“Sarah, I’m not sure I like this plan.”
Sarah pulled the long, heavy petticoats up around her waist, then glanced up at the hologram. “Well, Paige, I don’t hear you offering any other solutions.”
“Hey, I’m just a space ship pretending to be a human. Don’t look at me.”
Sarah, now wrestling with the dress itself, commented, “I wish you had real hands. This dress is being obnoxious.”
“And what about this poor Bryant guy whose memory you’re modifying?” demanded Paige, brushing back her heavy blond bangs.
Sarah’s green eyes were dull. “Believe me, Paige, I feel sorry for anyone who marries me – but at least he’ll be totally convinced he loves me.” She considered her companion and added, “I don’t understand why you don’t just make your bangs permanently perfect.”
“Because you need human companionship to keep you from turning into a bitter old prune,” retorted Paige. “And human women are always messing with their hair.”
“Hm.” Sarah turned to the mirror and began arranging her own hair. “Now, do you remember everything I told you?”
“Of course I do,” Paige sounded cross. “I’m a computer, after all.”
“All right.” Paige sighed, then straightened like an obedient child and recited, “You are now Miss Sarah Burke, daughter of the Honorable Samuel Burke and sister to Eric Burke. I’m dropping you just outside of London, then going ahead to the American Colonies to perform memory mods on the afore-mentioned men. You will perform the mod on Bryant Manning, who is currently at port in England, then board one of your “father’s” merchant ships and travel to America to join your family and, eventually, to be joined by your intended.” She gazed at Sarah out of limpid gray eyes. “Is that everything?”
“And you will wait out of sight until I come to find you in America,” Sarah qualified, turning her head back and forth as she checked for any stray wisps of chestnut hair.
Sarah moved to the door of the ship, gathering a small hand bag as she went. “Please, don’t be seen.”
“Trust me, I’ll be careful. The primitive circuits of these Earthlings’ brains wouldn’t handle me very well, and I don’t want them trying to rip me apart.”
The door slid open, and Sarah slipped into a British accent as she called over her shoulder, “Do remember, my dear Paige, that if I can only marry Mr. Manning, we shall be quite safe.”
“Finally,” agreed Paige dryly, folding her arms. Her captain and friend stepped out into the early evening just outside of London, and Paige slid the door shut behind her. Unnecessary though it was, she walked to the controls and watched herself make the needed preparations for takeoff, looking through the view port only as the ground fell away beneath her. “Good luck, Sarah,” she whispered. “Let this be the Bandit’s final flight.”
Captain Robert Dungeon stalked over the decks of the British merchant ship, yelling orders to his men as he went. “No, leave the water flask, you fool. We’ve no need of it!” The pirate who had been picking up the flask gave his Captain an irritated look and skulked away in search of other booty. Robert shook his head in disgust. If you’re going to go to all the trouble of stopping a ship, you’d best take things that are worth your time.
A startled shriek caught his ear, and he followed the sound to the far side of the Captain’s cabin, pushing his way through a pair of men who were rifling the merchant ship’s first mate as he went.
A woman’s voice, not sounding the least cowed in spite of the shriek, became clear as he plowed closer. “Really, my dear gentlemen, this is quite unnecessary.” The woman’s tone was icy. “If you persist in these unwanted attentions, I shall be forced to do you some damage.”
Raucous, coarse laughter was the reply. “And what ‘zactly are you gonna be doin’ about it, sweetie?”
Robert stormed up behind his two men, a fine specimen of an angry male. He towered a few inches above both of the pirates, his dark looks set in a fashion that made him look even taller. “You, dogs,” he barked. The two men turned, saw their Captain, and froze. Robert fixed them with hard brown eyes. “You know the rules about raids. Anyone on the decks is fair game; you leave the passengers alone.”
“But Captain,” snarled one greasy seaman, “this woman were on deck.”
His mate nodded, jerking his head toward the female. “Yes, sir. That she were.”
Robert looked past the two to take in the woman in detail. Not beautiful in the conventional sense, perhaps. Medium height, fine curves, green eyes snapping with ill-temper. Nose a bit too large, the skin a little tanned, and an irregularity of feature that kept her from winning that title of a beauty. But there was an attraction in the set of her chin and the upright bearing of her figure that made her something else entirely. Not that Robert gave his men the benefit of thinking that they had noticed any of these things – she was wearing a dress. That was enough for them.
Robert rubbed the day’s worth of dark stubble on his chin. “Hm… Well, I’ve taken a fancy to her.”
The men exchanged dismayed looks. “But, sir…!” complained the first one.
“You know the rules,” Robert reminded him with a pleasantness that made the sailor shudder. “What are they?”
“Whatever you say, goes,” mumbled the second sailor, already backing away.
The first met Robert’s eyes in a defiant stare, and Robert just watched him. Finally, the man backed down and slunk away, immediately getting caught up in rummaging through a supply of fine weapons.
Robert shifted his eyes to the woman; he smiled.
“Men!” he roared. “Home again!” The pirates started scrambling for their ship, gathering their booty as they went. Anyone still on the merchant ship when Captain Dungeon left it would be at the mercy of the merchant crew.
Robert swooped down on the woman and wrapped his arm around her waist. She made a startled sound, but didn’t have time for any more as Robert raced across the deck, dragging her with him. She gave a frustrated grunt and started to struggle, but then Robert was grasping a rope with one hand and muttering in her ear, “I’d hold on if I were you.”
He grinned his satisfaction as she immediately wrapped her arms around his chest, assuming she was too faint to protest. Moments later, he landed solidly on the deck of his ship, the Intrepid, and started bellowing the orders to leave.
“Going to blow it up this time, Robert?”
Robert turned to glance down at his first mate. “No, Cynthia, I think not. The crew is all either locked up or has lost consciousness. They won’t be chasing us any time soon, and they can’t get to the long boats.” Cynthia nodded her understanding. Robert swung his arm around and brought the woman to stand in front of him. “Take her to my cabin, won’t you?”
Cynthia groaned, eyeing the woman. “Not another one, Robert. Surely -,”
Robert shook a finger at her. “She was on deck. Now be a good girl and run her to the cabin.”
Cynthia sighed, tugging at her sailor’s pants, as she was wont to do when she was irritated. “Yes, sir.” She took the mute woman by the arm and started to lead her away, calling over her shoulder, “As your first mate I might have to listen to you, but as your sister I want you to know I don’t approve.” Robert just laughed and returned his attention to the important task of getting away from the merchant as quickly as possible.
Cynthia pulled the woman rapidly through the working men, opening the door to Robert’s cabin and ushering her inside before following and shutting the door. She looked up to see the green eyes studying her with unusual self-possession. “You’re his sister, are you?” the woman asked in a clear voice. “You look nothing like him.”
Cynthia glanced down at herself, then swept a frizzy red curl over one shoulder. “No, I don’t suppose I do.” She studied the woman in turn, her own blue eyes critical. “You’re not like the women he usually takes on board.”
“I dare say not,” was the dry answer, followed by, “Although your eyes are shaped the same as his, and your chin. Very commanding, on both of you.”
“You have no reason to fear,” Cynthia assured her in return, pleased with her comments. “He is a singularly well-behaved pirate – and he will return you home eventually.”
“He will,” was the assured answer. “I have no fear on that point.” The woman nodded as her gaze traveled slowly over the interior of the cabin. Almost talking to herself she added, “I’m afraid he may have taken on more than he would wish this time around.”
Cynthia felt the sudden urge to laugh, although whether at Robert or at the woman she wasn’t sure. If this woman was as different from the others as she had just claimed, Robert was in for a few unpleasant surprises. But if, as Cynthia suspected, this woman would become exactly like every other woman Robert had brought on board, she would soon fall for Robert’s charm and become his willing lapdog. His arrogance would only increase and, as good a man as he was, his arrogance was insufferable. “So,” she asked finally, “did he save you from the men?”
The woman looked up from the map she was studying on Robert’s desk. “You and he both seem to think so.” Cynthia raised an eyebrow. Odd answer. The woman explained, “He did indeed appear at a moment when some of your crew were pressing me, but I hardly think his intervention was necessary.”
“Have you ever dealt with two fully grown men at once?” inquired Cynthia sarcastically.
“I also hardly think you mean me to answer that question in the affirmative,” replied the woman blithely, moving to gaze out the windows.
Cynthia openly scoffed. “Of course not. The next thing your ladyship would be telling me is that she’s a pirate as well.” The woman didn’t respond. “Forgive me for doubting your word, but anyone dressed as yourself doesn’t strike one as being capable of doing more than lifting a fan.”
A smile curled the corner of the woman’s mouth as she half turned back to Cynthia and removed a delicate lace fan from her reticule. Fluttering it gently she said, “Oh, on days the fainting fits take me, I am hardly capable of even that.”
Cynthia sensed that the woman was laughing at her, but she wasn’t sure why. Instead of angering her, however, she was intrigued. “Do you have a name?”
“Don’t you? You could borrow mine, I suppose, but I’ll need it back eventually.”
Cynthia laughed. “I have my own, thank you all the same. Miss Cynthia Dungeon. My brother is Captain Robert Dungeon; I’m first mate on this ship.”
“Robert Dungeon…” The woman sounded reflective as she gazed out the windows again. She turned back to face Cynthia, sitting in Robert’s chair as she did so. Cynthia would have warned her that no one sat in Robert’s chair except Robert, but she guessed that this woman would hardly have cared. “Is he really the preacher-pirate I have heard so many rumors about?” Cynthia nodded silently. “Ah. Intriguing.” She snapped the fan shut and put it back in its place. “My name is Sarah. Sarah Burke, daughter of the Honorable Samuel Burke, merchant. I was on my way to join him in the American colonies.”
“I -,” Just then, a scuffle broke out right outside the cabin door. Cynthia glanced over her shoulder, then started to leave. “Excuse me, Miss Burke.”
“Call me Sarah. I rather like you, Cynthia,” said the woman, her green eyes laughing as she waved the other woman out.
“Sarah.” Cynthia smiled, then hurried out the door, locking it behind her, her hand resting easily on the dirk at her waist as she started to yell at the men.
Robert appeared a moment later, watching as Cynthia finished her work. “Excellent. Thank you, Cynthia.”
Cynthia smiled at him. “What did you bring me from the other ship?”
Robert held out a leather bag. “Some jewelry; it’s quite beautiful.”
Cynthia started to rummage through the small bag. “Are you trying to turn me into a proper female again?”
“I wouldn’t dare,” said Robert rolling his eyes. He straightened and added with a devilish grin, “Now, if you’ll excuse me, I intend to enjoy my own plunder. Are the restoratives still in my desk drawer?”
“Of course. You know I don’t use them.” Cynthia hid a snicker and added with a straight face, “I’m not sure you’ll need them this time, Robert. She seems too sensible to be prone to fainting fits.”
Robert looked at her just as he put his hand on the door. “Did she not have a fit when you took her into the cabin?”
Robert shrugged. “Then surely she has swooned since you left.” He grinned again, looking more roguish than ever. “Either way, I’m sure I can make my lady more comfortable.”
Cynthia couldn’t resist a warning. “I don’t think she believes you needed to save her.”
“Think what you like,” replied Robert, tilting his head arrogantly. “Rescuing a woman from my men has never failed me yet.”
Cynthia watched him enter the cabin and shook her head with a half amused, half exasperated smile. Looking up she muttered, “Let her be the one to finally put him in his place, or there will be no living with him.” Just then, she caught sight of a pirate with a bottle. “You there,” she cried, storming across the deck. “You’re not supposed to have that on this ship!”
Robert shut out the voice of his sister with the door to his cabin, trusting her to get the rum – as it was bound to be – out of the hands of whoever had it. Probably one of the newer men who weren’t used to the rules quite yet.
He turned with satisfaction to survey his prize and was surprised to find that, indeed, she hadn’t fallen into a fainting fit of any sort. She was standing in front of his desk, very upright and with that same defiant tilt to her chin that he had first seen. Her hair, which she had repaired in the interval since he had seen her last, gleamed chestnut in the last bit of daylight from the windows, and he congratulated himself on having decorated his cabin with a not-unpleasing piece of work. “My lady,” he began in a soothing voice, but she allowed him to go no further.
“A lady, perhaps. But hardly yours.”
Robert almost couldn’t believe what he was hearing. She was addressing him in the same tones she had used on his unruly men. Ah, well, some women enjoyed playing hard to get. “Welcome to my ship. How have you fared?”
The woman raised a dark eyebrow. “Intriguing, that my kidnapper should inquire after my health.”
Robert chose to ignore the intent of her answer. “I hope that the ill-behavior of my men has not left a bad impression upon your nerves.” She didn’t answer, but the corner of her mouth twitched into the slightest sneer. “If you want anything at all for the sake of your health,” continued the Captain suavely with an elegant bow, “you need only ask.” He had discovered, through practice, that some of the women who were hardest to get at were vulnerable through chivalrous inquiries after their person.
“You are too kind, Captain,” this woman replied dryly.
Robert’s dark good looks brightened as he smiled gallantly. “Forgive me,” he laughed. “I have failed to introduce myself.” He stepped forward and reached for her hand, “I am Captain Robert -,”
“Dungeon. Yes, I know.” As she cut him off, she grasped his hand and pulled him close; for the first time in years the Captain felt the sharp edge of a dagger pressed against his throat.
The woman laughed up in his face, the green eyes smoldering. “You seem very fond of rules, Captain. Here’s a new one for you. You will not, at any time, come within arm’s reach of me.” She shoved him away with surprising force, causing him to stagger back against the wall. Holding the dagger almost casually in her left hand she continued, “I don’t take kindly to others invading my private space.”
“You -!” Robert’s eyes fell on the weapons cabinet, its door slightly ajar. “You raided my weapons cabinet?” he demanded, not sure how to react quite yet. He wondered for the first time if she really felt no gratitude for what he had done.
She smiled mockingly. “Surely you didn’t think me a fool.”
“It was locked.”
She didn’t answer this pointless statement, and Robert hesitated a moment. He hated to use force on a woman, but she might hurt herself with that knife. Surely, with all of his experience, he was capable of taking it away without hurting her. He took a step forward and said, “Now, miss…”
Her right hand flicked to her waist and came away holding a small, slim throwing knife. “Not one step more, Captain Bobby.”
Ignoring the insulting shortening of his name, he held out his hand and offered a charming smile – the one that worked every time. “Come, we can’t have you hurting yourself with those things. Nice young ladies shouldn’t handle a pirate’s weapons.” He took another step. “Besides, you’re left handed,” he pointed out kindly.
The right hand flicked and Robert felt a breeze as the knife flew past his ear. There was a solid thwack as it buried itself in the wood behind him. The Captain froze, but the woman’s hand flicked again and another knife appeared. “It’s very uncivilized to disbelieve the word of a lady,” she informed him in a steely voice. “The next one has your throat.”
“You will replace my throwing knives and my dagger in their proper places in the weapons cabinet,” Robert informed her in a cold voice, his brown eyes flashing. “Then you will sit and listen to me -,”
“I will do no such thing,” interrupted the woman haughtily. “In case you have forgotten, Captain, I have the upper hand here. You may be used to females falling for your so-called ‘rescue,’ but I have not. You are a pirate – a brigand, and I am required to do nothing you ask of me, either by law or manners.” Robert snorted. “My father and my fiancé will find me soon. Until that time, I will be staying in this cabin. You will remove any personal effects you may need, and not infringe upon my privacy again.”
The pirate glanced down at his pistol. Perhaps he just hadn’t threatened her life properly. “I could just shoot you now and save myself the trouble.”
