now to help fight infection and promote healing.  It will have to be changed every hour or two at least through the night.  I’ll need to stay here.”

 

Nathan nodded.  “Lucas, go get blankets and pillows from my cabin and make up a pallet here,” he gestured to the floor by the bed.

 

“Aye, Cap,” Lucas nodded and hurried out of the room.

 

“Katie,” Kristin turned to the young woman.  “Come help me get the ingredients ready for the poultice.”

 

As the woman did this, Lucas returned with the blankets and pillows and with Kreig’s help, made up a pallet on the floor close to the bed.

 

“Thank you, son,” Nathan patted Lucas on the back.

 

“You’re welcome,” Lucas replied.

 

“Now… I think everyone should leave.  William needs to rest,” Kristin told them.

 

“You heard the lady,” Nathan said then turned to Crocker.  “Keep an eye on things up there.”

 

“Aye, Cap.”  Crocker replied then with a nod to Kristin, he left the room.

 

Ben and Katie said their goodbyes as well and followed Crocker with a reluctant Lucas in tow.

 

Nathan closed the door behind them and turned back to gaze at Kristin as she bent over Will, checking his temperature.  He moved up behind her and slipped his arms around her waist.  Kristin smiled wearily as she stood and placed her arms over his.

 

“Thank you.”

 

“There is nothing to thank me for.  I’d want to help the boy anyway… but your love for him is so obvious.  We will save his leg.”

 

“I love you, Kristin.”

 

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

 

The banging of his head against the wall quickly woke Nathan up from his light slumber and he shook his head to clear the cobwebs as his eyes searched for Kristin.  He stood cautiously, not really remembering when he had given in to his exhaustion and sat down against the wall.  ‘A hell of a long day.’ He laughed within as he moved across the cabin.

 

Kristin sat in a chair beside William’s bunk, her chin dropping to her chest as she dozed fitfully.  Nathan knelt beside the chair and pondered her profile, the length of her lashes, the tilt of her nose, before reaching out to run the back of his hand along her cheek.  She nuzzled into him as her lashes fluttered open.

 

“Mmm… whtchadng?”

 

Nathan laughed.  “Tis a good thing that I speak sleepiness.  You need to rest.  Come lie down on the pallet with me.”

 

Kristin threw her head and arms back as she stretched, easing the kinks that sleeping in the chair had caused.  A quiet laugh bubbled out as she saw the look on Nathan’s face, his eyes fixed to her thrust out chest.  “I have to change the poultice again in just a few minutes.  If the wound still looks clean perhaps I could rest for a few hours… but you must promise to wake me for the next change.”

 

“Do what you need to.  I’m going to step up on deck and check with the night watch.  I want to make sure that we haven’t let our guard down.  Why don’t I see if I can find something for us to eat as well?”

 

“Food might be nice.  I am a little hungry.  After being sick earlier…”

 

“Sick… when were you sick?” Nathan was immediately concerned.

 

“I’m fine, Nathan, I promise.  I was ill in the bastard’s cabin… I’m afraid that I wretched all over him.  He wasn’t very happy with me.”

 

Nathan grinned in spite of his worry.  “I would have paid good coin to see that.  When I come back… I think we need to talk about what happened.”

 

Kristin nodded, knowing what Nathan feared.  “We will.  I should be done in about fifteen minutes.”

 

“I’ll be back then.”

 

Nathan brushed a kiss over Kristin’s forehead as he moved toward the door, pausing before exiting to turn back and stare at his woman as she carefully unwrapped the soiled bandage from the injured boy’s leg.

 

Kristin was pleased to see that no sign of further infection had appeared and the wound had almost stopped oozing clear fluid.  She was now much more confident that not only would Will keep his leg but that it would be fully functional as well. 

 

The poultice mixture stood ready in the basin, needing only a little water to be added before she applied it to a clean bandage.  Once this was done she turned back to the bed to find a feverish Will watching her like a hawk.

 

“How are you feeling?” She asked as she moved closer.

 

“You took my leg!” Will exploded in anger at her.  “I knew I couldn’t trust you.  You cut my leg off!”

 

“Will, we didn’t.  Your leg is still there.  It’s much better.”

 

“You are lying!  I can’t feel it.  The pain is gone.”

 

Kristin reached out and grabbed Will’s calf, squeezing it tightly.  “Feel my hand, Will.  I’m holding your lower leg… still there, completely intact and healing.  Can’t you feel it?”

 

Will shook his head fitfully.  “But… why can’t I feel…”

 

Kristin laid the poultice down and slipped a hand behind Will’s shoulders, carefully lifting his head up as she dragged the blanket away.  “Look, Will.  Your leg is still there.  I want you to concentrate… try to wiggle your toes.”

 

Will bit his lip in concentration and after a few moments the digits began to move back and forth.  He breathed a sigh of relief as Kristin lowered his head back to the pillow.  “But I thought… I’m sorry.”

