Captive of My Desires Page 3

Will you be an obedient pet,chérie, or will I have to punish you often?” He heard the gasp she couldn’t hold back and added, “You saw what I am capable of, but do not worry for your sweet, aristocratic skin. I would never mar your beauty. There are other ways to train a pet…” He taunted, but he never touched her. He was careful not to do that with so many witnesses in the room.

But it was obvious he wanted to. Dora told her the forced restraint was causing him such considerable frustration that he got so drunk each night he would stumble outside to pass out somewhere, and not return until the following afternoon.

It was an incredible piece of luck for Gabrielle that Captain Brillaird’s wife kept him occupied until the last of the five captains sailed into the harbor. The fifth captain arrived on the island. He entered the building with Captain Brillaird one morning, both of them laughing heartily over something one of them had said. He noticed Gabrielle immediately. He paused and stared at her, then he put his arm around Brillaird’s shoulder and offered to buy her. Pierre wasn’t there to cry foul, that he’d thought of it first. She

was sure he would have, and that there might even have been a fight. But he was still sleeping off his overindulgence of the night before. And Captain Brillaird didn’t seem to care one way or the other, just as she’d guessed he wouldn’t. She saw him shrug before the two men shook hands and the fifth captain tossed a purse of coins to him.

Gabrielle was in shock. It all happened so quickly. She found out later that the new captain was a middleman. It wasn’t the first time he’d bought up hostages on the isle and returned them to their families for a tidy profit. It worked agreeably for all concerned, allowing the other captains to get right back to the business of capturing more ships, instead of dealing with the business side of their trade. He was good at the business side, and disguises. She almost didn’t recognize him…

“What in the blazes are you doing here, Gabby, and where is your mother?” He’d taken her out of the settlement immediately and was pulling her down the well-worn path to the bay. Most of his crew were still anchoring his ship, but a couple of his men whom they passed on the trail were ordered back to the ship without an explanation. When Gabrielle dug in her heels and explained that her housekeeper needed to be rescued, too, one was sent to collect Margery.

She had a thousand questions for him, but they were all forgotten with the reminder of her loss. “She died, Papa. That’s why I left England. I was coming to find you, to live with you,” she cried. “But not on this island, if it’s all the same to you,” she added primly.

Chapter 3

GABRIELLE’S FATHER WAS EXTREMELY EMBARRASSEDthe day he rescued her. All these years and she and her mother had never known, never suspected, that he’d been living such an adventurous life. Nathan Brooks the pirate. That took quite a bit of getting used to.

He looked so different now. It really had been difficult to recognize him. Whenever he had come to England to visit her, he’d cleaned himself up, shaved his beard, cut the long hair he was sporting now.

That was the only man she’d ever known, and she’d thought she’d taken after him, at least in terms of her coloring. His hair was just as black as hers, his eyes the same pale blue. She hadn’t inherited his height, though, which was fortunate, because he was a tall man, a bit over six feet, while her size was the same as her mother’s at five feet, four inches. But this man looked nothing like the father she knew and loved. He was actually as flamboyant in his dress and looks as all the other pirates she’d met. He even wore a small golden earring in one ear!

He quickly removed the earring. That’s how embarrassed he seemed to be that she’d found out about his secret life.

A couple of hours after they sailed out of the harbor, Gabrielle realized her father’s ship had slowed down. She went up on deck to see what was happening and walked right into Pierre Lacross! His ship had pulled abreast of her father’s ship. Pierre had followed them from the pirate base!

She hadn’t yet mentioned him to Nathan. There hadn’t been much time for them to talk yet, and besides, she was still trying to deal with her shock over finding out her own father was a member of that pirate confederacy. But she’d at least felt safe after her father had rescued her and had been so certain she’d never see the likes of Pierre again.

But now here he was on the deck ofThe Crusty Jewel, standing next to Nathan and talking to him as if

they were old friends. It dawned on her that they must be old acquaintances at least, since each of them was one of the five captains who shared that base.

Pierre’s cold, avid gaze latched onto her immediately, pinning her to the warm deck boards. Her fear rushed back to her. She must have turned pale, because her father moved to her side and put his arm around her protectively.

“You sailed off with her too quickly,mon ami ,” Pierre said, making no pretense about his reason for being there. “I was going to buy her for myself.”

“She’s not for sale,” Nathan said.

“Of course she is. You paid for her, I will pay you more. You will make your profit, we will both be happy.”

“You misunderstand. She’s my daughter,” Nathan said coldly.

Pierre looked surprised. There was a very tense, silent moment while he seemed to assess the situation, his eyes shifting back and forth between her and her father. He must have realized he couldn’t have her without a fight and decided against it; he laughed and complained about rotten luck in what for him was probably as good-natured a tone as he could muster. Pierre’s tone seemed to assure her father that he knew Gabrielle was off-limits to him, but Gabrielle wasn’t fooled. She had a feeling that Pierre viewed the conversation with her father as only a temporary delay. He sailed off, but she was very much afraid this wasn’t going to be the last time she ever saw him.

Margery wasn’t shy about expressing her wholehearted disapproval of her father’s occupation. With all the nasty looks she was giving him those first few days, Gabrielle quickly found herself defending him. He was her father, after all. That he was a pirate didn’t mean she could stop loving him.

She and her father didn’t get a chance to talk until they reached his home port in St. Kitts, an island central to his sailing routes. He kept a small house there on the beach, far enough from town that he could anchor his ship offshore and row in if he had to. But he never had to. St. Kitts was an English port and he was an Englishman who’d never once fired on English ships. The French, the Dutch, the Spanish, those ships were all fair game.