The green eyes regarded him steadily. “You could, but you won’t.” She moved away from his desk and seated herself on the settee that was secured to one wall. Robert watched her move with a snarl. He stood, trying to stare her down, until she asked with a laugh, “Do you think that staring at me will change my decision? I assure you that I posses a firmer mind than any of the men in your crew.” Robert clenched his jaw. What was this? “Or perhaps you haven’t any personal affects? In that case…” The woman stood and graciously opened the door to the deck, “Allow me to show you out of my cabin.”
Having run out of options, Robert stormed over to the wardrobe, threw it open and removed an armful of clothes, then proceeded to empty much of the contents of his desk into a handy gunny sack, stuffing his clothes on the top. From the window seat, he removed a Bible, which he tucked under one arm. He then stalked to the open door, pausing in front of the insufferable female. “I will occasionally want to use my weapons cabinet. You will not stop me, and you will not allow the crew into this cabin.”
Her eyes were riveted on the book under his arm. “Why the Bible?”
“Blotting pad,” Robert answered with another snarl. Then, with a stiff bow, he added, “Good day,” and removed himself from the cabin. The door shut and locked behind him, but he ignored it, as well as the astonished looks from nearby crewmembers.
“Robert, what…” started Cynthia, but Robert overrode her, “I’ll be staying with you for the next little while, Cynthia.” With a nod, he disappeared. Cynthia, resisting the urge to cheer, ordered the men about her to get back to work, then sent a surreptitious glance at the Captain’s ex-cabin. She looked up and said simply, “Thank you,” then got on with her work.
“You get to him, you see, because you are the first woman not to fall into his arms since he was six,” Cynthia explained, carefully examining the rope she was repairing.
Sarah waved one elegantly gloved hand. “I know. I think he’s also a little jealous that you and I are such good friends.” She exchanged a smile with the woman pirate and added, “Not very Christian of him.”
Cynthia laughed. “Yes, well, even Robert isn’t perfect.”
The mocking smile that was so familiar with Sarah’s face played across her mouth. “Fancy that.” She plucked at her lips for a moment. “So, tell me – these ‘rules’ that govern the ship. They’re often mentioned, but I haven’t actually heard more than one or two of them.”
Cynthia’s blue eyes brightened. “Ah! The rules. Stupid of me – I should have introduced them to you when you first came.” Sarah made a gesture of the insignificance of the omission, and Cynthia continued, “The rules are fairly simple. First, no liquor on board. Second, no women on board. Third, no harassing those who hide below decks during a raid unless they attack you first. Fourth, do everything the Captain says. And fifth, the Captain is exempt from any and all of the rules.”
Sarah’s eyebrows shot up. “And he manages to run the ship without mutiny?”
“At first, it was hard to keep the men happy,” Cynthia admitted. “But they have since realized that they make more money this way, and that Robert won’t interfere with what they do on shore.”
“Ah. So they make their money with Captain Bobby, then go ashore and spend it on all the ‘privileges’ he denies them.”
Cynthia nodded, starting to coil the rope around her arm. “This ship carries the richest pirates in the seas.” She grinned up at Sarah. “And it’s the only ship safe for a woman, pirate or otherwise.”
“Hardly that, if Captain Bobby can ignore his own rules.”
Cynthia became at once serious. “My brother is many things, Sarah, but a true pirate is not one of them. He would never force unwanted attentions on any woman, and would be furious to catch anyone at it.”
Sarah smirked unkindly. “But I suppose that he’s not above paying for the privilege of being wanted?”
The color came to Cynthia’s face, but she answered the insult quietly, “My brother would never degrade himself in such a way. Whether you believe it or not, Sarah, he is, at base, a gentleman.”
The pirate watched Sarah steadily, and the lady’s jaw clenched and unclenched a few times before, finally, she looked away and said, “I’m sorry; I have offended you. I have no reason to disbelieve what you tell me about your brother’s character.”
Cynthia relaxed and stood, gesturing to Sarah to follow as she put the rope away. “It’s all right. He is a pirate, after all,” she assured her friend with a smile.
“But how does a man who is like you claim he is end up as a pirate?” Sarah blurted. “Surely he must have some sort of vile passion…” She stopped, mortified. “I’m sorry, I must learn to hold my tongue -,”
Cynthia cut her off with a laugh. “No, you’re quite right. His vile passion is his arrogance and it is, indeed, what brought him to this life.” Sarah didn’t say anything, but Cynthia could read the question in the green eyes. She said in a quiet voice, “It’s a bit of a story.” Sarah just nodded, so Cynthia continued, “He and I share a mother, but my father is his stepfather. When our mother remarried, Robert didn’t get along well with his new father, so my parents sent him to seminary to study religion. It was truly what he wanted to do – but he had disliked my father for good reason. Soon after my birth, he took to beating our mother and killed her shortly after my fourth birthday. He disappeared to avoid the law, leaving me behind.” She paused for a moment, studying Sarah’s face to be sure she understood, looking for any hint of that smile. There wasn’t one, so she continued. “Even though I wasn’t his full sister, Robert came back and took me away to the town I call home, where he was studying religion. He was able to convince a good family to take me in and continue his studies.
“Around the time I reached nine years of age, however, there was a pirate raid on our town and I was taken. No one wanted to go after the pirates and Robert, in his arrogance as a nineteen-year-old boy, thought he could save me on his own. He caught up with the pirates and they swore that after he was a year in their service, they would release me. He swore to it, on the condition that I would be allowed to dress as a boy to protect myself, not realizing that after a year in their service it would be much too late for him to return home.
“We spent the year and, when the time was up, realized exactly what we had done to ourselves. But Robert wouldn’t have his baby sister raised in such an environment, so he determined to climb the ladder until he was powerful enough to make his own rules.” Cynthia smiled gently. “It took him years, but he made it.” She laughed. “And now you know the mystery of the gentleman pirate, the rules, and my male attire.” She shook her head. “And that Robert’s vilest passion is incalculable confidence in himself, which you seem to be doing wonders to.”
Sarah didn’t answer; she was staring out across the ocean, her eyes blank. She spoke as one in a dream, “Then… you can never go home.” Cynthia gave her a puzzled look. “Neither of you can.”
“The ship is home,” Cynthia replied matter-of-factly, politely ignoring the strangeness. “I don’t want any other.” Not the whole truth, but the best one she had.
That seemed to shake Sarah out of it, and she turned a sharp glance on Cynthia. “I suppose you wouldn’t.” She laughed. “And don’t count on my influence over your brother’s arrogance lasting any longer than my presence on this ship.”
“And how much longer will that be, Miss Smith?” a male voice interrupted. The women turned to find that Robert had joined them, unannounced, as usual.
“That is not something the captive can undertake to tell the captor,” replied Sarah coolly, folding her arms.
“Sometimes I wonder which is which,” said Robert dryly. Before either woman could reply, he had clasped his hands behind his back and asked with mock chivalry, “And what of your father? Or your fiancé? Surely we’ve heard enough of him to expect to see him soon.”
“My father’s coming seems to weigh more heavily on your mind than mine, Captain Bobby.” Sarah fixed him with a severe look. “And it ought to, seeing as it was his ship that you raided.” Robert looked back with a surprised, innocent face. “He, surely, will have the fastest of his fleet equipped to find me.” She paused to consider. “Then again, he may not. My fiancé’s ship is far superior for this kind of work, and my father may have been convinced to leave it up to him.”
“And who is this illustrious fiancé with such an excellent ship?” asked Robert. “A British sailor, no doubt.”
“I beg pardon for correcting you, Captain, but he is no such exalted thing.” Robert raised a dark eyebrow inquiringly. “Although I find it flattering that you have dispensed enough thought on the matter to arrive at such a conclusion, I am obliged to say that he is simply Mr. Manning – Mr. Bryant Manning.” That smile curled the edge of Sarah’s mouth. “I daresay you’ve heard of him?”
Robert and Cynthia exchanged looks from suddenly pale faces, although Robert strove to hide his dismay. “Ah, yes,” he cried boldly. “Dear Mr. Manning. When do you suppose we shall have the pleasure of seeing him, Miss Smith?”
Sarah, who was inspecting her gloved hand, looked up and directed a hard smile in Robert’s face. “I wouldn’t worry if I were you, Captain Bobby. He is hardly likely to sink your ship directly, with his fiancée on board.”
On that parting shot she turned to glide across the deck, but Robert’s called after her, “It makes sense, I suppose, that you would marry a coward.” Sarah froze. “A man who built his fortune by sinking ships when they were still too far away to defend themselves. Like you, taking people unawares and ripping them apart.”
Sarah turned a poisonous glare on the Captain, her eyes spitting fire. “Don’t talk to me about cowards,” she ordered in a harsh voice, “Pirate.” Without giving him another glance, she spun on her heel and stormed into the Captain’s cabin, forcing men to jump to the side as she plowed mercilessly through them and disappeared behind the slamming door.
Robert was fingering the braid on his jacket. “I seem to have touched a nerve,” he mussed reflectively.
“You don’t like angering her, admit it,” inserted Cynthia. At his surprised look she added, “She wins every time.”
“I don’t know that anyone won that particular skirmish,” replied her brother, gazing at the closed door of the cabin.
“Robert, we should put her ashore as soon as we can.”
Robert shot his first mate a surprised look. “I thought you quite enjoyed her company, my dear. I wouldn’t deprive you of your friend.”
Cynthia snorted in disgust. “There, your arrogance again. Now I suppose you’re going to have to fight Manning over the woman whose proper name you don’t even know.” Robert didn’t answer. “Robert, see sense for once in your life. This is Bryant Manning we’re talking about. He’s hunted pirates for almost as long as you’ve been one. The only reason he hasn’t harassed us before now is because you never kill anybody; taking his fiancée is bound to make us his first concern.” Robert turned away, shouting out some orders to the men up in the rigging. Cynthia grabbed his arm and turned him around. “Robert, listen to me! You have nothing to prove here except that you can die too. Please, just… let’s just put her to shore. I’d rather be without my friend than dead.”
Robert shrugged out of her grasp. “I hardly think Manning is going to be the end of me,” he assured her dryly, then stalked away, looking as roguish as ever. Cynthia let him go with a sigh. He would learn, someday, to bend his pride – she just hoped it was before he was bending his head to the noose.
Cynthia stood on deck, supervising the Intrepid while, as was customary, Robert led the men on the raid of the ship they had grappled. Things were a little more hectic than usual, since this ship had long since seen them and was well prepared to fight, but Cynthia hadn’t run into anything she couldn’t handle. The noises – the screams, grunts, shots, explosions, running, fighting – were all so common that they melded into a manageable din as she confidently prowled the deck, issuing orders occasionally, but generally leaving the men to fight it out as they saw fit.
She glanced at the Captain’s cabin as she wandered past it, wondering what Sarah was thinking. That lady had been standing at the helm with Cynthia and Robert an hour since, having a fairly civil, if lively, conversation. On the sighting of the ship, she had read the look on Robert’s dark face correctly and resigned herself to her cabin.
Cynthia wondered, sometimes, why Sarah didn’t insist on staying on deck during a raid – or perhaps sneak out of the cabin and find her way onto the other ship. Probably because she never knew when Robert was going to blow said ship up.
A boy’s voice brought Cynthia out of her mini-reverie. She looked around, startled, and laid eyes on a boy standing halfway down the deck, brandishing a sword much too large for him. He couldn’t be more than thirteen. “I?” she asked, shouting to be heard.
“Yes, you!” The sword trembled slightly, but whether it was the boy’s arms or the boy’s nerves that weren’t steady enough, Cynthia couldn’t tell. “Where is my sister?”
Cynthia’s blue eyes widened in surprise. “You sister -!”
The cabin door flew open behind her and Sarah appeared, breathless, in the doorway.
The boy looked up and, before Sarah could speak, cried, “Sarah! I’ve come to rescue you!” He dashed across the deck, charging forward with the sword leading him almost as much as his feet. Cynthia, more out of concern for him than anyone else, raised her pistol.
“No -!” screamed Sarah, the first note of panic Cynthia had ever heard screeching out. It was too late to stop her arm, however, and the butt of the pistol came down with a solid thud on the boy’s head.
He dropped like a stone to the deck and Sarah followed him, immediately grasping his hand. “Oh, Eric. Eric!” Cynthia waited for Sarah to look up, certain that the other woman would be furious for whatever mistake she had just made. But when Sarah did look up, her face was as white as milk under her tanned skin, her green eyes haunted. “Cynthia – Cynthia, is it going to kill him?”
Cynthia would have laughed, but the fear in Sarah’s face was too astonishing to allow for it. “By no means,” she assured the lady immediately. “I only wanted to keep him from running somebody through with that sword, including himself.”
Her words seemed to recall the usual Sarah to the surface. The chestnut-haired girl nodded and gathered the boy in her arms, and she spoke in tones of repressed energy. “Please to stand here and watch out for us, won’t you? Unless, of course, duty calls you away?” Without waiting for a reply she whisked him inside, leaving Cynthia to realize that she shouldn’t be surprised at how easily she bore the weight.
The pirate woman turned back to the deck and watched as the men continued to swirl around her, her practiced eye telling her that the raid would soon be over. The men were returning to their appropriate ships, screaming and swearing like the very devil, and Robert was walking leisurely across the deck of the other ship as if he owned it. As Cynthia watched, however, one of their own men ran up to Robert and hurriedly spoke to him. Robert’s face darkened and he screamed loudly enough for Cynthia to catch, “Men! Abandon ship!” as he started herding the sailors off; as much as he pretended not to care, he would always be the last one off.
Cynthia was about to hurry to assist in pulling the ship away when Sarah appeared again in the doorway, her usually tidy hair falling in wisps around her face. “Cynthia,” she asked sharply, “what’s going on?”
Cynthia, well used to the signs by now, replied shortly, “It’s gonna blow.”
The green eyes widened and Sarah shut the cabin door behind her with a slam. Without a word, she ran past her friend, shoving her way through the confusion of men, lifting her skirts to facilitate faster movement. Cynthia followed her, baffled, worried about Sarah getting pushed overboard in the confusion.
She caught up with the other woman just as Sarah’s eyes caught the name on the side of the other ship. She stared with new intensity across the gap between the ships and started to scream. “Robert!” she cried. Cynthia started. “Robert! Robert, don’t blow it up! Robert, please!”
Cynthia couldn’t have interrupted, even if she had thought it wise. Sarah’s face was filled with anxiety that seemed completely out of place on the usually untouchable young woman’s face, and she was screaming so hard it made Cynthia’s throat hurt to listen. “Robert, Robert don’t! Please, Robert!”
Robert had heard the screams, but could hardly be expected to understand them over the din. He glanced in their direction and Sarah continued her cries with renewed vigor; but he wasn’t really looking at them. He was looking at his escape. The last of the merchant’s crew had piled into the hastily dropped longboats, and the last of the pirates were dexterously crossing the gap back to their own ship. It was his turn to leave; with a calmness that made Cynthia clench her fists, he stepped to the rail, then finally swung off of the enemy deck.
He landed with two solid thumps – one being his boots on the deck, the other being his rock solid body colliding with Sarah’s. He wrapped an arm around her waist to keep her upright, his other hand still grasping his escape rope, and asked her curiously, “Now what was it you were screaming at me?”
Sarah grasped the front of his coat in a pleading gesture. “Robert, don’t…”
She cut off as the merchant ship exploded. The pirates on deck and the sailors in the sea ducked and covered their heads, Robert protecting both women with his bulk. And Sarah did something Cynthia never would have believed of her – she fainted dead away.
Robert, still holding her upright, looked at his sister, consternation clear on his face, and asked, “What’s just happened?”