 

“You have a fever,” Kristin told him as she picked up the bandage and began to wind it around his leg.  “Your fear of loosing your leg probably translated into feverish dreams about that happening.  The wound is looking very well so put all thought of that out of your mind.  If it continues to improve I’m going to sew it up tomorrow.”

 

“Then can I get up?”

 

“Not yet.  Perhaps in a few days…” Kristin tied off the bandage and moved back to the table, returning with a pan of water.  She wrung out a clean cloth and washed Will’s face.  “I will feel much better about this once your fever breaks, but you are going to have to stay in bed and rest your leg until the wound has time to heal properly.”

 

“I will.” Will promised as he stared at Kristin with adoring eyes.  He sighed deeply as she moved the cloth over his bare neck and shoulders, the cool water like heaven to his parched skin.

 

Once Kristin was satisfied that William’s temperature had dropped she gave him a sip of water then recovered him with the blanket.  “Go back to sleep.  I’ll be just over there if you need anything.”

 

Will nodded, his eyes already half closed.

 

Kristin sat the empty water glass on the table then stretched again, holding her pose when she realized that Nathan was watching her from the doorway, tray in hand.  Her eyes sparkled as she lifted her finger to her lips and glanced at Will.

 

Nathan nodded and stepped into the room, closing the door behind him.  He gestured at the pallet.  Kristin met him there.

 

“You are so good with him… you should be a doctor,” Nathan said quietly as he placed the tray on the floor beside the pallet then sat and pulled her down beside him.

 

“A female doctor, what a novel idea.” Kristin laughed as she tugged at her boots.  Nathan’s heavy shoes thumped to the floor beside hers as he leaned back against the wall at the head of the pallet and gathered her into his arms.

 

“I thought so,” Nathan quipped as he reached over and grabbed the small loaf of bread off the tray, tore it in half and gave her a piece as he bit into his.  “I also think you would make an excellent doctor.”

 

Kristin laughed again and shook her head as she nibbled on the bread.

 

“Have I mentioned lately how much I adore you?” He whispered into her hair.

 

“Yes… but I never tire of hearing it.”  She cuddled closer.  “I was so afraid…”

 

“I know, my love.  I was too.  When they took me away… Kristin… whatever happened in that cabin… it wasn’t your fault.”

 

Tears welled up in Kristin’s eyes.  “Nathan… he…”

 

“You don’t have to tell me if you don’t want to.  I want you to try and forget.  I’ll do whatever it takes to help you.”  He dropped his bread to the tray and pulled her tighter against him.

 

Kristin shuddered.  “He didn’t… Zellar wasn’t able to… at least I don’t think… he ripped my… my chemise and he touched my breasts then… he…” Her shaking increased.

 

“Ssh… I’m right here.  Nothing that happened can change how I feel about you.  I love you, Kristin.”

 

“I… I love you too… but you might not feel…”

 

“I repeat… NOTHING that happened can change how I feel about you, Kris.”

 

Kristin gave him a small, sad smile and started again.  “He brought in a tray… some tea and had me pour… I remember drinking some of the tea as Zel… as he went on and on about what he was going to do to you and how he was going to have me,” she trembled.  “He got up at one point… stood beside me… and I went to hit him… but I could barely lift my arms… I don’t know why and the next thing I know I’m…”

 

“What?”  Nathan asked as her voice trailed off in a sob.

 

“I…” Kristin shook her head and buried her face in his chest, the piece of bread falling from her hand into her lap.

 

“Kris… tell me…” Nathan urged her quietly as he picked up and tossed the bread onto the tray.

 

“I… when I woke up… I was on the bed… Zellar was on top of me… unclothed… he’d removed my dress and he was tou… I thought it was you and I…”

 

“You responded?”  Nathan finished.

 

“Yes…” Kristin mumbled against his chest.  “I’m sorry… I’m so sorry… I…”

 

“Didn’t do anything wrong,” Nathan told her. 

 

“But I… thought it was you touching me… and it wasn’t… how could I have… to respond like that… I…”

 

“Was probably drugged.”

 

“What?” Kristin sniffled against his chest.

 

“I think that is what happened… that the tea you drank was drugged.  How else would he have gotten you out of your dress and into his bed without your knowledge?”

 

“But how?”  Kristin lifted her head from Nathan’s chest to meet his eyes.  “I poured the tea so he couldn’t have slipped something into my cup, and he drank the tea as well, so it wasn’t the tea…”

 

“Your cup was probably laced with it,” Nathan told her.  “That is how he was able to…” he stopped and reached out to cup her cheek.  “What else happened, sweetheart?”

 

“He… he removed my dress… and then…” she pulled in a shaky breath.  “McLeary tried to… but you got there before he could… but Zellar… he touched me… there… and he put his fingers inside me…”

 

Nathan rubbed her back soothingly as she once again buried her face in his neck and sobbed into his shoulder, murmuring his love to her over and over until she was cried out.  Finally she spoke again.

 

“He would have forced me but I got sick all over him.  He didn’t believe that I didn’t care for you.  That’s why he made you walk the plank.  He thought that if he killed you I would be more receptive to his advances.”

