DISCLAIMER: Guiding Light and its characters are the property of Proctor & Gamble. No infringement intended.
AUTHORS' NOTE: Geek and I had been kicking around the idea of an Otalia pirate fic for a while, but when Ralst leveled the "Different Hat" Uber challenge, we could no longer resist. This will probably be a long fic lasting well past the challenge deadline so sit down, buckle up, and get ready for a great ride. We hope you like it. Then again, Olivia in a pirate outfit…what's not to love?!
SPECIAL THANKS: To our amazing beta, Cheerfuloceangazer. You're the best, sweetie! *hugs*
ARCHIVING: Only with the permission of the author.

By Calliopes_Muse and Geekgrrllurking


Chapter 1

A light cloud of dust and smoke filled the air, rolling slowly over the trees and low hills of the small island in the middle of nowhere; but it wasn't enough to hinder the watchful eyes aboard the anchored galleon. Leaning over the side of the hull, a burly man with a goatee smirked and slapped the young man next to him in the stomach. The lad quickly handed over the telescope. Glancing out over the choppy blue waters of the Caribbean, then back to the cabin boy beside him, he smiled a little.

"She's givin' 'em hell today, eh, Miguel?"

"Aye, Cap'n. The white caps would say so." Miguel flinched as a loud boom sounded in the distance, followed by several more rounds and screams of men being hit. Having only been a pirate for a few months, he hadn't even seen a real dog fight yet.

The skinny man was barely twenty years old but looked like he was nearly forty. His thinning hair was already graying, and he was missing several teeth from either fighting or drinking too much. From the looks of him, the captain guessed it was the liquor.

From the tale he'd told the captain, he had been homeless most of his life, his parents having died when he was a little boy. There was little for young men to do when they had no home. They either drank or got into trouble with the law or most likely both. But Miguel was eager and happily did as he was told. To a captain, that was really all that mattered at the end of the day. A ship without structure and strong leadership was bound to fall to mutiny.

The next blast was close enough to shake the timbers they stood on where they were anchored close to the shore of the small island. The captain had agreed to wait here for the crew of the Sea Mongrel – or for the ship itself. The handsome man smiled big and held his telescope up.

"Damn, she must be giving it to 'em good. The battle probably won't last much longer." He handed the telescope back to Miguel. The captain moved confidently across the planks, speaking to his men.

"Alright, men, we have less than half a candlemark to get ready. I want all cannons and muskets double-counted and ready in case we need them. Tell the kitchen to prep hearty meals and lots of ale. We'll have a thirsty and hungry crew coming aboard. And clear a spot below decks for the injured and someone wake up Doc. I don't think he's been sober since last week!"

The men laughed heartily and after a few "Aye, aye, Cap'n Lewis!" got down to work again.

Another blast in the distance made the captain grip the wheel he stood next to tightly, a feeling of dread suddenly sweeping over him.

"Damn it, Olivia. Don't make me have to come in there and get you."

The force of the blast threw Captain Olivia Spencer over the side of the poop deck to the hard wood of the deck below. She felt the stinging and piercing of hundreds of wooden shards as they jabbed into her body. Growling, she stood and marched through her men as they scurried about the ship. Another blast sent debris, and what was probably someone's arm, flying over her head.

She wiped casually at the blood that splattered her as she flew up the steps to the bow of the ship. She held tight to what was left of the railing, not eager to slip past the open space next to her and into the frothy ocean below.

No, that wouldn't do because right now, she had someone to kill – namely the bastard who dared to attack her ship.

The Sea Mongrel was Olivia's, and she had earned it. To hell with the Governor and that damn blasted Letter of Marque. No high-minded government type could tell her what to do now, since she had won the Sea Mongrel in a bet, fair and square. She ground her teeth at the next blast - thankfully it was one of their own - and looked to her Quartermaster.

"Tell me the truth, Dinah."

"Always." The blonde woman hesitated but a moment and then turned to her with eyes bleak and sad. "We have nothing left, Olivia. That was the last of our cannon fire, and that goddamn ship is too well stocked; there's no way we can stand toe-to-toe with a naval ship and only use muskets."

Olivia snarled at the news and moved to walk away, but Dinah stopped her with a hand to her arm, gently squeezing the strong bicep. Both of them heard the enemy captain's commands to edge closer and prepare to board.

"Olivia, we cannot be captured. You know this."

The other woman didn't look at her, but did turn her head slightly to the side, her honey-colored, shoulder-length hair flying wildly in the breeze. Dinah slid her hand down to Olivia's and squeezed it for a brief moment. Olivia returned the gentle pressure before moving away.

Dinah watched for a moment as Olivia marched down the steps, fearless in the face of the bullets flying around her. She wasn't nearly so cocky though. She dropped behind what little safe cover was left on the ship and made her way down to the main deck.

The Quartermaster slipped in between two men huddled behind a thin piece of wood that had yet to be blown away. Drawing her pistol, she looked at the two men, who were clearly shaken from the battle.

"Don't give up, boys. Not even when there's a gun to your head. Never give up." With that, Dinah pushed to her knees and spun around, aiming a shot through the cloud of smoke at the hazy outline of a person on the ship beside theirs. She fired off a round and she heard the groan of her target as she made a perfect mark.

The men looked at her, then at each other, then back to her as she smirked and reloaded. They shrugged their shoulders and rose with her on the next round of fire and took aim with their own pistols. Two more groans and thumps were heard as they hunkered back down behind the wood. It took a moment, but slowly all three began laughing maniacally. By God, if they were going to go down, they were going down fighting.

"Ready?" Dinah looked at the two men. "One, two, three."

Over and over again, they rose and took shots. Over the sound of their gunfire, Dinah barely heard her men calling for her. When the sound finally registered and she saw where they were pointing, she started to jump to her feet but was stopped by the men beside her.

"Olivia, what in God's good name are you doing up there?"

Up there was the lookout nest, which was surprisingly intact considering everything else that had stood tall on the ship was now kindling for firewood. Dinah watched in shocked horror as her captain stood precariously on the side of the nest and then climbed several feet above it.

Olivia looked down and caught Dinah's eye, smiling wickedly. "Trust me, Dinah! Abandon ship!" When she looked around and saw no one was moving, but were instead transfixed on their fearless leader hanging from the last mast of their ship in the middle of a gun battle, she bellowed, "I said abandon ship, you lily-livered bilge rats, or next you see me, it'll be with my sword in your rotten guts!"

That seemed to have the desired effect as men scampered to the far side of the ship, clambering into the few boats left for escape. Everyone moved but Dinah. She couldn't believe her eyes as she took in the full picture above her. Olivia hanging on above the crow's nest, the two ships so close they could touch, and a look of fearless determination and revenge carved into the captain's beautiful features.

Olivia removed the knife from the top of her tall black boot, then found Dinah's eyes and gave her one last wink before slipping the knife between her teeth and leaping toward the other ship.

Olivia's timing was perfect as she waited for the ship to tilt, giving her momentum to reach the other ship's sail. Sure, she could have just jumped from the side of the Sea Mongrel to the deck of the enemy ship, but there was no fun in that. Besides, she had a purpose for going high. She wanted to surprise the bastard pacing below her when she slid down the white sail. The same bastard who commanded this ship. In a smooth motion, she slipped the knife from her teeth and pierced the sail to slow her descent to the deck, the vicious slice rendering it all but useless.

In near silence her feet touched the wood surface, and she quickly guided the knife back into her boot. Less than twenty feet away was the back of the man who had brought this destruction, the man she'd make sure never lived to see another day. She quietly unsheathed her cutlass and edged towards him. His long navy coat billowed out behind him while his thick dark hair was virtually untouched. Ten feet…so close.

"Cap'n…behind you!" A quick glance to the right gave her a face to go with the voice. A young man with dark hair and big brown eyes. If not for the obvious Spaniard features, especially the dark olive skin, he could have been the son of the man who had turned and was glaring at her with glee.

"Ah, the infamous Terror of San Cristobel, Olivia Spencer." He smirked at the beautiful but dangerous woman in front of him, then glanced at the young man who had alerted him to her presence. "Thank you, Rafe. You will be duly rewarded." Looking around to his other men, he commanded, "Take her!"

Even though the crew unsheathed their swords, she drew herself up to her full height and jutted her sword in the arrogant captain's direction.

"No…you do it, you cowardly bastard, or do you need these dogs to wipe your ass too?"

The insult was all that was needed to draw out the short-tempered man. In a flourish, he snarled and drew his sword to make a futile jab at her. Olivia easily danced out of the way, knocking his sword aside. For a moment, they sized each other up, waiting for an opening.

Making her own opportunity, Olivia swung over a nearby banister to the short steps up to the fore deck, giving herself a height and angle advantage. She jumped up the two remaining steps behind her. Swinging her sword just above her head, she cut a rope from the sail rigging. Grabbing it, she swung over the surprised captain's head and landed behind him. A swift kick to his lower back sent him flying into the steps she had recently stood on. In a rage, he struggled to his feet. He threw his sword down and spun on her as he raised his pistol.

"You useless whore!"

The crowd of men watching the spectacle parted as Olivia was backed to the railing. A slow, dark smile spread across her face.

"Better to be a whore than a thief."

His eyes went wide in panic but the emotion quickly transformed back to anger as he leveled his pistol. As if time stopped for a moment, she could see everything in perfect synchronicity: the spark and smoke of the gun as the bullet left the chamber, the vicious flare of retribution on the captain's face, the hard, unforgiving wood at her back and then the sudden chill of the Caribbean waters surrounding her as she flipped over the side.

A lancing pain raced up her arm and even underwater her eyes could see the swirl of blood. The awareness sent a stronger fear through her than the bullets whizzing past her from the world above. Sharks. She had to get out of the water… fast. She went deep, avoiding the surface where the bullets could catch her, and swam until she could no longer hold her breath.

She broke the surface with a loud gasp and quickly looked around. She was on the opposite side of the enemy ship from where she had started, but that was good. At least their attention was away from her current location. Finding her bearings, she dipped back below the water and made a wide arc to the stern side of the ship. It was the least likely place they'd look for her. After a few more dips below the surface, she was well away from the two ships.

She could see men from the enemy ship crawling over her beloved Sea Mongrel. Suddenly, a burst of flame shot up from the center to a rousing cheer from the enemy crew.

Olivia's blood turned cold at the sight.

"I won't rest until I see your head hanging from my yardarm, Captain Frank Cooper."


Chapter 2

A flickering flame touched the darkly singed wick, dimmed slightly, and then flared bright as the small votive candle sparked to life. The petite brunette sank to her knees, her full lips moving silently, her rosary clutched tight as she began to pray, a single tear trickling down her flushed cheek.

The tiny chapel hidden away on the far side of the palace garden was her refuge from the politics and wagging tongues of the royal court. The walk along the weathered cobblestone pathway through the fragrant gardenias and roses never failed to ease and calm her troubled mind. And today she needed much soothing.

The oak beams arching above her and the smell of incense and melting wax were comforting. The warm patina on the pews and the glow from all the candles were familiar and made her feel safe, reminding her of her mother and home. Spain might be her father's homeland, and while she may have learned to appreciate its beauty in the year since her arrival, she still desperately missed her mother and their tropical island home of Roca de Dolor.

Natalia Rivera looked up onto the peaceful face of the Virgin Mary, and wiped at the tears threatening to fall.

"I know what must be, shall be. Give me strength and help me to find the courage to do what is expected of me." Tears welled again in her eyes. "Please, Lord…"

Natalia bowed her head again and took a deep, steadying breath. Her searching fingers found the tear-stained pages of her father's letter tucked into the folds of her dress as she hunted for her handkerchief. She silently chastised herself; it was not as if she hadn't known this day would come.

She was not so naïve as to think that the eldest daughter of the Governor of the Spanish colony on Roca de Dolor and his wife, herself a princess from the local island tribe, would be able to marry for love. Natalia was very aware of her duty to her country and to her father. She only prayed that he had found her a decent man, who would treat her with respect. One she could learn to love.

Natalia had always known what her future was supposed to be, years filled with taking care of the needs of a husband and his household, raising a big family and building her life around the good man by her side. Her parents had made sure that she and her two sisters were well-educated, taught by the finest instructors on the island, with training in the arts and culture, even self-defense, before finally being sent to Spain to continue her studies and learn the ways and customs of the Spanish royal court.

What more could a girl of her status and position want or need?

No, her parents had raised her well. Natalia knew her duty and would obey her father's wishes, despite the fear and sadness nearly overwhelming her right now. Her marriage would help solidify ties between Roca de Dolor and their long-time rival nation, San Cristobel. She only hoped that her sacrifice would satisfy her father's political ambitions and that her younger sister would then be allowed to marry the man she had fallen in love with here in Spain.

Natalia turned her head slightly when she suddenly heard familiar footsteps approaching. She sighed and dabbed at her eyes with her handkerchief, wiping her face, and removing all trace of her tears. After all she was newly engaged; she was supposed to be over the moon with excitement.

"Natalia." The jovial priest spoke quietly beside her. Natalia bowed her head, crossed herself and stood to face the older man who had been a friend to her since she first arrived so many months ago.

"Father Ray." Natalia smiled pleasantly and moved closer. The man would never understand her worries, or her disappointment at having to end her studies here in Spain. As much as she wanted to confide in him, she also knew, sadly, that she couldn't trust him not to report back to her family.

"I didn't expect to find you here this evening. I thought you would be celebrating with the other ladies of the court. It's not every day that a girl becomes betrothed." Father Ray smiled warmly.

