Now that she's on board, what's to do with the new captive?
Jack leaned on the charts, scattered at angles across the vast mahogany table, hoping for an inspiration, some kind of divine intervention to lead him to their next endeavor. Where to next? The crew would be wanting some serious pirating, what with this plan possibly going south; a plan that would involve some significant returns...involving lots of something shiny.
The sound of deep hacking coughs, from the direction of the sleeping quarters, broke his stare. He looked up just as the woman stepped around the curtain dividing the working from the sleeping quarters. She clutched his quilt around herself, trying to keep it snug around her shoulders. From where he stood, almost halfway across the room, even in the dim of the lamps, he could see her shivering.
“Feeling better?” Well, that was a bloody stupid thing to say! The woman just damned near drowned. How do you think she feels?
“Umm, I think so,” she said vaguely, squinting in thought. “Where…” She stopped, to clear her throat, resulting in a very unfeminine sound. “Where am I?” she asked with a tone of dread and fear, as if she already knew the answer, but was compelled to ask, anyway.
“The Black Pearl.”
She sagged for a moment, staggering slightly, but composed herself, quickly. Squaring her shoulders, she gave him a level look.
“What are you…” She coughed, her face reddening with the effort, and cleared her throat, again, swallowing hard. “What are you going to do with me?”
He caught himself staring at her. God, she was beautiful! Standing there in the candlelight, half-drowned, soaking wet and wrapped in a quilt, she was rendering him speechless. What is it, those blue-green eyes? Or is it that mouth? Look how it curves at the one corner, almost on its own. Maybe it’s that hair; never quite seen that color before, sort of a dark copper, all hanging around her shoulders, like wet snakes. Never met her before in me life, but I’ll swear I’ve seen her! There is something familiar about her, but I’ll be bloody damned if I can figure out what it is!
“You look bloody awful!” And she did. Despite of her beauty, she was half-blue, and shivering.
She blinked, surprise flickering across her face, apparently taken aback by his outburst. Then she lifted her chin with a false, haughty air and flapped the corner of the quilt as if it were a delicate handkerchief.
“Flattery so soon, and we’ve barely met.” She was cut short by another round of coughing, choking and full of fluid. “I feel like I swallowed at least half of the Caribbean and my head hurts.”
“You need rum!” he declared, holding up an exclamatory finger, his eyes brightening with his inspiration.
Jack’s hand found the rum bottle without so much as a glance. He pulled the cork then realized a glass might be a nice gesture. He cast about the cabin, to no avail. Looking up, he lifted his shoulders in apology.
“Don’t concern yourself too much, Captain,” she said, clearly amused. “I was a bottle baby.”
Jack lifted an eyebrow as he offered the bottle. In a sudden urge of chivalry, he wiped the mouth of the bottle with his shirtsleeve then offered it again. Hesitantly, she moved a few steps further into the cabin to accept it. He nodded in mild approval as she tilted her head back and took a sizable gulp. She closed one eye, shuddering, her face screwing, as she passed the bottle back, nodding in gratitude. As he raised the bottle to his lips, he had another surge of chivalry.
“Would you care to sit?” he offered, making an elaborate sweeping motion with his hand.
Flashing her one of his best smiles, he slid a chair forward. A nervous one played across her lips, quickly dissolving. Minding the quilt, she sank slowly, her focus steadily on him. The light caught stronger on her now, revealing her eyes to be even greener than before. Now, he could see her neck and shoulders from under the edge of the quilt, fine-boned. His eyes lingered at the point where neck and shoulders met, a sweet, delicious curve, leading upward to join the arc of her jaw. An earlobe peeked flirtatiously from between the dark tresses.
Taking a deep breath, Jack took another swig of rum then held it out. She leaned forward, cautious with the quilt, to accept it and took another healthy gulp. She closed her eyes, making another face, trying to suppress the shudder that took her again.
“I suppose I should thank you for picking me out of the water,” she croaked, her voice roughened by the drink.
“I saw you on deck with the sword,” he said casually. “Impressive, for a woman,” he quickly qualified.