 

“It all worked out to our advantage.  I had to get off the ship first so that I could enlist Darwin’s help.  I can’t tell you how happy I was to see him jumping off the port side when they brought me topside.  I was terrified that you wouldn’t be able to make him mad enough to send you down the plank though.”

 

“I didn’t… Nathan, I stabbed him and ran.”

 

Her head lost its support as Nathan thrust her away from him so that he could look at her.  “You did what?!”

 

“I stabbed him… I found a letter opener in his desk and put it in my pocket.”  Her face fell at the distress visible in Nathan’s countenance.  “I’m sorry.”

 

“No… don’t you dare be sorry, love.  I’m just confused.  You need to tell me exactly what happened.”  Nathan didn’t want to tell her how her confession made his blood run cold.  He knew that if Zellar discovered that they lived he would hunt them down.  “I know that Zellar was trying to use you to get to me but…”

 

Kristin shook her head.  “That’s just it, Nathan. He wasn’t.  It was never about you.  You simply got in the way.”

 

“Now I am really confused.”

 

Kristin settled back against the wall beside Nathan, his arm still encircling her waist.  “When Zellar took you away I searched his desk looking for a weapon.  I found the dagger and put it in my pocket.  I was just about to close the drawer when I noticed something dark in the corner, wrapped in oilskin.”

 

Nathan shifted and slipped his hand into his pocket.  “This?” He asked as he pulled the small package she had given him in the ocean out.

 

“That’s it.  Open it, please.”

 

Nathan carefully unwrapped the first layer of protective covering then the second and finally the third.  “Zellar obviously prized this to keep it so well safeguarded.”  The final layer fell away revealing a gleaming gold pocket watch.  “Why would you take a watch, Kristin?  I mean it is pretty but…”

 

“Look inside.”

 

A quick press on the release let the cover fly open.  Nathan peered inside, startled to see that the inner lid contained a miniature portrait of a woman and a young girl.  The woman in the picture was obviously the same woman now sitting next to him.

 

“Kris…?  How?”

 

“The watch belonged to Oliver.  I gave it to him as a wedding gift.  See the initials on the outer cover?  He had the miniature of Cynthia and I done just a few months before… before his final trip.”

 

“Zellar… Zellar is the pirate who killed your husband.” Nathan finally understood.

 

“Yes.  Zellar killed Oliver.  When I first regained consciousness I felt this wave of… familiarity.  Once I saw the watch all the pieces began to fall into place.  I’d been in that cabin before… just before her maiden voyage.  That ship was Oliver’s.  That bastard killed my husband and stole his ship.”

 

“And he kept the watch all these years.”

 

“I think that he liked to keep trophies from his victims but… He saw us in the market.  He was the man who… touched me.”

 

“I’d already figured that out.” Nathan told her.

 

“The reason that he noticed us was because he has apparently been staring at that picture for years… creating all sorts of sick fantasies about me…about the woman in the picture.  I told him I was a widow… a governess traveling with a wealthy family to America when you took me.  He didn’t realize that I was the woman in the painting but he didn’t care.  I looked enough like her that he was willing to use me to fulfill those fantasies.”

 

Nathan’s heart sank with Kristin’s every word because he knew that they weren’t safe… would never be safe… from the mad pirate.  “Did you confront him?”

 

“No… not then.  When he came back to the cabin he was being very polite… trying to woo me.  I desperately wanted to know what had happened to you so I tried to play along.  When I reached the point where I no longer could he became angry and tried to rape me.  That’s when I returned the tea that he had given me to drink.  He left and when he came back he dragged me up on deck.”

 

“So he never figured out that you really were the Countess of Kilhairn?”

 

Kristin gazed straight ahead at the opposite wall, scared to meet Nathan’s eyes.  “When he made you jump… I told him that I’d rather be your mistress than a murderer’s whore.  He realized… I stabbed him and in the ensuing melee I ran to the gangplank and jumped.  I’m sorry, Nathan.  I know that I shouldn’t have let him know but he was standing there looking so smug and all I could think about was how he had killed three men that I loved.”

 

“Ssh…” Nathan pulled the sobbing woman into his arms.  “But he didn’t kill me.  I am right here and I am never going to leave you.  That bastard will never have the opportunity to get near you again.”

 

“But… he thinks that we are dead, doesn’t he?”

 

“He does right now but eventually… he could figure it out.  Kristin, you have nothing to worry about.  I swear I will protect you.”

 

Kristin finally met his gaze, her sable eyes full of trust.  “I know that.  But I refuse to let you be hurt because of something that you aren’t even involved in.  I love you too much.”

 

“I’m already involved.  Even if I weren’t madly in love with you… Zellar has been baiting me for months.  Remember the attack on the ship while we were on the island?  He couldn’t have known you were on board then.”

 

Nathan pulled her closer to him as his lips brushed over hers.  “I was so scared when that bastard dragged me out of the cabin.  As long as I could see you, know you were okay, then I was all right too… but when they took me away from you.  I saw the look in his eyes, knew what he wanted to do to you.  The thought of him touching you… I could kill him for that.”

