His enthusiasm—and dare she say delight? Until the first mate pulled her aside and told her to hide. There are many of them now. Now go! His panic was infectious, his roughness surprising.

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Any resemblance to actual events or locales or persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental. His enthusiasm—and dare she say delight? Until the first mate pulled her aside and told her to hide. There are many of them now. Now go! His panic was infectious, his roughness surprising. It was such a change from the courteous way he had treated her when the journey began.

He was in his early thirties and she was barely out of the schoolroom. It was easy to find the food barrels Avery had spoken of, nearly all of them empty, now that they were nearing their destination in the Caribbean. Another few days and they would have sailed into St. Nathan Brooks was not a man she knew well, though all her memories of him were fond ones, but he was all she had now that her mother had died. A month, maybe a few months at a time, and, one year, an entire summer—but then several years would pass without a visit from him.

Nathan was captain of his own merchantman with very profitable trade routes in the West Indies. He sent home money and extravagant presents, but rarely did he bring himself home.

England had been her home all of her life. She had enough aristocracy in her ancestry, even if she bore no title herself, to look down on anyone in trade, even her own husband. She was so embarrassed by her own conclusions. But Albert Swift had been a regular visitor to their two-story cottage on the outskirts of Brighton during the last several years, and Carla had behaved like a young schoolgirl whenever he was in town. Whether he had made Carla promises, whether Carla had intended to divorce her husband, no one knew, but her heart seemed to have broken when Albert turned his attentions to another woman.

Margery had been with them several years at that point. Middle-aged with bright red hair, vivid blue eyes, and a host of freckles, she was opinionated, outspoken, and not at all awed by aristocrats. She was also a very caring woman, and had taken to the Brookses as if they were her own family.

Her mother had even started to eat again and stopped mentioning Albert. So Gabrielle was devastated when her mother passed away in the middle of the night. She was also going to be turned over to a guardian. The man was a philanderer and everyone knew it. She still had one parent living. She merely needed to find him, and so she set out to do just that. And at least Margery had agreed to go with her. No one had questioned her traveling with just her servant. Now, thinking about her father and finding him kept her current fears in check for only a short while.

Her legs had fallen asleep, curled into the barrel as she was. And she was partly in shock that it was even possible for a ship to fly a Jolly Roger in this day and age.

Pirates were supposed to be extinct. She had thought they had all been routed in the last century, either pardoned or hung. Sailing the warm Caribbean waters was supposed to be as safe as walking down an English country lane. There was a tight knot of fear in her belly, which was also empty and adding to her discomfort.

Suddenly a blast shook the entire ship, and another, and more, all exceedingly loud. There were more indications that a battle had begun, the smell of gun smoke from the fired cannons that seeped into the hold, the raucous yells, even a few screams, and then, a long while later, the horrible silence. It was impossible to determine who had won the battle. It was nerve-wracking. As time passed, her fear grew.

Unless he was dead. Did she dare leave her hiding place to find out? But what if the pirates had won? What did pirates do with captured ships? Sink them? Keep them to sell or man them with their own crews?

And their current crew and passengers? Kill them all? The scream was bubbling up in her throat when the lid was torn off of her barrel. But she was sure it was going to be horrible. The only thought that entered her mind was to jump overboard in all haste. The man looking down at her had thin, scraggly brown hair that fell to his shoulders, and on top of his head was an old tricornered hat with a dyed pink feather that hung down limply, as it was broken in at least two places.

The garments were in such appalling condition, they probably were that old. Passengers are much more lucrative to dispose of than cargoes that might rot before we can find markets for them.

Gabrielle learned that she and Margery were to be ransomed by her family. The captain never asked her if she had a family, he simply assumed that she did. It just remained for her to tell him whom to contact for the ransom money, and he seemed in no hurry to obtain that information. He and his cronies had other business to dispose of first, like the rest of the captured crew. Gabrielle looked around the deck. Avery was lying on the deck, apparently unconscious from a gash on his head, tied up like the other officers and passengers, waiting to be transferred to the other ship.

Theirs had sustained severe damage and was already starting to take on water. Margery was there, too, also tied up, but she was the only prisoner who was gagged as well. Not surprisingly, most of them elected rather quickly to become pirates. One of them, a stout American, refused, and was quite nasty about it. Gabrielle was forced to watch in horror as two of the pirates approached him, each taking one of his arms and dragging him to the rail. The pirates laughed uproariously.

The American was still tossed into the water, but not until the next day when there was land within sight of the ship. It was an uninhabited island, but land nonetheless. He might even be able to hail a passing ship and get rescued. Later that same day they came to another island, which also appeared to be deserted. Nearly in the center of it was another small island. It was almost like a cluttered wharf, and yet it was a thickly built jungle, designed to conceal the ships anchored on the other side of it from any passing ships out in the ocean.

The flag of death was hoisted on the two ships that were there now, indicating that there had been disease on them, which might account for their abandoned look.

Gabrielle realized then the ships were nothing but a ruse to keep any other vessels that might sail into the bay from investigating the abandoned ships. He just nudged her f orward. They began a trek inland. I was so worried. She pointed to the large open cut on his forehead. I saw you got knocked out yesterday. Your best way to come through this safely is to simply not draw attention to yourself. I will remain as inconspicuous as possible.


Captive of My Desires






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