Natalia turned to the curious priest beside her. How could this simple man even begin to understand how helpless she was feeling? Even a priest had more freedom of choice than she did. She sighed softly and nodded.

"I just needed some time to digest the news, Father. And as much as I love the company and wit of the other ladies of the court, peace and quiet is not their strong suit." She smiled at that understatement. The howling pack of vicious ladies-in-waiting had taught her much about the ways of the world. Most importantly, trust no one.

The priest nodded and followed the gentle woman through the chapel and out into the lush and fragrant garden surrounding it. He would miss her smiling face looking up at him from the pews every Sunday morning and her quiet, thoughtful company. It had been a long time since anyone had tempted him from his calling, but this little one had wound her way around his heart effortlessly. He would be very sad to see her leave Spain and return to her beloved Caribbean islands.

"Father." Natalia chewed her bottom lip and glanced up at the older man. She felt stupid asking, knowing there was nothing he could do to really help her, but still she wanted some guidance, needed some sort of reassurance. What she needed most was her mother's loving arms, but that thought brought the threat of tears, so she focused instead on the caring eyes staring back at her.

"Yes, my dear?" Father Ray smiled kindly.

"Do you think I will love my husband someday?" There it was, laid bare. Natalia waited for his response, cringing slightly at how vulnerable she felt.

The priest looked away from the scared brown eyes and swallowed hard. How he wished he could comfort her like any other man could. Take her from her obligations and steal away together. He wrapped his hand over his crucifix, hanging heavy around his neck, the cold metal pinching his skin as he grasped it tightly. Finally finding the words he needed, Father Ray placed his hand on her arm and squeezed gently.

"God works in mysterious ways," the priest whispered into the evening dusk. He reached out and tucked a strand of her dark hair back behind a delicate ear, the tender gesture as brazen an act as he would allow himself. "Follow your heart and trust in the Lord. He will show you the way."

Natalia blinked and nodded, oddly comforted by the priest's words. He was right after all. She knew herself and, having no other options, she would simply find a way to make it work. She began moving down the garden path again, her long skirt swishing over the cobblestone as she walked.

"What is your husband-to-be's name?" Father Ray asked as he followed her, his fingers trailing over the rose blooms as they passed by.

"Captain Frank Cooper." Natalia smiled shyly. He sounded very adventurous and brave. She watched as the name registered with the man, his dark, bushy eyebrows rising nearly to his hairline.

"Isn't he the head of his Majesty's special navy based in San Cristobel? The famous pirate hunter?" the priest asked, impressed. His eyes brightened as the girl nodded. "Oh, Natalia, that is a fine match. He's been clearing the Caribbean of some of the foulest and most dangerous souls known to man."

Natalia frowned as she plucked a rose from a nearby bush, inhaling the sweet scent before tucking it into her hair. She had heard many stories of the damage pirates had caused her father over the years. It was a time-consuming mission bringing them to justice. She briefly wondered just how much time Captain Cooper would be at sea, and a tiny light appeared at the end of her long tunnel.

"Yes, Father. By all accounts, he is a good, honorable man, true to his King and country." Natalia sighed softly, still disturbed about her predicament, yet resigned to her fate. If this was such a great match then why did she feel like her world was coming to an end? "I only pray that he is as good to me, Father..."

Natalia gripped the priest's hand one last time, before straightening her shoulders and walking out of the garden, headed towards the castle proper and her destiny.


Chapter 3

Black, billowing smoke rolled upwards to sully the placid blue skies overhead. Silently and impatiently, Josh and Dinah stood on the bow of his ship, looking for any sign of Olivia. The blonde looked up to the sky, measuring the distance the sun had traveled and guessing that it had been nearly an hour since they had seen the first signs of flames and smoke in the distance. If she strained her ears, she could just make out the raucous cheering of men. With every second that passed, her heart grew heavier with fear. Unable to stare any longer at the shore of the small island they were anchored near, hoping against hope for Olivia's arrival, Dinah finally gave up and began to pace the fore deck.

"This doesn't bode well, Josh."

He glanced over his shoulder at the blonde woman pacing and running her fingers worriedly through her hair. "If her ship went down, they'd be sending boats out to capture prisoners. I haven't seen any navy boats."

She looked at him grimly. "He only wanted Olivia. He wanted her dead. If he got her, there's no need to capture her crew."

Josh's jaw clenched at the truth in the statement and fought his own desire to lift anchor and go after Frank Cooper.

"Ahoy, look!"

Dinah and Josh both turned to follow the pointing finger of a crewman. Brush on the edge of the island forest shook, then stood still, and then shook some more until a flash of a sword could be seen hacking through the thick foliage. As if exiting from a waking nightmare, Olivia fought her way through the undergrowth and stumbled onto the white sand.

Dinah grabbed a smiling Josh and kissed him on the cheek. "Ah, ha! I knew it! I knew she'd make it!"

She raced down the steps to the main deck. Climbing over the side of the railing, she scurried as fast as possible down the ladder to the small dinghy below.

Even from a distance, Josh could see his friend smirking at him. She raised her sword in his direction and laughed. She sat down on the sand and waited for Dinah to arrive.

A few minutes later, the blonde was tugging the small boat to the shore. She finally gave up as the boat got stuck in the sand of the shallow waters before taking off in a run over the remaining distance. Olivia stood and ran to meet her halfway, both of them standing in ankle-deep water. Dinah threw her arms around her neck.

"Thank the heavens you're okay! I was so worried."

Olivia returned the hug and soaked up the comfort of her friend. Pulling back from her captain, Dinah paused momentarily with her hands on each side of the woman's face. Olivia barely had a moment to react before the blonde pulled her in for a searing kiss.

On board Reva's Torment, the good-looking captain tilted his head to the side. He looked to each side of him and noticed several of his men were gawking at the two women in the surf. He glared at one of the men, who quickly turned and started whistling as he continued sweeping the deck.

The blonde broke the kiss and smirked at the other woman. "Sorry, I couldn't help myself."

"I'm not complaining." Olivia glanced over Dinah's shoulder and caught Josh's gaze as he tried to appear uninterested in them. "I don't think I'm the only one either."

The blonde smiled at her and squeezed her arm. But the grimace on Olivia's face made her pull back her hand in worry. Dinah glanced down at Olivia's arm.

"You're bleeding."

Olivia shrugged. "I've had worse. The salt water cleaned it out good. I just need a good bandage now." She cocked an arrogant eyebrow at her quartermaster. "Think you can…assist your captain?"

Dinah chuckled and shook her head. "I'm sure I can…many, many times."

Laughing, Olivia followed behind Dinah as they climbed back in the dinghy to head back to Josh's ship.

Once aboard, Olivia was surrounded by those of her men who had survived the attack. Dinah stood back and let her have her moment. It was moments like this when Olivia was in her element, when she rose above the rest. She was a natural-born leader, and it was evident in how she carried herself and how she spoke with her crew. Even when she was crass or drove them like slaves, the men simply adored her and would fall down on their swords for her.

This was Olivia Spencer's calling – to command her crew and to live richly and fearlessly by the title 'The Terror of San Cristobel.' It wasn't the riches or even the fame that drove Olivia to piracy. In a drunken stupor one night, the captain had told Dinah all about her life. Her parents had barely been able to feed them from day to day, and some days she was lucky if she got a piece of bread to survive on. There were even days where she'd give her own food to her four younger brothers and sisters. She wasn't the oldest of the siblings though. She had an older sister who married at the age of fifteen and had three kids of her own the last time Olivia saw her. But she saw the life her sister had, which seemed like trading one rung of hell for another, and she didn't want to turn out like that.

No, Olivia Spencer knew she had a bigger purpose in life than to cook, clean, and have babies. She honestly couldn't fathom a life like that. She wanted so much more, but not more money or more adventure; she couldn't find words to describe what she wished for. All she knew was that she wanted more from life than what she saw fated to her in the world of her youth.

So, in true Olivia Spencer fashion, she did something bold. Dinah smiled at the memory of the tall, beautiful captain telling this part of the story, while stretched out naked in a hammock on a beach they had careened on several years earlier. She crossed her arms and looked at the other woman, who was clapping men on the back and smiling. Olivia became what she needed to in order to escape the hand dealt to her. She became a man - at least on the outside. She had cut her hair short, bound her breasts, and chucked the last dress she'd ever wear in this lifetime for a pair of trousers and boots in order to join the Royal Navy.

Olivia looked at Dinah quizzically over the heads of her men. Some had dispersed, but the most admiring still lingered. The captain tilted her head at the blonde, wondering what she was thinking that had her dark eyebrows scrunched together. She separated herself from the men by telling them she needed to check the maps and do some planning. They quickly moved away as she instructed them to assist where needed on board.

Making her way over to Dinah, she could tell the moment that the blonde came back from wherever she had momentarily gone. "What's going on in that beautiful head of yours?"

Dinah looked away quickly, trying to hide the effect Olivia had on her. "Just wondering what you would look like in a dress."

Olivia gave a short, but amused, chuckle. "Really?"

"I just realized that in all the years I've known you, I've never seen you in a dress."

Olivia stepped a little closer. They were so close that any move an inch this way or that would have them touching. The captain could sense the slight shiver that passed through her friend's body and it made a thrill race up her spine.

"Perhaps you just need to see me undressed again, and then it won't matter."

The blonde tipped her head in invitation toward the private crew quarters that had been set up for them. Olivia watched for a moment as Dinah walked ahead of her, admiring the view. Momentarily oblivious to everything but the sight of the other woman, she started when she heard the clearing of a throat. Olivia jerked her head up at the sound and nodded her head to Josh in acknowledgement and greeting.

As they passed, he couldn't help himself. He turned to watch the sway of Olivia's hips. He only had a blessed second of appreciation, imagining the two women in various compromising and indecent positions, before he saw the flash of a sword in his direction. It was so fast he didn't even have a chance to respond. When he followed the line of the sword up and away from his throat, he swallowed at the dangerous expression in the sharp green eyes staring back at him.

"Captain, if you value that rock that sits on top of your shoulders, I suggest you keep your eyes off my ass."

After the shock had passed, a slow smile broke out on Josh's face. "But it's such a nice ass."

She lowered her sword and shook her head. "Give it up, Josh. You still can't watch."

"You can't blame a man for trying."

They shared a smile as Olivia ducked her head through the door leading to the cabin.

The small island nation of San Cristobel was nestled in a far eastern corner of the West Indies, but was in the direct trading paths between the Caribbean and the open Atlantic heading back to Spain and the rest of Europe. For the residents of the island, this was both a blessing and a curse. The continuous traffic from influential traders and politicians ensured a prosperous economy, but the lucrative influx of gold and goods also created fertile grounds for piracy. In spite of its prosperity, San Cristobel also boasted some of the highest levels of crime in the Caribbean. Palatial homes of the wealthy colonists stood in stark contrast to the urine and vomit-stained alleys leading to the seedy and hidden bars frequented by pirates and criminals.

It was to one of these many locales that Olivia, Dinah, and Josh were headed. Most of their combined crew had spread out over the island for a little rest and relaxation, while others had stayed behind to keep the ship secured and work on repairs. Eventually, they would trade off so all the men had a chance to get off the ship.

The wooden door Josh and the two women now stood in front of was barely noticeable even from just a few feet away. There was no sign to give a name or location and no markers signifying a business existed there. But after three quick knocks followed by a bird's call, and suddenly lantern light and raucous music poured into the dank alley.

A burly man, who was probably a foot taller than Josh and about three times his size, pulled the door open to the visitors. The guard had no neck, no teeth, and no hair. However, what he lacked in those areas, he made up for in muscles. There literally wasn't a spot visible that didn't look like it was chiseled from rock. A nasty scar ran from his left ear to his mouth. The man's attempted smile looked more like a pained grimace.

"Aye, Cap'n Lewis, it's been a mighty long time since we seen ye 'round these parts! What brings ye here?"

Josh smiled back and clapped the large man on the shoulder. "Aye, Paulo, it's good to see you, my friend! And what else could bring me back, huh?"

The big man laughed. "Yer lass is in the cellar checkin' the stock." He looked over Josh's shoulder at the two beautiful women. "Or will ye be needin' her now?"

"Now, Paulo, don't be so crass. You were dead drunk the last time we came through, so you don't remember them. This is Captain Olivia Spencer and her quartermaster Dinah Marler."

Paulo's black eyes grew as big as saucers. "The Captain Spencer?"

Olivia smirked at him. "The one and only."

He stepped aside. "Pleasure to make, er…remake, yer acquaintance, Cap'n. Please, come in."

The inside of the bar was much larger than the outside made it seem, and men were in every corner and on every chair carousing with the barmaids, grabbing at their skirts and making lascivious sounds. A band played on a stage in a far corner for the burlesque dancers. Even the ugliest men were getting attention from one or more women, but when the handsome pirate and his beautiful companions entered, all eyes were on them. Some of the women jealously watched Olivia and Dinah, pulling on their men a little tighter, but several gave the pirate women interested and lingering looks.

When they got to the bar, Josh pounded the bar. "Hey, barkeep, get yer lazy ass a movin' and get me an ale!"

A middle-aged man with a receding hair line and a scruffy, unshaven face spun at the belligerent voice. His angry look quickly transformed when he saw the man in front of him. With a speed not indicative of his age, the older man ran around the bar and hugged Josh.

"Josh! It's been so long! How are you, buddy?"