 

It was Kristin’s turn to comfort as a low sob escaped Nathan’s mouth.  “It was awful because it wasn’t you but he didn’t succeed, Nathan.  I swear that he didn’t do more than I said.”

 

Nathan turned tear filled eyes to meet hers and saw the truth staring back at him.  He grabbed her waist roughly and hauled her into him, his mouth devouring her lips as he pressed their torsos together.

 

Kristin whimpered as the buttons of the shirt she was wearing slipped open and the shirt fell away from her shoulders.  The strip of blue cloth holding her braid surrendered to Nathan’s tugging and he threaded his fingers through heavy tresses as he kissed his way down her neck.

“Nathan…” Kristin whispered as his mouth traveled onto her chest.  “I want… but we can’t!  Will might wake up…” Even as she protested her body arched into his touch.

 

“I know,” Nathan’s words vibrated through the erect nipple that he now held in his mouth.  “I just need… I just need to touch you… to hold you and know that you are real… that we are here, together and safe.”  With a last pull at the distended tip he lifted his head back up to stare at her.  “I want to feel you in my arms, pressed against me.”

 

Nathan’s hands fell to toy with the ribbons of her exposed chemise as he spoke.  “Will is asleep and we’ll be beneath the blanket… just from the waist up?”

 

After glancing at Will to make sure he was still resting, Kristin let the blue shirt slide down her arms.  “Just to the waist,” she cautioned as Nathan quickly stripped off his own shirt.

 

When Kristin would have undone the lacing of her chemise, Nathan stopped her.  “Let me.”  He tugged one ribbon and then the other, stopping as he felt a heavy weight there.

 

“What is this?” Nathan pulled the ribbon up bit by bit until the ring tied to the end hung just below his fingertips.

 

“A ring.”

 

“I see that.  How’d it get here?”  Nathan asked as he swung it gently back and forth.

 

“I tied it there… kept it with me when we changed,” Kristin grabbed the ring and began to work at the knots binding it.  “I found this in the drawer as well.”  The ring fell clear and she held it out to him.  “It belonged to my brother.  This is James’ signet ring.”

 

The weight of Kristin’s discovery and the impact that it must have had on her finally became clear to Nathan.  “I am so sorry, my love.”  He took her right hand and slipped the ring over her middle finger.

 

“Thank you for rescuing me.”  Kristin raised a hand wearily to Nathan’s shoulder, reminding him that they both needed rest.  He wrapped his arms around Kristin and shifted them both until they were lying on the pallet; Nathan on his back and Kristin cuddled up into his side.

 

Kristin giggled sleepily as Nathan paused to push the chemise off her shoulders and down her arms.  She pulled her limbs free then wrapped them back around Nathan’s chest as he pulled a blanket over them.  They were asleep in seconds, all thoughts of finishing their small meal forgotten.

 

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

 

Will stared at the dark silhouette lying on his floor, knowing that the entwined arms and legs belonged to his Uncle Nathan and the beautiful woman who had been taking care of him.  The first strands of morning sun crept gradually over the floor as he watched; finally confirming the he was right.

 

Breath rushed from his lungs as the light came up a little more, allowing him to see bare flesh pressed together, the firm curve of the woman’s breast clearly visible rising from Nathan’s chest.

 

A sharp pain shot from Will’s leg through his body, causing a low moan to issue from his lips.  His hand flew up as his eyes blurred in the rising light. 

 

Kristin’s head popped up immediately to find her patient thrashing about in the bunk.  She swore as she rolled off of Nathan, pulling her chemise back up as she stood.  Nathan stirred, missing her warmth, his eyes flying up at the loud yell that filled the room.

 

Kristin struggled to hold Will down as he fought her in an attempt to get off the bed and away from the demons that occupied his feverish dreams.  The boy was strong but his illness had weakened him.  Even so, Kristin was having a difficult time.  Nathan ran to her side and pinned the boy to the bed.

 

“What happened?”

 

“I don’t know.  I must have missed a pocket of infection.  There was so much… I’m so sorry, Nathan.”  Kristin looked lost as she backed away from the bed.

 

“Kris… darling… help me.  I don’t know what to do.  You were so wonderful with Lucas and with me when we were sick.  You are Will’s best chance… the only chance he has.  You know what to do.”

 

Nathan’s words filtered through Kristin’s exhausted mental processes, bringing her back to the problem at hand.  “I’ll have to use alcohol to clean the wound.  It will burn dreadfully but it is the best disinfectant we have.  Perhaps… if I can get the infection out… sewing the wound might prevent it from returning.  I’ll have to apply new poultices every hour or so.”  Kristin’s hands flew among the medicine vials at hand as she spoke. 

 

Unconsciousness had once again reclaimed Will so Nathan freed him and ran to the door to summon fresh water and more coal.  Katie soon appeared to help as Kristin used fire to sterilize the knife and one of the large needles used for sewing canvas.  Nathan watched with interest as she bathed Will’s entire leg with alcohol.