Cynthia shook her head mutely and gestured toward the cabin. Robert lifted Sarah as easily as he would a child; Cynthia followed him, opening the door to the cabin.
The Captain stopped just inside the room, giving the bunk a surprised look. “Who the devil are you?”
The boy, who had just sat up and was in the process of making sure his head was still in one piece, turned a green-eyed glare on the pirate, much reminiscent of his sister, which immediately turned to a furious look. “What have you done to her?” he demanded. “Hands off, you filthy -,”
“Pipe down, whelp,” Robert returned carelessly, adding in a rough voice, “And off the bed with you.”
The boy didn’t move, giving the Captain a defiant look from a face white with fear. “What have you done to her?” he repeated. “If you’ve hurt her, I swear I’ll – I’ll -,”
Robert saved him from needing to finish his threat. “We’ve done nothing to hurt her, boy. But you’re doing her more harm than good in not getting off that bed.” His voice was gentle and persuasive; the boy got off the bed. “That’s a good lad,” Robert said approvingly. He’d obviously taken a fancy to him.
The ghost of a smile crossed the fear on the boy’s face and Cynthia stifled a groan. Robert cast a curious look at her as he moved to lay Sarah on the bed, but when she shrugged he merely requested that she kindly undo Sarah’s corset while he and the boy found the restoratives. Cynthia complied mutely, covering her friend’s bosom with a warm blanket and chaffing her hands while Robert mildly convinced the boy to do as he was asked.
A minute later, the boy displaced Cynthia and she took a post at the foot of the bunk. Robert paced the opposite side of the room, not looking in their direction as the boy administered the restoratives.
Sarah came to all at once, with a gasp, sitting up and wildly casting her eyes around. They fell on the boy first and she grasped him by the shoulders, her knuckles as white as her face. “Eric,” she breathed, searching his face, “Eric, are you okay?”
Eric blinked. “O – K?”
Sarah shook her head. “All right. Are you all right?”
“Yes, I’m fine -,”
The green eyes landed next on Cynthia. “The ship – it’s gone?”
She looked at Eric again. “Are you sure you’re all right?”
“Yes, I’m fine,” replied the boy impatiently.
“He’s handled himself very well,” interjected Robert. “I shouldn’t be ashamed to say that I knew him.”
Eric turned a now beaming grin on the pirate, who grinned back. Cynthia rubbed her forehead and muttered, “Beware; Nero’s got his fiddle out again.”
Sarah was glaring at Robert. “No,” she said shortly, throwing the blanket back and standing in one swift movement.
“No what?” asked Robert, averting his eyes. “Your undergarments are showing.”
“I’m well aware of what’s showing,” growled Sarah, storming across the room until she was in his face. “No, you will have nothing to do with my brother.”
“Ah, your brother, is he?” A sly, devilish grin lighted Robert’s face as he looked down into the blazing green eyes. “Charming lad. I shall quite take him under my wing until you are both returned to your dear father.”
Sarah took a sharp breath and hissed, “If you so much as think it…” She trailed off suggestively, then turned and asked her brother, “Eric, how did you come to be here? Surely father didn’t just put you on a ship and tell you to come find me.”
Eric looked at the ground sheepishly.
He looked up. “I… I told the men on the ship that father said to take me with them.”
“You sneaked onto a rescue voyage?” demanded Sarah incredulously.
“Well… no…” The boy hesitated then, under his sister’s glare, sputtered, “I – I told them to break off the plans for the merchant voyage because father said I was to go looking for you.”
“And they listened to you?” cried Sarah, aghast.
Eric gave her a defiant look. “I gave them a letter.”
Sarah looked as if she were going to be ill. “Let me be sure I understand you, Eric. You forged a letter and used it to steal one of our own father’s ships in order that you might come challenge a pirate and rescue me?”
“Father wasn’t going to do anything -,”
“He was going to leave it up to Mr. Manning, to be sure, Eric! For the love of heaven -,”
“That was a right brave thing you did, lad,” broke in Robert in an admiring voice. “I’m very impressed. Was it difficult?”
“Indeed not, sir,” replied Eric, puffing out his chest proudly. “I would do anything to save my sister.”
Sarah wheeled on Robert. “Listen here, Captain Bobby. Not one more word to my brother. As for you –,” she pointed a finger at Eric, “you will be staying close to me for the remainder of this voyage. I absolutely forbid you to have anything to do with this man, is that clear?”
Eric’s face flushed. “The least you could do is say thank you, Sarah. I almost died trying to rescue you, and I have the lump to prove it.”
Silence as fragile as a thread filled the cabin with tension. Sarah glared at her brother, her chest heaving as she tried to control herself, looking as if she couldn’t decide whether to back down or charge, presumably at Robert.
It was, in fact, Robert who finally broke the silence. “Would you like to see something of the ship, Eric?”
The boy, immediately diverted from his anger, lit up with an eager nod. Before either woman could speak, the Captain had the boy on deck and was shutting the door loudly behind them, already deep in answering questions about pirating.
Sarah turned to Cynthia with an absolutely bewildered expression, then shuffled across the room and sat on the bed, looking lost. Cynthia sank down next to her, wrapping the blanket back around her shoulders. After a moment she said, “Maybe it would have been better if you weren’t so hard on him. He did come just for you, after all.”
Sarah turned eyes full of hurt and sorrow on her friend. “I only wanted to protect him.” There was sudden anger in her face and she added bitterly, “Foiled again.”
Cynthia awkwardly put an arm around her shoulders. “He could have picked a worse pirate to be friends with.”
Sarah turned away and buried in face in the pillow as she muttered, “I wouldn’t be so sure about that.” Cynthia sighed, trying not to be offended, and stood. She sensed a hesitation in Sarah, so looked back. The green eyes stared at her through chestnut wisps of hair. “He could have picked you.”
Cynthia laughed. “Oh, Sarah.” She sat down again and rubbed the other girl’s shoulder. “It’ll be fine, you’ll see.”
“It always is,” replied Sarah dryly, her usual ironic smile returning. She sat up briskly. “Come, help me put myself back together.”
“Keep on the straight course!” Robert yelled into the helmsman’s ear. “We’ll ride this storm out well enough.” The deck heaved in disagreement as waves swept over it, pulling at the crew like so many anxious fingers.
Cynthia appeared through the rain-blasted gloom and shouted with forced cheerfulness, “A beauty of a storm!” The ship’s violent collision with a wall of water forced her to pause, bracing herself on the wheel. “All the men are tied to the deck!”
“Good, good!” replied Robert, nodding. “Hopefully we won’t lose any this time.”
“Robert!” The unexpected yell made all three by the helm turn. Miss Smith, struggling up the stairs toward them, fighting the wind, rain, and soaked petticoats. She reached the top and shouted again, sounding frightened, “Robert, I…” She was cut off as a wave slammed into the back of her, trying to drag her overboard.
Robert would have none of it, however, and grabbed her before she went too far, his legs trembling with the strain. The moment passed and he exclaimed fiercely, “What the devil do you think you’re doing, woman? I told you to stay in the cabin!” He glared down at her, his dark brows gathered low over stormy brown eyes. A civilian on deck was the last thing he needed.
The green eyes were more vivid then ever through the white fear that possessed Miss Smith’s irregular features. “Eric’s up in the rigging. He wanted to help.” The ship shuddered again, and so did she. “Robert, you’ve got to him get him out of there!” She made an effort to behave like her usual self and added, “I’d go myself, but modesty hardly allows.”
The muscles in Robert’s jaw twitched. He handed her over to Cynthia with the curt instruction, “Get her back inside.”
He began to untie the rope from his waist and Cynthia demanded, “What are you doing, Robert? Leave that on -,”
“I’m going to get Eric. Miss Smith needs this rope more than I.” Checking to be sure he had his dirk, Robert wrapped the safety rope perfunctorily around Sarah’s waist, then turned and disappeared into the storm.
Cynthia gaped after him. It was very unlike him to do something like this himself – indeed, he shouldn’t! He was the captain, the most important man on the ship… She caught the helmsman’s eye. “Keep at it,” she yelled sternly, then secured the rope around her friend’s waist. “Whatever you do, don’t leave go of me,” she instructed, grasping Sarah’s arm. “Better two ropes than one.” Sarah nodded mutely.
After a few minutes of fierce struggle, the two women cut their ropes and fell into the cabin, the violent movement of the ship obligingly banging the door shut behind them. Sarah hit the deck, then quickly scrambled to her feet again, helping Cynthia up as she did so, removing what was left of the rope as she asked anxiously if Cynthia thought the two boys would make it. “Certainly,” replied Cynthia, sounding much surer than she was. “Robert’s very good up in the rigging, even if he doesn’t do it very often.” At Sarah’s sharp look she added, “He should, by all rights, have sent one of the men up there. But he is the best.”
Sarah considered this for a minute, then muttered darkly, “I suppose I was out of order asking the captain to do such a thing.”
“Who else would you have asked?”
Sarah shrugged, that hard smile curling the corner of her lip. “It’s mostly Captain Bobby’s fault that Eric thought he could get up there anyway.” The ship made a particularly brutal movement and sent Sarah reeling onto the settee, although Cynthia kept her feet easily enough. Sarah glanced at the door, struggling to hide her worry. “I hope they’re all right,” she whispered, a prayer that was lost in the sounds of the storm raging outside.
It was for a long fifteen minutes that Sarah and Cynthia kept a silent vigil, waiting for their respective brothers to appear. Sarah busied herself setting out rags and any medicines she could find, Cynthia pacing as well as she could against the rolling of the deck.
Finally, there was a banging low on the door. Cynthia leapt to it guessing, accurately, that Robert was kicking for admittance. The door flew open, allowing gallons of water and a gale’s worth of wind passage into the sanctum; it also brought in the Captain and Eric, who was clinging to the pirate’s side like a leech – or, more precisely, a drowned rat.
Cynthia wrestled the door shut and Sarah hurried forward. Without a word, the latter put an arm around her brother and gently pried him from Robert’s side, then led him to the bed. Cynthia approached Robert to help him to a chair, but he waved her away, breathing heavily as he rung water out of any loose bit of clothing he could wrap his hands around. “Caught his feet in some of the ropes,” he grunted, smoothing the dark, dripping curls back from his forehead. “Thankfully he had the brains to hold on.”
As Sarah silently worked on her brother, changing him out of his wet clothes in favor of an over-large set of pirate duds, treating the rope burns on his ankles, and calming him with soothing words and caresses, the storm began to slow.
“Of course,” muttered Robert, crossing the room to sit tiredly on the edge of the desk. “We would reach the calm now.” He caught Cynthia’s eye and gave her a kind smile. “You weren’t scared on my behalf, were you my dear?”
Cynthia gave him a weak smile and tried to shake her head, failing miserably. Robert held an arm out to her, and she hurried to him, then wrapped herself around him, trembling. Robert hugged her fiercely. “You’re no more a pirate than I am, Cynthia,” he whispered in her ear. “I’m sorry.”
He released her, suddenly, before she could answer, nodding at the cabinet in the corner. “Break out the port, won’t you? I think we could all use a drop.”
Cynthia nodded, moving to do as she was asked, and Robert glanced over at Sarah, who was bent double over the thin pallet. “Is he all right?”
Sarah mutely stepped to the side. Eric, like the child he still was, had fallen deeply asleep, a little flushed and still damp, but otherwise unaffected.
His sister, on the other hand, deeply affected, clutched the blankets for a moment, then turned to face the captain. She had adapted to the agitated movements of the ship and was standing as regally as she had the first time he had seen her. Not a traditional beauty, he remembered deciding then, but with an attraction all her own. Their relationship being what it was, he had almost forgotten.
Sarah crossed the space between them swiftly, staring up at him with wide eyes. There was no anger or fear shining through the green this time – Robert realized, with a start, that those were all he had ever seen in them. Without warning, she fell to her knees and clasped his hand, pulling it to her lips with shaking fingers and kissing it. “Thank you,” she whispered, not looking at him. “I owe you more than my life – I owe you my brother’s.” She glanced up at him, a single rebellious tear slipping across her firm jaw. “I…” she paused, struggling for words, and finally pressed his hand to her bowed forehead. “I thank God for you, Robert.” She released his hand and held her own up in a gesture of surrender. “I won’t fight you any longer. I am yours, Captain. Do what you will.” The hands, so expressive as her eyes hid behind chestnut hair, fell into her lap and rested.
Robert stared down at her. Never had he had such a complete surrender, and never had he had such a variety of feelings about it. Surprise, certainly, but also a little guilt at only accidentally having caged such a wondrous creature. No victory in this conquest, but a deep feeling of having been touched to the inmost parts of his soul. And a sure knowledge that this surrender, as complete as it was, didn’t reach to the innermost parts of her; he wanted that very badly.
Not stopping to examine that particular feeling, he acted on it and spoke, deliberately misunderstanding her. “Surely not, Miss Smith. The ship will be nothing but dullness without you to whet my bad humors.” Her head came up sharply, the expressive brow deeply creased in consternation over the slightly large nose.
But Robert had turned away and walked toward his sister, who had observed the whole scene in open-mouthed astonishment. “You have that drink ready?” he inquired. She stared at him blankly, then shook her head to clear it, handing him an empty glass. “Not too much,” he reminded her. She put in just a splash, and he walked to the door, swishing the drink around with one hand.
“Take a drop yourself, if you’re inclined, Miss Smith.” He nodded absently and walked out, only to return a moment later and add, “And both of you please to remember that the storm will start up again in short order. Be sure young master Eric stays put.” He raised an unruly eyebrow in Sarah’s direction. “And do get off the floor, Miss Smith. No place for a young lady.” With that, he sauntered out across the deck, shouting orders to clear debris from the ship and get ready for the next pass of the storm.
Robert turned again, trying to find a more comfortable position in his hammock – a task of questionable do-ability. “Robert, stop squirming,” Cynthia’s voice lazed across the darkness, making the captain wish even more fervently that he could sleep.
“I can’t sleep,” he finally admitted.
“Then go on deck.”
A sensible solution. The pirate rolled out of his hammock and grabbed his boots, treading softly across the plank floors and out into the night. He paused a moment to put the boots on, then started to casually pace the deck, passing a genial nod with the night watchmen.
He reached the helm in short order. “Anything to report, sailor?”
“No, sir. Nothin’ out o’ the ordinary,” replied the grubby second mate.
“Good.” Robert turned to face the back of the ship, watching where they had been. Nothing but ocean for miles. Very uneventful. But not dull enough to lull him to sleep.
A sound rose, pure and clear through the night, shimmering and ephemeral. A human voice, full of pathos, but unintelligible. Robert turned back to his second mate. “It’s to be hoped we’re not passing the sirens, Hogan,” he commented.
“I should ‘ope not, sir.”
The man grinned, making Robert sure that he knew what it was. Pirates were superstitious by nature; the whole night crew should have been up in arms against whatever was making that sound. “What is it?”
“It be Miss Smith, as you calls her, sir. She come out many a night, after Master Eric’s asleep, she do, and stand in the prow so as to watch where’s we’re goin’.” Hogan nodded in a satisfied way. “She don’t always sing, sir, but we don’ mind it when she do.” He shrugged hairy shoulders. “We like t’ consider it a priv’lige of bein’ out at night, sir.”
“She remains unmolested?” Robert’s voice was sharp.
“Well, sir…” The sailor hemmed and hawed, but at the Captain’s increasingly displeased look he blurted, “After the rumors heard tell about how she treated you, Captain, none o’ us wanted a go at it.”
Robert stifled a groan and a laugh at the same time, instead saying dryly, “I daresay it was an excellent decision.” He nodded. “Carry on.” Then he walked away, taking the most roundabout route he could find, but obviously headed toward the prow.