His house was rather unique, like a fine English cottage that had been adapted to the warm climate, with large airy rooms and windows open to catch the breeze no matter which direction it came from.

Gleaming hardwood floors, palm trees in large urns, thin, wispy drapery, these things added a touch of local color, but the furnishings were elegant and quite English in design, and everything was kept spotless by his small staff of servants who looked after the house when he wasn’t in port. The paintings on the walls were tasteful and so reminiscent of those her mother had collected that she felt right at home.

The bedroom she was given was much larger than the one she’d had in England. The old wardrobe in it was an antique with cherry wood and ivory inlays in its doors; the canopy bed had carved posts and was draped in sheer white mosquito netting. And the view of the ocean and the harbor in the distance that could be seen from her balcony was magnificent.

The dining room also overlooked the ocean, and dinner that night was a tasty local dish of stuffed crab with plantains and spicy tomatoes, served with a fine French wine. A balmy, scented breeze entered from the open windows, as well as the soothing sound of ocean waves. She had a feeling she was going to love living there. But it didn’t appear that Margery would. She spent the entire dinner glaring at the

servants and insisting she was going to catch the first ship back home.

As soon as Margery took her sour looks to bed, Nathan led Gabrielle out to the beach for a walk so she could ask all the questions that had been running through her mind. He made no excuses for the career he’d taken up, but he did explain how he’d come to choose it.

“I was just a young sailor on a merchantman when we went down in a storm,” he told her. “There were only a few of us who survived. We’d been floating for days when the pirates found us.” She thought she understood. “So you felt beholden to them because they rescued you?”

“I wouldn’t exactly call it a rescue, Gabby. They were merely short on hands.”

“Otherwise they would have sailed on without stopping?” she guessed.

“Exactly. And we were given the standard offer, join or get back in the water. So I joined.”

“But you didn’t have to stay with them, did you? When you reached a port, you could have gone your own way?”

“We didn’t make port, at least not one that didn’t belong to the pirates, for a long time. By the time we did, well, truth be told, I was enjoying the life. I found it exciting. So I had few misgivings about staying, and I worked my way up through the ranks until I had a ship of my own.”

“Was this before or after you met Mama?”

“Before.”

“And she never suspected?”

“Not in the least.”

“What were you doing back in England, to have met her?” He grinned at that point. “Treasure hunting. The captain of that first ship got me addicted to it.”

“Treasure hunting in England?” she said in surprise.

“No, it was a missing piece of one of my maps that led me there. It took me years to find out that her family was known to be in possession of that last piece of it. I married her in order to facilitate my search.”

“Did you not love her at all?”

He blushed slightly. “She was a fine-looking woman, but no, my only love is the sea, lass. And she was just happy to have a husband. She’d begun to fret about it, having gone through a few seasons without catching one. I wasn’t up to her standards, of course, and couldn’t claim the same fine bloodlines that she could, but I was rather dashing back then, if I do say so myself. But I think she surprised us both when she accepted my proposal. The bloom wore off rather quickly. She was glad to see me sail off.” That certainly explained a lot. Gabrielle had always wondered what had drawn her parents together,

since they’d seemed to be nearly strangers to each other whenever he visited. That hadn’t been far from the truth. She had a feeling that while Nathan had used the marriage for his own purposes, so had Carla.

She’d wanted a child and she’d needed a husband to get one. Never once, though, through the years, had she doubted her mother’s love. Even at the end, when Carla became so bitter because of her lost lover, she never took that bitterness out on her daughter.

“Did you ever find the missing piece of your map?” she asked curiously.

“No,” he mumbled. “But I stayed too long searching for it. You were conceived before I left, and you were the only reason I ever returned over the years. I never regretted that, though. You’ve been a very bright light in my life, Gabby, my one true source of pride. I’m so sorry about your mother, and that you had to go through that alone. And then for you to risk coming here to find me—that was very brave of you.”

“I didn’t feel I had any other choice.”

They’d stopped to stare out over the moonlit ocean, waves lapping near their feet. A warm breeze ruffled the hem of her skirt. His arm slipped about her shoulders, gathering her close.

“I’m sorry, too, that you were captured, but I’m not sorry at all that you’re here with me now, daughter.

It’s where I’ve always wanted you to be.”

Tears formed in her eyes as she put her arms around him to hug him back. She was home, finally, really home.

Gabrielle found life on St. Kitts exhilarating. Every morning she woke up to a day full of sunshine and adventure. At her father’s insistence she learned how to swim and did so nearly every day in the warm, blue Caribbean. She also rode the horse he bought her along the beach, sometimes not coming home until dusk so she could enjoy the magnificent sunsets.

She loved it there, even though the heat could become oppressive at times. But it was all new to her, and at her young age, she found it all fascinating. The food was different, the climate was certainly different, the locals were colorful and friendly, the entertainments, even dancing in the streets, were nothing she could ever have imagined back home in England.

She even discovered that she liked sailing, and was an old hand at it now, sailing with her father often when he was chasing down clues to one of his many treasure maps. She came to understand why he’d taken up the life he did. He could easily experience more fun and adventure in a single week than some men experienced in a lifetime! She might not approve of his pirating activities, but she began to view them in a different light, especially after she learned that some of the hostages that Nathan handled might never be returned to their families if he didn’t intervene, playing the middleman, as it were. And he no longer captured ships himself. He spent most of his time chasing down treasure.

She was even with him when he actually located the landmarks on one of his maps and was finally able to zero in on the bright red mark that indicated where the treasure was hidden. It was incredibly exciting to watch her father and his men dig at that spot on that little island and then find the large chest that was buried there. But it was quite disappointing to see them open it and find it empty.

It was to be expected, though. The maps he had collected over the years had passed through many

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