Josh pulled back and gave the man a friendly slap on the shoulder. "I'm good, Buzz. Real good. And you?"

"Just laying low and trying to stay out of trouble, but your girl is making it hard. She runs this place too well and everyone comes here." He leaned closer whispering, scrubbing at the stubble on his chin worriedly, "I'm really afraid word will get to the wrong people."

The captain nodded. "Reva knows what she's doing. I'm sure she'll take care of you. And she's not my girl."

Buzz cocked his eyebrow at him. "Coulda fooled me!" He looked past Josh. "I see you brought the troublemakers with you again."

In her defense, Olivia threw up her hands. "Hey, I didn't know that woman had a husband."

Dinah remembered the incident too well. Olivia had been falling down drunk on whiskey and had hit on every woman in the bar. She muttered under her breath, "You shouldn't have been messing around anyway."

Olivia jerked around to look at the blonde and her mouth fell open. "She kissed me, not the other way around."

"And I'm sure she forced you to end up half-naked in her lap too."

Olivia faltered as a vague memory of the night came back. "Uh…"

"Yeah, that's what I thought." Dinah quickly decided to drop it before they got into a full-blown fight. She smiled at Buzz. "It's good to see you again, Buzz."

He leaned over and gave the blonde a kiss on the cheek, all the while keeping a leery eye on the woman at her side. "Same here."

A loud crash and screaming was heard echoing up from the cellar behind the bar. Eventually, a stout man struggled up the stairs with a keg over his shoulder and Reva hot on his heels. "Do me a favor, Stump, and try not to drop that keg too!"

The short blonde woman immediately saw Josh on the other side of the bar, and her demeanor flipped on a dime. "Josh?"

"Hi, Reva."

Tears came to the woman's eyes and she came around the bar. She went to hug him, but drew up short. No matter what she did though, she couldn't hide the look in her eyes. "It's good to see you."

Josh shyly looked down at his feet. "You too."

Olivia leaned forward a little towards his ear, unable to resist the temptation. "Get a room."

Reva glared at Olivia, and Buzz was sure he could hear the grinding of Reva's teeth. He quickly decided the safest place was back behind the bar and hustled to hide there.

"Oh, look, you brought back the Whore of Babylon. You only tore down half my bar last time. Thought you'd come back and finish it off?" Reva smirked and crossed her arms.

Olivia practically growled, "From the looks of it, I could just leave it to the rats to take care of."

A long moment of silence passed between the two women. With her arms still crossed, Reva stepped up to Olivia, cocking an eyebrow and looking her up and down slowly.

A look of joking resignation with a hint of a smirk colored the stout blonde's features. "Eh, at least you give my girls some gold for providing entertainment. I guess you can stick around."

Olivia tried to hold the cold look on her face but couldn't do it. She let out a loud laugh and slapped the other woman on the shoulder. "I missed you too, Reva!"


Chapter 4

Natalia lay on her large feather mattress and stared up at the ceiling, sighing softly as sleep continued to elude her. It was surprising how quickly time was flying and she could hardly believe that she would soon be completely packed and aboard one of the fastest ships back to her beloved islands.

Although it had been over a year since she left home, Natalia could almost see the swaying palm trees and feel the warm tropical breeze against her skin. The sound, sun and surf of the Caribbean were all wrapped up into what home meant to her and she couldn't wait to go back. It didn't even matter that much that she would be on a different island, as San Cristobel was only a few days sail from her parent's home on Roca de Dolor. And for that small mercy, Natalia was grateful.

Rolling to her stomach, she stretched out and reached into her nightstand drawer, pulling out the latest letter she had received from her betrothed. Settling back under her covers, she slid the paper out of the envelope and opened the letter. Captain Frank Cooper's handwriting was neat and bold, the strong script easy to read and his flair with words made it easy for her to visualize his adventures. She could almost picture him standing on board his frigate, the Widow Maker, dark hair tucked under his captain's hat, cutting a dashing form in his crisp Navy uniform, spyglass raised to one eye scanning the horizon as his faithful crew set sail, ready to chase scurvy pirates across the seven seas.

Always up for a good bit of gossip, Captain Cooper's latest escapades were currently making the rounds at the royal court. The tale of how he had finally sent the wretched Terror of San Cristobel to a watery grave, recovered untold stolen riches from the belly of the pirate's ship, and had finally set the galleon on fire. Its burnt husk was left to sit wrecked on a nearby reef, as a warning to pirates everywhere.

Natalia smiled as she reread his words. It was the third letter she had received from him in the month since her father's letter informing her of their impeding nuptials and he told a more modest rendition of the story to her himself. She slowly folded the letter back into its envelope, inhaling the faint scent of ink and salt as she pressed it to her lips in thought. He seemed nice; she only hoped that he would be as pleasant in person.

Deep down, she had always secretly hoped to be swept off her feet. She had longed to be wined and dined, romanced within an inch of her life, before riding off into the sunset together. The realist inside however had scoffed, recognizing that as simply a child's fantasy, and yet, here she was about to marry a ship's captain.

Natalia shook her head and laughed softly to herself.

"Don't get your romantic hopes up, silly…" she murmured, breaking the silence of the night. Still a part of her wondered about her future husband and his exciting life at sea.

Blinking sleepily, Natalia tucked the Captain's letters back into the nightstand drawer and slid deep down under her covers once more. She really needed to get some sleep. Tomorrow was going to be a big day. She had discovered that the newly appointed governor of San Cristobel would be attending the royal ball. She figured it would be her opportunity to cultivate a good relationship with the man who would essentially be her husband's boss, something that could be very helpful in the future.

Natalia yawned and tucked the blanket a little tighter under her chin. Her let her mind drift once again to images of a tall ship, sailing into the sunset, a warm body pressed tight behind her as strong arms wrapped around her waist, keeping her safe. Peace surrounded her and she drifted happily to sleep.

The grand ballroom of the royal palace was ablaze with light and the happy sounds of partygoers enjoying themselves. Musicians sat in one corner of the room, playing the latest sonatas, the delicate notes coming from their harpsichords, violins and flutes filling the large space effortlessly. The many guests mingled and gossiped together, wine flowing and jewelry sparkling, their silk dresses and luxurious finery on full display. It was a spectacular event.

And Natalia was incredibly bored.

She had come to hate these showy parties, with the garish display of wealth and riches. However, the Queen had commanded that all her ladies-in-waiting attend this evening. It was the expected and proper thing to do after all, to welcome the diplomats and dignitaries from other rival nations and potential allies of Spain. At the same time, these events were organized to give a proper farewell and send off to the newly appointed colony governors and brave officers of the King's navy. The Queen was quite savvy, and knew having the most attractive and entertaining ladies of her court in attendance would brighten any of these political functions and make the evening pass faster.

Not fast enough, unfortunately.

"Natalia?" A familiar voice rose above the general din of the crowd, catching her attention with its whiney pitch. "Is that you? It is!"

"Great." Natalia murmured under her breath. Unable to make a graceful escape, she took another sip of her punch, suddenly wishing that she had opted for the sweet red wine instead, and turned to face the pinched features of one of her least favorite ladies of the court.

"Marina!" Natalia plastered on her best fake smile and desperately scanned for a way to disappear from the woman's clutches. "I didn't see you there."

"I was sure I saw you by the hors d'oeuvres tray earlier, but I thought to myself, surely it wasn't you devouring all those delicious tiny morsels. You're watching your figure for your wedding after all. You wouldn't be able to fit into your gown at that rate." Marina cackled, as Natalia sighed and rolled her eyes.

"Is that my wife's laughter I hear?" A welcome voice said from behind her. Natalia's smile turned genuine as a tall familiar man appeared beside her, took her hand and kissed the back of it softly.

"Lord Mallet, a pleasure as always." Natalia sipped her punch as Marina shifted slightly and gave her a suspicious look.

"I hear you are leaving us for the wilds of the Caribbean again. What a shame." Mallet slipped an arm around his wife's waist, calming her ruffled feathers. "However, Captain Cooper is a very lucky man."

Natalia ducked her head shyly and smiled. Out of the corner of her eye she caught a glimpse of who she had been hoping to see all evening. Perhaps being trapped here with Marina was to her advantage after all.

Mallet followed her gaze and quickly recognized the newly appointed governor to San Cristobel standing with his son, a famous naval captain in his own right. He smiled, his eyes narrowing slightly as he noted her interest, before glancing down at his clueless wife who was busily readjusting her dress. Natalia was fascinated by the older man; Mallet could almost hear the wheels turning in the girl's mind. She had learned well the world of politics here in the King's court.

"Have you met Governor Spaulding yet?" Mallet murmured to the distracted woman, hoping his wife had the good sense to stay silent for a moment. He loved the woman but sometimes she drove him insane.

"No, not yet." Natalia turned, shaking her head.

"Well then, allow me to introduce you." Mallet took his wife's arm and started leading the way through the crowd towards the two chatting men.

"My ship sails at dawn, father." Captain Philip Spaulding murmured quietly as he stood to the right of the older man, idly swirling his goblet of wine. He hated the arrogant man, but he was smart enough to know that he was tied to his father not only by blood but by fortune as well, whether he liked it or not. However, Philip was a patient man and would simply bide his time. And if all went well, this latest caper might be the one to finally set him free, if he played his cards right.

"On schedule for a change. Good." Alan sniffed. He took a drink and stared hard at his son, knowing that there was no one else in this room he trusted more, and yet he still worried. It had taken a lot of bribes and threats, not to mention a necessary death or two, to get himself situated for this, and he didn't want anything to ruin it now. He pulled a sealed envelope from the inside of his jacket and handed it to his son.

"Guard this with your life." Alan grumbled and watched the gleam in his son's eye grow, a smile forming on his lips at the sight. At least he knew he could trust Philip's greed to keep him in line. "If you lose it, I will kill you myself. I have worked too hard for this Philip, don't fail me. I will send word to you once I have settled in."

"Very well. I'll arrange for the crew and will be ready at the appointed time." Philip slid the envelope into his pocket and glanced up as he noticed Lord Mallet making his way towards them. "We have company."

"Lord Mallet! So good to see you again." Alan greeted the newcomers, the warmth of his smile not quite reaching his eyes. His mind quickly tried to figure out what the tall man could be up to now. Mallet and his wife were a thorn in his family's side, sticking their noses in where they didn't belong. He was just planning his polite excuse for escaping, when Alan noticed the dark beauty coming up behind the couple.

Long flowing hair, curling around narrow shoulders and such delicate features, full lips and a dainty nose was topped off by the darkest eyes Alan had ever seen staring back at him with curiosity and intelligence. This was definitely not one of the typical ladies of the court. His eyes traveled down her elegant blue gown, taking in the narrow waist and seductive curves before moving back to meet her bright smile.

"Alan, a pleasure as always. Or should I say Governor Spaulding now?" Mallet smiled, watching the silent interaction between the older man and Natalia. "How rude of me. Gentlemen, you know my wife Marina of course, and this is Natalia Rivera. I think she'll be joining you on your trip to San Cristobel in a few weeks."

"Governor Spaulding." Natalia murmured demurely. Alan raised an eyebrow and smiled before he kissed the delicate fingers, delighted as the girl blushed ever so slightly. She was delightful. His time in the Caribbean was looking up.

"She is Captain Frank Cooper's fiancée." Marina helpfully supplied.

Alan paused, looking vaguely as if he had stepped in something foul, before turning to glance at his son. Philip smiled and just shook his head. How that bumbling fool Cooper always managed to land on his feet, he would never know.

"So nice to meet you, sir." Natalia turned to look up at the other man, dashing in his naval uniform. "And you as well, Captain Spaulding. It seems we are all headed to the same part of the world shortly."

"I'm sure you will love San Cristobel, my lady." Philip smiled down at the young woman and bowed ever so slightly. "And as much as I would like to stay and visit with you all, I'm afraid I must go. My ship leaves first thing and I still have things to attend to this evening." He smoothly excused himself, subtly patting his chest where the envelope had been hidden and smirking at his father.

"Give my regards to Beth." Alan smiled secretively, his son completely oblivious. After all he would be giving his…personal regards, to his son's wife once again, as soon as Philip had finally shipped out. "Safe journey. I'll see you in San Cristobel before too long."

Philip nodded and made his way through the crowd and out into the night.

Alan turned back to stare once again at Natalia, with a little more than friendly interest. Mallet and Marina exchanged looks, both curious how Natalia would play this.

"Have you ever been to San Cristobel, my dear?" Alan asked, taking another sip of his wine, and shifting a little closer.

"No, but my family is from the neighboring island nation of Roca de Dolor." Natalia took a small step back, her eyes meeting briefly with a smirking Marina. She turned a cool gaze back to Alan, hoping to put a stop to his subtle flirting. "My father is the Governor there."

"You don't say." Alan paused before taking another drink of wine. This little one held more power than he suspected. He reassessed the situation immediately and took a more fatherly tact. "Well, I'm sure you will enjoy being closer to your family again. I know I would want that if you were my daughter."

"I am looking forward to seeing them more." Natalia didn't want to dwell on how she desperately still missed her homeland. "But San Cristobel is my future and I look forward to seeing more of you there with my husband to be."

Alan nodded pleasantly. He could almost take being trapped with Cooper for several hours at a dinner party if he could also enjoy her company. Almost.

The small group was interrupted as a server came up and handed an envelope to the new governor. Opening it, Alan grimaced and tucked the letter back into his jacket.