Miss Smith – Sarah – she still hadn’t admitted what her name was to him – had become a staple to the ship since her brother’s rescue had brought her down off her high horse. Not to say that she didn’t still make sparks fly; they just seemed like sparks to light fireworks rather than sparks to blow up a ship.
Now that they weren’t constantly crossing swords to kill, Robert found her to be witty, charming, biting, humorous, and deeply intelligent by turns. He even caught himself wishing for her conversation occasionally, to relieve his mind or to help him work through a particularly knotty problem. The odd thing was that whenever he did, she seemed to appear. She drew him out by baiting and coaxing him by turns, acting disinterested then hanging on every word, always with that slightly mocking smile, until he had told her everything he had never realized he wished.
Sarah opened to him a little, but still he knew there were some things about her that he didn’t even come close to understanding. Why the mocking smile so often became hard, almost disillusioned, or why she flared or completely locked herself up over certain things, particularly her brother and her fiancé.
Robert grimaced at the thought of Bryant Manning and almost turned back to Cynthia’s cabin, to find sleep whether sleep would or no. It was dangerous to be toting around a pirate hunter’s fiancée but what could he do, short of put Sarah and Eric into a long boat and wishing them luck?
As he hesitated, he realized that the words Sarah was singing had become clear. He moved closer, listening, wondering at the deep despair and sorrow he heard in every note of the unfamiliar song.
Dreams rise and dreams fall
Caressing my heart.
Sailing an ocean
I’ve left – cold, dark.
Intangible dreams –
Wisps on the air.
Nothing, and nothing,
Grown in despair
Promises come to,
Then turn; from me flee.
Life takes its treasures
And leaves me the lees.
The harder and closer I push to the shore,
Then harder and dearer I feel need to moor…
Robert was standing at her shoulder and she hadn’t even looked up, transfixed by the stars melting into the vast, empty ocean. But he couldn’t listen any longer, for fear his very heart would break. “What are the lees?”
Sarah jumped and turned, jerking her arm around in a backhanded slap that sent Robert reeling as her other fist came around for an uppercut. Thankfully, she stopped before said fist connected with Robert’s jaw, her mouth hanging open in mortification. “Oh, Robert. I’m so sorry!” She hurried over to him as he caressed his jaw. “Let me see it.” She pulled his protective hand away and turned his face to the light of the moon. She sighed, letting her hand drop uselessly to her side. “You’ll have a beautiful bruise from that one.” The harsh smile curled her lip. “At least I didn’t get you with the other.”
“Do you realize you only call me Robert if you’re frightened or contrite? And you have to be very upset, even then.” Sarah shrugged, unimpressed. Robert tried again. “Where did you learn to hit like that?”
Sarah turned back to the front of the ship. “I really am sorry, Captain Bobby,” she emphasized the nickname subtly. “You oughtn’t to sneak up on a lady.”
Robert, feeling unreasonably bold, leaned on the rail next to her. “You also realize that you never answer questions when I ask them of you? Not even if it’s a harmless inquiry after your breakfast.”
“Does that bother you, Captain?”
This appeared to startled Sarah even more than his sudden, silent appearance had. Discomposed, she let her hands wander up and down the rail, rubbing away morsels of salt. “I wasn’t aware that you cared,” she commented after a moment.
“I didn’t say that,” replied Robert immediately, sounding nonchalant. “I only said it bothered me.”
Sarah looked at him squarely. “Now my good man, don’t be ridiculous. If you didn’t care, it wouldn’t bother you.”
Robert looked down at her, studying her face. “I suppose you’re right,” he said quietly.
Sarah turned back to the rail, bracing herself against it. “I’m sorry I offend in not answering you directly. It’s an old habit, and not one I practice with forethought much of the time.”
“What are the lees?”
Sarah almost brushed him off again, but he lifted a finger to warn her. She laughed, rubbing her forehead. “It is a bad habit,” she admitted before explaining, “The lees are the dregs – the bottom of the barrel, if you will.”
Robert considered that for a moment. “You have a beautiful voice.”
“I think it almost a sin that someone as young and promising as yourself should be able to sing that piece with such intimate understanding.”
“You didn’t like it?”
“It was exquisite. Your understanding added layers to the otherwise obvious charms of the piece. That is what I did not care for.”
“You don’t like understanding?”
“I don’t like to think of that kind of understanding being in you.”
Sarah became suddenly spirited, titling her chin defiantly. “Who says I understand, Captain Bobby? Perhaps I am simply a marvelous actress.”
“Don’t be vulgar,” reprimanded Robert, trying not to be amused.
“I am never vulgar. Often blunt to the point of embarrassment, but never vulgar.”
Robert nodded his concession, then pursued his original vein. “You do understand. I could hear it.” Sarah only gave him that mocking smile. Robert’s dark good looks set themselves, as they did when he was determined to see the course to the end. “Do not mock yourself in this fashion, my dear Miss Smith.”
“Yes, indeed. Nor should you be so boastful.”
“Again, sir. I?”
“And again, yes. You must be very proud, indeed, to believe that you could break the heart of a hardened pirate without the aid of real understanding.”
Sarah’s face suddenly melted into confusion, quickly superseded by compassion. “You are not a hardened pirate, Robert,” she told him earnestly, then laughed a little, meeting his eyes. “You see, I can call you by name without being frightened or contrite.” Robert gave her a searching glance from beneath his set brows, and her looks changed again, back to confusion. “How could I touch – how did I…” she trailed off and leaned on the rail again, staring down at the waves breaking on the prow of the ship.
Robert reached forward, hesitated, then wrapped a lock of her hair around his finger and tugged at it gently. “Why do you understand, Miss Smith? And why won’t you let anyone else understand with you? Even Cynthia and Eric tell me they know nothing more of you than I, and yet you know more of us than we do. Is that fair?”
Sarah glanced at him, that smile curling the corners of her mouth. “Am I so much an object of interest to all of you?” Before Robert could answer, she reached up and took his hand in both of hers, bringing it down between them. The smile changed happily. “My name, Captain, is Sarah. Miss Sarah Burke.”
The Captain bowed. “A pleasure, Miss Burke. Truly a pleasure,” he assured her gravely. He hesitated as a sudden thought struck him. “Miss Burke – Sarah…” he stopped, flushing at his own boldness.
Sarah didn’t seem surprised, simply clasped her hands behind her back and inquired innocently, “Yes?”
“Might I share with you a thought I have just had?”
“A thousand, Captain, if they are worth my time.”
“That I cannot promise; only that I think it is.”
“Then I shall listen, and judge for myself.”
Having come this far, Robert hesitated again, unsure. Then, looking out at the sea, he spoke, his voice falling into a smooth, rich cadence as he quoted the psalmist: “ My soul, wait thou only upon God; for my expectation is from him. He only is my rock and my salvation: he is my defense; I shall not be moved.” He paused, ready for Sarah to let fly a biting retort, but she didn’t speak. So he finished. “In God is my salvation and my glory: the rock of my strength, and my refuge, is in God.
“Trust in him at all times; ye people, pour out your heart before him: God is a refuge for us.”
There was silence between them, and the captain feared he had gone too far. Sarah had never spoken of God with him, and he had never attempted it. Except for the once she had thanked God for Eric’s being saved, she had never mentioned Him. It hadn’t occurred to Robert until now that she might be mad at Him, for whatever reasons haunted the dark parts of her soul.
Finally, he pushed back from the rail, thinking to walk away, but Sarah’s voice, soft and low, stopped him. She had begun to sing:
Let not sorrow overwhelm me,
Though I toil through all my days.
May Thy Spirit find me willing
To walk in better ways!
And when through Thee, Christ, my Savior,
I am brought into Thy peace,
May I, grateful, fall before Thee,
And sing praise of Thy love!
Take my heart and bind it to Thee,
Till I reach my home above.
There were a few warm tears on Robert’s cheeks now, and Sarah reached up and brushed them away with the back of her hand. “You brought to mind the words of my mother,” she told him gently. “I could not help but sing them.”
She pulled her hand away, examining it critically as she added, “I have a confession to make, Reverend Robert.” Robert shook his head with a smile. “God and I haven’t always been on the best of terms.” She looked up and fearlessly met his eyes. “We’ve had a rough road of it. But you, Robert – still to trust in God, after all that has happened?”
It was a plea for understanding, so Robert answered, “I would not be here, after all that has happened, if it weren’t for trust in God.” He chuckled. “I’d be a drunken ruffian on an island overflowing with rum and loose women.”
“And you said the Holy Book was a blotting pad,” Sarah laughed, then studied the deck for a minute before looking up again. “I miss Him, I think. Do you suppose you could teach me?” She offered him the sardonic smile. “Perhaps your years in preacher school will be of some help.”
Surprised, the pirate captain answered, “I would be honored, Sarah.” Robert couldn’t help the gruffness in his voice, and Sarah couldn’t help but tease him for it, he could tell by the look on her face.
So he changed the subject. “Sing for me,” he demanded, cutting her off. Sarah arched an eyebrow, managing to look down at him over her slightly large nose. “In exchange,” he amended.
“Not a good enough reason, my dear sir.”
“I know you’ll teach me, even if I don’t sing.”
She had him there. “Please sing – something without pathos.” He paused. “Oh, I suppose you don’t know anything like that.” He sighed. “Well, goodnight, Miss Smith…”
He started to walk away, but she stopped him with a hand on his sleeve. She was grinning at him. “You are good.”
Sarah turned back to the rail. “Fine, trot off to bed.”
Robert returned to stand next to her. “I can’t sleep.” Silence. “Perhaps something to soothe me, since you seem to have such excessive power over my senses?”
Sarah tilted her head to the side, considered the railing. “Sound reasoning,” she pronounced finally, then took a deep breath and began to sing:
Deep in the starlit
and the heavens,
And all of the beauty
“Ship! Ship off the starboard bow!” Eric’s cry brought Sarah, Cynthia, and Robert out of their deep discussion over St. John. The boy came running up, much sturdier on his legs, now, and looking at home in his suit of sailing clothes. “There’s a ship!”
“Yes, we heard you the first time, lad.” Robert climbed to his feet and helped Sarah to stand; Cynthia was already at the railing, peering out at the ship. “How far off is it?” he called after her.
Cynthia shaded her blue eyes with one hand, holding her wild red curls back with the other. “Not too far for the glass, I think.”
Robert sent Eric scurrying for his spyglass as he and Sarah joined Cynthia at the rail. “I wonder…” Robert cut off as there was a flash at the side of the other ship. “Get back!” he ordered, hauling the two women backwards as quickly as he could.
The cannon ball hit the water a small distance from the ship; the crew exploded into panic. Robert started shouting orders as Eric, who had reappeared unnoticed, handed the spyglass over to his sister.
“Good man,” she muttered as she held it up to her eye. A moment later she said grimly, “You can stop now, Captain Bobby. It was a warning shot.”
Robert whirled around to face her. “What the devil are you talking about?”
Sarah lowered the glass from her set face. “It’s Mr. Manning.”
Robert’s face became grim, and Cynthia’s blanched. “Robert, run up the surrender,” she said desperately. “He’ll just take them, and leave.”
Robert gazed at Sarah. “I know.”
Another warning shot exploded, closer this time, and Robert raised his voice. “Send up the white flag of surrender! Prepare the cannons!”
Eric gave him a horrified look. “You’re not going to kill Mr. Manning, are you Captain?”
Robert muttered something that sounded suspiciously like, “If I could,” then said aloud, “No, lad. But it’s always best to be prepared.”
Some time later, the crew safely below deck except for a few trusted hands, the Intrepid found itself reduced to the indignity of having another ship grapple on to her, and a foreign captain placing himself on her deck.
He was a man as tall as Robert, but of fair coloring and a bulky build that made Robert’s imposing, lithe figure look thin. He stood with (in Robert’s eyes) insufferable arrogance, surveying the ship as if it were his. “Captain Robert Dungeon, I believe?” he inquired, making himself the first to speak.
“Indeed, Mr. Manning,” replied the pirate, not giving him the honor of Captain.
Manning took note with a raised eyebrow, but didn’t comment. “I believe you have something that belongs to me.”
The corner of Robert’s mouth twitched at the thought of what Sarah would say if she heard that. “Oh, stuff, Bryant,” Sarah’s voice matched the tone Robert had imagined exactly as she materialized, apparently from nowhere, dressed in her newly cleaned, though worn, gown. “I don’t belong to anyone; I’m hardly a slave, am I?”
She was giving Manning that hard smile, Robert was well-satisfied to see, and as Manning became suddenly flustered the pirate commented, “I thought you were going to stay in your cabin until we were quite finished.”
“I changed my mind,” was the flat reply.
“Are you quite all right, Sarah?” Manning had found his tongue. “These ruffians haven’t hurt you or made you uncomfortable or…”
“Do you think I would let them?” Sarah let the question hang in the air. “I have been quite well, aside from the rather long addition to the voyage I was taking, thank you, Bryant.” She lifted her chin, looking at nothing, “I am ready to go home to my father, now.”
“He misses you dearly,” answered Bryant softly. “As did I.”
Sarah looked away from her fiancé, and Robert caught a glimpse of tears gathering in her eyes… They were gone; she reached out and touched Manning’s arm tenderly and silently. So she did have some feeling for him after all.
“She is quite anxious to return with you,” Robert imposed himself back on the conversation, “as is her brother, Eric.”
“You have him here?” Manning cried angrily. “You are more vile than I could have even thought.”
“At least I make an honest living,” returned Robert bitingly.
“Honest? Ah, yes, I’d forgotten that pillaging and plundering had become honest trades.”
“When I fight men, I do it to their face, not sneaking up on their back.”
Manning’s face reddened and he reached for his sword. “I will not stand by and have my character attacked by the likes of a pirate.”
Robert reached for his own sword and, borrowing one of Sarah’s phrases, muttered, “Bring it.”
“Robert, stop this instant!” Cynthia cried, imposing herself between the two men.
“This is a matter for captains, Cynthia, not first mates.”
Manning stood, dumbfounded, staring at Cynthia. “Your first mate is a woman?”
“Yes; my sister.”
“For her honor, then, as well!” Robert’s face darkened more than ever, turning into a thundercloud at Manning’s continued words. “What kind of man allows his sister to live among pirates?”
Robert lunged at Manning, but Sarah stepped in front of him, grasping her fiancé’s sword by the blade as it came up to strike. The silence that followed was total until Sarah commented, “Neither of you understands the other. I suggest for the sake of both your souls that you stop now.” She shot a fiery look at Robert, then jerked her head at a very frightened Cynthia. “Both of you have a ship to captain.”
She let go of the blade, blood dripping from her palm, Manning’s face painted with mortification. “Sarah,” he gasped, reaching for her, “your hand…!”
“Is fine, Bryant,” she replied gently, prying his fingers from her upper arm. “Put your sword up and wrap it in your handkerchief, won’t you?”
“You won’t be able to use that for a while,” observed Cynthia, collecting herself.
“She’s ambidextrous,” Robert assured her. “She’ll be fine.”
Sarah smiled faintly as Manning bound her hand. “I had forgotten you knew that, Captain.”
“Threats make these things stick in one’s memory,” Robert replied with a grin.
Manning gave the Captain a sharp look, then glanced at his fiancée. Her face softened his features. Without looking back at Robert he said, “The terms are thus, Captain Dungeon. You turn over this woman and the boy, and we will leave you in peace.”
“You won’t sink us as you sail away into the sunset?” asked Robert smartly.
“He gave his word, Captain Bobby.”
Robert shrugged. “Only making sure.” He glanced again at Manning. “Shake on it; I’ll send my first mate to fetch the boy.”
