Captive of My Desires Page 39

Having said it all, she began trembling in reaction. Drew felt it and tried to soothe her. His own panic had receded now that she was safe and in his arms. He gathered her closer, kissed her gently, ran a hand through her hair.

“You can thank Ohr for the timing,” he said in a soothing voice. “Bixley showed James and me a secret entrance, but with only the three of us, we would have had to be more cautious—actually, James had to hold me back. I wasn’t exactly thinking straight by then, I was so worried about you. But then Ohr arrived at the front gates with the men from the ships, and we were able to get the gates opened for them before the main force of pirates began pouring out into the courtyard. Where’s your father? He’s all right?”

She looked out into the courtyard and spotted her father breaking some board he’d found over the back of—was that Pierre? It was, and it looked like Nathan had the situation well in hand. Most of his crew were around him. Some were already tying up those pirates they’d already subdued. Some of them were also beating on Pierre. Lacross was being passed among them. She even noticed Avery had been captured and added to the growing number of pirates already trussed up.

She glanced back at Drew with a smile. “Yes, they were treated rather well, though that wouldn’t have been Pierre’s doing. Theyused to all be friends, the two crews, well, not quite friends, but more than passing acquaintances when they shared the same base.” Hesitantly now, he told her, “I was going to ask your father’s permission to marry you.” She went very still and leaned back to glance up at him. There was something in her eyes. Amusement?

Tenderness? Blast it, he couldn’t tell, and he was suddenly feeling quite out of his depth. He’d never in his life lacked confidence with a woman before. But then he’d never felt this way about a woman before, either.

“Drew, do you love me?”

“My God, Gabby, do you really need to ask?”

“But your sister was so certain you would never want to get married.”

“My sister doesn’t know about the hell you’ve put me through while I was figuring it out.”

“Hell?!” she gasped, and tried to push out of his arms indignantly.

He stopped her from leaving his arms completely and cupped her cheek tenderly. “I know that it’s the most important thing in my life right now to not lose you. I know that you’re in my thoughts, day and night. I know that I went a little insane at the thought of Pierre hurting you. I know that you drive me crazy with wanting you. I know that I want to protect you, to cherish you…I know very well what all that means, Gabby. I love you so much it hurts.”

Her grin came slowly, but grew quite dazzling. “Let’s go find my father so you can tell him all the reasons why you want to marry me.”

“Er, I’ll give him just the one reason, if you don’t mind. Fathers tend to take exception when lust gets mentioned in reference to their daughters.”

“You can leave that part out.”

“Come to think of it, fathers have the power to say no, too. You’re really going to make me do this?”

“Me? You were the one who said you were going to ask his permission,” she reminded him.

“It was just a thought. I don’t think I was serious. I was just lettingyou know what was on my mind.

Your acceptance was all I needed.”

“Stop worrying. He won’t be too angry when he hears about that scandal in London.” Drew groaned. But then he noticed her grin just before she put her arms around his neck and pulled his mouth down to hers. “You deserved that bit of teasing for making me wait so long to hear that confession,” she said against his lips.

“Then you’ll marry me?”

“I was ready to marry you in London!”

In that moment when he kissed her, they were oblivious to everything around them, including the cheer that went up from their friends who were watching them. Near the barracks, James found Nathan, who was wrapping a rope around Pierre. The pirate was barely conscious from the beating he’d weathered.

He’d just finished being passed around among Nathan’s crew. Each one of them had laid a fist or foot to Pierre in repayment for his hospitality.

“I would have simply broken his neck,” James remarked.

“James Malory!” Nathan exclaimed as he looked up. “Gabby said you were part of this rescue. If I’d known you were going to get involved, I wouldn’t have spent all these weeks worrying!”

“I hope that rope means you’re going to string Lacross up?” Nathan glanced back at Pierre and shook his head. “No, he deserves a worse fate than that. I’m going to turn him over to the English authorities in Anguilla, where he’ll spend the rest of his life in prison.”

“In that case, if you don’t mind?” James said, then bent down to lift Pierre’s head off the ground long enough to crack his cheek open with his fist. Now he was unconscious.

Nathan chuckled. “Still the same old Malory, eh? Damn, it’s good to see you again! You not only saved my life and the lives of my men, but most important, you saved Gabby.”

“I believe I did that!” Drew said as he and Gabrielle joined them.

James raised a tawny brow, but then he said magnanimously, “I’ll allow that my brother-in-law did do his share of head bashing today. Nathan, this is one of my wife’s younger brothers, Drew Anderson.”

“It’s a pleasure, sir,” Drew said, warmly shaking Nathan’s hand.

“No, the pleasure is definitely mine,” Nathan replied. “But you, James! You’ve more than repaid your debt to me. I merely asked you to help Gabby find—” James interrupted with a gesture toward Drew, who was fervently kissing Gabrielle again. “I think we

can safely surmise that Ihave fulfilled all requests.”

Chapter 52

GABRIELLE MARRIEDDREWANDERSONin a small chapel near her home in St. Kitts the very next day. She would have been willing to wait if he had wanted to track down his brothers, so they could be present for the happy occasion, but he wouldn’t hear of it. The moment he had received her father’s permission, which had been a painfully awkward experience for him, he’d asked where he could find the nearest priest. And besides, his sister and brother-in-law were there to represent his family.

She’d been so amused by how difficult it turned out to be, for him to speak with her father. He’d been in a tearing hurry to do so: then, when faced with asking the question, he’d stumbled over every word. And she knew exactly why. It was that word “marriage.” He really had thought he would go through life merrily avoiding such a binding tie. It was a bit of a shock for him to accept the fact that hewanted to get married. But she didn’t doubt he did. He just preferred to view the event as a way of keeping her forever, rather than of joining the matrimonial ranks.