"I'm sorry, if you will excuse me. Nothing too serious, however, duty calls." Alan handed his goblet to the server and turned to leave. He would have to remember to thank Philip for sending him the fake note, helping him to escape from Lord Mallet before any serious questioning could begin. Alan cast a last lingering look at Natalia before departing.

His time in San Cristobel was going to be very interesting.

Natalia quickly made her own excuses and wandered away from the royal ballroom, heading upstairs where it was a little quieter, looking for somewhere to finish her drink before leaving herself. She had done her duty, satisfying her queen's wishes and had also accomplished her own goal of meeting the new governor. Hopefully she would be able to help cultivate a good relationship between Governor Spaulding and her husband.

Natalia stepped out onto a small empty balcony, a soothing melody floating up from the musicians still playing below. She ran her hand along the railing, leaning against the cool marble she stared out into the night. The fresh air felt good against her skin, cool and soothing. From here she could see the ocean, the full moon reflecting in the water below. She could almost imagine herself standing on the prow of a ship, ready for adventure and free at last.

She shook her head at such foolishness. And yet Natalia couldn't help but smile. Somewhere, out there, she knew she would find her happiness. In this she had to believe.

Natalia sighed softly and watched the moon slowly rise higher.


Chapter 5

Olivia schooled her face to show nothing. Glancing over her cards, she coolly observed the older of the two men at the table. Buzz shuffled his cards constantly and rearranged the order several times, as if doing so would improve his odds. He was done and she knew it. She didn't have to look across the table to know Josh was no better off. She could feel the steady tap of his boot heel against the grimy wood floor. It was a nervous tic and one that always gave him away. Josh always wondered how she knew he had a terrible hand, but she refused to give up her secret.

To her left was Dinah, who smirked slightly as she methodically studied her cards. The blonde woman knew exactly what Olivia was up to. They had played enough poker together for her to pick up on the clues that her captain was reading. The only two in this game with any real potential were the two of them, and it didn't matter which one won because they were in it together.

Never one for playing it safe, Olivia pushed all of her coins into the center of the table, each additional piece of silver helping to cover a piece of parchment with scratchy writing.

Josh cocked an eyebrow at seeing her go all in. He finally sighed heavily and tossed his cards down in frustration. "I fold."

Everyone glanced at Buzz. He stared back at them, wishing he was as adept at reading non-verbal cues as Olivia was, unable to tell if he still had a chance or not. He refused to be upstaged and shoved all of his coins onto the pile.

Dinah quickly shifted her eyes to Olivia and saw a brief flicker of satisfaction cross her face. She had seen that look many times before. It was the same look Olivia got whenever she stood on the prow of a ship - powerful and in complete control. Inwardly she sighed, ready for the game to end and for the two of them to be alone.

She shrugged helplessly, a glint in her eye as she caught a flicker of green dance her way. "I'm out too."

"Looks like it's just you and me, Buzz. Well?"

The grizzled man scrubbed at his stubble and thought for a moment, weighing his options. There was really nothing else he could do but jump off the ledge and hope for the best, though the prospect of losing his coin was more painful than anything else he might lose tonight.

Slowly, he laid out his hand for all to see. Two seconds passed before Olivia barked out a laugh and slammed her cards down on the table.

"Gotcha again, old man! You should know better than to go against me." Olivia swept the coins towards her and picked up the paper with both of her hands. She kissed it and laughed. "Oh, baby, I can't wait to get you out on the open sea."

Buzz hated to see his coin disappear into Olivia's pouch, but truly reveled in her excitement over getting his ship. A little over a year ago, he had officially hung up his pirate hat and left his ship a day's sail away with friends. The galleon needed some work since she had taken a hell of a beating in the last battle he had been in with her. She needed a good barnacle scraping and definitely needed new sails. He was pretty sure they had dry-rotted by now in the Caribbean heat.

Olivia knew what shape the ship was in but she didn't care though. She needed a ship so she could get back to doing what she loved. Even the short couple of weeks her crew had been landlocked on San Cristobel was starting to fray her nerves. She needed the open blue in front of her and the solidness of sturdy planks under her feet.

The grizzled man saw the mix of joy and longing in green eyes and smiled to himself. Understanding how much she yearned for the freedom of the ocean, because he knew the siren's call of it too, Buzz was happy to lose this particular part of the poker game.

Olivia stood and kissed him on the cheek. "Thank you. This is the best thing anyone's ever done for me." She slapped him on the shoulder before the moment could get too mushy. "I don't know about you all, but I need more refreshment and maybe a little entertainment. Whaddya say?"

She glanced at Dinah, who had her arms crossed. Olivia tilted her head. "Don't look at me that way. You can join in." She held the pouch up, lifting a dark eyebrow. "I have enough for all of us."

The blonde rolled her eyes at the captain, slightly annoyed but unable to resist her.

Josh pressed another piece of silver into the woman's palm. He whispered in her ear and pointed in Olivia's direction. She smiled at him, showing off two missing spaces where teeth should have been. It took all he had to keep up the façade long enough for her to turn toward his pirate friend. When she walked away, he let out the breath he had been holding and prayed she didn't smile at Olivia. He looked back at his friend, who had just taken notice of the woman approaching, and snickered a little to himself. Other than the missing teeth, the dancer was in pretty good condition considering the nature of her job. It was why he picked her in the first place. He couldn't help but continue staring as the woman lifted her long ruffled skirt and straddled Olivia's lap.

"That's not very nice."

He jerked his head around to see Dinah seated at the bar next to him. "I…um, I can explain," he stammered, hoping he wasn't getting Olivia into trouble. "It was just a joke. I'm sure she won't do anything."

Dinah stared at him for a moment, until he squirmed. "Oh, I'm sure she won't either. I know Olivia has a wild streak. It's what drew me to her."

Josh lifted his mug and took a long swig of ale. "She has that effect on people."

Dinah merely nodded and looked down into her own mug. Anyone else would have walked across the bar and decked that used-up floozy, but Dinah wasn't just anyone. She was Olivia's friend, and yet not. They were more, but not quite everything either.

Josh watched her as her dark eyebrows furrowed and her long blonde hair fell across her face. She was a striking woman in her own right and she and Olivia together made an intimidating pair, but something was off. He felt it. Like a sadness that couldn't be shaken.

"You know, I never heard the story of how you two met."

Dinah smirked a little at the not-so-subtle probing and her mind flashed to an earlier time. "Let's just say she saved me. I wasn't in a good place, and I had no options."

He regarded her silently for a moment, and when he realized she wasn't going to offer up any more details, he laid a coin down on the bar for Buzz and made to leave. Before he could fully stand, Dinah touched him on the arm and he sat back down.

"Do you ever think about getting out?" Her expression was unreadable.

"Of pirating?"

She nodded, and he smiled at her. "All the time."

Reva came out from the back at that moment and handed a dark amber bottle to Buzz. Josh glanced her way, and for a brief moment, they made eye contact. Dinah noticed the look and couldn't help but ask.

"Is that why you want out?"

Josh's smile quickly faded, and he swallowed hard. "Even if I did get out, it wouldn't matter."

"Why?" Dinah propped her chin on the palm of her hand. She was genuinely curious.

"Hey, I let you slide on telling me the details." He tried to wiggle out of the tale.

The blonde dropped her hand in exasperation and rolled her eyes. "Oh, come on! You know you want to tell someone. I'd be willing to bet no one knows but you. Am I right?"

He dropped his head and rubbed at his temples. A slight headache was starting behind his eyes. He pushed his unfinished drink away, knowing it wouldn't help the throb taking up residence in his head.

"You're halfway right. Reva knows."

Dinah raised an eyebrow and gestured for him to continue. "And?"

He slumped his shoulders, giving up the fight. "Okay, fine. You wanna know?" Dinah nodded. "She was married to my best friend, Jeffrey. The three of us were childhood friends, and they had been together as long as I could remember. One day we were working, and he told me that he wanted to marry her. He asked me to be his best man, and of course, I said yes. It was the hardest thing I ever had to go through. I was already in love with her, and I even told her so the day before the wedding. The day of the wedding he asked me to look out for her and protect her, out of respect and honor to him, if anything should happen to him."

Dinah looked at him oddly. "Why would he ask you something like that? Did he think something was going to happen to him?"

"He joined the Royal Navy." Josh grabbed for his discarded drink and finished it off. He waved Buzz over and asked for some whiskey. When Buzz poured a finger of the dark liquid in a tumbler, Josh reached over and took the bottle from Buzz's hand. He turned it up, taking a healthy swallow, and felt the burn in his gut. "I remember thinking…no, wishing, he'd just not come back. You know, maybe he'd just find another girl in another port and not come back. For months no one heard from him, and I thought I had gotten my wish. Then Reva got a letter from the King. Very formal and official, notifying her of Jeffrey's death."

Dinah watched with sad eyes as he took another long pull from the bottle. "Does she love you too?" He nodded. "I don't understand then. What's the problem?"

He looked at her, blinking hard to clear his already foggy vision. "The problem is that I made a promise to my best friend. The problem is that I wished him away so I could have his girl. The problem is…I don't deserve her. All I am is a dirty pirate. I'm no good for her and certainly won't get her out of this." He waved his hand in the air, his gesture encompassing the whole bar. "She deserves something better."

"I think you're drunk." She smiled at him empathetically.

He shrugged. "Maybe a little. All I know is a life of pirating is no life for making love work. We don't get the dream."

Dinah started to counter his claim when the door to the bar flew open. Everyone jumped, thinking it was the Royal Guard raiding again. Instead, it was a young boy, no more than twelve, with a tattered shirt and pants two sizes too big for him. He waved a rolled-up document in his hand and took it to Reva. Buzz flung his bar rag over his shoulder and stood behind her, waiting as she unrolled the paper, to read it over her shoulder.

Olivia had extricated herself from the overly friendly woman and made her way to Dinah and Josh. "What's going on?"

Both shrugged at the inquiry. Reva turned to look at Buzz, worry creasing their features. Everyone sat silently, waiting for her to say something. She noticed everyone staring and she glared at the room, her jaw clenching.

"What the hell are you lazy scoundrels looking at? You waiting for the Second Coming? Buy a drink or be gone!" Slowly, the patrons turned back to their drinks. Reva waved her hand at the band, urging them to play louder.

When the music picked up, she walked over to the bar and stood across from Olivia, Josh, and Dinah. She handed over the parchment. A few seconds passed as they read the document. Josh suddenly slammed his hand down on the bar, making several glasses fall off the counter and shatter on the hardwood floor.

Reva reached her hand out and touched his. "It'll be okay."

Josh shook his head at her. "A new governor means new laws. Tougher laws to make an example of criminals. I've heard about this guy, Reva. He's ruthless."

The woman smirked knowingly at him. "And you doubt that I am? Don't you worry about me."

"It's my job." He murmured under his breath.

Dinah glanced at Olivia, who had been mostly silent and apparently unmoved by the situation. "What do you think?"

Glittering eyes turned to Dinah. Olivia smiled but it didn't seem happy or sincere. It didn't reach her eyes and Dinah felt a rush of foreboding fill her. She was surprised to find that in spite of that the fierce look of determination on Olivia's face had her alarmingly turned on. "I think we have a ship we need to get ready to sail."

"Then I guess we need to get our rest so we can start out early." The blonde tried to sound casual, but Olivia read the cues of her body – the faster breathing, the inability to break eye contact, and the voice dropping slightly lower than usual. It set Olivia's blood to racing. She grabbed Dinah's hand, quickly bid the other's goodnight, and pulled her up the stairs to their rented room.

When the door slammed closed behind them, Olivia kissed Dinah hard and pushed her back against the bed. They tumbled backwards onto the bed with Olivia on top. Dinah truly loved it when Olivia was like this. It was frightening and exhilarating all at the same time. They struggled to get their sword holsters off. An injury at this point would not be good!

Both of them frantically pulled at shirts and buttons as they kissed. Once their shirts were off, Olivia forced Dinah's hands over her head and nuzzled at the soft skin between her breasts. The tender caress was quickly forgotten as she took a hardened nipple into her mouth, sucking greedily until Dinah's hips rolled desperately against her.

Olivia broke away from the breast, staring down into hungry eyes. She pinned both of Dinah's wrists in one hand. She knew the blonde could have easily broken away, but she knew Dinah liked it this way. They both did. So she played along, letting herself get swept away in the sensations.

Olivia kissed her, a little slower but no less passionate. In fact, the torturously slow pace only made the blonde roll her hips more to seek out the needed contact. She grazed her lips down Dinah's chin to nip at her pulse point, feeling the strong and steady throb of blood pumping through the body beneath her.

"You like this, don't you?" Dinah could only let out a strangled growl in response. "I'll take that as a yes." She worked her way back down Dinah's chest to the dusky rose nipple, hardened and ready for her. She gently traced her tongue around it, increasing the pressure slightly as she continued to tease.

Dinah strained at the restraining hand against her wrists. "Damn it, Olivia. Just do it."

Olivia smiled and flicked the nipple with her tongue. "Do what?"

Dinah dropped her head back in frustration, then looked at Olivia. "Just…take me. Please." When Olivia undid her belt and slipped her hand between her legs, she sighed in pleasure.

Dinah wasn't the kind of woman to beg. Not many people - actually no one but Olivia - had ever had the pleasure of making her beg for sex. As Dinah rode the steady thrusts of Olivia's hand, she wondered if she should feel good or bad about being so open and vulnerable with Olivia. But she forgot all that when she looked up and saw the gentle green eyes of her friend. She closed her eyes again, letting herself feel the connection and the trust between them. Any thoughts of another life, free of stealing and fighting, disappeared in Olivia's arms.