Manning interrupted his ministrations to Sarah to shake, briefly, then interrupted them again to shake hands with young master Eric when he returned with Cynthia. “I’ll call one of my men to swing you over…” he started, but Eric interrupted.
“That’s all right, Mr. Manning. I am quite able to swing myself over, if you’ll lend me a rope.”
At Manning’s incredulous look Robert said innocently, “Oh, yes. He’s quite capable. Quite the little pirate, really.” Manning refused to be prodded, but Sarah silently took a firm step backwards, onto Robert’s foot. He jumped in surprised pain, then turned the movement into a survey of the ship across from him. “Fine ship,” he commented. Sarah caught his eye, smiling that smile again. Robert looked away.
Manning gave Eric a rope, at Sarah’s encouragement, and Eric had soon sailed the gap between the two ships. Sarah moved away from Manning to speak apart with Cynthia for a moment.
“Take care of yourself, and your brother,” she instructed teasingly. “You’ll have your hands full, I’d wager.”
Cynthia nodded at Mr. Manning. “I should think you will, too.” She giggled. “He is quite a man.”
Sarah glanced at him with a wistful air as he stood, trying to have a civil conversation with Robert, whose answers were monosyllabic. “He is, isn’t he?” She looked down at her skirt, then up at Cynthia. “I wouldn’t have missed this for the world, you know.”
Cynthia felt her eyes watering. “I’ll miss you, Sarah.”
Sarah hugged her dear friend. “I believe I’ll miss you more,” she whispered, then turned without another word and joined the men.
“Well, Captain Bobby,” she said.
Sarah considered him a moment. “This is goodbye, isn’t it? It’s been an adventure.”
“That it has, Miss Smith.”
They stood, silently regarding one another. Robert had no idea what Sarah was thinking, but he was seeing her for the first time again, standing against those barrels, cornered by pirates. She probably hadn’t needed him. And standing in his cabin as if she owned the ship. And begging him to save Eric. And laughing with Cynthia. And making him look the fool. And singing, and studying, and mocking, and praying…
“Farewell.” Sarah made a small gesture with her hand, then wrapped her arms around Manning. He waited only long enough to be sure she was secure, then swung her away, landing her as gently as possible on the deck of the other ship.
Robert watched her go, then turned and started the orders to turn the ship and find a fresh breeze. Cynthia stood at the rail, waving, but only Eric was of a mind to wave back.
It wasn’t until much later, standing at the helm with Robert as Mr. Manning’s ship went slowly out of sight, that Cynthia heard Robert quietly say, “Farewell.”
Cynthia stood in the crowd, wringing her brand-new handkerchief into rags. Sweat poured copiously down between her shoulder blades as she stood in the chill of the fall sun, her hands trembling. There was a long-bladed knife and a pistol hidden on her person, weighing down the already heavy petticoats that sat uncomfortably around her waist. She wondered if she would be able to bring herself to use them.
There was a clank, and the crowd turned as one from the gallows to face the prison. Robert stood, blinking, in the doorway. He looked as much a ruffian as ever, but more beaten than she had ever seen him. The gaoler took him by the arm and dragged him forward, pulling him around the crowd as he tripped over the ropes binding his feet, the clanking of the chains at his wrists lost in the sudden burst of abuse from the crowd. “Pirate!” “Blackguard!” “Devil!” “Thief!” “Miscreant!” Pirate!
Cynthia wanted to block it out, put her hands to her ears as tears came to her eyes. Robert couldn’t die like this. She started forward and Robert, his dark looks as alert as ever, saw her move. He glowered at her and she stopped. He shook his head, even as he made it to the steps of the gallows. Cynthia gave him a pleading look from her blue eyes, her woman’s dress making her appear even more helpless, hardening Robert’s resolve. She wouldn’t die like he would, shamed and scorned. He shook his head again, looking up at the rope, then breathed a sigh of relief as she sadly melted back into the crowd.
The executioner set about his miserable business without further ado, securing the rope around Robert’s neck as the gaoler read out his sentence.
“Robert Dungeon, you have been found guilty of piracy…”
Robert tuned out as the man ran through a long list, the crowd hissing the entire time. This is what he got for setting foot on shore. Stupid of him. But he hadn’t been able to help it…
“…and to be hung by the neck until dead. May God have mercy on your soul.”
Robert looked to the sky and muttered under his breath, “Please watch Cynthia.”
A scream from the crowd drew all eyes. A young woman in the back had been pushed violently aside, but her scream was more one of indignation than pain. Another woman’s voice rose over hers. “Step aside, all of you.” It was a voice of calm authority, but there were two who heard and recognized a slight edge of panic.
The gaoler and the executioner exchanged looks as the woman pushed through the crowd. There were rumors that the pirate had a female accomplice. Best to ignore her. The gaoler nodded, and the executioner reached for the lever to drop the pirate as Sarah burst through the front ranks, pointing her finger as if she were brandishing a sword.
“Touch that at peril of your life, sir.”
The executioner didn’t know exactly what he had been expecting, but it wasn’t a lady of some obvious rank in society. Her dress didn’t allow for her to be anything else. He stepped back from the lever, almost involuntarily. “Excellent choice,” Sarah’s voice was a dark hiss. “You will wait.”
The executioner wasn’t going to argue with her. Neither was the gaoler. The mayor of the town, however, who happened to be standing at her elbow, was. “I hardly think we need to be taking orders from an unknown young woman.”
Sarah turned on him. “If I were an unknown young woman, I would be forced to agree with you, sir.” Cynthia, palely hopeful, was quietly inching her way up behind the mayor, where she caught Sarah’s nearly imperceptible wink in her direction. “Might I inquire who has addressed me in such an inappropriate fashion?”
Her severe tone made the thick-set man draw himself up indignantly. “I am the mayor of this town. Who are you?”
“Miss Sarah Burke, fiancée of Mr. Bryant Manning and daughter of the Honorable Mr. Samuel Burke. Previously a guest of Captain Robert Dungeon’s hospitality.” A murmur ran through the gathered crowd. Of course everyone had heard Miss Sarah Burke’s story; it was how Captain Dungeon had been recognized and arrested in the first place.
The mayor considered for a moment, then finally said, “We have no proof of that. And anyway, Miss, even if you are who you say you are, you have no authority to stop this hanging.”
For a moment, it appeared as if Sarah would laugh. That moment passed, however, and the look that settled on her irregular features instead was one that Cynthia had never seen before. It was dark and angry – and frightening. “Mayor, I will warn you now that you have no idea who you are dealing with.” There was no trace of the mocking smile now. “Even supposing I had no ‘authority,’ if I chose to stop this hanging Captain Dungeon would go free.”
The mayor was about to answer this threat when the sound of fast-approaching hooves cut him off. A dun-colored horse came plowing into the square, dodging people and trees until its rider pulled it to a halt only feet away from the arguing pair. The horse’s flanks were flecked with foam, and she heaved for air as Bryant Manning slid from her back, breathless himself. Sarah turned a bright pair of green eyes on him, her facing returning to normal as suddenly as it had changed, and Bryant reached into the breast of his jacket. “The mayor?” he asked.
Sarah nodded mutely in that man’s direction, and Bryant handed him a document. “Mr. Mayor, I hope you remember me.” The mayor nodded silently, accepting the paper. “It’s a leniency from the governor for Captain Robert Dungeon – he has one week to get back on his ship.” Bryant cast the pirate, who had been standing in stoic silence, a mocking look. “After that, he’s free game.”
The entire square held its breath as the mayor studied the paper. Finally, looking disappointed, he looked up at the gallows and sighed, “Let him go.” He handed the document back to Bryant. “Give it to the pirate, if you would, Mr. Manning.” He bowed and left the square to a chorus of excited murmurs from the spectators.
The executioner released Robert, and Cynthia flew into his arms the second his boots touched the dirt. Sarah was smiling radiantly at Bryant. She took his hands in hers and stood on her toes to kiss his cheek. “Thank you.”
Bryant shrugged sheepishly. “I don’t know why I did this, even for you, Sarah.” He gave Robert a cursory glance. “It won’t keep me from tracking him in the future.” Sarah smiled, not willing to argue with him just yet.
Cynthia broke from her brother to fling herself at Sarah. “Thank you! Thank you so very much!” Sarah hugged her back, smiling hard enough to break her face. Cynthia pulled back to look at her. “How on earth did you know?”
“Even the walls have ears,” she answered in a bland voice. The green eyes turned to Robert. “You should get back to your ship as quickly as possible – both of you. The governor could change his mind.”
“He did, after all, only owe me one favor,” added Bryant carelessly, shoving the document into Robert’s chest.
Robert took the paper and tucked it away with due ceremony, then bowed to Sarah. “Miss Burke,” he nodded at Bryant, “Mr. Manning, I thank you for your exertions in my behalf. May I give you early felicitous wishes on your upcoming marriage, as I will not be there?”
“Thank you,” replied Manning graciously, drawing his arm around Sarah’s waist. “We shall be quite happy.” Sarah nodded, her expression becoming that which she was most used to.
Robert took Cynthia by the hand. “Come along – we must get back to the ship before Mr. Manning’s generosity runs dry.”
With a final wave to Sarah, Cynthia allowed him to lead her away, but Sarah spoke again before they had gone too far. “Wait.” Robert stopped, but didn’t turn. “Why did you come ashore, Captain Bobby?”
Robert glanced at her over his shoulder. “I was out of blotting paper.” He walked away with Cynthia in tow, not waiting for a reply, and Bryant led Sarah away.
Once they were out of earshot, however, Cynthia planted her feet. “Robert, you can’t go back to the ship now. Not after all of this!”
“What do you expect me to do, woman?” he growled. “She’s marrying him in six days. That’s close enough to the end of my leniency to get me arrested – and you as well.”
Cynthia sighed. “It’s just unlike you to give up so easily.”
Robert’s jaw set as he stared at nothing. “She’s happy with him.”
“She saved your life. Did you not see the look on her face when the mayor spoke as if he would execute you anyway?” Robert wouldn’t meet her eyes and Cynthia threw her hands in the air. “Fine, Robert. Do what you like. I suppose it’s none of my business.”
“No, it’s not. Now come along.”
So Cynthia followed him silently into the trees.
Bryant grinned nervously as Sarah walked down the aisle on her father’s arm, smiling graciously at anyone who caught her eye. He was glad to see her in such good spirits – she had been a little listless since the episode with that pirate, and it worried him. But this morning she had been in the best of moods, her usual slightly hard smile playing around her lips. …He loved that smile, although he wasn’t quite sure why.
Just as she reached him, a gentle breeze stirred her veil. Bryant was glad that she had convinced him to have an outdoor ceremony – unconventional, but nice. He reached out and took her hand, and together they turned to the minister.
The minister smiled, then opened his mouth to speak, but the voice that they heard wasn’t his. “I beg pardon.” Sarah froze. “I tried to catch Miss Burke this morning, but I kept missing her.”
Robert appeared behind the minister, an arrogant smile on his face, and Sarah threw back her veil as Bryant doubled his fists. “What are you doing here, Captain Bobby?” she demanded furiously. “This is my wedding; I won’t have you ruining it.”
Robert gave her an innocent look. “I brought my sister to see you married.”
He gestured toward the back of the crowd and Sarah glanced back, nodded to Cynthia, then glared at Robert again. “I don’t believe you. If that was all you were here for, you wouldn’t be standing right in front of me.”
“Go sit down, Captain Dungeon,” inserted Bryant. “You can speak to the bride after the ceremony.”
“No, I really just need to say a few words now. Then I’ll leave.”
Sarah folded her arms impatiently. “Fine. Speak them, quickly, then go.”
“I had to tell you, Sarah, before you married our fine Mr. Manning, that I’ve fallen in love with you. And I miss you – terribly.”
The spectators, who had been murmuring in surprise for the last few moments, fell silent at these words from the pirate.
“I think I have a right to ask you to choose between us.”
“I think she already has,” said an aggravated Bryant.
Robert patted him on the shoulder. “Don’t be jealous, Mr. Manning. I am of the opinion that she never did – she met me after she promised to marry you. Hardly fair.”
“My daughter will not marry a pirate,” interjected Mr. Burke.
“I didn’t ask her to marry me. I simply said that I was in love with her.”
Sarah, who hadn’t been able to get a word in, chose that moment to dispassionately slap Robert, hard, across the face, then gave him that mocking smile as he stared at her in silent amazement. “Thank you. Seeing as it’s me you’re discussing, I thought I should like a say as well.”
Cynthia, still standing in the back, covered her mouth as she tried not to giggle.
“Captain Bobby, you could not have picked a worse day to make such a proclamation. And how dare you suggest that I would leave Mr. Manning to become the mistress of a pirate.”
The general crowd took a sharp breath at her boldness; Robert simply said humbly, “I did mean to marry you, Sarah. But people presuming things gets on my nerves so -!”
“Am I supposed to feel sorry for you?”
“Sarah, I also wanted to tell you that, regardless of what you decide, I’m changing professions.” Sarah simply looked at him. Finally, unnerved, Robert shoved a Bible with a delicately crafted gold rosary wrapped around it into her hands. “Here, for your wedding.” He turned on his heel and walked away.
Sarah looked down at the bible, then decisively up at Bryant. In a clear, carrying voice she said, “Bryant, I’m sorry. I cannot believe that I’m doing this, but…” Robert stopped, the crowd held its collective breath, and Sarah dropped her voice to a low whisper. “I’m sorry, Bryant. I’m not in love with you – and I have fallen in love with Robert. Heaven only knows how.” She looked down again. “I simply cannot marry you.”
Bryant slowly placed a hand over hers. “It’s all right, Sarah.” He offered her a sad smile. “I understand, I suppose. And I won’t force you to marry me.” He leaned down and kissed her cheek. “You’re a bit of a pirate yourself, you know.”
Sarah smiled gratefully, then stepped away from him, looking at Robert defiantly. “Well?”
Robert sauntered back to her. “You still haven’t surrendered completely.”
Sarah tossed her head. “If I knew what you were talking about, I might have an answer for you.”
Robert took her arm and started to lead her away. “They’re going to arrest me tomorrow.”
“Surely not. I’ll speak to the governor myself, if I must.”
“Can we not just slip away on my ship?”
“Hardly the best way to start your reformed life.”
“I suppose you’re going to hold me to that?”
Her airy tone of voice made Robert look to her in surprise. “Aren’t you?”
“No.” That smile returned. “But I’m not going with you if you go back to your ship.”
Robert laughed. “I should have known.”
They had wandered a few yards away from the wedding, now, and were interrupted by the sound of the minister starting to speak again. “Dearly beloved, we are gathered here today to join this man and this woman…”
“What the devil?” asked Robert, staring at her. They turned back to see Bryant standing opposite of Cynthia in front of the preacher. “Your boy Bryant certainly doesn’t waste time, does he, Sarah?”
Sarah blinked. “I suppose not.”
“But if he thinks for one moment I’ll let him marry my sister, he’s very wrong,” he continued with a glower.
He prepared to storm over and break it up, but Sarah grabbed his arm. “Don’t be silly, Captain Bobby. If he marries her it takes care of three problems.” Robert lifted an inquiring eyebrow. “One, your sister will never be charged as a pirate. Two, you won’t have to worry about him trying to steal me back again. And three, he’ll want to be sure his brother-in-law doesn’t get hung – he’s got a lot more influence with the governor than he admits to.”
“But…” Robert protested lamely.
“He’s a good man, you know. He’ll make her happy – or, at the very least, content.”
“They hardly know each other!”
“It happens all the time, Captain. They’re both grown-up people who know what they’re doing, after all.”
