Captive of My Desires Page 18

She was so shocked her complexion must have gone white, giving him that clue. “Lady Dunstan,” she said tonelessly. “I was assured she wouldn’t spread what she overheard last night, but obviously she thought it was a juicy enough tidbit to risk even James Malory’s wrath over it.”

“I don’t know about that,” Avery said. “Never heard of the lady. It’s Wilbur Carlisle who’s telling anyone who’ll listen that you aren’t who you pretended to be.” She almost laughed. It would have sounded hysterical, though, so she cut it off. Wilbur? Unassuming, nice, desperate-for-a-wife Wilbur? Why would he do this to her? Why wouldn’t he demand proof first before launching her into a scandal? Because he felt she’d deceived him?

It’s not as if she wouldn’t have told him about her father if their relationship had grown more serious.

Well, she might not have confessed that her father actually plied the seas as a pirate, but she would have warned him that he was in trade. Many upper-crust families would consider him a black sheep of the family, but it wasn’t as if many of them didn’t have black sheep of their own. And her mother’s social credentials were impeccable.

She’d been so deep in her thoughts that she hadn’t heard the knock at the front door, but the scuffle going on out in the hall was certainly loud enough to draw her attention. She glanced quickly at Avery and said, “Excuse me for a moment.”


But she no sooner stepped into the hall than she gasped, incredulous at the sight of Ohr grappling with the Malory butler on the floor. There was no contest, of course. Ohr was barely straining. He was a strapping man in his prime, while Artie was a crusty old sea dog, very slight of build.

She almost laughed, but instead prudently mentioned to Ohr, “That’s not a proper way to come calling.”

“It is, when you get the door slammed in your face,” Ohr countered, glancing up at her.

Ohr was lying there on the floor with his arm locked around the head of the butler, who was also lying on the floor, one hand gripped tightly to Ohr’s long braid. The men were clothed in a similar fashion, with scuffed boots, cut-off pants, and billowing shirts. She never had got used to the fact that the Malorys had a butler who looked and sounded as if he belonged on a pirate ship.

The two men had stopped struggling as soon as she’d spoken. Now Artie told Ohr, “Think I didn’t ’ear the cap’n say ye weren’t welcome ’ere? I know m’duty, ye bleedin’ blighter, and that’s keeping ye unwelcome.”

Ohr made a scoffing sound. “I would have been happy to stand outside the front door and wait, you old salt, if you had agreed to let Gabby know I needed to speak with her, instead of telling me to get lost.”

“She were busy! I told ye that, too!”

“And I toldyou this couldn’t wait.”

Gabrielle tsked. “Let him up, Ohr. What is it that couldn’t wait?” Ohr got to his feet and stepped wide of Artie, in case the butler thought to throw any more punches when he stood up. Glancing back at Gabrielle, he said, “We need to talk privately.” He looked too serious by half and sounded it, too.

He didn’t wait for her to question him further. He took her arm and started toward the front door with her, but Artie leapt in front of it to block their path.

“Don’teven think about it, mate,” the butler warned. “Ye ain’t takin’ ’er anywhere, or I’ll be callin’ the cap’n and ye’ll be wishing ye were dead.”

Ohr growled, “I’ve had about enough of you—”

But Gabrielle interrupted him with a gentle hand on his arm and told Artie, “It’s all right. He’s a very good friend of mine and one of my father’s most trusted men. I’ll be fine with him.” Ohr didn’t wait for the butler’s permission. He led her out the front door to the coach he had waiting outside. She hadn’t expected to go farther than down the street, where they could talk, but she didn’t try to stop him.

“You’ve heard about the scandal already?” she guessed.

“What scandal?” he asked.

“Never mind, we can discuss it later.”

“Good, because we have some decisions to make. Pierre is holding your father for ransom, and the price he’s demanding is you.”

Chapter 20

GABRIELLE FELT NUMB DURING THE COACH RIDE.There’d been one too many shocks in the last couple days.