Two long weeks of hard work, and it was finally finished. With the help of Josh and his crew, Olivia stood on her new ship, The Devil's Beacon. Raucous cheers from her crew went up as the anchor was lifted and the sails were unfurled in all their glory. Standing on the deck of her ship, she felt a sense of peace wash over her. This was her home. This was where she belonged. And no one was going to ever take it from her again.


Chapter 6

Natalia Rivera stood on the deck of the good ship The Queen's Bounty, the wind whipping her dark hair around her shoulders and causing the sails to snap and billow high above her head. At the top of the crow's nest flew the Spanish flag, proudly flying against the bright blue sky. She inhaled deeply, the salty air fresh in her lungs and smiled.

Freedom, at last.

Natalia knew that it would be short-lived freedom, but she couldn't stop her heart from soaring, practically beating in time with the crashing waves against the hull. They were still three days away from San Cristobel, and her new life, but somehow from the moment she had stepped aboard, she had sensed that this was the beginning of a grand adventure.

That had been two weeks ago. Natalia ran a hand through her hair and leaned forward against the smooth wooden rail, watching the water rush past. And as much as she enjoyed the time on the ship, it had also been two long weeks trapped making small talk with Governor Spaulding and the other passengers on their way to the Caribbean island colony. She had tried to escape to the main deck as much as possible, speaking with the crew and even trying to figure out how she could scamper up to the crow's nest for a peek of the ship from that height. Maybe if she slipped out at night…

Natalia sighed, as reality hit her. It was unlikely she'd ever get the chance, and once she was married and raising her family… well, that would be more important. She shook her head and tried to refocus on what her new life would be like.

Before she had departed, Natalia had done some discreet research on her new homeland. She had heard the grumblings in the royal court that San Cristobel had been of great concern to the King lately. The rumor was that the colony had been considering breaking free of the Spanish empire and declaring independence.

Suddenly the appointment of Governor Alan Spaulding had made sense to Natalia. The man had a reputation for being a strong defender of the King and his rules. He would handily enforce the King's laws and had been obviously sent in to clean up any rebel rousing happening. And her fiancé Frank and the royal navy were already working hard at cleaning up the pirate situation.

It was going to be an exciting time to live on San Cristobel. Natalia smiled to herself. There was still plenty of time to enjoy her time at sea though.

"Pardon, Miss Rivera." Lieutenant Shayne Lewis tipped his hat and smiled warmly at the woman. "The Captain has asked all our passengers to join him for dinner this evening at his table."

Natalia rolled her eyes, dreading being stuck beside one of the many annoying people taking this trip with her. Shayne's lip quirked and he leaned towards her conspiratorially.

"I could arrange the Governor be seated next to old lady Reardon; you know Bea never stops talking about her seven kids and that crazy boarding house of hers…" Shayne smiled warmly. He had seen the Governor practically chasing the young woman around the ship and felt bad for her.

Natalia laughed, having endured Bea's chatty company over several different occasions herself. It would drive the Governor insane. It was perfect! She had liked the Lieutenant the moment she met him, his warm eyes and slightly scruffy good looks making an impression with her. His demeanor with the passengers during their entire voyage had been gentlemanly and yet she had seen him rough housing with the men. Natalia only hoped that Frank was like this while he was at sea with his crew.

"Thanks Lieutenant." She laid a dainty hand on his arm and smiled up at him.

"Please, as I've told you before miss, it's Shayne." He smiled roguishly and patted her fingers. Not for the first time he thought it was a shame she was already spoken for.

A horn suddenly sounded high above their heads, coming from the crow's nest.

"Pirates!! To the starboard!!" A panicked voice from above called out.

Shayne and Natalia quickly scanned the horizon. They spotted it soon enough, coming from the North. Fast. It was definitely another ship and it was headed straight for them, the black skull and cross bone flag just now becoming visible to the naked eye. A cold knot of fear burned in Natalia's stomach and she swallowed hard. This was not good.

"Damn it." Shayne glanced at Natalia. She was definitely in danger if they were boarded. She was the most beautiful woman on the ship and she was the fiancée of one of the most hated men in the fleet. Being kidnapped by a pirate could be a fate worse than death for the girl.

"What's happening, Shayne?" Natalia watched as the large ship bore down on them, the crew of The Queen's Bounty scrambling to take protective measures and preparing to defend themselves at all cost.

"You need to get below decks, Natalia. It's not safe." Shayne ran a hand through his short blonde hair and knew he had to act fast. "Follow me. Quickly."

Shayne grabbed her hand and led her down the ladder into the bowels of the ship. Passengers rarely ventured into this part of the ship, and as Natalia landed at the bottom of the ladder she looked around at the cramped conditions of what apparently were the crew's quarters. Shayne pulled her along behind him, winding his way through narrow passages until coming to a locked door. Pulling out a large key, he opened the door and looked around the large room.

"Where are we?" Natalia's eyes slowly started adjusting to the dim light in the space.

"It's the hold of the ship. If we're boarded it will be the most protected area of the ship." Shayne looked around the room and spied a large trunk with a lock on it. Perfect for what he had in mind. "Cover your eyes, miss."

Shayne kicked the lock hard with the heel of his boot, popping the lock open handily. Lifting the lid he saw the gold engraved name of Spaulding. He smiled, knowing that this would be made of the highest quality wood and leather. And it looked relatively roomy.

"Climb inside and don't come out until you hear that horn blast two long tones. That's the signal for all clear. If you hear two short followed by two long blasts, that's abandon ship, and you should make your way up that long ladder." Shayne pointed to the ladder on the far wall of the room that went up to a hatch on the ceiling. "Here is the key for the access door."

Shayne glanced up, hearing cannon fire starting above their heads. He needed to be topside.

"I'll return for you myself, once we have blasted these thieves to kingdom come." Shayne smiled at the scared woman. "Hop in. I'll carefully close it and then just wait it out."

Natalia nodded and stepped into the large trunk, bending and sitting down. Sliding her bottom forward, she was able to lay down with her knees bent but not quite touching the lid as Shayne lowered it. She heard the rattle of the lock being slid into place but not clicked shut.

Shayne carefully made sure the lock didn't close and was confident that with a good push from inside Natalia would be able to free herself. He thumped the lid of the trunk twice in farewell and headed back out of the hold.

It was time to send some scurvy dogs down to Davey Jones' locker…

The Devil's Beacon was yar, easy to handle and quick to the helm. And by God, was she fast. She was by far the fastest ship Captain Olivia Spencer had ever had the privilege of serving on, let alone own. Olivia smirked to herself. She always did have a soft spot for fast women.

She stared up at the full sails, watching the favorable winds pushing them ever forward. This was the part she loved most, enjoying the thrill of the chase, hunting for elusive ships laden with royal treasures, just waiting for her to take by her wits and her sword. Olivia watched the Spanish ship trying to escape and shook her head. It was futile to resist, and it rarely ended well for her prey.

"Bring her 'round to the port, Dinah." Olivia pulled her spyglass out and scanned the decks. Typical contingent of cannons and men for a frigate but the ship was sitting low in the water, the hold probably filled to the brim. She was definitely a reasonable target then. She snapped the small brass telescope closed, collapsing it so it would easily slide onto her belt.

"Aye, Cap'n." Dinah spun the wheel and the ship moved almost instantly. The Devil's Beacon was so responsive, rather like her owner. Dinah's lip twitched at the naughty thoughts that ran through her mind at that and then she sighed longingly before getting back down to business.

"Get ready with the grappling hooks men!" Olivia called down to her crew, knowing her boys were anxious to get on with the attack. She all but ignored the volley of cannon fire being blasted back and forth between both ships. She turned back to her quartermaster and smiled. "See you on the other side!"

Olivia winked and then dashed down the stairs to the main deck, her sword raised high. Dropping it quickly she signaled the men to toss the hooks across the scant distance to the other ship, the sharp metal points biting deeply into The Queen's Bounty's guardrail and deck. The burley men quickly pulled on the thick ropes, pulling the two ships side by side with a slightly unnerving bump and scrape of lumber and then latching them together for easier boarding.

"Move you dogs!" Olivia bellowed, grabbing one of the ropes from her own ship's sails and swinging across to the other ship. "Attack!"

Shayne barreled down the narrow passage, through the brig and into the crew quarters, before scrambling back up the ladder to the top deck. Poking his head up out of the hatch, he ducked back down just as two men went rolling over the opening and past him.

More carefully this time, he peered out. Their ship was already crawling with pirates. Sliding his sword from its scabbard, Shayne rolled out onto the deck, dodging the falling body of a fellow mate and the boot of a marauding pirate as it came crashing down just missing his family jewels.

Pushing backwards and somersaulting to his feet, Shayne lunged and brought the hilt of his sword down on the pirate's thick skull, knocking him unconscious. He had no time to enjoy his victory as two more quickly headed for him, their swords raised. Glancing around he saw mass confusion as the battle raged around him. He could just make out a pirate woman making her way up to the command deck, sword raised, honey blonde hair flowing behind. It couldn't be…

"The Terror of San Cristobel!" Shayne couldn't believe his eyes. She was supposed to be dead! Damn Frank Cooper and his lies. He looked back around at the advancing pirates and knew they were all doomed.

Shayne straightened his shoulders and grimly made his way into the fray.

Olivia loved the sound of swords crashing together, blades sparking and rattling against each other. The burn that traveled along the muscles of the arm as you fought for dominance over the enemy. As you battled for your very life.

It was exhilarating.

The captain of The Queen's Bounty was an excellent swordsman, but even he was no match for Olivia. And if it wasn't for the angry slash cut into her shoulder by the man, she would almost feel bad about skewering the talented man through the gut.


As he dropped to the planks in a bloody heap, Olivia stepped over the body and made her way towards what he was protecting with his life, the passenger quarters.

Natalia heard the cannons blast almost non-stop for several minutes and then she felt the ship lurch. A loud creaking sound caught her attention, as if the ship was grinding against something and then she realized it was probably the enemy ship. Natalia bit her lip and seriously considered pushing the lid up and running out, but she calmed down and listened for the horn blasts that Shayne had mentioned.

Soon there was only silence except for feet running back and forth. Finally she heard the screams of terror and the sounds of a vicious hand-to-hand battle being waged far above. Natalia chewed her thumbnail and tried very hard not to cry. She needed to be strong and to do something, anything, to take her mind off of what was happening around her. So she did the only thing she could think of to help.

Natalia quietly started to pray.

Sighing, Natalia eventually tucked her rosary back into the waistband of her skirt and shifted, trying to stretch a little. Curiosity finally got the better of her and she decided to explore around her tight confines. Beneath her was fine men's clothing and a blade. Natalia ran her fingers along the cool metal, deciding that the sword was probably something ceremonial. However it had been poking her in the behind and she realized that she might just need it to defend herself. She carefully moved it to the side, within easy reach.

Above her was the slightly curved lid of the trunk. Natalia's eyes could just make out something in the darkness, and her fingers found some paper tucked tightly behind a tear in the linen that was lining the lid. Pulling on the parchment, it came out easily and she unfolded it.

Natalia's eyes widened as she realized what was in her hands…

Shayne felt his butt hit the guardrail and he knew there was no where for him to go. Pushing against the pirate's sword as hard as he could, he was able to quickly slash downwards, cutting the huge man in the stomach. The howl of pain was followed by a grunt as Shayne sat on the rail and brought his feet up to kick the man in the stomach, sending the pirate to the deck in agony.

Pausing a moment to catch his breath, Shayne could tell that the battle was ending, and his side was not winning. Smoke billowed in thick clouds across the decks of both ships, but it was plain to see that there were more pirates than crew standing. He glanced up to see how his captain and the command crew were faring and didn't even notice the body swinging past behind him.

Dinah had missed most of the battle, needing to secure the ships so they didn't crash and grind together too much and to keep an eye out for any passing patrol ships, but she was determined to knock a few Spanish sailors around. Grabbing a thick rope, she had swung across to the other ship, her sword at the ready.

With the smoke billowing it was hard to scout out a safe place to land, and as Dinah started to swing back around towards her own ship again, it was obvious that she'd have to just improvise. The huge lump of a man just standing in front of the rail looked like a perfect solution.

Shayne didn't know what hit him.

Out of the smoke appeared a blonde demon, bright green eyes flashing, flying towards him. The heels of her thigh high black leather boots hit him solidly in the head and he knew no more.

Dinah watched the man fly over the rail from the impact and land across on the deck of the pirate ship. She shook her head and simply laughed as she landed gracefully on the deck of The Queen's Bounty.

"Thanks for the soft landing, buddy!" Dinah grinned, and turned to wade into the last few pockets of fighting.

It didn't take long to finish the ship off. Once their captain had been taken care of, the wind had quickly gone out of the rest of his crew.

Lined up on deck, Governor Alan Spaulding stood quietly with the other passengers, trying hard not to say much. He was confident no one would point out who he was to these scoundrels. Inside though, he was seething at the audacity of these cutthroat thieves.

He knew who the captain was before he even heard a scared crew mutter her name. The Terror of San Cristobel was certainly not dead. In fact the woman was standing in front of him, calmly commanding her men to raid and strip their ship of all her riches.