Just then, the minister asked who gave ‘this woman’ away. Cynthia caught Robert’s eye and gave him a pleading look, begging him to give her a normal life. “She’s not any more a pirate than you are, Robert,” Sarah insisted gently. “Don’t take this from her – it may be her only chance.”
Robert hesitated only a moment longer, then cleared his throat and said, “I do.”
The minister, long past being shocked, simply glanced over his shoulder, nodded, and continued the ceremony. A few minutes later, Mr. and Mrs. Manning were exchanging their first kiss, as husband and wife.
“And to think,” commented Sarah, “it could have been me.”
“Regretful already?” queried Robert, offering his arm once again.
Sarah took it with a smile. “Not in the least, Captain Bobby. Although you may be before too much longer.”
Robert looked at the rosary, now hanging around her neck, and shook his head. “I don’t think so, Sarah.” He jerked his head in the direction of the crowd of well-wishers. “Come, let’s go wish them happy. And convince Mr. Manning to save my neck all over again.”
Sarah returned to the room with the baby and sat next to Cynthia, who immediately started to coo at her daughter. Robert, sitting on the couch, made a protesting sound. “You could have come and sat by me.”
“I could have,” agreed Sarah. “But she’s Cynthia’s child, after all.”
“And mine,” added Bryant as he strolled in to the room. He stooped to kiss his wife, smiling tenderly at her, then scooped the baby out of Sarah’s arms. “Hello, love.”
“You disgust me, Manning. Where is your manhood?” demanded Robert, resting his chin on his fist.
“I gave up on pretending to have any when I almost lost my dear wife.”
Sarah folded her hands primly in her lap, not hiding her satisfied smile. “See, now, aren’t you glad Robert came and broke up the wedding? You’re much more in love with Cynthia than you ever were with me. Her sweet temper agrees with you.”
“I won’t argue with you there,” agreed Bryant as Cynthia blushed. He rocked the baby as he wandered around the room. “Thank you, Dungeon, for being such a brigand. Sarah’s temperament agrees with you much better.”
“Anything to be of service,” replied Robert dryly.
Cynthia, embarrassed, decided to change the subject. “Now that Robert and Bryant have returned from capturing the Intrepid, are you ready to set a date for your wedding, Sarah?”
Sarah shot a smile at Robert. “We already have.”
“You and your husband were so involved in the baby, we decided to wait a few weeks before announcing it,” Robert explained.
“Five weeks from today.”
Cynthia and Bryant exchanged shocked looks. “So soon?” Cynthia managed.
“Not soon,” disagreed Sarah. “We were engaged for a month before he and Bryant went on that voyage, and that lasted for nine months. We will have been engaged for a year – much too long, to my mind.”
“She pretends not to be interested in me,” interjected Robert, “but she’s really quite eager to be wed.”
“Yes,” agreed Sarah with a nod and that smile, toying with the rosary he had given her. “Eager to wed – not necessarily to you.”
Robert raised an eyebrow and, instead of retaliating as he was wont to do, commented reflectively, “Still haven’t quite made it, have I, Sarah?”
Sarah blinked. “Now, Robert, don’t go thinking -,”
She was cut off by a resounding crash as the front door fell in, the windows shattered, and a large chunk of the roof crumbled, leaving a clear view of the mild late-summer sky for the inhabitants of the room who cared to look up.
And there weren’t just four of those anymore. A swarm of people had appeared at the holes in the room, each of them dressed in the strangest fashion: pants of some sort of blue material, and shirts of a so smooth a texture as to be unheard of. All of them carried what appeared to be weapons of differing sizes, but all black.
Then one woman came walking casually through the front door, her weapon slung on a belt at her waist, carrying what looked like an extremely flimsy pair of manacles.
Her gaze fell on Sarah who, unlike her three companions, had moved since this had begun. She was standing next to Robert. When the woman entered, Sarah folded her arms, her smile harder than ever. “Well, Robert, it’s been fun.” Her voice – her accent – had become suddenly very foreign. “Sorry it has to end like this, but what can you do?” She leaned down and planted a harsh kiss on his surprised lips, then strolled across the room and held her hands out to the woman. “Good job, Nance. You finally caught up with me.”
The woman didn’t bother to hide a pleased smile. “That’s Detective Nancy Small to you.” Sarah shrugged and Detective Small slapped the cuffs on her wrists. “Sarah Price, you are under arrest for the murder of Grace and Turner Price. You’ve heard the spiel before. Jones!” she snapped. A man with rippling muscles jumped forward, tucking his gun away, “Take the prisoner to the ship. Take team A with you and be careful.”
“Come now, Detective,” drawled Sarah. “I’m not that dangerous.”
The detective snorted. “Yeah, that’s what I thought before the last time you got away.”
Sarah blinked her big green eyes innocently. “I?” The burly Jones had grasped her by the arm and was tugging her away. “Okay, okay, you big brute. Chill out, why doncha?” She nodded to the room in general, and twiddled her fingers in Cynthia’s direction. “Have a nice life, okay?” With that, she turned and allowed herself to be guided out of the room, petticoats swishing, tailed by eight more officers with weapons at the ready.
Detective Small watched her go with a sigh of relief, then turned back to survey the damage. “Team B, get to repairs. Team C, set up the memory mods.” She gave the three natives a kindly look. “You’ll be all right, I promise. You won’t even remember what’s happened.”
“What did just happen?” asked Robert in a strained voice.
The detective gave him a pitying look. “You were the one she was about to marry, hm?” She glanced at Bryant. “And you, sir, are lucky to have gotten away.”
Robert started to his feet, groping for the pistol that wasn’t there. “How dare you…”
“She’s a murderer, Robert,” Detective Small informed him coolly. “She murdered her parents. And if she had managed to marry you -,”
That was enough for Robert. With a strangled cry of rage, he leapt at the woman bare-handed. She drew her weapon and shot him, point blank, in the shoulder, and he fell to the floor with a scream of pain. Then he was silent.
Bryant’s face was white, and his hands trembled as he handed the baby to Cynthia. The detective caught the movement and turned on him. “It’s unfortunate, what just happened to your friend. Don’t make me do it to you, too.” Bryant stopped, glancing down at Cynthia, who was apparently torn between her baby, her husband, her brother, and her friend. “We’ll take care of him before we leave, don’t worry,” Detective Smith added in a cold voice that didn’t make them feel any better.
“We’re ready for memory mods,” called a voice from the roof.
The detective’s look became one of relief. “Do it. Now.”
“Well, Sarah,” said Detective Small, leaning against the wall of the ship’s holding cell. “It’s about time you were in here.”
Sarah, now dressed in a neon green jumpsuit, snorted. She lay on her back, staring at the ceiling, and didn’t bother to answer.
“Come on, you could at least give me congratulations.” Silence. “You didn’t seem surprised to see me.”
Sarah rolled over and propped her head up with one hand. “My life was almost secure; someone had to show up to throw a wrench in the works.”
The light tone and mocking smile of her prisoner was a little unnerving. The detective’s reply was defensive. “Just doing my job.”
“Oh, I know.” Sarah rolled back again, her hands behind her head. “I don’t blame you for it.” She sent the other woman a glance and chuckled. “I find it terribly ironic that I’ve waited eleven months to marry that man, and you show up five weeks before the wedding.” She shook her head. “Five weeks and I’d’ve been a legal citizen of that planet.”
“You’re the kind of murderer that really worries me, you know that?” Sarah raised her head just a little to look at the other woman inquiringly. “The kind that seems to laugh at everything until they explode.”
“Yes, well… just don’t be in the room when I explode, is all, Nance. Then, no worries.”
The murderer was laughing at her, and the detective didn’t like it. “I hope you laugh when you get passed the death sentence.”
“I won’t get the death sentence. I was seventeen when my parents were killed.”
“And still you won’t admit to it.”
“Of course not.”
“All right, then. I hope you laugh yourself right into isolation for the rest of your life.”
Sarah sat up suddenly, cocking her head curiously as she considered the wall. “You know, I think I’d prefer the death penalty.” She plucked at her jumpsuit. “As much as this color brings out the red in my hair and all…” She glanced at Detective Small. “Just make sure that if I die before you retire, they don’t bury me in this, okay? You owe me one – I just made your career.”
“I’ll see what I can do,” replied the detective dryly. “You are a strange one.” She paused a moment, then plowed on, “Aren’t you even angry that I caught you?”
“Ah, the truth comes out.” Sarah turned that smile on the detective. “You’re uncomfortable because you’d rather deal with a nice, normal, screaming rage than quiet amusement.”
She laid back on her bed, one foot dangling off the side, and started whistling tunelessly.
“You didn’t answer the question,” Detective Small reminded her in a hard voice.
“I don’t usually answer questions,” replied Sarah casually. “When I do, it’s to a choice few. You’re not one of them.”
Nettled, the detective sneered, “You’ll have to answer the judge and the jury. I suppose you’ll add them to your ‘choice few’?”
“I won’t answer them either.”
“You’ll be in contempt of court.”
The smile returned; mocking, this time. “I already am.”
Silence stretched for a long moment, then Detective Small laid a beat-up Bible on the small table that was secured to the wall. “We searched your clothes -,”
“Hardly necessary, after the full body search.”
“ – And have decided that this is harmless enough. Although we’ve got bets on why you kept it in your skirts – hoping to keep the devil away?”
Detective Small thumbed open the cover thoughtfully, studying the well-formed script on the inside. “This note in the front cover is very sweet, talking about wishing you well even if you marry ‘that fool, Manning.’ But the one in the back is my personal favorite.” She flipped to the back and started to read, “Dearest Sarah: as I’m about to leave for heaven knows how many months…”
Sarah was up in one swift movement, slamming the book shut, hard, on the detective’s hand. With an angry glitter in her green eyes she said coldly, “I’d watch it if I were you, Nancy. You’re treading on very dangerous ground with a person who wouldn’t care if they were dead.” The detective sent a contemptuous look at the camera in the corner. Sarah didn’t bother to follow her look, but reminded her, “It would take them at least ten seconds to get in here.”
Sarah slid the book away and took it back to the bed, resuming her normal expression as she put it under her head in place of the absent pillow.
“You’re not angry, though,” commented the detective with a smirk.
“Not in the least,” was the casual reply.
“But you do seem to care about that pirate character a lot.” Sarah didn’t answer. “Sarah?”
“You’re trying to prod me. I hate being prodded. If you have something to hold over my head, out with it. If not, I’d like to take a nap.”
Detective Small, frustrated at being read so easily, walked to the door. “Fine, take a nap. Your Robert has forgotten you already – doesn’t even remember where he got the wound in his shoulder.”
Sarah’s head came up just a little. “What wound?”
“The one I gave him when he attacked me for insulting your honor, as if you had any left.” Sarah’s breathing came rapid and shallow. “For telling him that you murdered your parents.”
Detective Small opened the door and moved to leave, but stopped when Sarah said, “Detective?” With a satisfied wink at the officer standing outside the door, the detective turned around. And found herself staring down the barrel of her own gun. “Couldn’t you have at least left even my forgotten memory unsullied? Or is it that the justice system of our planet enjoys tormenting me too much?”
The detective’s answer was a hiss. “You’ll have your justice, Sarah. I wouldn’t worry about it too much.”
“Yeah. What’s one more life sentence? Heck, I’m legal now – I could get death.” Detective Small exchanged looks with the officer outside the door, who was petrified and unsure. The weapon clattered to the floor at the side of the bed and Sarah rolled over to face the wall. “I won’t have justice,” she said in a quietly bitter voice. “No justice, and no peace.”
The detective made a strategic scramble for the weapon, then froze in the door as Sarah laughed and turned her hard smile on her once more. “I’m ambidextrous, by the way, Detective. You’ll have to keep your weapons away from both of my hands.”
Again she faced the wall, leaving the detective with no other choice but to walk away.
“I’m convinced she’s insane,” commented the officer uneasily as Detective Small re-locked the door.
“No. She’s perfectly in her right mind,” was the short answer. “That’s what worries me.”
Sarah looked up as the door to her cell slid open. A young man with a sullen face and chestnut hair stuck his head around the door. “Yeah, that’s her,” he muttered to the officer standing behind him.
“Simon.” Sarah got to her feet and hurried across the short distance between them. “Simon, please…”
“I hate you, Sarah,” the boy practically spat in her face. “I told you before, I want nothing to do with you.” He turned and stormed away, and the officer slid the door shut in her face.
She raised her fist and began to pound on the door. “Simon! Simon, please! Please, you have to listen to me!” She choked as tears she had been holding back for years fought for a chance to be seen. Not today – she bolted them back again. “Simon!” she screamed, her voice raw. “Please!”
The door flew open again and she stopped her fist, mid-pound. It was Detective Small. “Need something, Sarah?”
Sarah’s jaw clenched, her green eyes smoldering as she said coolly, “Leave my brother out of this.”
“He has no evidence besides who you are. He doesn’t want to be involved anyway.”
“I know.” Sarah took a few steps back and sat down on her bed, that smile returning to her face. “Yes. I know.”
Robert sat next to Cynthia in the church pew, rolling his shoulder absent-mindedly. He didn’t remember injuring it, but he must’ve done something. At least it was better now than it had been a couple weeks ago. Cynthia elbowed him. “What?” he mouthed.
“Pay attention,” she mouthed back, bouncing baby Sarah in her arms. He wasn’t sure why she had decided to name the baby Sarah, but everyone liked it all right.
He looked forward again. There were the Burkes, sitting in the front pew. The elder Samuel and his son, Eric. Robert thought he had plundered one of their ships a while ago, but he couldn’t remember when he had met them personally. Eric seemed like a nice enough boy, though. Easily distracted. He was looking around and caught Robert’s eye, flashed him a quick smile and then, with a confused expression, turned away. Something about his eyes…
The congregation was rising, and Cynthia and Bryant were both giving him an inquiring look. “I’m coming,” he said, pulling himself up.
“Your shoulder all right?” asked Bryant.
Robert shrugged, then winced. “Yes.”
Cynthia looked up, then back at Robert. “Here comes the minister.”
“Probably to rebuke him for not paying attention,” joked Bryant.
“Bring it,” replied Robert with a grin.
“What?” Cynthia looked confused, but the minister joined them at that moment. He simply had a few questions about a parish activity later that week; the three, with the baby, were soon on their way out, the incident of Robert’s outlandish talk all but forgotten.
Bryant carried his daughter as they meandered down the narrow street toward the Manning’s home, leaving Cynthia’s hands free to plunge into the front pocket of Robert’s shirt. “What on earth are you doing, my dear Cynthia?” he asked in surprise.
“I’ve forgotten my handkerchief,” she said as she sniffed. She came up with more than just his kerchief, however. She came up with a handful of gold chain. “What on earth is this?” She let the chain dangle out from her fingers. A woman’s rosary – a very fine one, inlaid with expensive gems.
She held it up in surprise so her husband could see it. Bryant raised a blond eyebrow. “What’s this, Robert? A Catholic lady friend? I wouldn’t have believed it of you.”
“It must be left-over from before,” commented Cynthia, gathering the chain up in her hand. “It’s very fine.” She glanced at Robert, then did a double-take and stared. “Robert, are you all right?”
Robert was staring at the rosary like a man enchanted. He reached out a finger and gently touched the cross so that it swayed, glittering brilliantly.
The ex-pirate took the rosary between two fingers and pulled it away from his sister. “I was wearing this shirt the day my shoulder started hurting,” he said absently, rubbing it. He looked up to see Bryant and Cynthia both giving him odd, concerned looks. Cynthia reached up and touched his shoulder soothingly, her forehead wrinkled beneath her frizzy red hair. Robert laughed faintly. “I’m fine, my dear.” He patted her hand. “I…” He looked down at the rosary again. “I’m going to go for a walk. I’ll be home in time for supper.”