 

Crocker and Ben arrived in response to Nathan’s summons, moving to opposite ends of the bunk at Kristin’s direction.  She worked quickly, finding the tiny pocket of pus and evacuating it then picking up the knife. 

 

“This has to work.  I can’t keep burning the skin or I’ll do far greater damage.”  She ran her fingers over the muscle one last time.  “Hold him!” 

 

The knife sizzled as she laid the thin point over the flesh she’d just cleaned.  Will screamed and jumped, his body bucking away from the bed, but strong hands held him in place.

 

“Stop!  Please don’t torture me so!  Just let me die!” He screamed in his delirium.

 

Kristin picked up the bottle of alcohol and clamped her lips with determination as she upended it.  More screams filled the cabin as liquid fire rushed into the cut and cleansed away the impurities. 

 

“Katie, bring the candle.” 

 

The tip of the needle was glowing red-hot by the time that Kristin pulled it from the flame.  Nathan helped her hold the edges of the wound together while Ben and Gator practically laid down on the fighting patient.  Within minutes the flesh was knit together with heavy thread, the tiny stitches made to lessen any scarring.

 

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

 

“Kristin, you need to sleep.” Nathan shook her shoulder gently.  “You’ve only catnapped for the last two days.”

 

“Mmm… I can’t… not until Will’s fever breaks.”

 

“I will look after Will, I promise.” Nathan knelt by her chair, his voice coaxing.  “You are going to make yourself sick, running yourself ragged this way.”

 

“But what if he has convulsions again?”

 

“Then we use the bath, just like before.  You have another poultice ready and I can change it but you haven’t seen any more visible signs of infection for two days.  Come…”  Nathan stood and slid his arms beneath Kristin, lifting her as if she was a child while ignoring her feeble protests.

 

The pallet was soft beneath Kristin’s back as Nathan lowered her into the blankets.  She snuggled against the pillow, paying him no attention as he pulled her boots off of her feet and stripped the blue shirt away from her torso.  She was in a deep sleep by the time that he’d tugged the belt free from her britches.

 

“Sleep, my love.  I will watch over both you and Will.”

 

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

 

“Uncle Nathan?” Will reached a hand out to touch his uncle’s knee.  Nathan jumped awake immediately.

 

“Will!  You’re awake!  You know who I am!”  He laid a hand over the boy’s forehead as he had seen Kristin do, pleased that the skin felt normal.  “I think your fever has broken.”

 

“I thought… I was afraid that I was dreaming… that when I woke up I’d still be on the Interceptor.  How long…?”

 

“We got you back four… no five days ago.  That saber cut in your thigh was badly infected.”

 

“My leg!” Will lurched up, moaning as his head swam from the sudden movement.

 

Nathan’s hand quickly slipped behind Will’s neck in support as the boy’s hand moved over his thigh.  “It’s still there!  The doctor on the Interceptor was going to cut it off.  I dreamed… I had such wild dreams, Uncle Nathan.  I was being chased by the British navy… there were pirates… and there was a beautiful woman… an angel sent to care for me.”

 

Nathan laughed sharply.  “I can think of many words to describe Kristin Westphalen but angel isn’t the first one that leaps to mind.”

 

“Kristin?” Will questioned, his brows furrowing.

 

Nathan shifted in his chair and gestured toward the pallet where a waterfall of red hair flowing over a round white shoulder could be seen above the blanket.  “Lady Kristin Westphalen, Countess of Kilhairn… my guest and the angel that you owe your leg to.  She has been by your side day and night.”

 

“How… why… I don’t understand, Uncle Nathan.”

 

“I’ll explain everything to you later when you are feeling better.  I’ll be in big trouble if I tire you out and I’m not up to dealing with an angry countess.”

 

“Feisty?” Will grinned, joking with his uncle.

 

“Feisty doesn’t even begin to cover it.” Nathan laughed.

 

“Do you think… could I have something to eat?  I’m starving.”

 

“I’m not surprised.  You haven’t had more than a few spoonfuls of broth in almost a week.  I’ll go get you some more… and maybe a little bread as well.  You try to rest while I am gone.”

 

Will watched his uncle leave the room then turned his head back to the woman lying on the floor.  He remembered a husky voice and a soft hand in the midst of his dreams and knew instinctively that they belonged to her.  A deep blush rose over his face as he remembered seeing Nathan and the lady lying together naked.  Had that been reality or a part of his dream?  He wasn’t sure.

 

Soft murmuring drew him out of his thoughts.

 

“…Nathan…”

 

It was uttered on the softest of sighs, but William heard it nonetheless and watched, as the woman who his uncle told him was a countess… the woman who had saved his life, tightened her arms around the pillow clutched in her embrace and murmured Nathan’s name again.

 

Slowly, as if sensing that he was no longer alone, William turned his head towards the door to see Nathan standing quietly in the entrance, holding a tray and staring at the auburn-haired woman.