This only proved to Alan that he was desperately needed to bring order to this backwater world. Now he even had personal first hand experience of being a victim of these dirty vultures. How dare any of these criminals do this to decent innocent travelers?

Alan vowed right then that Captain Spencer and all of her filthy pirate brethren would pay for this outrage, with their lives.

So help him God. And the fiery cannons of the Royal Navy.

He watched as Olivia paced in front of the quiet group of wealthy men and women, her bloody sword kept at the ready, clutched in her hand. Behind her was a mound of swords, tossed there by the defeated sailors who had surrendered to her men.

Alan sighed and took a head count of who was standing there with him. He noticed that Natalia Rivera was missing from their group. If she was smart he hoped she was hiding somewhere safe. The beautiful girl could be a commodity for these dogs to sell into slavery. Or worse. He was brought out of his thoughts as another woman with long blonde hair dashed up the stairs and reported to their captor.

"Olivia, we're unloading the cargo to The Devil's Beacon." Dinah said quietly, curiously looking over the prisoners. "What are we doing with…?" She nodded at the group standing there, terrified.

"We'll leave them for the Navy to pick up and rescue. There is enough crew left to keep her afloat until a patrol finds them. I just have one thing to take care of first before we leave them behind." Olivia smiled. She had heard one of the passengers muttering earlier, and she had a good idea that one of their numbers was much more important than she had been led to believe. She turned back to the huddled group of passengers.

"Which one of you is the new Governor of San Cristobel?"

Alan cursed his luck and held his breath, waiting.

Natalia heard the cracking and crashing of wood planks above her head first and then the loud voices of men and women yelling and taunting each other good naturedly. It was obviously the enemy crew coming to pillage the ship of its riches. Apparently all was lost and the ship had been taken. Natalia bit her lip and tried to come up with a new plan for her escape.

It seemed like time stood still, but before long Natalia felt her trunk lifted. She felt herself sliding to one side as she imagined the trunk was being tilted and hoisted from the hold. With a solid thump the trunk landed on the deck. The lid opened a crack and she could just see what was left of the defeated crew being held at bay by the rag tag band of pirates. On the upper deck she could make out a group of passengers and a woman holding a sword talking to them.

All the passengers suddenly pointed at Alan Spaulding and he was shoved forward, landing on his knees at the woman's feet. The lid of the trunk shifted and Natalia was plunged back into darkness and jostled around as the trunk was lifted up again. With a sinking heart, she knew that she was headed to the deck of the pirate ship with the rest of the cargo from The Queen's Bounty.

Natalia knew she needed a plan, and fast.

Olivia and Dinah exchanged a smile. The passengers hadn't even hesitated about giving the new governor up. He must truly be an ass, just as all the rumours said. Olivia leaned over and grabbed the older man by his hair, forcing him to look at her.

"Remember this face, Governor Spaulding." Olivia growled. "I'm going to be your worst enemy."

Olivia shoved him away with disgust. She should just kill him now, and raised her sword slightly at the tempting thought. Dinah's hand touched her arm, catching her eye and shaking her head.

"Eddie just spied a patrol ship on the horizon. We've gotta go." Dinah murmured, seeing the murderous Terror of San Cristobel lurking behind those beautiful green eyes she knew so well. Slowly, very slowly, Olivia lowered her blade and nodded back, understanding that now was not the time for this. She turned back to the cowering man on the deck.

"We are not done." Olivia leaned closer and smiled menacingly at the flushed man. "Until we meet again, Alan." She stood to her full height and glared at him once more for good measure. She had a feeling she was going to regret not killing him when she had the chance.

Turning, she gave the signal to return to their ship and made her way back to The Devil's Beacon herself. Dinah waved a prearranged signal to Crazy Eddie keeping post up in the crow's nest, who promptly pulled out his horn and let out a blast. The pirates quickly began leaving the ship in droves and with practiced ease, soon had the two ships unhooked and separated again.

As the wind picked up The Devil's Beacon pulled away from its battered prey and turned towards the nearest pirate-friendly port. Olivia stood on the prow of her ship, spyglass raised and watched as the very distant patrol ship started to make its way towards The Queen's Bounty. Nodding, she knew the passengers and the wounded crew would be fine.

After all, she reasoned, she might be a thief and a murderer, but Olivia didn't like to see anyone suffer unnecessarily.

Olivia turned as she heard a fight break out.

She watched as a strapping young man in uniform stood toe-to-toe with three of her best men. Intrigued she moved closer to watch.

Shayne gave as good as he got, but he was sorely out numbered and he knew it. Still he gamely fought on. He had been laying unconscious behind a huge coil of rope, hidden from view of most of the pirates and had only just awoke to find himself trapped on board the pirate's ship as it sailed away from his ship. He stayed hidden as best as he could, trying to come up with a plan when he noticed that the lumbering thugs on deck not only had Spaulding's trunk but they were about to smash it open. He could only hope Natalia was no longer inside of it, but he couldn't take that chance.

With a flying tackle he took down the three huge men, beginning the fight in earnest. Soon fists were flying and for a while he held his own. And while he had succeeded in distracting the pirates, he soon started getting the stuffing beat out of him. Finally the blows ceased, and he felt himself being held in place.

Long tapered fingers threaded through his short blonde hair and quickly grabbed tight, forcing him to look up. It was her, the demon who had hit him.

"Don't kill him, lads." Dinah's lips quirked as her eyes raked down the fine specimen of a sailor. She did have a thing for men in uniform. Or women for that matter. "He may prove…useful." She slowly moistened her lips and locked eyes with the battered man.

He stood taller and stared her down.


"Dinah," Olivia appeared behind the quartermaster, putting one boot up on the trunk sitting innocently on the deck. "Where did this stowaway come from?"

"I think I recall seeing his sorry ass flying unconscious when I knocked him over the rail of The Queen's Bounty during the battle." Dinah chuckled as the man's face flushed a deeper shade of red.

"Well, he's your responsibility then." Olivia shook her head and smirked. Dinah needed a new hobby anyway. Olivia stepped back and looked at the trunk she had just been leaning on. The name Spaulding was engraved on the lid.

Shayne saw the captain's sudden interest in the trunk. He needed to think fast.

"Are you the Terror of San Cristobel? We had heard you were killed." He asked suddenly, spewing the first thing that came to mind. Anything to keep her from the trunk.

Olivia looked up and stared at the man, hard. He just calmly stared back. Her eyes narrowed approvingly. This one could definitely have potential.

"I am. And as you can see, the rumours of my demise have been greatly exaggerated." Olivia smiled and her crew surrounding them laughed.

"By that asshole, Cooper…" Dinah grumbled.

Olivia chuckled and moved around to look closer at the lock of the trunk. One good kick would knock the flimsy thing off.

Hidden deep inside, Natalia cringed. She knew Shayne had been trying to keep the vicious pirates from the trunk. Her hand found the cold metal of the blade tucked away beside her and she knew her time was just about up.

It was time to take action.

The thump of a boot hitting metal was followed by a clank as the lock was easily broken off. Time was up. Natalia pushed the lid hard, and exploded up out of the trunk with all her might.

Almost blinded by the sudden bright light and running on pure adrenalin, Natalia immediately found herself staring face-to-face with Captain Olivia Spencer. Both women blinked at each other, stunned for a moment, warm brown eyes searching intense green. The air itself seemed to crackle between them.

Natalia recovered first, swinging her blade up and pressing the sharp tip tight against the tender skin of the pirate's throat. She swallowed hard as every able-bodied man and woman aboard the ship drew their sword and waited.

Olivia simply raised an eyebrow and smirked, staring down the little spitfire standing in front of her.

"Well, it appears we've found a hidden treasure..."


Chapter 7

Olivia raised an eyebrow as she eyed the dark-haired beauty with a sword at her throat. Rich caramel eyes framed by olive skin and long, curling black hair over bare shoulders was the first asset Olivia noticed. Her appreciative eyes drifted lower to the ample cleavage shown off by the tight, off-the-shoulder white blouse and round hips were accentuated by a full, flowing skirt. For a moment, Olivia let herself imagine what the Latin beauty would look like without the encumbrance of the heavy material. She couldn't stop the leer from showing.

Natalia swallowed self-consciously as the captain's eyes roamed with obvious intent down her body. She held the sword in her hand steady, but as the fierce green eyes burned into her, she noticed the slight pressure as Olivia Spencer leaned against the cold metal. Natalia's stomach flipped. She had taken the only path out of this situation possible, but now she was stuck on a course of action. It didn't help that her heart was racing in her chest, and it had nothing to do with the rush of adrenaline in her system. It only seemed to speed up when her eyes made contact with the fiery green ones a few feet away, so she made a conscious effort to look anywhere but at the captain.

She scrambled through her mind for a piece of leverage - something that would keep her and Shayne from getting hurt. She found the perfect distraction away from the captain's intense stare – the eyes of the young man who had tried to protect her. A tall blonde woman stood behind his right shoulder holding a pistol to his head, and based on the bruises and bleeding, he looked like he was in no position to defend himself either.

The brunette pushed back with her sword to emphasize her words. "If you hurt him, I'll kill you."

The other woman's smirk and the teasing low register of her voice unnerved Natalia. "Oh, really. How do you plan to do that when you're clearly outnumbered?"

Natalia studied the crowd surrounding them then focused back on the captain. "A duel."

Olivia chuckled and she looked the woman up and down again. "You can't be serious."

Olivia tilted her head in surprise as the brunette stepped back a couple of paces, lowered the sword to her skirt, and cut a slit down the front to allow for better movement. For a split second, Olivia was distracted by the flash of long tan legs as they kicked free of the material. It was just long enough for Natalia to flip her sword and catch her bare forearm. "Deadly. Now draw your sword, Captain."

The green eyes darkened and narrowed at Natalia, and the dark-haired woman braced herself for the imminent attack. She dropped her right leg back and got into a defensive stance. "Here's the deal, Captain. I best you, and you let us go."

Olivia slowly pulled her sword and maneuvered to Natalia's weak left side. "And if I best you? It would be such a pity to kill you. You are…very pretty."

The way the captain slowly smiled at Natalia was predatory with a hint of flirtation causing Natalia to forget momentarily the other half of her negotiation.

Shayne finally spoke up, drawing her out of her trance. "Don't do this."

Natalia shifted, following Olivia's movements to her left. "At least let him go. Keep me. I'm more valuable to you."

"Please, don't." Shayne pleaded.

Olivia raised a curious eyebrow. "And exactly what makes you valuable?"

"You'll have to win the duel to find out." Natalia took advantage of the captain's relaxed composure and dove forward with her sword.

Olivia slipped to her right and blocked the advancing sword with a flick of her own. Natalia moved back to her original defensive posture, flipping the sword to her left hand, and blocked an arching swing from Olivia. Natalia used the motion of her sword to lift Olivia's over her head and slide under so when she moved back into position she was slightly behind the captain.

Olivia was impressed and turned smiling. "Good move. I admit, you surprise me."

Natalia shrugged. "There's more where that came from."

"I just bet there is." The blonde nonchalantly moved around in front of Natalia, taunting and coaxing her to make a move. She motioned to her with one finger. "Here, kitty, kitty."

Brown eyes narrowed at Olivia, and the blonde chuckled to herself to find a weakness in her opponent so quickly. The teasing pushed just the right button with Natalia and she came forcefully at Olivia, swinging her sword in front of her in a series of complicated flips, spins, and parries. Olivia found it difficult to keep up at times, but the rush of the challenge was thrilling. Very few had ever truly put her to a test, but this one was different.

The crew on the deck adjusted and made room for the two women to fight. For every perfect offensive move Olivia had, Natalia read her and blocked. Several times, Natalia tried to use her slightly shorter height to her advantage and drop her center of gravity to take out Olivia's legs, but the other woman was quick and easily jumped every low swing.

In spite of the fun of watching Olivia in action, Dinah was quickly getting bored. Neither was tiring and they were surprisingly equal in skill. It didn't take her long to realize this duel could go on for quite a while, and considering they had just attacked a royal vessel, they really needed to put their time to better use. She looked up to Crazy Eddie in the crow's nest as he leaned over observing the fun. She waved a hand to get his attention.

When he saw his quartermaster gesturing, he gave his undivided attention. The blonde took her free hand and pointed to the barrels tied up below him, pointed to the dueling women, and then ran a finger across her throat. He nodded getting the message loud and clear.

Invoking a little bit of chaos into the mix was always fun. He didn't get his nickname Crazy Eddie for nothing. He lowered himself down the rope ladder from the lookout and dangled from it only a few feet above the barrels. Watching as the women moved and judging from the positions they seemed to favor, he raised his sword, waited, then after several seconds swung it down hard onto the restraining ropes on the barrels.

With a loud bang, the barrels tumbled from the upper part of the deck to the lower area where the women struggled. Olivia had her sword raised above her head blocking a downward slice from Natalia. They were locked in a power struggle with their swords raised high above their heads.

There were only a few seconds between the first barrel hitting the deck and the women realizing they were coming for them. They barely had a chance to pull their swords safely back before the first barrel knocked Natalia off her feet and onto her back. A second stray barrel got off course and not even a second later knocked Olivia down as well. She fell forward and dropped her sword so she could break her fall. With a thud she landed on top of Natalia.

The brunette groaned as the breath was knocked out of her and Olivia grimaced as her knees and hands scrapped on the wooden boards of the deck.

When Olivia got her bearings, she grinned mischievously at the squirming woman underneath her. Natalia pushed with her hands against Olivia's chest, her voice rough as she fought to catch her breath. "Get off of me!"