Ohr took her to the room he and Richard had rented near the docks. Bixley, a carrot-haired Irishman and Ohr’s best friend, was there, waiting with Richard. She hadn’t expected that, but then she should have. Someone had to have brought the news to them about her father.

Bixley loved to hunt for treasure and seriously believed in the old pot of gold at the end of the rainbow.

And since Nathan was fond of treasure hunting himself, Bixley felt he’d found the perfect home onThe Crusty Jewel.

Richard hugged her. He looked much more normal to her, wearing his pirate garb again, his loose white shirt barely buttoned down his chest.

He gazed at her closely and demanded of Ohr, “Why does she look like she’s in mourning already?

What the devil did you tell her?”

Ohr took the other chair at the table where Bixley was sitting, nursing a mug of ale. “Only what Pierre is demanding,” he replied.

“Chérie,it’s not as bad as it sounds,” Richard assured her. “We are only guessing that it’s you Pierre really wants and that he’s just using the maps as an excuse.”

“Maps?” Gabrielle asked. “What are you talking about?” Richard glanced at Ohr with a scowl. “So you really told her nothing? What did you talk about on the way here, the bloody weather?”

In his usual unruffled way, Ohr ignored Richard’s sharpness and said calmly, “I felt she should hear it firsthand from Bixley. Besides, I’m hoping my friend will remember something pertinent he might have missed in the first telling.”

“I didn’t forget anything,” Bixley mumbled. “It were a long voyage getting here. I had me time aplenty to commit it all to memory.”

“So tell me what happened, Bixley?” Gabrielle said.

“It were Latice, that bastid.”

Gabrielle frowned. “My father’s first mate?”

“Aye,” Bixley replied. “Sailed us right into Cap’n Pierre’s fort while yer pa was sleeping comfy in his cabin. We didn’t even have a chance to resist. Most of us woke up that night in chains.”

“Pierre has his own fort?” she asked.

“He’s gone rogue, Gabby,” Ohr took a moment to explain. “He found an old deserted fort and has apparently been refurbishing it for years now. And as soon as it was finished, he broke off from the alliance.”

“And this is where he’s holding my father?”


“You know where it’s located?”

“I don’t,” Ohr replied. “But Bixley does.”

“They made sure I’d be able to find it again, since I’m supposed to be bringing ye back there,” Bixley said. “It’s a day or two east of St. Kitts, depending on which way the wind be blowing.”

“Did Latice think he was sailing into a safe harbor? He hadn’t heard that Pierre had gone rogue?” Bixley snorted. “He knew. He turned traitor, lass. Who would’ve thought he’d have the guts to make a decision like that, eh?”

She was incredulous. Latice was, or had been, her father’s first mate. He was decisive, but only about nautical matters. On the quarterdeck, he never thought twice about giving an order. But when it came to anything else, it took him forever to make up his mind, and even then he could be talked out of a decision with very little effort.

“Why would he do that?” she asked. “Fear?”

“Greed.” The Irish pirate spat out the word. “Pierre promised he could haveThe Crusty Jewel for himself. But the joke was on him. Pierre don’t keep his promises. He weren’t about to just give away a prime ship like yer pa’s.”

“So what exactly are Pierre’s demands?”

“He said he wants your pa’s maps. Nathan was furious, as you can imagine. Told him what he could do with, well, as I said, he was furious. He weren’t about to give up a collection he’s worked his whole life on. His refusal wasn’t going to get us out of there, though, so after he was taken away, I offered to bring the maps to Pierre. I know where they’re hidden. He said no, that you had to bring them to him.”

“I do have some of his maps,” she reminded him. Nathan had given them to her long ago, but they were mostly the useless ones he’d already discovered led to nothing.

“Yes, but there’s not many who know that, and I certainly didn’t tell him, nor did your pa. Latice might have, but I don’t think he even knew. No, it was obvious, at least to me, that Cap’n Pierre don’t really

want the maps, he wants you.”

She reacted to that statement this time, as it really sunk in. Her repulsion was so great, she shuddered.