Cynthia exchanged a look with her husband. “All right. You’re sure you’re well? You’ve not been yourself for some time.”
“Yes, I’m well.” Robert smiled at them both, sticking the rosary back in his pocket. “Probably going through pirating withdrawal. I’ll see you at supper.” He waved and walked away; Sarah chose that moment to begin to fuss. Her parents had no choice but to allow her uncle to leave while they hurried her home to eat.
Robert wandered aimlessly through the forest, running the chain of the rosary through his fingers, still wondering, as he had for hours, why he felt so drawn to it. He looked down at it, his head cocked to the side. What was this?
He sighed, stopping to lean against a tree. “This is ridiculous,” he told himself, pressing the first that clenched the rosary against his forehead. “Why can’t I just -,”
“Is that you, Robert?”
Robert’s brow settled low as he looked around. A woman’s voice – but with a strange sort of… ping to it.
Robert considered for a moment, then gave in to impulse. “Yes. Yes, this is Robert.”
“Come this way, Robert.” She sounded delighted. “I’ve wanted to meet you for a long time.”
The captain hesitated. “Can you help me?” Why had he asked that? What was going on here? Perhaps the stories of demons in the forest were true…
“Probably. But not if you won’t come here.” There was a long pause. “Come on, Captain Bobby. What’ve you got to lose?”
“Captain Bobby…?” Robert followed the voice now, pushing through the foliage. He soon came upon what looked like a huge lump of shiny metal. “What the devil…?”
“Your favorite expression, I gather,” the huge lump of metal said dryly. The voice sounded tinny, Robert decided dazedly. “She told me that it was.”
A door opened in the side of the lump, and a woman stuck her head out of it. Blond hair, with a pair of gray eyes peering at him from beneath heavy bangs. “Come on in.”
I’m dreaming, Robert decided. So why not? He walked up to the lump, and stood in the doorway. The woman was standing in front of him, looking up at him from a delicately boned face. “You’re handsomer than she said. But then, she was always given to understatement.” Robert just stared. “I know you’re not used to seeing women in jeans, Robert, but you are used to them wearing sailor pants. They’re kind of the same thing, right?”
“Who are you?”
The woman giggled. “I’m this ship.” Robert leaned heavily on the doorframe, and felt the cold metal against his hand. He leaned harder and felt the pain shoot through his shoulder. Yes, he was awake. “I’d shake hands, but I’m just a hologram – a picture.” Robert shook his head slowly. “My name is Bandit, but you can call me Paige; that’s what I go by when I’m looking human.”
Robert reached up and rubbed the bridge of his nose, feeling slightly faint. “What is going on?” he murmured, more a prayer than a question.
Paige took a step toward him, looking concerned. “Bit much for your primitive circuits, huh?” Robert closed his eyes. Paige spoke softly. “I’ve been waiting out here since she was arrested two weeks ago.”
“Sarah. Sarah Price – or Sarah Burke. Take your pick.” Robert looked at her blankly, his head starting to hurt. Paige made an impatient sound. “Hold the rosary up where you can see it.” Robert looked down at the rosary, then held it up obediently.
When he looked at Paige again, she was Paige no longer. Another woman stood in her place – a little taller, irregular features, and a slightly large nose. Chestnut hair hung round her shoulders and she tilted her chin defiantly, her stance making it clear that she was in charge. She spoke – “Well, Captain Bobby?” The voice was of a slightly deeper pitch. The green eyes flashed with amusement as an ironic smile curled around her lips. “I’ll be very offended if you can’t remember.”
“Sarah.” The rosary fell to the ground – and so did Captain Robert Dungeon.
He woke up minutes later with Paige leaning over him. “Helloooooo, Robert!” Robert sat up with a start, passing right through Paige’s upper torso. “Please don’t faint again,” she commented as she stood up. “It even weirds me out when people do that.”
Robert rubbed his head. “I won’t, I swear it.” His dark looks caught fire with remembered indignation. “That woman – she took Sarah. She called her…” He cut himself off and he snapped around to stare at Paige. “Tell me – explain what’s going on. I can help her.”
Cynthia wandered into the galley of the Bandit, looking for something to drink. She stumbled across Robert, sitting at the table with his feet splayed out in front of him, boots kicked off, a half-empty glass of wine in front of him. “Robert.” He started and looked up. “Shouldn’t you be in bed?”
“Shouldn’t you be in bed?” he repeated, taking a sip of his wine.
“Baby Sarah has been eating a lot. I’m a little thirsty.” The ship beeped, then asked what she wanted to drink. “Water. But I can get it myself…” A pointless protest. There was soon a glass ready for her. She sat down opposite of Robert. “You’re not getting drunk, are you Robert?”
“Have I ever been drunk?”
“Well… no. But you’ve never been off of Earth before either.”
Robert nodded. “You’re right, of course. But, no. This is the same glass of wine I started with a few hours ago.” He looked at the time piece on the wall. “It’s after midnight.”
They sat in a companionable silence for a few minutes before Robert spoke again. “You’re quite happy, Cynthia?”
“Perfectly,” she said with a smile, then amended, “Or I will be, when you are.”
Robert leaned forward, taking off his old captain’s jacket. “You know, I think I’ve finally figured it out.”
He considered a minute, swishing the wine around in the bottom of his glass. “There was always still… something between Sarah and I. No, standing between me and the farthest reaches of herself.” He shook his head. “Does this make any sense, or am I trying too hard?”
Cynthia shook her head slowly. “No, I see what you mean. Ever since I almost died giving birth to little Sarah, Bryant and I…” She smiled gently, then frowned. “But there was never that between – I mean, Sarah was that way for you, but…”
“I never was to her.”
“Although I think you were closer to her than any of the rest of us,” Cynthia asserted encouragingly.
Robert nodded. “But of course I couldn’t reach her – not if this is what she was hiding.” He gestured to the ship around him. “Now that I’ve figured it out, though, it only leaves me with more questions.”
“Yes.” Cynthia gave him a look to prompt him further. “Why didn’t she tell me? She could have convinced me – she had enough evidence. Did she really murder her parents? Was I just a – a plot to gain safety?”
Cynthia interrupted, vigorously shaking her head. “I think not, Robert. After all, she could have married Bryant and long since been safe.”
Robert shrugged. “I’ll grant you that, I suppose. But why was she so passionately attached to young Eric? He wasn’t even her real brother. Why…” He stopped to take a gulp of wine, so his sister finished for him.
“Was she really in love with you, and why didn’t she show it like she could have?”
Robert hung his head. “She is capable of deep expression. We’ve both seen it – on behalf of her brother. Who isn’t really her brother.”
“I think, my dear brother, that you have been wondering about this for far longer than you are suggesting.” Robert refused to look up. “It has always bothered you. You kept thinking that if you told her you loved her, or if you proved you were going to lead a good life – or maybe after you were actually married. But it never happened, did it?”
He looked up, naked hurt showing on his dark brow. It wasn’t something Cynthia had ever seen there before, and she hoped to never see it again. “That’s exactly it, Cynthia. Was I just never good enough to gain access to her soul, or did she simply not love me enough to grant it?”
Cynthia reached across the table, hesitant, and took his hand. She squeezed it. “It will work out, Robert. I… I believe she loves you. But promise me you’ll ask her your questions.”
“I will, have no fear of that,” replied Robert darkly.
“Promise also that you’ll listen to her answers.”
Robert heaved a sigh. “Of course.” Cynthia gave him a sharp look. “You have my word,” he added with a smile. He stood, pulling her to her feet and kissing her cheek. “Now, my dear, it’s time both of us were long since in bed.”
“I am going, and that is the end of it.” Cynthia folded her arms, staring down both men. “You two are simply too overbearing. The poor boy has been through enough without one of you bullying him.”
Robert threw up his hands and shot a look at Bryant. “She’s your wife.”
Bryant bit his lip. “Just… return before the baby gets hungry again.”
“For pity’s sake.” Cynthia shook her head. “I’m going to go talk to Simon, not try to find Atlantis. Paige, open the doors, please.”
The door opened, and Cynthia walked away, nodding in response to Paige’s hurried, “Good luck.”
She hurried through the trees of the grove they had landed in and found herself in the neighborhood that Paige had so painstakingly described to her. “Third house, with a green door…” she muttered, eyeing the homes around her. There it was. Without further hesitation, she marched toward the house, only to meet with a young man coming down the walkway as she went up it. “Simon,” she said immediately, taking in his face and his hair color.
Simon looked at her suspiciously. “Who’re you?”
“My name is Cynthia Manning. I’d like a word with you, if you have a moment.”
Simon glanced around. “I guess. What do you want?”
“I’d like to speak to you about your sister.”
The teenager’s face immediately turned ugly. “I don’t have a sister.”
He tried to push past her, but Cynthia grabbed him by the arm and said in a hard voice, “Yes, you have. And you’ve misjudged her, by all accounts.”
“What are you, some kind of reporter? Or maybe her defense attorney?” He asked the questions with a sneer, trying to break away.
“She doesn’t need a defense attorney. She needs you.” The boy just stared at her, disbelief written on his face. “We’ve been talking to Paige, and we think we’ve figured out who really murdered your parents. We know where he is, but we need your… your…” Cynthia stammered, trying to remember the word. “We need… your… DNA! That was the word. We need your DNA to prove it.”
Simon looked at her curiously. “Where are you from?”
His brows shot up. “And who is ‘we’? And what has my DNA got to do with anything?”
Cynthia shrugged. “Paige can explain better than I. Please to come with me, back to the ship. Then you’ll understand. And, hopefully, you’ll choose to help us.”
Simon’s foster mother stuck her head out of the front door. “Is everything all right, Simon?”
Simon studied Cynthia for a moment, then called over his shoulder. “Yeah, mom. Just fine. I’ve gotta go take care of some stuff, but I’ll be back soon.”
“All right. Be careful.” She shut the door again, and Simon turned to Cynthia.
Bryant threw the cowering man into the holding cell of the Bandit. Before turning to leave he said coolly, “I’d be very afraid, if I were you. Dungeon intends to speak with you shortly.”
He left the prisoner with that unpleasant thought to chew on, and the prisoner did just that. He looked a bit like a trapped rat, his watery green eyes shooting from one corner of the small room to the other as if hoping to, by some miracle, find his escape.
“Interesting.” A voice from behind him made him snap around so fast his neck hurt for days. “Interesting that the same eyes in a different person could be so completely devoid of the divine spark.” A huge man stood, towering over him, dressed like some Byronic ship’s captain, his face dark and thunderous. “I believe this young man has a few choice words to say to you.”
The man stepped aside, and a boy of about nineteen years of age appeared behind him. The prisoner started, then froze as the man, lounging dangerously against the door, shot him a warning glance. The boy’s face was aflame with rage. “Adam Queen, is that your name?”
The prisoner gave a quavering nod, then drew himself up slightly. “Doctor Adam Queen. You must be Simon.”
Simon leaped at him, but the dark man grabbed his arm and stopped him. The boy shook him off, but heeded the message and contained himself. “I’m not gonna call you anything except maybe a few words Robert won’t let me say.”
“You’re Robert?” inquired Dr. Queen, directing a look at the captain. Robert didn’t answer.
“Look, Queen, I just came in here to tell you that after my sister is cleared and you’re thrown in so deep your brother rats won’t know where to find you, you’ll never hear from us again. I’ll make sure of that.”
“You?” Dr. Queen sneered. “Aren’t you the one who practically got her convicted in the first place? Do you think she’ll even talk to you?”
Simon fell back a step, his jaw working as if he’d been hit. Robert laid a hand on his shoulder. “No one blames you for how you felt, considering the circumstances. It shows that you are capable of a strong attachment.” He shot a poisoned look at the doctor. “What you’re doing now only doubles my admiration of the strength of your affections.”
This worked like a charm, and Simon relaxed enough that Robert let go of his shoulder. “I don’t know where people like you come from,” Simon growled at Dr. Queen, “but I sure know where they go.” Without another word, he stormed out of the room, muttering that he couldn’t believe he shared genes with that man.
Robert eyed the doctor for a moment. “I don’t understand everything that happened here – genetic manipulation is beyond my comprehension. But I know that their mother did the right thing in taking them as far away as possible and giving them a real father. And I know that you are more sick and twisted than any black-hearted buccaneer that I’ve had the misfortune of crossing swords with.”
He moved closer, clenching his hands menacingly, and Dr. Queen braced himself, closing his eyes. The doctor waited a long, breathless moment; nothing happened. He dared to look again.
Robert’s eyes, black with emotion, were only inches from him. He yelped and tried to push himself further into the corner, and Robert shook his head. “Unfortunately, I despise you too much to hate you. Apparently none of your children are like you – so much the better for humanity.” The pirate straightened, then turned on his heel and left the room, the door sliding silently shut behind him.
Detective Nancy Small looked up, her face slightly green. “You mean to tell me I’ve been chasing the wrong murderer for six years?”
Simon shrugged. “And I’ve been hating the wrong person. All that aside, at least we stopped you from sending an innocent person to prison for the rest of forever.” Nancy gave him a look that clearly asked if that was supposed to make her feel better. “So, is she free, or what?”
Nancy looked over the papers once more and gave a helpless sigh. “I’m not sure if it makes me feel better or worse that she’s not really a murderer.” Simon and Cynthia exchanged looks. “Come on, I’ll take you to the judge. We have to get release papers from him.”
“YES!” shouted Simon, sweeping Cynthia into an exuberant hug. Cynthia, taken off-guard, awkwardly hugged him back. “We’ll be just a second, okay?” Simon shot over his shoulder as he dragged Cynthia out into the hallway.
There was Robert, pacing, and Bryant, rocking the baby. “I feel like a woman…” Bryant started to complain.
“What news?” demanded Robert. He had been too wound up to go in to see the detective.
“They’ve arrested Queen,” Simon spat out the name derisively. “And…” he dragged it out, trying to make it as agonizing as possible.
“I knew it.” Robert slapped his hand to his forehead and sank into a chair, his face taut. “They hung her.”
“Yeah, right,” answered Simon dryly. “You’re still using an archaic justice system. It takes at least a decade to kill someone here.”
Bryant lifted an eyebrow. “And we’re the ones who are archaic?”
Robert leapt to his feet. “What, then, Price? Come, what did the detective say?”
Simon grinned, enjoying his moment of power over the pirate captain, but Cynthia said evenly, “Tell him, sir, or I shall tell him myself.”
“We’re going to the judge to get her release papers!” Simon trumpeted victoriously.
“To get her – ! Thank you.” Robert looked up, clasping his hands momentarily in prayer. “Thou hast heard the prayers of a worthless sinner. Thank you.”
Simon eyed him. It wasn’t the first time Robert had broken into spontaneous prayer. “You’re pretty religious for a pirate, aren’t you?”
“He was a preacher,” Bryant informed him as his wife took baby Sarah.
“He was teaching Sarah about God,” added Cynthia.
“He was sane, before he met your sister,” finished Robert.
“He probably didn’t refer to himself in third person either, I guess,” suggested Simon.
“A habit I’ve learnt from Paige, I’m afraid.”
Detective Small appeared in the doorway, and Robert froze. “I didn’t know we were dealing with her,” he muttered, automatically reaching for the pistol that still wasn’t there.
The detective held up her hand, not surprised by the primitive dress of the men in the hallway. “Sorry about shooting you before.” Robert grunted, unimpressed. “And for tormenting your girlfriend.”
“My what?” asked Robert in surprise.
“Fiancée,” amended Detective Small.
“Did you torment her?” he asked in a dangerous voice.