Olivia couldn't resist the temptation and pushed her hips slightly into Natalia.

The air rushed from Natalia's lungs then for a completely different reason, and it made her push harder against the captain. The men on deck had started hooting their approval of the captain's behavior, and Natalia flushed red with embarrassment. When it was clear that Olivia wasn't going to move, Natalia went with the only option she had. She slipped a leg between the captain's and raised it with as much force as she could.

While it may not have been quite as effective as it would have been with a man, the movement did have the effect of shocking Olivia, and to be honest, it did kind of hurt. The blonde fell back to her knees gasping. Natalia scrambled to her feet and made sure to get out of reach.

Olivia couldn't help but laugh. "You do realize that I'm not a man."

Natalia pushed the hair out of her eyes, her chest heaving to catch her breath. "Well…then…maybe you should stop acting like one." She flung her hand out in exasperation. She had expected a lot of things when she realized she was going to be captured by pirates, but being taunted and accosted by a female captain wasn't anywhere on the list.

The captain stood back to her feet still smiling, her hands on her hips. "So, do I get to find out what makes you so valuable to me now?"

Natalia shook her head and raised her chin defiantly. "Not as long as you cheat like you just did."

"If that's how you want to play it." She looked at Dinah. "Put them in the brig."


Chapter 8

Two strong meaty hands held Natalia securely as the metal bar door to the brig was unlocked and swung open. Two other pirates tossed a battered Shayne into the cell first, and he landed in a heap on the floor with a groan.

"You're next, Miss." The older pirate holding her captive, smiled, and released her, watching Natalia carefully as she straightened her shoulders and entered the small cell. The door was slammed shut behind her and locked before the men left.

Natalia stared after them, still not quite believing how her day was going. She heard a low moan from Shayne, and she dropped down to her knees to check his injuries.

"Are you okay?" Natalia ran her hands along his arms, looking for wounds. "Did they cut you?" He hissed when she found his tender ribs, certainly badly bruised, if not broken.

"I'll be okay." Shayne ground out through clenched teeth, trying to work his way through the wave of nausea that was rolling over him. "Did she hurt you?"

Natalia laughed, a short mirthless sound.

"Hardly. Not even a scratch." Natalia noticed a bench along the back wall. "Come on, let's get you sitting up over there, and I'll take a closer look at those ribs of yours."

Together, they struggled to get him to his feet and soon had him sitting comfortably on the bench.

"Natalia, I don't think…" Shayne started as the brunette worked away at the buttons of his uniform shirt. She paused to give him a stern look, effectively silencing any argument he might have offered. Pulling his shirt open, Natalia could already see the puffy bruises forming on his stomach and chest.

And what a fine chest it was…

"Getting to know each other better I see…" Dinah smirked from the door of the cell. Her eyes drank in the toned flesh of the injured man as she totally ignored the furious dark eyes of the other woman.

Natalia quickly pulled Shayne's white shirt closed and stood, glaring at the blonde indignantly.

"He's hurt." Natalia made her way towards the door of the cell.

"Now whose fault is that?" Dinah smirked at the brunette. "Why was he protecting you, hmm? And just what makes a tiny piece of fluff like you so special anyway, besides the obvious entertainment value?" Dinah's eyes raked down the petite form, taking in the tanned leg peeking through the long slit in the woman's skirt.

And the rosary tucked into the waistband.

A religious type. Great, so much for entertainment value. Dinah would have to warn the Captain.

Natalia just glared back at the pirate. She wasn't about to address the suggestive innuendo.

"Well, Natalia, that's what he called you, isn't it?" Dinah chuckled at the look of dismay on the girl's face, knowing she had the name right. "The two of you had better make yourselves comfortable. It's a long sail to our next port, and I'm sure the Captain will want to talk with you again."

Dinah trailed her long fingers along the metal bars and then turned to leave, her thigh high black leather boots sounding loud against the planks as she headed deeper into the bowels of the ship.

"Damn." Shayne muttered. "Excuse my French, Natalia. I'm sorry; I didn't mean to reveal anything to them."

"I know. Don't worry." Natalia sighed and returned to sit beside the injured man.

How was she going to get them out of this mess?

Olivia sank down into a leather chair in her quarters and let her body finally come to rest. The cut on her shoulder was starting to itch and she needed to have it dressed properly before infection set in. But first she needed a drink.

Pulling a bottle of whiskey from out of a desk drawer, she pulled the cork out with her teeth and poured a glass full of the amber liquid. Pushing the cork back in, she slipped the bottle back into the drawer and took a deep drink.

The burning liquid made its way down to her stomach, its warmth settling there and spreading through her body, relaxing her. She stared into the depths of the glass, her mind turning and tumbling through the day's events.

Turning, inevitably, to her.

Olivia could still feel the cold press of metal against her throat, the flush of fear and pulse of excitement flooding through her, not sure if it was from the sword at her throat or from those dark eyes burning into her soul.

"Her name is Natalia." Dinah reached out and took the glass from Olivia's startled hand and took a small sip before handing it back to her. "I should have more information for you soon."

Olivia nodded, pleased, and took another drink of whiskey. She put the glass down on the desk and winced in pain. Dinah noticed and recognized the symptom.

"Let me take a look at that cut. The Captain of The Queen's Bounty got in a lucky shot."

Olivia felt strong hands tenderly peel the ragged edges of her shirt away from the injury. She dropped her head forward, closed her eyes and tried to relax. She heard steps as her water jug was retrieved from the night stand and brought back to the desk. Cool liquid poured out into the wash basin and a soft cloth dipped and then gently pressed to her wound. She sighed, momentarily letting her mind wander, imagining the brunette standing behind her, tending to her...

Olivia's head snapped up.

"Sorry, did that hurt you?" Dinah asked.

Olivia shook her head and reached for her glass again.

"I'm going to have to stitch it Olivia, it's a pretty deep gash."

Olivia sighed. It could have been much worse. The man could have easily sliced her arm off or hit her neck, ending it all for her in one fell swoop. Pain only proved that you were alive.

"Do it."

Dinah had done this many times before, but it didn't make it any easier. She went and found the needle and thread in the captain's tiny water closet, returning to find Olivia shirtless and ready for her. An oil lamp had been moved onto the desk for better light, and she had pulled over a wooden chair to straddle, hugging the backrest for support.

Dinah threaded and then dipped the needle into the alcohol and then into the flame, before turning to pierce the still oozing flesh. Olivia barely twitched.

Olivia held onto the back of the chair and tried to think of something else as the needle passed through her skin. Her mind turned first to Governor Spaulding, but that only made her angry as it punched into her skin again. She hissed at the pain, and Dinah made a sympathetic sound from behind her.

Olivia tried to focus on something pleasant, her thoughts turning to her little stowaway again. She remembered the flash of toned leg, the daring slit more than hinting at what lay beneath the skirt. She felt the thread pull tight, her skin forced back together. She glanced at the small cut on her forearm, remembering the sudden surprise of the other woman's fast sword.

"Almost done…" Dinah whispered behind her.

Olivia nodded, trying to ignore the sharp needle spearing into her again.

She physically recalled the feel of soft curves beneath her, the thrill of the fight still racing through her veins, the desire to taste those full soft lips, to hear her moan her name with want. Despite her pain, Olivia smiled.

Natalia didn't stand a chance.

"There. All done." Dinah tied a dainty knot and sliced the thread with a knife. "You should rest for a bit. Let the air at that for a while, and then I'll wrap it up tight for the night. I've got to go check that we're still on course and that we're not being followed by that damn patrol ship."

Olivia nodded and pulled her discarded shirt back on slowly.

"Thanks Dinah." Olivia ran a tender hand across the woman's cheek. She smiled sadly, not for the first time wishing she had deeper feelings for the woman. "Report back in a few hours."

Dinah nodded and headed back out to the command deck.

Olivia pulled back the silk sheets of her oversized bed and sank into the down filled mattress, rolling to her side so she wasn't laying on the fresh stitches waiting for sleep to take her. Her mind rolled back to angry dark eyes, replaying the final moments of the fight.

'You do realize that I'm not a man.'

Olivia smirked at her own sassy comeback. The girl didn't back down though. She liked that.

She liked that a lot.

Natalia pushed the hair out of her eyes, her chest heaving.

'Well…then…maybe you should stop acting like one.'

Olivia sighed. She had a point. Maybe she had been living with pirate dogs too long, forgetting the more gentlemanly ways of civilized society. She had a feeling that Natalia was different than the girls she was used to. Was she worth the effort? Just how valuable was the wench anyway?

And where the hell had she learned to use that sword so well?

Olivia's eyes fluttered shut and she slept.

"Get your grub." A warm female voice called out as Natalia and Shayne looked up to the cell door. A friendly looking woman stood there, apron around her trim waist, holding two bowls in her hands. "Come on, I don't have all day. Do you know how long it takes to get these big oafs fed?"

Natalia cautiously stepped closer and took the offered food from the impatient woman.

"Thank you." Natalia smiled sincerely. It was the first kindness they had come across on this ship. The woman nodded and smiled back, watching carefully, as if deciding whether or not to speak more. She leaned in closer and patted Natalia's arm through the iron bars.

"Don't worry. The Captain is a little scary, but she's fair." The redhead glanced over Natalia's shoulder towards the injured man sharing the cell. "I'll be back with something for his pain in a little bit."

Natalia nodded, more than a little relieved. The woman turned to leave, but glanced back pleased to see the girl sniffing her food appreciatively.

"The name is Blake, by the way. I'm the ship's cook and medicine woman." Bright blue eyes stared hard at the woman in the cell for a moment. She had a feeling this one was different, special. And her momma had always told her to listen to those feelings; it was spirits from the other side sending you messages.

"I'm Natalia." The brunette turned towards the man on the bench. "And that's Shayne. If you can find him a blanket, I think it will help with his shivering."

Blake nodded following Natalia's glance. The man was probably in shock from the beating he took today. She'd have to mix up some strong potions for him, maybe wrap those ribs. The Quartermaster had been more than clear that she wanted him fit as soon as possible.

And the Captain…

Blake smiled knowingly.

The Captain will want this little one well taken care of.

"Eat, girl. I'll be back soon." Blake grinned and disappeared into the belly of the ship. There was so much to be done.

Natalia watched her go for a moment longer, and then sank down beside a weary Shayne, helping him with his bowl of food.

"Be careful, Miss." Shayne murmured. "Don't trust any of them."

Natalia nodded, knowing he was right. She sighed and dug into her own meal.

Now if only she could shake the memory of those vibrant green eyes staring at her, raking possessively down her body, and the feel of the woman's curves pressing down tight against her. A shiver ran down her spine.

Not for the first time, Natalia wondered what she had gotten herself into now…


Chapter 9

Alan slammed his large fist against the dark mahogany desk. The young man standing in front of the desk, barely more than a child, trembled at the older man's anger. He had been one of the unfortunate few left of the destroyed crew aboard The Queen's Bounty to become second-in-command to the new captain, which meant he had to deliver the news to the governor that Lady Natalia was missing.

"You filthy swine! How did this happen?"

The other man stuttered, "I…I'm not s…sure, sir."

Alan glowered at him, disgusted by his weakness. "Pull yourself together, boy, and finish a sentence for once."

The man swallowed hard and steeled himself to speak coherently. "I believe I saw Lieutenant Lewis take her to the storage bay when the pirates attacked, sir."

The governor balled his fists up and leaned on the desk, his menacing eyes burrowing into the young man. "And just where is this Lieutenant Lewis?"

"Um, no one knows, sir." He uncomfortably shifted from one foot to the other. "He was last seen on Captain Spencer's ship."

Alan stood up straight weighing the information he had been given. He clasped his hands behind his back and turned to face the small round window that looked out over the rolling waters of the open ocean. As he had knelt before the Terror of San Cristobel sure that he was taking his last breath, the bastards of this ship giving him over without a second thought, he saw Olivia's crew removing cargo from the storage hold, including his personal ornate trunk that he intended to fill with riches while in San Cristobel. Now it was gone, and he wondered if it was coincidence or deliberate deceit that had him aboard a virtually empty ship with barely enough rations left to reach land.

He turned back to the young man waiting…hoping, to be dismissed. "How long before we reach San Cristobel?"

"Mid-morning, sir." The young man nodded, glad that he finally had a sure answer to give the governor.

Alan nodded and rubbed at his chin, a dark smile slowly spreading across his face. "Make sure the captain knows I want an audience immediately on making land with Captain Frank Cooper."

"Yes, sir."

Natalia shifted uncomfortably on the damp, hard planks of the brig. Try as she might, she couldn't find a decent position to catch a few minutes sleep. The slight rocking of the ship made sleep desirable but the location made it elusive.

A plaintive moan beside her stirred her into a fully sitting position. She ran a hand through Shayne's sweat-drenched locks. She winced at the burning heat rising off his skin.

Shuffling feet coming down the steps pulled Natalia's attention away from her sick companion. Booted feet with more holes than leather, followed by a torn and tattered skirt, descended the steps.

The redhead came into view and Natalia was surprised when the other woman smiled. It was warm and infectious, and Natalia had to fight the automatic urge to smile back. She had to remind herself that this woman, Blake, wasn't one of her ladies-in-waiting. She wasn't a friend, but a member of the crew that had attacked her ship, took her hostage, and put the man that defended her on his death bed. She wasn't stupid though, and as she felt the parchment in her bodice move against her skin, she knew she needed to understand as much as possible about their situation. And no one knew more about the comings and goings on a ship than the cook.