“I could have fared much better, if your man hadn't hit me in the head,” she pointed out crossly, touching her fingertips to the back of her head. “I think I have a lump.”
“Well, it was either that, or run you through,” he mused, tilting his head. “You're lucky he preferred not to kill women.”
“One does always have to be grateful for those small favors in life, don't they?” She flashed him a smile laden with sarcasm, mockingly narrowing her eyes.
“Why did you jump?”
His question caught her off-guard, her eyes widening. He watched closely, as she regarded him, alarm and uncertainty fading.
“I wasn’t really going to jump,” she started then stopped, pressing her lips tightly, looking down to the rug. “I was... only considering; something hit me in the back and knocked me off.” She squirmed, working her shoulders under the blanket. “I can still feel where it hit me.”
“Why were you going to jump?”
She looked up at him, indecision clear, shifting as she considered her answer, measuring him, at the same time. She squared, bracing herself, answering with a level look. “I’d been told, under no circumstances, should I be taken by pirates.”
He could see the tension in her body, her neck and shoulders, feel the apprehension, in spite of her attempts at bravery. Her unspoken question hung heavily in the air over the table: What are you going to do with me?
“I’ve been told the same thing,” he replied lightly, smiling as he seated himself on the edge of the table, swinging one leg. “Nasty rumor, luv.”
She didn’t seem reassured as she looked off toward the gallery of windows. He leaned back, crossing his arms, twisting his jaw in thought.
Does she really think it’s that easy to put one over? He felt mesmerized, unable to take his eyes off her. C’mon, mate, he thought crossly. There’s business to be done!
“After you jumped, then what?” he challenged, narrowing an eye. Where in bloody hell did she think she was going to go?
“There was an island nearby,” she responded, off-handedly, lifting one shoulder as she tossed back a thick lock of wet hair.
“That island was a long way off,” he scoffed, shifting his weight as he shook his head in denial. Farther than most would want to row. “Would have been quite a swim.”
“The warnings were very convincing, Captain,” she said quickly. “The Black Pearl and Captain Sparrow put quite a scare in everyone.”
Jack could only duck his head, bracing a thumb to his lips to hide a smile. Spent a lifetime, propagating that image; pleased to hear it was still working. Although, if there had been a little more scare in them, maybe the Melody would have surrendered without a fight.
“I assume you are said Captain?” she asked, the muscles in her jaws tensing.
“Captain Jack Sparrow, if you please, Madame,” he replied, offering one of his best smiles and a sweeping bow of his hand. He looked up expectantly. “You have heard of me?”
“No,” she said slowly, with a brief apologetic smile. “Only what they said on the Melody...but then, I am just arrived to the Caribbean.”
He felt a slight stab. Bugger!! Apparently, a lifetime is not always enough to reach every corner of the world.
There was an awkward pause as she tried re-arranging the quilt. She was still shivering, but considerably less than before, and the blue tinge in her lips had faded. He speculated on whether she quaked from a chill, or shook from fear. She was putting up a valiant front not to appear intimidated, but there was a slight tremor in her fingers, just then, as she pushed back her hair. He rose, walked to the windows and gazed out at the water, needing a moment to clear his own head.
A tapping at the door brought his attention back around. It was Gibbs, standing in the double doors of the cabin, waiting apprehensively.
“Yes, Master Gibbs?” Jack replied, beckoning his first mate with a wave of his hand.
Gibbs took several steps in then stopped at the sight of her sitting at the table. He jerked his head quickly, averting his eyes.
“Cap'n, I wanted....”
“Come in, Mr. Gibbs!” Jack repeated louder. What the bloody hell does the man think he’s going to see? “There's nothing to fear.”
Keeping his head down, Gibbs advanced only slightly further into the cabin, his heavy brows shielding his eyes.
“Cap'n, we've cleared the Melody of everythin’ we'd be a-needin',” he reported, with his usual efficiency. “Will there be anythin’ further?”
