No Choice But Seduction Page 29

Being told not to argue didn’t stop her from doing so. “But you said we had to be seen for Tyrus to find us!”

“That’s not The Oceanus.”

“How can you tell from this distance?” From delight over their imminent rescue, to confusion, to the beginning of panic, her tone was on the rise.

“It’s a two-masted brigantine, the type favored by pirates in this area.”

He didn’t need to say another word. She scrambled for the bushes behind them. He took a moment to shove several armfuls of sand over their little fire so not much smoke escaped. He also tossed the palm fronds they’d gathered under the nearest palm so it would look as if they’d dropped from it. He then grabbed his shoes and jacket to leave no obvious evidence behind and dove into the shrubbery after her.

She was lying prone, just peeking over the edge of the highest part of the beach. The ship appeared to be just slowly sailing by the island.

“They didn’t see us.” She was trying to sound positive, but her whisper ruined the effect.

“That’s hard to tell yet.”

“But why would they even look in this direction when they’re sailing that way?”

She pointed her thumb in the direction the brigantine was traveling, which was away from the island. Boyd glanced down at her, started to say something, but changed his mind. And that hesitation worried her more than whatever he might have said.

“What?” she demanded.

“Nothing. You were right.”

“No, I wasn’t,” she said, her voice sounding quite panicky now. “And tell me, why wasn’t I?”

He sighed. “The Barbary corsairs don’t just chase down merchant ships for free cargoes. They’re also in the business of supplying the Turkish sultans on the eastern side of this sea with slaves. Even their larger ships are oared by slaves. Finding a few people on a deserted beach, without any dwellings nearby, would be easy pickings for them that would merely require a brief stop while they send in a small crew in a skiff.”

“Slaves? You know, I was only joking about a harem. I would rather not find myself in one. Really.”

“I know.” He took her hand and pulled her to her feet. “Let’s go. I need to find somewhere to hide you while I take care of this.”

“While you what?” she shrieked.

She glanced behind her to see what he was talking about. The two-masted ship was turning around—in the direction of the island.

“Maybe they just forgot something from wherever they came from and are going back—”

“Stop fretting, Katey. I’m not going to let anything happen to you, I promise.”

That sounded as reassuring as he’d meant it to, but he wasn’t taking into account her vivid imagination. Stop fretting? She’d be gibbering in a moment.

“What is there to take care of? They land, they look around, they find nothing, they go away.”

“That would be ideal,” he agreed. “And as long as they don’t leave the beach, then all is well. But if they come inland looking for us—let’s just say I prefer to meet trouble head-on before it finds me.”

“You’d fight them? With what?” she demanded. “You don’t have a weapon.”

He picked up a sturdy branch as he dragged her along behind him. It actually looked like a bent club. “I do now.”

Oh, sure, he was going to take on bloodthirsty and no doubt armed pirates with a stick? But she realized she didn’t want him facing any pirates at all, even if he did have a better weapon to do it with. She simply couldn’t stand the thought of him getting hurt.

“Let’s just keep heading for the other side of the island,” she suggested.

He stopped to grip her shoulders. “One of us has to stay near that beach, and it isn’t going to be you. If Tyrus comes in range and sees pirates anchored here with no sign of us, he’ll sail on by to continue looking for us elsewhere. So if they dally too long looking for us, I’m going to take out that first group of pirates, and the next if they send in another skiff. Hopefully they won’t waste any more than that and will move on.”

“Would the pirates chase The Oceanus if she does show up before they leave?”

“Only if they are very, very stupid. Skylark ships are all well armed for just such a contingency. Haven’t we already discussed this subject?”

She vaguely recalled him saying something to that effect. He continued to drag her along until they ran out of easy paths. She kept to herself all the little ouches she wanted to cry out because she was stepping barefoot on little pinecones. Tall pines, other trees, bushes grown bigger than she was, and tropical vines spread among it all—it was now a solid mat of green they were standing in. And no wonder no one wanted to settle on that coastline when no clear land was anywhere to be seen.

“Get behind those bushes there, hunker down, and stay put until I come back for you. If you’re capable of silence, now would be the time to prove it,” he added with a wink.

He left her immediately after saying that. It took her about five minutes to finally get irked over it. Implying she was a chatterbox was rather rude, and she groused mentally for another ten minutes about that, all of which took her mind off of the pirates for a bit. Did he do that intentionally? She doubted it.

But then a local bird screeched nearby, making her start and look for other signs of wildlife. What she actually saw was that Boyd had pretty much left her at a dead end. Without a long knife or other tool to cut through the thick vegetation behind her, she had nowhere to run if she needed to, except back toward the shore, where the pirates were probably even now landing. Had that much time passed? Boyd was going to do something foolish, she was sure, and get himself caught or killed. And then they’d come looking for her.

With that alarming thought, Katey scrambled to her feet and headed back toward the shore, but she wasn’t going right back to where their camp had been. As soon as she found an opening in the path to the left, she took it and moved off in that direction for quite some ways.

Thankfully, she didn’t run into another dead end. The foliage wasn’t as thick nearer to the shore. She also picked up all the stones she could find along the way, lifting the lower hem of her robe to form a pocket to pile them in. She wasn’t going to be completely defenseless.

When she got far enough down the shoreline, she inched her way back toward the beach so she could at least see what the pirate ship was doing. Maybe it had already left! She could hope.

But the ship was still there, anchored rather close. Any closer and it would have run aground. And a small boat was only now rowing swiftly toward the beach. It had taken them this long to come ashore!?

The beach wasn’t a straight line, it was curved slightly, not enough to call it a cove or a bay, with their camp at the center of that arch. She was far enough away that she didn’t have to lift her head far to see where the campfire had been buried. There was a little boat beached there, empty, so the one rowing in wasn’t the first? Then where were the men who had been in it? No one was on the beach right now, it was completely empty aside from that little boat. And where was Boyd?