She’d been able to wear her mother’s wedding gown for the ceremony. A full layer of pale pink lace over powder-blue satin, the combination gave the lovely gown a lavender hue, and to complete that illusion, the sheer veil that trailed behind her was lavender, which nicely complemented her midnight-black hair. The gown was one of the few things that had belonged to Carla that she’d brought with her on her first trip to the Caribbean. She hadn’t taken it back with her to England when she’d gone there to hunt for a husband, simply because deep down, she’d hoped she wouldn’t find one. How quickly love had turned that notion around.

Her father recognized the gown. She hadn’t thought he would. When he’d come to collect her to escort her down the aisle, he’d told her, “Your mother was a beautiful bride in that gown, but you, my dear, are a vision. Are you sure about this man? He’s barely left you alone long enough for me to ask how you feel about it.”

She’d chuckled at him. “Yes, very sure. I didn’t know it was possible to be this happy, Papa. And I’m the one who wouldn’t let him out of my sight. Men tend to get cold feet for the silliest reasons when it comes to matrimony.”

He grinned. “So do women, but I don’t think you have anything to worry about. It’s obvious in the way he looks at you that he loves you very much. Now let’s get you married. Let me straighten your veil. And what’s that around your neck that you’re hiding?”

“Oh, I’m not hiding it, I just forgot to pull it out when I put the gown on,” she said, and lifted the locket out to rest in the center of the square-necked lace bodice of her gown. “It’s something Mama gave me a long time ago.”

“I’ll be damned,” Nathan said, staring at the miniature painting. “So that’s how they hid it, by making a piece of jewelry out of it.”

“What?” she asked, and then gasped as she guessed, “The missing piece of your map?” He started to laugh. “Indeed.”

“But how does a picture of a village help? I’ve seen the rest of the map, it has no identifying marks other

than theX where treasure is buried. Even the shape of the island it’s on is ambiguous.”

“Yes, but that is what was missing. One single landmark that can be located. I only need to find an island now with a fishing village like that on its southern coast and likely nothing else on it other than recently built—” He stopped and slapped his forehead. “And I know exactly where it is! I’ve been there. It doesn’t even have a name yet, but we stopped there for supplies a few years ago. The villagers bragged that the island belonged to them, that no one else wanted to settle there.” She grinned at him. “That’s one treasure hunt I don’t want to miss. Why, I never would have been born if you hadn’t had the other parts of the map and gone to England to look for that missing piece.” Her father had that look in his eyes that he always had when he was on the scent of treasure.

Excitement, mixed with eagerness, mixed with joy. Nathan Brooks was never happier than when he’d figured out one of his maps.

“That’s true enough,” he agreed. “I had no other reason to return to my homeland. But your soon-to-be husband doesn’t strike me as a treasure hunter, and I’m sure he’ll be wanting to go off with you for a little time alone to celebrate the start of your new life together—unless I tell him that I’ll be giving this treasure to you as a wedding gift. Think he might want to come along then?” She laughed. “Probably not. But when he sees how much I want to, he might agree. The man does like to please me. But are you sure you want to give this one away? You’ve searched so long for it.”

“Aye, but it was one of your ancestors who buried it and devised such an elaborate scheme to hide it that he didn’t even share the information with his own family. Your mother never knew about it, and she was the last of his line. It’s fitting that it go to you.” Hearing it put that way, Drew agreed that they could go along, and he didn’t need much cajoling. He just insisted they sail onThe Triton, rather thanThe Crusty Jewel. Ironically, theJewel, which Latice had betrayed his captain and shipmates for and then been denied, never had been put to use. It had been sitting in the bay in front of Pierre’s stronghold, along with three other ships that Nathan had claimed as recompense for his incarceration.

But Drew had mentioned something about not being comfortable making love to his wife with her father in the next room. Gabrielle just grinned knowingly. It seemed to be universal, the reluctance that captains had to sail on ships other than their own, and she didn’t doubt her husband felt the same way.

Gabrielle didn’t mind missing the excitement aboardThe Crusty Jewel as they followed in its wake. She already thought ofThe Triton as her home. And besides, they’d spent their wedding night aboard her, and Drew did no more than cast off the next morning before he returned to their cabin to keep her pleasantly occupied.

But it wasn’t a long trip. It was barely midmorning when they anchored beside the small island. And then came the tricky part of counting the steps and making sure they had the right spot to start digging at. Two hundred and fifty-eight steps due north of the grinning skull, the legend on the bottom of the map said, but they had to find a skull in the vicinity of theX. It turned out to be a skull and crossbones scratched into a flat stone on a rocky ledge. It took until midday just to find that! But the delay kept the excitement high.

This was going to be the mother lode of all treasures, the one that had been the hardest to track down.

And while it had already been given to the newlyweds, every man there was thrilled to be present for the discovery.

Spanish doubloons was the most common guess. Artifacts from the old world was another. The map was several hundred years old, after all, drawn up during the heyday of piracy on the high seas. And while the owner of this particular treasure hadn’t been a pirate himself, he’d been an English lord who had been sent to rid the seas of pirates. So it had always been assumed that the treasure he’d buried had been confiscated from one of the pirate ships he’d captured.

Drew stood behind Gabrielle with his arms around her waist. She leaned back against his chest as they watched the digging.

“You won’t be disappointed if they find nothing?” he asked her.

“Of course I will,” she replied in a light tone. “But this isn’t going to be one of the empty treasure chests.

With the last piece of the map passed down through my family without them even being aware of what it was, this treasure has to be intact.”

He kissed the side of her neck. “I hope you’re right, sweetheart, for your sake.” She heard the doubt in his voice but ignored it. She was too excited to entertain any negative thoughts.

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