Beautiful Tempest Page 65

“Where’s my first mate?” Damon demanded.

“That’s your first question? Really?” But then James answered, “Mr. Bower is still on your ship. Very uncooperative fellow, wouldn’t answer a single question. I got his name from one of your sailors. At least they were cooperative, though they had nothing pertinent to say.”

“Did you hurt him?”

“No, I didn’t see the point—when I have you. However, I left him in command of your ship with the request that he follow us. Quite a slippery fellow. He got away from me once before when he stowed away on my ship on my last voyage to Bridgeport. If he takes the opportunity to sail away now, I won’t stop him.”

“He won’t. Now tell me the point of posting guards here when the door is locked? Surely you don’t think I’m strong enough to bend bars?”

James’s brow went up. “No, but all I hear is yet another question that doesn’t address your own circumstances. Surely you aren’t afraid to ask what I’m going to do with you?”

“Why ask what I already know? I’ve been assured by your children and their friend that this would be a meeting I wouldn’t survive.”

“And yet you forced the meeting anyway.”

“To be honest, I expected to have leverage to discuss the matter with you, but I got on good terms with your children instead.”

“Which sacrificed your leverage. A pity—for you. But one fair answer deserves another. The guards weren’t for you, they were to keep my daughter away from you, of course. Like you, she seems to think your truce has made you friends of a sort, and because of it, she doesn’t want you hurt yet. But since she isn’t going to see you again, she won’t know whether you get hurt. Come out of there.” One of the guards leapt forward to open the door. “This reminds me too much of the time I put my nephew-by-marriage behind those bars.”

“You lock up your own family?”

“He wasn’t family yet. He’d been accused of stealing jewels, falsely as it turned out. You’re accused of stealing my children, which has been proven beyond a doubt.”

“There was a reason.”

“Yes, and you might even get to mention it.” And to the guards: “Bring him to my ring.”

Having witnessed the two Malory brothers in a sporting ring in London, Damon would have guessed what James was referring to, except they were on a ship. But after a short walk, there it was, indeed on his ship, a large sporting ring in the center of the hold.

“The place where I restore my sanity.” James waved his hand at the ring, actually smiling. “And where I drag my brother daily.”

“You hate your brother that much?”

Lifting the ropes to get into the ring, James said tersely, “Don’t be absurd. And don’t be hesitant.” He motioned with his fingers for Damon to come forward. “I think you will prefer this to the other options I’m considering.”

Damon stepped into the ring, but warned, “I won’t fight you.”

“Course you will. You have a bone to pick with me. This is the only chance you’ll get to pick it.”

Damon dodged the first swing by only inches and quickly pointed out, “I know you expect to win this fight and probably will, but what if you don’t?”

“Don’t look so suspicious, youngun. I’d actually be pleasantly surprised.”

“But still kill me?”

James shrugged. “I see no cards on the table yet. You might want to play a few, Captain. You joined Lacross, why?”

Damon dove out of the way of the next swing, rolled, and came up nearly at James’s back. He took his shot, a punch to the side, but the man was built like a brick wall, and his arm swung instantly backward in retaliation, knocking Damon into a corner. Bloody hell, he couldn’t win if he couldn’t hurt the man.

Damon leapt again to his feet, determined now to just stay out of Malory’s reach. “It wasn’t by choice. My father went heavily into debt to send me to England to finish my schooling. For one reason or another, he defaulted on his loans. When I returned home, it was to find nothing left, our home sold, his trading vessel sold. But that wasn’t enough, so they imprisoned him as well. When I tracked him down, I tried to pay off his remaining debts to get him released, but the warden, Peter Bennett, refused to take my money—he wanted something else instead.”

“Let me guess, your father’s in the same prison Lacross was in?”

“Yes, on Anguilla.”

“Bureaucrats don’t usually snub their nose at blunt falling into their laps.”

“Ambitious ones do. Bennett has his eye on the governor’s seat at St. Kitts, which has jurisdiction over the nearby islands of Anguilla and Nevis, too. In order to get his name on the list of candidates to replace the current governor, he has to clean up his own record, as well as accomplish what the preceding governors of St. Kitts didn’t do.”

“Which was?”

“Settle a few outstanding warrants for men who were never captured or proven dead. He also has to remove the blemish on his own record—Pierre Lacross’s escape. He wants Lacross returned to his prison—or proof that he’s dead. He’s very serious about this. He wouldn’t even let me see my father while I was there and won’t, until he has what he wants.”

“He sent you to your death,” James guessed.

“No, he gave me his own ship to use for the task. He wouldn’t have done that if he didn’t expect me to return it and Lacross to him. I have until the end of the year to accomplish the mission.”

“How did you even find Lacross?”

Damon barely ducked the next blow. Malory was trying to corner him against the ropes, likely fed up with Damon’s evasive tactics. If he was going to dance around the man, it had to be in the center of the ring!

“Before I left Anguilla, one of the men named in those outstanding warrants I mentioned walked right into my hands when I was hiring a crew. He either thought enough years had passed that he was no longer wanted, or he was too addled to realize he shouldn’t be using his real name. Twice turned down within the week, he complained that even Lacross didn’t want him, so I bought him a few drinks and he told me exactly where to find my target. But learning that Lacross was also hiring gave me an excuse to approach him and offer my services. I didn’t expect to have to actually work for him, but I saw that he had too many men for me to attack his stronghold with my untrained crew. So I needed time to figure out a way to get him off that island without a fight or kill him if I couldn’t and then escape.”

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