“Aye, sir, guns disabled and rudder, as well. Be well into tomorrow a-fore she'll be ready to make way. There be no danger of her followin’, nor makin' port soon.”
“Fine.” Jack nodded, satisfied. One of the best first mates I’ve ever seen, is Gibbs, meself notwithstanding. An order given was always an order done; he never had to worry. “Did anyone on her crew choose to come over?”
“Aye, three, sir,” Gibbs replied, a broad smile of pride breaking across his face. “Said they knew of the Black Pearl and couldn't pass on the opportunity.”
“Very well, bring them in, and I'll talk to them,” Jack said. Bugger, the woman! Fairly likely, she would not care to have an audience, just now.
“On second thought, Gibbs,” he began slowly, inclining his head toward her. “I think I might prefer to talk to them at a later time.” He put a strong emphasis on the last word, hoping the first mate would comprehend.
“Oh!” Gibbs exclaimed, nodding knowingly, after a few second of frowning in confusion. “Yes, Cap'n, it might be more fittin', if you were to talk, later.”
Casting a cautious glance over his shoulder, Jack checked to see if the woman had noticed his little charade. It seemed not; her head was still turned toward the stern windows, looking distantly at nothing.
“Cast off, then. Let's be on our way,” he said with a short swipe of his hand. “You've got our course; you know how this goes! Go! Go!”
“Aye, aye, sir.” Gibbs tapped a finger to his forehead in a salute, and left the cabin quickly, sliding a speculative look the woman’s way as he passed.
Jack strolled back to the stern windows, feeling her eyes following him. He gazed at the water, rippled by the waves in the thick glass, one hand casually draped on the hilt of his sword. They had been told there would be three passengers on the Melody, all bound for Port Royal, one a teen-aged girl, and yet, there had only been this woman. He twisted slightly, glancing over his shoulder. She was still watching him, direct and unyielding.
“What are you going to do with me?” Her voice caught slightly, as she spoke, but she maintained her eye contact.
“What’s your name, luv?” The softness of his own voice surprised him. Her nervousness was beginning to wear on him. Damnation, woman, would you just relax!
“Kate.” Her lips clamped together, reluctant to offer any more.
“Well, Kate.” He put a heavy emphasis on her name as he prowled toward her. “It is my intention to keep you here, on the Pearl, safe away, until your father can be contacted and terms of your return can be agreed.”
Blinking, her brows furrowed, confused. “My father?” she echoed, bewildered. “He’s been dead over ten years.”
Now, darling, let’s not play coy with Ol’ Jack. He bent forward, peering harder. “C’mon, luv,” he urged, softly. “ Your father is either on his way or already in Port Royal. He’ll be contacted…”
“No, no, no,” she interrupted firmly, waving a hand. “My father is dead.”
There was a momentary stand off between them; they stared at each other, eyes narrowed.
“Oh!” she said slowly, a note of realization. “You think I’m Lucy Whitstead, the Governor’s daughter.” She chuckled, almost to herself. “Sorry to disappoint you, but I’m not.”
“The Governor and his daughter were to be arriving at Port Royal on the Melody.”
“Yes,” she agreed, nodding. “They were on their way; Mrs. Whitstead, too.”
“But there was only you,” he pressed, moving closer.
“They died.” She gave a heavy, remorse-ridden sigh.
Jack took a step back. Not good!
“About a month ago,” she continued, still clearly saddened. “Some kind of fever; it took Lucy first, the Governor and his wife weren’t very long after.”
“Why didn’t you sicken?”
“Maybe I was healthier.”
Can’t argue with that! There was no explaining sickness, especially on a ship. He had seen entire crews decimated, while others remained in the pink of health. It was just another one of those mysteries of life that did not bear dwelling on for long.
The sound of rapid boot steps overhead distracted him, pulling his attention away. Rolling his eyes upward, he listened until satisfied there was no cause to alarm then focused back on her.
“It would seem, Captain, you’ve abducted the wrong person.”
“How can I be sure?” he demanded, sliding closer to her, trying to assume his most menacing look. See here, luv, this isn’t the first time I’ve been down this course. You’re not going to play me the fool!