 

‘He never looked that way at Aunt Carol,’ Will thought as he continued to watch his uncle.  A small smile tugged at the corner of his lips.  ‘He is positively mesmerized by this Kristin.’

 

He groaned as a small but sudden shaft of pain shot through his leg.

 

Nathan shook his head; pulling his attention from his sleeping lover to move quickly into the room.  He placed the tray on the small table near the bed then sat next to Will.  “You okay?”

 

“Yes,” Will replied, slightly short of breath.  “I guess the pain is good… means the leg is still there…”

 

Nathan smiled and nodded.  “Good way to look at it,” he said as he reached for the bowl of broth.  “Are you strong enough to eat this on your own?”

 

“Yes, Uncle Nathan.”

 

Nathan chuckled.  “Just making sure, kiddo.  Wouldn’t want you to spill it now.”

 

“And risk the wrath of the mad countess?”

 

“Exactly,” Nathan laughed softly then turned at the soft murmur from the pallet in the corner.  “Excuse me a moment,” he said to William as he stood and quickly moved over to Kristin.  He knelt beside her and reached out to stroke her hair as she muttered in her sleep again.

 

“…mmmnathnnn…”

 

“Ssh… go back to sleep, Kris,” Nathan whispered softly as her eyes fluttered open and she smiled sleepily up at him.  “Everything is okay.  Go back to sleep.”

 

“Mmmkay…” Kristin murmured.  “…lvu…”

 

Nathan smiled and leaned close to brush his lips gently over hers.  “I love you too,” he whispered against her ear.

 

William watched with interest as Nathan soothed Kristin and smiled as he ate his soup.  ‘Oh… wait till mom and dad see this!’

 

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

 

“But I’m going crazy in this cabin.  I need to get out into the sunshine!” Will pleaded with his caretaker.

 

Kristin stared at him sardonically.  “Are you sure there is no blood relationship between you and Nathan?  You sound remarkably like he did after he had a fever several weeks ago.”

 

“Several weeks… How long have you been on board, milady?”

 

“It’s been… five… no, I’ve been on board almost eight weeks now.”

 

Will smiled.  “Lucas told me about the circumstances surrounding your arrival… so you should understand how frustrating it is to be locked up in this cabin!”

 

Kristin’s mouth fell open as she shook her finger at her patient.  “You… are a sly young man.  You set me up.”

 

“I wouldn’t do that, Lady Westphalen.” Will beamed innocently.  “I just want to go up on deck for a little while.”

 

“Gator and Ben can carry him up and down the stairs, Lucas will keep him company.  We’ve prepared a comfortable shaded place for Will to sit.”

 

“So you’ve all been conspiring behind my back.” Kristin folded her arms across her chest as she eyed them both Nathan and Will.  “All right.  But the second that I say so, you come in.”

 

“Thank you, Lady Westphalen.” Will offered graciously, a smug look on his face.

 

“As for you,” her gaze turned to lock with laughing blue eyes.  “You are in serious trouble… fomenting rebellion behind my back.  What do you have to say for yourself?”

 

Nathan gave Kristin his best angelic grin as he wrapped an arm behind her waist and led her toward the door.  “Why don’t we let Lucas come help Will get dressed while we talk about this… somewhere else?”

 

“Don’t think that you are going to distract me, Captain Rogue…” Kristin’s voice faded as the couple slipped out the door and down the hallway.

 

“I know… I know…” Nathan said.  “But… you could always… ‘punish’… me… if you like,” Nathan's voice filtered back into the room, followed by Kristin’s laughter.

 

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

 

“…Nathan…”

 

“Mmm…”

 

“What are you… oooh…”

 

“What does it feel like?”

 

“I thought… oh mmm… I thought we couldn’t…”

 

“Do you want me to stop?”

 

“No!  Oh no… oooh… but shouldn’t we… God that feels good… shouldn’t we go back to your cabin?”

 

“No!  I told you I wanted to make love to you up here.”

 

“But… but what about… mmm… your crew!  Nathan!  What about your crew?”

 

“They can’t all fit up here.”

 

“That’s not what I meant… ooohmmm… how…”

 

“I have an idea.  Trust me?”

 

“Always…”

 

“Good…  turn around…”

 

Kristin slowly turned in Nathan’s arms, smiling at the desire she saw swimming in his deep blue eyes, and felt an answering heat rush through her body.  She watched as, with a quick wink, Nathan sank down to his knees before her.

 

“First we,” Nathan reached up to the leather belt at her waist,  “undo this and slip these,” he tugged on the britches she wore,  “off.  Then…” he directed her to lift one foot and pulled the pants completely off that leg.  “There.  That will make it a little easier.”

 

“Easier for what?”

 

“For making love to you,” Nathan told her.  “But before I bring you down here to join me…”

 

“Oh god!”  Kristin moaned as Nathan leaned forward and buried his face between her thighs.  Her hands clenched the edge of the crow’s nest as Nathan swept his tongue up and down her sex.  “Nath… an…”

 

Nathan slid his hands up her thighs to cup her bottom and pull Kristin closer as his lips closed around her clitoris and sucked hard.  At the feel of her hand slipping into and fisting in his hair, Nathan pulled his mouth away from her.