Captain Pierre, the vicious, frightening man whom she’d hoped she’d never see again. But Bixley had to be wrong! Nathan’s maps were valuable, after all. And Pierre already had a woman—didn’t he?

“What about Red? Is she no longer with Pierre?” she asked Bixley.

“Oh, she is. She was there, too, when he was making his demands. Got furious, she did. She even threw a dagger at him. Damned if she didn’t pull it out from between her breasts, too. Damnedest place to hide a—”

Ohr coughed to warn Bixley he was getting out of line. The Irishman just grinned unabashedly.

“I take it she didn’t kill him, or you wouldn’t be here?” she guessed.

“No, she missed. And Pierre, he just laughed, the bleedin’ sod.”

“I still find this—amazing,” she said. “They were…business associates.”

“They were never even that,chérie, ” Richard was quick to correct her. “Nathan, like the other captains, only tolerated Pierre. They were glad when he broke off from the alliance. We all were.”

“But he’s treating my father well, isn’t he? Because of their past association?” It was immediately obvious that Bixley didn’t want to answer that particular question. He spent a few moments draining his mug, even gave Ohr a beseeching look to change the subject.

“Tell me,” she demanded.

Bixley sighed. “That fort he refurbished, it had a dungeon, lassie. Our men, and your pa, they’re all in it.

Spent a few days there meself.” Seeing her pale, he tried to assure her, “It weren’tthat bad. I’ve slept in much worse places.”

When she thought of her father being held prisoner in that place for weeks already, and that it would be even more weeks before she could get him out of there, she paled even more. “What is your plan?” she asked Ohr.

“We won’t be turning you over to him,” he assured her. “But we probably won’t even be able to get close to Pierre’s fort unless he sees you with us.”

“It’s completely enclosed with high walls that are guarded,” Bixley explained.

“I don’t care what it takes, I want my father out of there,” Gabrielle replied heatedly. “We’ll leave immediately.”

“We could buy passage back to St. Kitts, but that isn’t going to get us to Pierre’s fortress,” Richard put in. “It’s on an island that isn’t inhabited, far from the main shipping paths. What we need is our own ship and crew. No matter what plan we come up with, without our own ship, we’re going to be limited in what we can do.”

“Then let’s get our own ship,” she said decisively.

“We will,” Ohr assured her. “Buy, borrow, or steal, we’ll find one in St. Kitts.”

“But didn’t Bixley say Pierre’s island is east of St. Kitts?” she reminded him. “Wouldn’t we save a day or two if we sailed directly for it, rather than pass it and then backtrack after we get a ship?”

“She’s right,” Richard said. “A passenger ship will also stop at other ports along the way, delaying us even more.”

Ohr nodded. “I suppose we would have a better chance of finding our own ship here in London. The harbor at St. Kitts is tiny in comparison. I haven’t heard of any for sale here, though, and I’ve been down on the docks.”

Gabrielle hesitated for a moment. Then a wicked smile curved her lips. “I know of one. It’s not for sale, but it’s sailing in the morning.”

Chapter 21

ASSUMING THE ROLE OF A PIRATEwas rather distasteful, Gabrielle thought after she’d explained her idea to her father’s crewmen. Three years ago the notion of stealing anything, much less a ship, would never have entered her mind. But it had occurred to her now because she was so worried about her father and so angry at Drew Anderson. She still couldn’t believe he’d so recklessly ruined her reputation and her chances of making a good match! Well, she wasn’t just going to steal his ship and become the pirate he’d accused her of being. She was going to have him at her mercy as well.

She owed him. It was that simple. And she wouldn’t have the chance to extract revenge otherwise, not with him leaving. Embroil her in a scandal, then just sail off without a care? Not now he wouldn’t.

It was a brilliant plan. It would solve their current dilemma of how to go about rescuing her father and at the same time it would enable her to get even with the man who’d ruined her. But then she realized that the four of them couldn’t sail a ship on their own.

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