She gave him a straight look back, the candlelight glittering in her eyes. “I really hate to have to disappoint you, Captain, but I am not Lucy Whitstead!”
Jack’s head drooped to his chest for a moment; then he jerked it back up with a sly smile. “What did you say your name was?” As she hesitated, his smile grew wider, becoming more knowing. “Trying to remember, eh? They do say the less you lie, the less you have to remember,” he crooned, inching toward her. “Let's have a real name this time, luv”
“That’s what you said before.”
“No, I just said Kate, before,” she sighed, tolerantly, bracing her head on her hand.
“Is that your real name?”
“Can’t we just accept that and move on?” she snapped irritably, dropping her arm. She tugged at the edge of the blanket, shooting a sharp glance at him out of the corner of her eye, feeling his gaze. “What difference does it make, as long as it’s not Whitstead?”
He circled slowly, hoping to intimidate. Desperately, he tried to keep his mind on his purpose, but he couldn't help but notice the changing effects of the candlelight on her as he circled the chair. Her skin had a warm, creamy peach color, with a glow that seemed to emanate from within. His fingers drifted in the air, already imagining the velvety feel of it.
“And does Kate Harper have any family?” he asked finally, trying to keep a commanding sound to his voice.
He didn't expect her to rise from the chair so quickly, turning on him with a vengeance, forcing him back a step. Her eyes flared, then just as suddenly tempered, becoming more calculating.
“Fishing for someone else to ransom, Captain?” she asked in a measured tone. It was more a challenge than an accusation.
At such close quarters, he could see the candlelight spark flickers of deep pain in her eyes, even as she made to be brave. She was only able to hold the challenge for a few moments; then her shoulders sagged and she turned her back to him.
“No, Kate Harper has no one, absolutely no one.” She propped her head in her hand, swiveling her forehead into her palm, her voice a bare, despairing whisper.
He thought he could hear a quaver in her voice, but wasn't sure.
“I noticed you’re wearing a wedding ring,” he pressed. He had noticed the ring back when she first came into the cabin, the light catching it. Closer now, it was finely ornate with small flowers and vines, with a latticework background. That would figure! A lovely like this would have to be married. Must have had the entire, bloody empire stalking her door.
She looked down at her hand, rolling the silver ring between the neighboring fingers. “He’s gone,” she said flatly, staring at the night’s black void, beyond the windows.
“Gone? Gone as in to another island, or gone as in…” He needed to know, unable to imagine how any self-respecting man could leave her alone, unattended, unprotected. Let me find the bastard and I’ll beat some sense into him, make him understand what a treasure he had.
“Gone, as in prison,” she replied in firm, singular words. She spun on him, her brows deeply knitted together, hairs that had finally dried flying around her face. “Gone, as in never to be seen again!”
Her chin was definitely quivering, now, her eyes blazing with hurt and anger that reached far beyond anything said or done in his cabin. Suddenly, he regretted pressing her so hard; his goals didn't seem so important, any more. He took a breath, preparing to apologize, when she continued.
“Gone, as in I’m totally alone,” she went on, her face crumpling. “Gone, as in there is not a single soul who would ever know I was missing!” Her eyes cast about the room, searching. “There is no one, Captain!” The tears were welling in her eyes, spilling in a cascade over her cheeks. “There's no one!”
The weight of her falling against him drove the both of them back into the chair. She was in his lap, her head buried in his chest, sobbing convulsively. She was in a full-blown breakdown, weeping with abandon, drawing in long, tremulous breaths between the wails, her fingers clutching at his shirt. Beseechingly, he looked around the cabin for help. Bugger! Alone, with a crying woman!
Awkwardly, he gave her a stiff pat on the arm with one hand, hoping it would somehow appease her, but it only seemed to fuel the wailing.
Flashbacks of his childhood came pouring back, foggy but instructive. Dimly, he recalled his mother soothing him in his boyhood times of need. He started by curling his arms around her shoulders, nestling her against him; then came quiet shushing sounds. Next, little rocking motions, his cheek pressed against the top of her head.