 

Kristin looked down at him, panting softly as she watched him quickly undo his britches and push them down off his hips.  She licked her lips at the sight of his erection standing proud and tall from the nest of dark, graying curls. 

 

“Now what?”  She whispered.

 

“Now…” Nathan shifted so that he was sitting cross-legged before her,  “you come down here and join me…”

 

Kristin smiled and with Nathan’s hands guiding her, she sank down into his lap and impaled herself onto his rigid shaft.

 

“Oh… god…” they moaned together when Nathan was completely buried within her hot sheath.

 

“Wrap your legs around me,” Nathan told her as he lowered his mouth to her neck and nibbled her salty skin.

 

Kristin nodded and slid her legs around him.

 

“That’s it…” Nathan said as he slid his hand to her hips and held her against him as he uncrossed his legs; planting his feet on the floor of the crow’s nest as he began to thrust up into her.

 

“Ooh…” Kristin gasped and thrust back against him.  “You certainly have been giving this a lot of thought.”

 

“Oh yes…” Nathan nodded as he continued to move inside her.  “And… oooh, I love it when you do that…”

 

Kristin smiled and clenched her inner muscles around him again.

 

“You’re a minx…” Nathan gasped and thrust up hard beneath her.

 

“But you love me any… mmm… oh… Nath…” Kristin moaned as he slipped a hand between their bodies to manipulate her swollen flesh.  “Nathan… oh yes…”

 

“I’m close, Kris…” Nathan told her breathlessly as he continued to stroke her clit and thrust into her.

 

“So am I…” Kristin replied as she ground herself against him.  “Please… oh please, Nathan…”

 

Nathan nodded and drove himself up harder into her, his fingers circling furiously against her clit.  “Come for me, Kris… I…”

 

“Oh, Nathan… I…”

 

“Kristin…”

 

“Nathan…”

 

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

 

William looked up at the sudden screams that rent the air.  “What on earth…?”  He turned to look at Crocker standing beside him.  “What was that?”

 

A large grin formed on Crocker’s face as he glanced up at the crow’s nest.  He chuckled as he looked back at William and answered,  “Your uncle.”

 

“Uncle Nathan?  But what is he… he’s not a soprano…” William’s voice trailed off as he remembered the snippet of conversation he’d overheard between his uncle and the countess as they’d left his room.  “He’s not alone up there… is he?”

 

Crocker shook his head.

 

A slow smile formed on William’s face.

 

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

 

“Oh… oh lord, that was incredible!”

 

Kristin smiled against Nathan’s neck as she panted for breath.  “I am not inclined to disagree with you.”

 

Nathan chuckled and wrapped his arms around Kristin as he shuffled them back against the wall of the lookout.

 

“I love you,” Nathan whispered against Kristin’s temple.

 

“I love you too,” Kristin whispered back.

 

“I have to admit,” Nathan began in a quiet voice, slipping his hands beneath her shirt to stroke the smooth skin of her back.  “This is not how I pictured making love to you for our first time after admitting how we felt.”

 

“Me either…” Kristin said.  “But I am not complaining.”

 

Nathan pulled his hands out from beneath her shirt and slipped them into her hair, threading his fingers in the long, luxurious tresses.  He tugged gently until she lifted her head from his shoulder so that he could look into her eyes.

 

“You do know that this about so much more than sex, don’t you?”

 

Kristin gazed deeply into his blue eyes as a slow smile formed on her lips.  She nodded.  “Yes, Nathan… I know.”

 

Nathan returned her smile and slipped a hand out of her hair to cup her cheek.  “I’m glad.”

 

“The last few days… we’ve both been worried about Will and taking care of him,” Kristin said.

 

“Yes, we have,” Nathan murmured in agreement.

 

“I can’t tell you how much having you with me each night… just holding me as I slept… has helped me.”

 

“Just having you here has been of help… both to my men and me.  Especially me.”

 

They smiled at each other then shared a deep, loving kiss.

 

“We should… climb down now,” Kristin spoke softly against his lips.  “Check on, Will…”

 

“Mmhmm… we should,” Nathan nodded and helped ease Kristin off his lap.  His hands tightened on her arms at the soft whimper he heard slip from her lips.  “Kristin?  What’s wrong?”

 

Kristin shook her head and lowered her gaze as she worked to get her britches back on.

 

“That’s not the first time I’ve heard you whimper like that…” Nathan told her.  He slipped his fingers beneath her chin and brought her gaze back up to his.  “Kris… tell me.”

 

“I… I don’t… when you…” Kristin took a deep breath as her face flushed,  “when you leave my body… I feel this… this overwhelming sense of loss.  I… I can’t explain it any better than that.”

 

Nathan nodded and pulled her back into his arms.  “You don’t have to,” he nuzzled her temple.  “I understand.”

