Captive of My Desires Page 2

Later that same day they came to another island, which also appeared to be deserted. They’d sailed into the crystal clear waters of a wide bay. Nearly in the center of it was another small island. But as they approached it, Gabrielle could see it wasn’t an island at all but a floating jungle of trees, many of them dead, and thick plants, most of them thriving in the dirt and other debris that was piled high on top of boards, not land. 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.

It didn’t take long for the pirates to make their own ship look the same before the small boats were lowered into the water and the prisoners were rowed to shore—and they hoisted a flag of death on their ship as well. 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.

“Where are we going?” Gabrielle asked the pirate who helped her and Margery out of the rowboat. But apparently he didn’t feel it was necessary to answer her. He just nudged her forward.

They began a trek inland. They weren’t waiting for everyone to get off the ship, but thankfully, Avery was in the first group to go ashore. It was the first chance she’d had to talk to him since they’d been captured.

“Are you all right?” he asked as he walked alongside her.

“Yes, I’m fine,” she assured him.

“No one…touched you?”

“Really, Avery, I haven’t been hurt in any way.”

“Thank God. I was so worried. You can’t imagine.”

She gave him a reassuring smile. “I’m to be ransomed. Captain Brillaird made it clear to me that I’m too valuable to be harmed. She pointed to the large open cut on his forehead. “How does your head feel? I saw you got knocked out yesterday.”

He gingerly touched his wound. “Oh, that’s just a scratch.” But Gabrielle could tell from his wince that it must be painful. “From what I gathered from the captain, he plans to ransom you, too.”

“I don’t know about that,” Avery replied with a sigh. “I don’t come from a wealthy family.”

“Well, I’ll speak to my father when he collects me,” she said. “I’m sure he’ll be able to arrange something to gain your release as well.”

But she wasn’t the least bit sure that Nathan could even be located. What would happen to her and Avery if the pirates couldn’t track down her father?

“That’s very kind of you,” he said, then added urgently, “but listen to me, Gabrielle. You may have been given assurances, but from listening to this pirate crew, I understand there will be others of the same ilk where we’re going. Your best way to come through this safely is to simply not draw attention to yourself.

I know that will be difficult, as beautiful as you are, but—”

“Please, you needn’t say anything more,” she cut in with a blush. “I understand that we won’t really be safe until we’ve seen the last of these cutthroats. I will remain as inconspicuous as possible.” They were separated then when one of the pirates pushed Avery to hurry him along.

The first sign that the island was inhabited was a watchtower they passed along the beaten path. It was built of logs, and was tall enough to have a clear view of the sea in at least three directions. They were climbing into the hills behind it. The tower was occupied, but the fellow in the tiny hut on top of it was asleep as they walked by. Not a very diligent guard, Gabrielle thought as one of the pirates kicked the tower to wake him, while another swore at him in fluid French.

Margery added her own opinion as she came up beside Gabrielle. “Lazy no-goods, the lot of them.

Let’s hope when help arrives, the guard sleeps through that as well.” Gabrielle would have liked to share that optimism, but the chance of their being rescued before they were ransomed was slim. “Once they find my father—”

“Ifthey find him,” Margery cut in. “Since we weren’t even sure thatwe could, what are the chances of that, eh? We never should have undertaken this journey. Didn’t I warn you it would be dangerous?”

“You could have stayed home,” Gabrielle reminded her. “But it wasn’t supposed to be dangerous.

Would you have believed that pirates still exist in this day and age if someone had told you? No, you would have scoffed or laughed at them.”

“That’s beside the point,” Margery replied. “But listen to me, before we get separated again. Look for a weapon, any sort, even a fork if you can get your hands on one, and keep it on your person at all times.

If one of these bastards starts anything with you, you stick it right in his belly, hear? Don’t hesitate.”

“I’ll remember that.”

“You better, girl. If anything happens to you, I don’t know what I’d do.” It looked like Margery was about to cry. She was more upset than she was letting on. And her distress was contagious. Gabrielle would have liked nothing better than to cry on her friend’s shoulder just then, but she managed to restrain herself and dredged up some courage for both of them.

“You worry too much. We’re going to be fine. Captain Brillaird has assured me of that.” That wasn’t exactly true, but it was what Margery needed to hear and it got a weak smile out of her.

About a half hour later, they reached a large settlement of sorts high in the hills, surrounded by trees.

There was one big building at its center, built of actual lumber that she was to learn had been obtained from one of the ships the pirates had plundered at sea. The rest of the buildings spread out around it were mostly just small thatch-roofed huts. Gabrielle could see through the open doorways that many of the huts were filled with chests and crates, serving as storage sheds for the pirates’ ill-gotten gains.

Avery and the other male captives were shoved into one hut and Margery was led away to another, but not before she shouted back at Gabrielle, “Remember! In the belly!”

“Where are you taking her?” Gabrielle protested.

The pirate who was pushing her toward the big building sneered. “Servants don’t bring ransoms, but she’ll be released with you once the captain’s demands are met. You’re valuable, so you’ll go in here, where it’ll be easier to guard you. Don’t want any of the mates touching you and interfering with the high ransom you’re sure to fetch.” He winked at her lewdly, and Gabrielle couldn’t help but cringe.