What she should do was keep moving in the opposite direction, but the fear that came over her was entirely for Boyd. She had to know that he was all right. And until she saw that with her own eyes, she wasn’t going anywhere except to find him.

Crouched over and keeping a fist around her improvised sack of stones still bundled in her robe hem, she ran from tree to bush to tree, keeping hidden, but making quick progress back toward their camp. When she was halfway there, she stumbled across yet another boat!

This one had been pulled all the way up to the grass line out of the sand and shoved under the bush she’d stopped to crouch behind, or she would never have seen it. A large, broken, leafy branch was even lying over it, as if an attempt had been made to hide it. Why? And how many boats were those pirates going to send in? This made three. Could they really have a crew that big? Or maybe only a couple men had manned each boat. That made better sense. And Boyd might be able to easily handle two men at a time.

Some of her fear left her, though not enough to turn her around. But a word caught her eye just as she was about to dash to the next bush. Neatly painted in white lettering on the edge of one of the two wooden planks in the boat used for seating was a single word. Bent over right next to the boat, she had no trouble making it out. Oceanus.

She stared. And stared. She was going to kill him. The implication was mind-boggling! No, she wasn’t going to touch that thought. Not now. She felt heat wash over her. Angry heat. She tamped it down, took a deep breath. But she was going to kill him. Later. If the pirates hadn’t already done so yet.

Chapter Thirty-Nine

KATEY FOUND BOYD. He was still alive. She wasn’t sure if the pirates lying at his feet were still breathing, but Boyd looked fine. The sounds of men fighting would have led her in the right direction if the landscape at the top of the beach hadn’t been clear enough to allow her to see for some distance.

She counted three bodies down, yet three more pirates were still standing. Six of them had been on the first boat with more on the way.

The pirates had weapons. She could see pistols and long knives tucked in their belts. One of them who was still on his feet even had a pistol in his hand, but he was holding it as if he was going to use it as a club rather than fire it.

They were trying to subdue Boyd without hurting him, she realized! He must represent cargo to them that they could sell later, which was probably the reason they had came ashore. Apparently, they didn’t care if they got hurt in the process.

Breathless, utterly fascinated, Katey couldn’t take her eyes off Boyd. He was fiercely laying into one of the men still standing, not with his improvised club, but with his fists. He held the man with one hand and was punching his face with the other. A second man came too close and Boyd merely backhanded him away. It didn’t even look as if he’d broken a sweat yet, though she wasn’t really close enough to tell. But he didn’t even look winded from his exertions!

The third man was dragging one of the downed pirates out of the way. All three pirates couldn’t get close enough to Boyd with the bodies of their mates cluttering the ground at his feet. And he wasn’t moving from that position, which gave him his advantage.

A fourth pirate went down now. The last two men must have realized they weren’t getting anywhere with their careful tactics. They still didn’t point their pistols at Boyd, but with one man shouting an order, the two charged him in unison. That managed to knock him down, and all three were sprawled on the ground now.

Katey started to move closer. But new activity on the beach caught her attention instead. The other boat had landed! Six more men were jumping out of it. As soon as they came a little farther up the beach, they would see what was happening on the other side of the rise—and join the fray. Boyd wouldn’t be able to handle six more. He had to be tiring. But even if he wasn’t, this new bunch would take him by surprise while he was still grappling on the ground with those other two.

She didn’t get past that thought. Stepping out on the beach to draw the new arrivals’ attention in her direction, she pretended to be surprised by them. One of them saw her and nudged the man next to him. He also said something that had them all turning to look at her. In seconds, all six were running toward her. They didn’t even send one of their men to find the first arrivals. Apparently, she was a more interesting find.

She gave a shriek, a loud one, that wasn’t the least bit faked. She hoped Boyd had heard her, or the chance she’d just taken in revealing herself would have been really stupid. She had no idea how long she could keep from being captured, but she did not want to be used as a bargaining chip for them to capture him, too. So she couldn’t go too far or Boyd wouldn’t be able to catch up to help her. Yet she couldn’t let the pirates get within reach of her, either, or it would be all over.

She remembered her rocks only because her little improvised sack banged against her knee as she leapt back off the sand. She paused a moment to loosen the tight grip she had on it that had closed it and make it an open pouch she could reach into. Making sure she wasn’t going to run into anything behind her first, she turned to face the pirates just in time to see them come over the rise near her. Much too close. If they decided to charge her as a group as the other two had done to Boyd…

She threw a rock at them. They stopped and laughed at her as it landed several feet in front of them. Backing away slowly, she threw another rock, harder this time. They laughed again as it sailed past them, hitting no one. What made her think throwing stones would be a good weapon when she didn’t know how to aim them? All she was doing was entertaining them! But a moment later she realized her rocks were a better weapon than she’d thought, because they’d done exactly what she’d intended, kept the pirates’ attention on her long enough for Boyd to take over.

Seeing him running up behind them now, his thick, clublike stick in hand, she kept the pirates distracted with a few more rocks. And Boyd went immediately to work on them with barely a pause. He swung his club to one side, then the other. Two down. One of those moved, wasn’t unconscious. A quick punch to his face and he didn’t move again.

The other four had turned about with the noise. Three charged Boyd immediately. He sidestepped one and swung his club in an arc to catch the other two at once. It didn’t knock either of them down, but the one it hit first screamed and put a hand to his smashed ear. He was temporarily immobilized by pain.

The last pirate didn’t move. Instead he pulled a long-barreled pistol from his belt. But he’d turned his back to Katey. What he was going to do with that pistol she didn’t know and didn’t want to find out, especially when he might have decided that one slave, her, was good enough and Boyd was too much trouble to bother with.

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