 

“You do?”

 

“Yes.”

 

“How can…”

 

“I feel the same thing every time I withdraw from the warmth of your body,” Nathan told her.

 

Kristin shifted so that she was once again looking into his eyes.

 

“I have never felt… except with you…”

 

“Likewise, love.”

 

Kristin smiled at him.  “I guess we should…”

 

Nathan nodded then helped Kristin slip back into her pants.  He quickly pulled up and secured his own britches then climbed to his feet, pulling her up with him.

 

“Look there,” he pointed out across the bow of the ship.  “See that…”

 

“That dark spot on the horizon?”  Kristin asked as she leaned back against him and followed the line of his finger over the ocean.

 

“Yes,” Nathan said.  “That is where we’re headed.  My island.  Home.”

 

“Your island?”

 

“Mmhmm…” Nathan nodded.  “I can’t wait to show you my little island.”

 

Kristin turned in his arms and pressed a quick kiss to his lips.  “And I can’t wait to see it.”

 

Nathan smiled at her.  “Come on… let’s go check on Will.”

 

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

 

“They’re in love with each other, aren’t they?”  William asked Crocker as he watched Nathan and Kristin climb out of the crow’s nest and slowly make their way down the rope net.

 

“Yes.”

 

William’s smile grew.  “I’m happy for them… especially, Uncle Nathan.  He… after everything he’s been through… he deserves to be happy,” he said.  “And Lady Westphalen seems to be a very loving, caring woman… and someone who gives Uncle Nathan a good run for his money.”

 

“She is indeed.”

 

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

 

“Gator… I think this young man has had enough fresh air for today.”

 

“Yes, Countess,” Crocker replied, turning to smile at the approaching couple.

 

“I haven’t been out that long,” William protested.

 

“And you’re still not one hundred percent,” Kristin told him.  “So I want you back in your room and in bed.”

 

“But…” a look from Nathan stopped William from saying anything further and he nodded.  “Yes, ma’am.”

 

“Come on, lad,” Crocker said as he and Nathan slipped their arms beneath the younger man and carefully lifted him.  “Let’s do as the countess says.”

 

Kristin followed as they carried him back to Crocker’s room then once William was settled, checked his wound.  “It looks good,” she told him.

 

William smiled.  “One day… I will repay you for all you have done.”

 

“Just you being alive and well is payment enough for me,” Kristin told him with a smile then glanced up at Nathan when she felt him squeeze her shoulder.

 

“I’m going to go back up deck.  Help with some of the repairs,” he told her.  “I’ll come back in a little while with some dinner for all three of us.”

 

William looked at his uncle.  “Something besides broth I hope?”

 

Nathan laughed and glanced at Kristin who nodded.  “Yes.”

 

“I can’t wait,” William said with a smile.

 

“Please tell me it’s not stew again.”

 

“Sorry.”

 

Kristin gave him a rueful smile.  “Life on the sea.”

 

“Yep,” Nathan replied then bent down to brush a quick kiss over her lips.  “Back later.”

 

Kristin nodded and watched him leave then turned back to see William lying against the pillows with a soft smile on his face.  “So, what would you like to do?”

 

“Well, I’m tired of reading…” he glanced around the room and spotting an object on the shelf across the room, he turned back to Kristin.  “Up for playing a game of draughts?”

 

Kristin smiled.  “Sure.”

 

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

 

Kristin yawned and snuggled back against Nathan’s chest as he slipped into the bed and wrapped his arms around her.  “How long till we reach your island?”  She asked as she yawned again.

 

“Another day or two at least,” Nathan replied sleepily.  “God, it feels like ages since I’ve slept in a bed.”

 

“You didn’t have to stay with me on the pallet you know,” Kristin told him.  “I’m very glad you did… but you didn’t have to.”

 

“Yes I did,” Nathan told her as he pulled her closer, burying his face in her hair as he yawned.  “God, I’m so tired.”

 

“So am I,” Kristin replied.  “Who would have thought playing checkers all afternoon could be so tiring.”

 

“Along with ‘other’ things,” Nathan chuckled softly.  “So no complaints about us not making love tonight?”

 

“Well…” Kristin giggled when she felt him nip her shoulder.  She tilted her head back to look at him.  “You can make it up to me in the morning.”

 

Nathan smiled and nodded.

 

“Besides, Katie and Ben have strict orders to come get us should anything happen with Will throughout the night,” Kristin reminded him.  “And… well…”

 

Nathan laughed softly as Kristin blushed.  “I would hate to be interrupted in the middle of making love to you too.”

 

“Yes… you’d lose too many men to the plank,” Kristin grinned at him though her cheeks remained red.

 

Nathan returned her grin and cupped her cheek then lowered his mouth to hers in a gentle, loving kiss.  “Sweet dreams, my lady,” he whispered against her lips as the kiss came to an end.

 

“For you too, Captain Rogue,” Kristin whispered back then turned over and cuddled back against him.

 

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

 

 

sail ahead...