The detective, used to these less civilized peoples, said soothingly, “We don’t torture prisoners, sir.”
Simon snorted. “Mental abuse doesn’t appear to count.”
“On purpose,” she amended with a shrug. “We’re not perfect.” She eyed Robert appreciatively. “I’m sure you’re capable of repairing any damage that was made.”
“I wouldn’t count on it,” he returned morosely.
Cynthia changed the subject before he could think about it longer. “Come, let us see the judge and secure Sarah’s release.”
Sarah lay on her bed, staring at the ceiling, much like she had every other day of her imprisonment. She had thought to maybe take up a hobby – she was going to be here for a while, after all – but she hadn’t the energy. Besides, she could practically guarantee that as soon as she got to enjoy something, the guards would forbid it.
Her thoughts drifted back to Simon… Eric… and Robert. She shook the thoughts from her head and rolled over, focusing intently on the wall. Nice wall. She’d have all the dints in it memorized before the week was out. Unless the week already was out – Sarah wasn’t quite sure what day it was.
She sat up, hating to be so listless. But what else was there to do? She lay back again, rubbing her nose. It had been a lovely dream, to think she could stay with Robert… have Eric to make up for the brother she had unintentionally scarred. Neither of them remembered her now, and Simon wished he didn’t. Cynthia… so much like mom. She didn’t remember now either – nor did Bryant. She wondered what story Nancy had made up to keep their brains happy with the memory gaps.
That smile curled the corner of her mouth, turning hard and mocking as her thoughts turned back on herself. It had been ridiculous to think that she could stay with any of them. Ludicrous to think that life would just let her be happy. It wasn’t meant to be – never had been. First those miserable years as a lab subject – mom had been the bright spot then. They ran away, and life was good. Turner been a wonderful father. Then they were murdered, taking her innocence with them. The only bright spot, her dad’s old cruise ship. Certainly a piece of junk with a mind of its own. Who knew where Paige was now. The brilliant plan to wed, and be safe on Earth… Meeting Robert hadn’t been part of the plan. She hadn’t ever loved Bryant, but she had determined to be a good wife, so he wouldn’t miss out on any joy she could give him. Ha. As if she were capable of giving joy. Even after she told Robert she loved him, she could see in his face that he knew he didn’t have all of her. She wasn’t a whole person to give, anyway.
A bright spot in every harshness. Where was the bright spot now? She rolled over in the other direction, and her green eyes fell on the bible. There was the bright spot. In knowing that even though everyone hated her, and that those who didn’t had forgotten her, God still loved her. He hadn’t forgotten. She believed Robert when he told her that. She only wished it mattered more to her… Robert said that she had to trust Him – to trust that it would all turn out right. Sarah did trust Him, in a way. Apparently it was right that she stay in prison, unable to disturb anyone else’s happiness.
The door slid open, alerting Sarah with its tell-tale swish. “Yes?” she asked, not looking away from the bible.
“Sarah?” It was a bold voice – bold to cover fear. “You’re innocent.”
Sarah’s breath stuck in her chest. No. No, this wasn’t real. She jumped off the bed, tripping over her own feet as she did so and coming down on her knees with a resounding crack. Nope, not a dream. Ouch. Hands were helping her up. “Hey, you okay? I don’t wanna carry you outta here, you know.”
Feeling slightly faint, Sarah looked to see who the concerned voice belonged to. Who cared enough to get her out of prison? Or up off her knees, for that matter?
She saw the face, and rocked back as if she had been slapped. Simon. Simon was holding her arm, steadying her to be sure she didn’t fall again. He looked afraid; there were tears in his eyes. Not green, like hers. Blue, like mom’s. “Sarah, I’m sorry,” he managed in a choked voice. “I was wrong – I – I should have listened to you…”
He started to sob, and Sarah, momentarily bereft of words, threw her arms around his neck. He was taller than her now, and the arms he put around her were much stronger. But it was Simon – her little Simon. “Oh, Simon,” she whispered finally, stroking the back of his head as he cried in her shoulder. “It’s okay. I still love you, you know.”
Simon laughed a little, pulling back to wipe his eyes with the back of his hand, embarrassed. “Yeah, I know,” he said off-handedly. Sarah raised an eyebrow, that smile playing around her lips. “I – you know I love you too.” He slugged her shoulder playfully, then his face lit up. “Hey, hey I almost forgot! You’re free – like, totally free!”
“How?” asked Sarah flatly. “Have you got me out on bail?” Her mind started to work. Could he be faking it? Acting? Did he really think…
“Adam Queen is in custody.” Sarah blinked, her face turning white beneath her tan. “He’s in custody, Sarah. You’re really free – he confessed.”
“Con…fessed?” Sarah sounded bewildered. “You really know I’m innocent?”
“Yeah, and so do the police.”
Sarah sat down, hard. No. No, it wasn’t possible.
“Are you okay?”
Simon put a hand on her shoulder, and Sarah laid hers over it. “Yes, I’m… fine.”
“Good, ‘cause there’re some others out in the hall who want to see you.”
Sarah looked up at him curiously, but Bryant and Cynthia were already bursting through the door, like actors hearing a long-awaited cue.
“Sarah!” Cynthia dove onto the narrow bed and threw her arms around her beloved friend. “Oh, my dear, we would have come long ago, but Paige said there was no point until we could take you away…”
“Indeed,” agreed Bryant. “That fine ship of yours. A little strange, at times, but a great help. And very patient.” He smiled at her. “We are glad that you’re free.”
“Perhaps you’ll come back with us?” Cynthia entreated her earnestly. “I would so love to have you stay and help care for baby Sarah.”
Sarah was starting to hyperventilate. “Free? You… remember me? I’m not…”
Her eyes started to roll back in her head and Cynthia shot a concerned look at Bryant, who stepped forward and put a steadying hand on her arm. “Yes.”
“You’re all right, love.” Cynthia wrapped an arm around Sarah’s waist soothingly, trying to calm the other woman’s breathing. “We all remember you, you see. And Simon has quite realized he was wrong. You’re safe.”
“Safe…” She continued to hyperventilate; the room spun, Sarah’s vision went black, and her head lolled onto her friend’s shoulder, senseless.
“Maybe we shouldn’t have all come in at once,” commented Bryant.
Simon hurried around him, face pale. “Is she okay? What just happened?”
Cynthia and Bryant, far more accustomed to ladies fainting than he, reassured him. “Too much excitement,” Cynthia explained as Bryant lifted Sarah, who was returning to semi-consciousness, to her feet. “It is a good thing, I think, that Robert insisted on staying on the ship with baby.”
Between the three of them, they managed to get a very lethargic Sarah out of the prison and into the parking lot. “The fresh air will revive her,” Bryant told Simon confidently.
However, the fresh air only seemed to overwhelm her the more. The hyperventilation returned with a vengeance, and she sank into a dead faint once again.
“Ah, well,” commented Cynthia as Bryant hoisted Sarah into his arms. “She can lie down on the ship; make a decision when she wakes up.” As they approached the Bandit, she glanced at Simon. “What do you intend to do, Mr. Price?”
“I… I don’t know,” he confessed. “She is my only family – my only living family. But I’ve got a girlfriend and stuff.”
Cynthia nodded understandingly. “Mayhap it will be best to stay here a few days, and give Sarah’s nerves a chance to recover from the shock of her confinement and sudden release. You could discuss it then.”
“Is she all right?” Robert was standing in the Bandit’s doorway, the baby in his arms.
“She will be. The prison was exceptionally well cared-for,” replied Bryant. Robert stepped aside as they all trooped in. “The shock was a bit much for her.”
“I can’t believe that a little shock like release from prison would do this to Sarah,” said Robert, raising his shaggy eyebrows inquiringly.
“Believe it,” replied Simon. Robert just shook his head.
Cynthia took the baby from him, having directed Bryant to the cabin she had prepared to receive Sarah. “Robert, why don’t you go and revive her.”
Robert looked taken aback. “I?”
“Certainly.” She added teasingly, “You never got a chance to do it, before.”
Robert looked from Cynthia to Simon, who shrugged, then back again. “Thank you.” He turned and hurried away, encountering Bryant as he left the room. The men exchanged nods, and Robert entered the room. Paige was standing over the bed where Sarah was laid dressed, once again, in her clothes from Earth. “Is she waking?”
“No, not yet.” Paige didn’t appear even remotely surprised to see him. “The shock was too much for her poor brain.”
“Everyone keeps saying that, but I don’t believe it for a minute.” Robert glanced around the room, found a chair, and sat in it, his knee bouncing restlessly. “The shock of being released, in my opinion, would hardly have phased the Sarah I know.”
Paige gave him a mildly surprised look. “Of course not. It wasn’t the shock of being released that did it to her.” Robert’s brow knit in perplexity. “I realize you haven’t had long enough to put together what you know of Sarah and what you’ve learned about her, Captain Bobby, so here it is straight – she’s convinced that she’s destined to never be happy.”
“A very cynical way to look at things,” disagreed Robert. “She may be blunt, and certainly not afraid of being harsh, but I never would consider her cynical.”
“Because she’s not cynical about the lives of others – she’s really not cynical about her own. Just resigned to it. Too much has happened. Look at what you know of her life. An example: she knew she would never be really happy, married to Bryant, but at least she would be safe – also something she’s never been. Then she met you, and she still couldn’t be really happy because she was certain that you would be taken away from her as well. Which you were.”
A light of understanding glimmered in Robert’s face. “That is why, then, she seemed so unmoved by her arrest. She had been expecting it.”
“I wouldn’t say expecting it,” objected Paige, “But certainly not surprised by it.”
“Perhaps an overly fine distinction, but I do understand you.” Robert stood and began to pace. “And why she…” He paused, his eyes falling on Sarah’s inert form.
“And why she never behaved as passionately toward you as she was able,” finished Paige. At his surprised and embarrassed look, she grinned, “I’ve been talking to your sister.”
“Ridiculous woman,” muttered Robert.
He resumed his pacing, not speaking, and Paige edged around him until she reached the door. “Robert,” he stopped when she said his name. “She might be able to, now. She might finally be convinced that her happiness is safe. But I wouldn’t count on it.”
Robert nodded, and turned to stand over Sarah, his hands behind his back. “Do you have any restoratives handy?”
“No,” replied Paige. “But I think she’s coming around, anyway.”
With that, she disappeared. Robert didn’t notice, absorbed as he was in watching Sarah slowly return to wakefulness. Her eyelids shuddered and she stirred. A moment later, her body convulsed and she attempted to sit upright. Robert, however, had known what was coming and kept her lying back with a firm hand on her shoulder. “Hush,” he murmured, pulling the chair close so he could sit next to her. “You’re quite all right.”
Sarah’s body relaxed under his hand, and her eyelids fluttered open and closed a few times before she blinked, slowly, not able to focus on anything just yet. “What…”
“Don’t speak.” Robert smoothed the hair back from her furrowed brow. “Get your bearings, first. Take your time.”
Her whole body shuddered, and the green eyes opened, focusing on the ceiling as she took a deep breath. “Just what I thought,” she whispered, that smile, tinged with contempt, crossing her face. “Still here…” She rolled over and came face to face with Robert. Her breath caught in her chest; she couldn’t even move.
“Welcome back to the Bandit, Miss Smith,” said Robert with a slight laugh. “You’re free.”
Sarah swallowed a few times. Robert leaned back, and she pushed herself up into a sitting position. Her glance took in the room around her, so very different from her cell, then fell on her dress. “Thank goodness for that,” she muttered. She swung her bare feet over the side of the bed and studied Robert. “Am I really free?” she asked baldly.
“Indeed, that’s what I have been told. They’ve arrested your dear doctor Queen, and he confessed.”
“Is sitting out in the galley with my sister, waiting to hear that you’ve woken from your fainting fit.” He glanced at her curiously. “I daresay you want to go and see him?”
Sarah shook her head mutely, tucking strands of chestnut hair behind her ear. “I’ve seen him already, thank you.” She looked up at him. “He seems to have forgiven me.”
“Nothing to forgive. I rather think he’s hoping you will forgive him.”
“But Detective Small? Surely she wouldn’t just let me go, after all the trouble I’ve caused her.” That smile appeared again and she studied the floor. “Of course. They’ll prosecute me for crimes while running from the law – they’ll probably get me just for running, come to that.”
“No.” Sarah’s head snapped up. “She seems quite penitent that she spent so much time chasing you. Indeed, she was very eloquent in pleading for your release with the judge. You’ve been acquitted of any crimes you committed while on the run from an unjust punishment.” He raised an eyebrow teasingly. “They weren’t too bad, I hope?”
“I stole a few things to live…” Sarah trailed off, unsure. “But if – perhaps Cynthia and Bryant are mad at me? For manipulating Bryant like I did?”
“Of course not. Don’t be ridiculous, Sarah. They’re delighted that you brought them together, no matter how you did it.”
“Eric – he still doesn’t remember me.” She gave him a defiant look. “Even if he wasn’t my real brother, I care for him.”
“I realize that,” answered Robert mildly. “He does remember you, as a matter of fact. And I have some news for you.” Sarah gave him a prompting look. “He is your half-brother.”
“Yes. The son of Adam Queen, whose Earthling wife died in childbirth.”
“Queen ran away to Earth, then. And Eric – who reminded him?”
“I did it myself, when we found that he was related to you. Don’t ask me how we decided that – Paige explained, once, but I confess I did not understand. I’m only a pirate, after all.”
“And a preacher,” added Sarah automatically. She blinked. “You, then. You’re furious with me.”
“Do I look furious?” No. He actually looked amused. Sarah hesitated, stumbled for words, and Robert interrupted her, “Sarah, my love, you can look as long and as hard as you like. But I believe that you’re finally safe.”
“But… but we’re supposed to toil…” Sarah defended lamely, looking anxious.
Robert reached out and placed a hand over hers. “Toiling does not mean living in misery, Sarah.” He paused to consider her face. “It is a little frightening, isn’t it?”
“Frightening, Captain Bobby?” Sarah couldn’t quite manage to pull her usual cloak of indifference on. “What could frighten me?”
He reached out and took her other hand. “Being safe and happy isn’t something that you are used to, but it’s something that you can learn now. Don’t let it scare you, Sarah.” The green eyes watched him apprehensively. “I cannot promise things on behalf of others, but I do believe Eric and Simon will be loyal to you for the rest of their lives. I do know that your government will leave you alone. I do know that Dr. Queen isn’t capable of touching you any more. I do know that Cynthia is your devoted friend and, since she is, so is Manning.” He squeezed her hand gently, “And I can swear, on my own behalf, that I will never leave you, or forget you, for as long as I live.”
“You can’t know that for sure,” Sarah whispered hoarsely, fighting what she couldn’t believe. “You can’t know any of that.”
“But I am as sure as I can be.”
“That’s not good enough.”
“It has to be, Sarah. You must trust.” He searched her face. “I cannot force you to be happy, but the opportunity is here for you. No more deceptions – no more escapes. You don’t need them. You are free.”
Sarah cast her eyes down, obviously struggling with herself. She looked up, her lower lip trembling. “Robert,” she managed. “Robert, I’ve been afraid for so long. Please…” The tears started to stream down her pale cheeks and she grasped his forearms as if they were a lifeline, leaning on them as she began to sob. “Please help me…I do want to be free.” She leaned forward until her head was resting on his breast. He put his arms around her gently, and her arms circled his neck as if she were a child as she slid off the bed and onto his knee, burying her face in his neck as she cried. In between sobs she whispered, “Robert, I love you.”
Robert held her close, rubbing her back and kissing her forehead. “At last,” he murmured, closing his eyes and resting his chin on her brow. “Now you are truly my Sarah.”