Once inside, the pirate led Gabrielle to a long table in the large room, pushed her down into a chair, then walked away. A bowl of food was set in front of her by a female cook, who remarked in a friendly tone,

“Hope you got someone to pay for you, dearie. I delayed as long as I could before I finally had to admit that I didn’t have any family left, and that’s why I’m still here.” The middle-aged woman who introduced herself as Dora sat down and chatted with Gabrielle for a few minutes. She’d been allowed to stay on the island to work off her ransom. She cooked for the pirates, and apparently serviced them in other ways if she felt like it, all of which she mentioned in an offhanded manner.

She’d been there for two years now and even considered herself one of them, volunteering, “They’re not out to make a name for themselves, not like the pirates you might have heard of from the last century. In fact, they change their names frequently, change their ships or the names of them, use disguises. They’re in the business of making money, not getting hung. They operate in secrecy now and even change their base every few years.”

“Is that what this is, their base?” Gabrielle asked curiously.

Dora nodded. “This one is on an island so remote it’s never been named. It’s a nice island, too nice actually. A time or two they’ve had to scare away settlers who also thought so.”

“Who leads them?”

“No one. The captains have equal say, and jurisdiction only over their own crews. If something needs to be decided that affects them all, they vote on it.”

“How many captains share this base?” Gabrielle asked.

“Five now. There was a sixth, but he died of natural causes last year and his crew joined up among the others.”

Gabrielle expressed surprise that the number was so few for what seemed such a large settlement.

“They don’t want too many crews here. Figure the more people there are, the greater the chance someone will go rotten and give away the location of the base.” The woman moved away as soon as Captain Brillaird entered the building. Gabrielle had never been given his real name, nor was she to ever learn it. He changed his name so frequently that his men just called him Captain, so she had, too, when she found it necessary to address him. But he merely took note of where she sat, then ignored her for the rest of the day—and the days that followed.

Five days later the captain still hadn’t asked her whom to contact for her ransom. She was left to worry over how to explain that while she knew her father would meet their price, she simply didn’t know where he could be found. She really didn’t think the captain would believe her, and she couldn’t imagine what would happen if he didn’t. Dora explained that she hadn’t been questioned yet because the captain didn’t need the information until he was ready to set sail again, and when that would be was anyone’s guess.

The captain’s wife lived on the island and he hadn’t seen her in two months.

The pirates ate, slept, drank, gambled, fought, joked, and told stories. Gabrielle slept in a tiny room at the back of the main building, and she was allowed access to the main room each day, so she couldn’t complain that her time there was boring. Nerve-wracking, but not boring. Margery was brought in to visit her for a couple of hours each day, and Gabrielle was relieved to see that her former housekeeper was weathering her captivity well, although she complained incessantly about the thin straw mattress she was forced to sleep on and the poor quality of the meals.

On the sixth day of Gabrielle’s captivity two more ships arrived and the main room actually got crowded with the new crews. And much more disturbing. There was nothing friendly about the newcomers.

Several actually chilled her with a glance. And one of the two new captains stared at her so long, and so intently, she didn’t doubt he meant her harm.

Tall and muscular, he was likely in his late thirties or early forties, though it was hard to tell with his full black beard that was so matted, she doubted a comb had ever passed through it. She heard people call him Pierre Lacross, though he probably wasn’t really French. So many of the pirates pretended to be something they weren’t, and none of them used their real names. But then she found out he was the exception to that rule. He really was French. He had a strong accent that he couldn’t turn on and off like the others could. He wasn’t ugly, but the cruel glint in his blue eyes marred what might have been a handsome visage.

There was something evil about this man, and she wasn’t the only one to recognize it. The other men

moved out of his way and avoided catching his eye. But his icy blue eyes kept coming back to Gabrielle, until she was nearly trembling with the fear he managed to inspire.

Gabrielle had left England quite innocent of men’s desires. Her mother had never explained what she could expect when she married one. She probably would have done so before Gabrielle had had her Season in London, but Carla had been caught up in her romance with Albert, and then consumed with her own misery at the end when he’d betrayed her. But Gabrielle had learned a tremendous amount about men from the pirates.

They didn’t curb their language when she was within hearing distance, and they loved to boast about their sexual conquests. So she had no trouble understanding the motives of the evil captain Pierre Lacross when he leaned over her the day after he’d arrived and said, “I’m going to buy you from my friend. Then it will be my choice what to do with you.”

She wished she hadn’t understood what he was implying, but she did. Would Captain Brillaird care where the money for her came from as long as he was paid? Did she dare to promise him more than Pierre could possibly pay? That was the only way she could see to avoid being “owned.” There was nowhere to run even if she could manage to sneak out of the building, no way off the island except with the pirates. Captain Brillaird was still her only help and yet she knew he wouldn’t help her out of the goodness of his heart. What goodness? He was a pirate! Money was his only concern.

But she knew instinctively that she would come to serious harm if Pierre had his way with her, which was why he terrified her so much. And she was unfortunate enough to witness his cruelty when he disciplined one of his own men. He whipped the man right there in the hall, and not with just any whip. A cat-o’-nine-tails it was called, and it shredded skin as easily as a knife. The look in Pierre’s eyes as he wielded it left no doubt in her mind that he was enjoying it.

Pierre grew impatient, waiting for her captain to show up so he could make the transaction. He sat next to her at her table and taunted her with what he planned to do to her.

“Why do you not look at me,chérie ? You ladies, you are filled with too much pride. You will have none left when I am done with you. Look at me!”

She didn’t. She’d avoided his gaze since that first day. “Go away, please.” He laughed. “So refined you are. So polite. I wonder how long that will last after I make you my pet.

Prev Next