Maybe it was her weight against him or the warmth of her breath on his chest. Or maybe it was the dampness of her tears soaking his shirt, but in the midst of it all, he heard an odd little sound he hadn’t heard in a very, very long time. He did recognize it, however, all too clearly; a crack, as a mast makes just before it splinters and falls to the decks. It was the sound of his heart breaking.
Pulling back slightly, he tried to peek down, but he couldn’t see her face, obscured by the heavy fall of dark copper hair. He pressed his nose to the top of her head, maintaining a steady sway. Her hair smelled of salt air and the sea. It made him want to run his hand up under, feel the slope of her neck, trace the curve of her ear with his finger. He wanted…
“Easy, mate,” he whispered aloud to himself. “No!” Not this one, this one is different.
He settled deeper into the chair, shifting her weight slightly, cradling, rocking, soothing.
Gradually, the sobbing ebbed, her breath coming hitching sighs. She grew heavier in his arms, molding to his shape, awash in somnolent warmth that seeped through, soaking his own being, connecting them. Slowly, her breathing eased, slower and deeper, with only an occasional tremor. Her body twitched once, and then again, less. She was asleep.
A dozen thoughts collided in his mind, muddled, whirling and tumbling, all demanding equal attention, all bubbling to the surface like a boiling pot.
What was so familiar?
Careful, mate, you’ve been through this before.
It’s that bloody good heart of yours.
But, this one is different.
Wonder how big her breasts are.
You don’t know who she is.
I don’t care who she is.
She could be worth money.
What are you going to do with her?
Remember, no women on board.
Everybody, shut it!!
Kate awoke with a start, knowing there had been a noise, but no idea what it was. Lying, frozen and still in the total darkness, her eyes rolled, trying to see a sound. More so, she tried to fathom where she was. Dimly, she recalled the cabin, talking with the captain. Oh, yes, and then she started crying. Damn! Why did she have to do that? Now he would think her simpering and helpless. How did she get here, in the bunk? She knew, now, it was the captain's bunk, the rough linen of the mattress, slightly lumpy and the sharp male smell was familiar, but how did she get there?
Desperate, she strained to remember. Had there been something in the rum, intentionally knocking her unconscious? He was a pirate; she wouldn't put it past him. Instantly she negated the idea; he had drunk from the same bottle, openly and willingly. It hadn't been that. She had noticed him swaying. Had he been more in drink than she thought?
Her eyes jerked and she forced herself to stop breathing, trying to make her heart stop pounding in her ears, thinking she heard a noise again, the same or different, she wasn't sure. Somehow, in her sleep-fuzzed mind, she thought hearing would help her to see in the dark and she strained her ears, hoping for any hint of who might be coming.
It would be no surprise if someone, a man, the captain, tried to sneak in, take advantage of her; she half-expected it. It was part of the hazard of traveling alone. It happened once, on the Melody. Prepared there, with plenty of warning, a quick smashing whip with the back of her head sent her assailant running, unable to hide from the captain in the morning due to a broken nose and missing front teeth.
Here, on the Black Pearl, if anyone came visiting, she was sure it would be the captain. Offering his bed would be a strong clue to his intentions. If that weren't enough, leaving her covered in nothing but a quilt should be the only other hint anyone would need.
Although a part of her, a strong part, said, “Trust him.” Granted, there was the other part, saying, “Don't,” but instincts told her “Yes.” There was something in the eyes. She knew very well the look of a predator—a man looking to take advantage, attack a woman. His eyes held none of that, deep and warm, luminous pools, inviting her in, benevolent and gentle, a sharp contradiction to his outward persona. His voice held no malice, gravelly and gruff, yet soft, spoken with a heavy, though slightly odd, accent. And always, a something hanging in the air—unspoken, not a threat—hardly—but a query, surely.
Still, she lay awake through the night, jumping and starting at every little noise, every board creaking, every rope vibrating, until, just before daylight, she dozed off, too exhausted to care.