Blake moved closer to the bars, carrying a bowl and rag. "Here, girl. Take this. It's for your friend."

The brunette stood and walked over. She sniffed the bowl thinking it was a soup, but the foul odor made her jerk back in surprise. "What in heaven's name do I do with this?"

"Dunk the rag in the liquid and apply to his wounds. Do it three times before it cools. Once it has cooled, have him take three swallows…hearty ones, not sips." Blake shook her finger at the young woman, admonishing her for something she hadn't even done yet.

Natalia looked at her wearily. "Why should I trust you? What if he drinks it and it kills him? This could be poison."

The redhead waved a hand in the air. "Eh, what would I get out of killing him? It's not like it's going to help me any. Besides, little one, who else are you going to trust on this ship?" Blake watched the dark-haired girl as she pondered the truth of her words. "Make sure he drinks it. If he does as he should, his fever will break by daylight."

Natalia nodded and looked back at Shayne shivering. "How do you know this will work?"

Blake patted her arm through the bars. "Old family recipe."

Natalia couldn't help but smile. "And where are you from?"

The other woman pushed a loose tendril of red hair out of her face and behind her ear. It popped right back out and fell back into her face. "The northern lands past Britain."

Natalia smiled as she watched Blake's face transform as her mind drifted to her homeland. "You miss it."

Blake nodded, wistfully, but she didn't offer any other information. She tilted her head in the direction of Shayne. "Go, take care of him. By daylight, I promise."

Natalia moved back from the bars and settled down beside Shayne. As Blake turned to leave, she called to her. "Blake?"

"Dinner will be down shortly." She called back down as she took the steps out of the brig.

"Thank you." Natalia called to her but she was already gone.

Setting the bowl and rag to the side, Natalia took a deep breath. "Okay, I can do this."

She rolled Shayne to his back, and he let out a long moan. The bruising around his left eye had caused it to swell completely shut. Blood had dried in dark streaks on the side of his face and down his neck where he had been hit in the head. Small cuts were on his arms and legs. He had a split lip from being punched. As she worked to remove his shirt, he began to convulse and shiver violently. She wrapped the blanket that had fallen beside him tightly around his arms, effectively bundling him like a baby. Gradually, the shivering subsided and Natalia eased the blanket away. Peppering Shayne's chest were oozing cuts and angry purplish bruises. The worst was on his left side where a large dark bruise covered most of his lower ribcage. Natalia gingerly touched it and Shayne let out a long groan.

Natalia pushed the hair out of her face and sighed. "Here we go, Shayne. This will hurt a little, but I'll try to be gentle."

Slowly but methodically, she worked her way from his head downward. She would wet a small portion of the rag, touch it to an open wound, shift the rag to a clean section, dunk, and then move to another wound. She did this until she was sure that each cut and scratch was saturated.

Reaching for the blanket down around his waist, she pulled it up until it was tucked tightly under his chin. She adjusted the small pile of hay under Shayne's head and tried to make him comfortable.

By the time she was finished, Blake reappeared with a large bowl and spoon. The aroma let Natalia know that this was definitely food. Blake handed her a sack filled with bread and some cheeses as well. Natalia took the items and peered down into what looked like a thick and rich beef stew. She took a deep breath in and it made her mouth water.

Natalia shook her head. "There's far too much food here. I can't eat all of this."

"Who said it's all for you? He'll start coming around in a few hours, and this stew is wonderful cold." Blake beamed with pride at her cooking skills.

Blake handed her another rag through the bars and the smell made Natalia jumped back. She held her nose with her free hand. "I think I lost my appetite anyway."

Blake huffed but continued on as if she didn't hear the young woman. "When he starts to wake up, wrap his ribs in this. He may stink to the high heavens, but he'll be thankful for it in a couple of days when he can move again without his ribs hurting. Here, you may need this too." The redhead handed a small black rag to Natalia through the bars. "Sometimes people pass out from having their ribs bound. If he does, place it under his nose. He'll be up and moving in seconds. Once his ribs are bound and he's up and moving, make sure he eats."

The brunette shook her head and looked quizzically at Blake. "Why are you doing this? I don't understand."

The other woman tilted her head to the side and smiled. "Let's just say the next few days will be interesting, and you'll want to be your best." Then she shrugged. "Or at least the best you can be under the circumstances. And I guess I kind of like you."

Blake winked at the girl as Natalia scrunched up her eyebrows, obviously in deep thought about her comments.

Natalia was wondering what was in store for her and Shayne. She looked at Blake who was smirking mischievously. "I guess you're not going to tell me more."

The redhead shook her head. "Nope, I like this…" She pointed to her head, "attached to this." Then pointed in the middle of her chest. She fought to keep a smile down when she saw Natalia visibly swallow. She left the girl with that thought and headed back up the stairs, smiling the entire way.

"You worthless, incompetent waste of flesh!" Alan had to take his frustration and anger out on Frank Cooper verbally since the imbecile was military and therefore couldn't be assaulted. "You let that bitch get away!"

Frank stood with his back against the wall of his office at the base, the heat of the mid-morning and the rush of adrenaline making him perspire profusely. He wanted desperately to wipe at the sweat on his forehead but didn't dare show a bit of weakness. He pushed off the wall, his chest bumping against the larger man who was in his face.

"I shot her and she went overboard. We never saw her after that. It was logical to assume she was dead." Franks reasoning sounded perfectly acceptable to his ears, yet a small part of him knew he was reckless in his presumption. He'd never admit it though. He was determined at the time that he'd killed the Terror of San Cristobel, and he'd be lauded as a hero. He had been and he was even feared now. It made him feel good.

"And we know what happens when you assume." Alan pulled back, reigning in his frustration a bit. He jerked down on his coat and straightened his tie. "You need to fix this, Captain. She has made a mockery out of you and the Crown. When word gets out, you'll be the laughing stock of the fleet and your military career will be over. I'm sure you don't want that. Plus, your bride-to-be is missing."

Frank gritted his teeth as the implications of the governor's comments washed over him. "I'll take care of it."

Alan looked at him skeptically. Sometimes men needed a little incentive to do their jobs completely and thoroughly. "Perhaps I could sweeten the pot for you." He pulled out of his inside coat pocket a slip of parchment and held it in front of the beady eyes of the captain. "The other half of this map is aboard her ship. You get it and bring me her head, and you'll get half of whatever we find. With a little luck, you may even get your woman and your dignity back in the process. What do you say?"

The large red X on the paper drew Frank in as he envisioned the future before him – a beautiful woman, riches, fame, and a place among the greats of his time. The man that would finally put the pirates out of business in the Caribbean for good. It was an offer he couldn't refuse.


Chapter 10

A thick fog shrouded the tiny island cove, blowing in from the north and covering everything with a slight mist. A bell rang out in the night, the sound echoing across the water, a buoy warning sailors of shallow water, as if the skeleton of ships run aground wasn't warning enough. This was clearly not a place for settlers or tourists to disembark, it was a port meant for dubious business. And Captain Philip Spaulding definitely had business on his mind as he stood on the weathered pier, squinting into the murkiness and waiting.

"Where are you, man?" Philip grumbled, starting to pace. His boots sounded loud on the rotting planks and he tugged on his jacket, pulling it tighter together to keep the dampness out.

"Patience is a virtue," A stocky man seemed to appear from the shadows, stepping out into the dim light coming from the lamp at Philip's feet. "One that you do not appear to possess."

Philip smiled grimly and shook his head. Great, he had to choose a philosopher pirate. The man stepped closer and put out his hand.

"Captain Josh Lewis."

Philip glanced at the offered hand and raised an eyebrow a little surprised at the gentlemanly gesture, but slowly extended his own, shaking the pirate captain's hand.

"Captain Philip Spaulding."

"So you have need for a ship and a good crew?" Josh grinned. He knew he had one of the fastest ships in the Caribbean and a loyal band of men at his disposal, which he took great pride in.

Philip nodded, his eyes narrowing. The pirate's reputation preceded him, and he knew this was going to be an expensive proposition. However he knew his father would want nothing less than the best working on this sensitive project.

"I need a pirate that I can trust to be discreet." Philip finally spoke, surprised again as the other man grew surly.

"I am not a pirate, sir." Josh huffed, offended. "I am a privateer, licensed by the Crown." It was a small grey area, a technicality in reality considering a lot of the business that he did, but it kept Josh from feeling like a criminal.

"I'm sorry. I didn't mean anything by the comment. I just thought…" Philip raised his hands in front of him as if surrendering, not meaning to offend the man he was coming to like more by the minute. Lewis appeared to be a man of scruples in an unscrupulous business. Very interesting. He wondered how this could be used in his favor in the future and tucked it away to think about more.

"Well, now you know." Josh crossed his arms and stared at the man, calmer but still not thrilled with the comment.

Philip nodded and smiled, his decision made. He stepped a little closer in the darkness, smiling warmly at the privateer.

"I have something I need you to help me find."

Olivia opened her eyes and stretched, feeling the tightness of the stitches in her shoulder pull. Groaning slightly, she blinked towards the early morning sunrise peeking in through her windows. It looked like it was going to be another gorgeous day on the high seas.

Olivia sighed sleepily. Maybe just another few minutes of shut eye wouldn't hurt, after all she had been wounded and needed extra rest…

Olivia's eyes drifted back shut and she felt herself sinking back into her dream, back to those mysterious dark eyes beckoning her, those full lips tempting her.

A loud thumping at her door jerked the captain awake.

"I've got yer breakfast, Cap'n." Blake called out from the other side of the thick oak door.

"Come in then." Olivia groaned, throwing her arm over her eyes. It was too late. The day had decided to start whether she wanted to or not. Flicking her light sheet off, the captain watched as the ships cook entered with a full plate of food.

"Most of the crew is on deck and the wind is coming strong from the north. Dinah said you might need your stitches looked at this morning." Blake arranged the captain's silver cutlery around the fine china plate, overflowing with fresh fruit, cheeses and bread, steaming eggs and a several thick cut pieces of bacon.

"Thanks, Blake." Olivia came and sat down at the small table, pleased with Blake's homey touches. Blake's mother never had such qualities, but Holly had been quite pleasing in other ways. It was a shame she was crazy as a bat. Living in that swamp, hiding from the world and playing with all the freaky voodoo stuff…Olivia glanced up at the smiling redhead. It was no wonder Blake had turned her back on her mother and stayed with her crew instead.

"Your prisoners are awake." Blake smiled warmly, enjoying the captain's good mood. She poured a mug of coffee, freshly brewed. "Shayne's fever broke at dawn and Miss Natalia has been busy tending to him. It looks like he might have badly bruised ribs." Blake frowned, handing Olivia her mug of coffee, which the woman gratefully took. "Those boys really need to learn to control themselves a little more."

"They're pirates, it's what they do." Olivia snorted before taking a sip of the hot coffee and shaking her head. She grimaced as Blake's hands pulled at her cotton shirt, revealing the angry slash on her shoulder.

"I know, but still." Blake sniffed, as she ran a thumb gently against the stitches, admiring the skill. Dinah always had such a delicate touch. Olivia hissed as she hit a tender spot. "I think these are coming along nicely. Let me just rub a little aloe on it."

Blake wandered over to a spiky plant growing on a stand in the corner of the room. Pulling out a small sharp dagger from her bodice, hidden between her breasts, Blake sliced away a thick green spike and then cut into the juicy meat of the stem in her hand. Wandering back, she gently smeared the cool liquid across the hot injury, causing Olivia to sigh at the slight relief.

"God that feels good." Olivia closed her eyes at the woman's gentle touch. She shivered as Blake blew on the goop trying to have it dry a little before she tugged up the white cotton shirt.

"I think you should let the air at that today, and I'll check it again tonight before you retire. Now eat before this gets cold, Cap'n." Blake smiled, tossing the remainder of the used stem into the garbage basket and headed for the door. Olivia nodded and gladly turned to her food.

"Oh, Blake, before you go." Olivia said around a mouthful of egg. "I was thinking of having Miss Natalia join me for dinner tonight."

"Of course, Captain." Blake smiled widely. She knew things would be getting interesting around here. "Anything special you would like to eat?"

Olivia raised an eyebrow and smiled naughtily, all sorts of things coming to the tip of her tongue.

"Whatever you think will be fine, Blake." Olivia bit into her bacon, still smirking to herself.

"As you wish." Blake grinned and disappeared from the cabin, already planning the menu and which set of dinnerware she would use for this occasion.

Olivia shook her head, her mind reluctant to move on to ship's business. She bit into a juicy piece of melon and sighed. Who said interrogating a prisoner couldn't be pleasurable? After all, her Spencer charm was legendary in these parts. Olivia smiled, looking forward to dinner more and more.

Natalia wouldn't know what hit her.


Chapter 11

In the dim light of his cabin, Captain Frank Cooper ran his finger over the weathered edges of the partial map on his desk. Under his feet, the large ship listed to the left and then to the right. To most people the jostling of the ship would be noticeable and even nauseating, but after years on the open ocean, he barely noticed the movement. A storm was stirring to the east, and even if he couldn't smell it in the air or feel it in the tossing of the seas, he sensed it in his bones. Something was coming. A change.

He had three days to consider Governor Spaulding's offer. The untold riches of the treasure hidden in the secrets of this map weren't the only force driving Frank to accept. No, he had another date with destiny. Actually…two. One was the inevitable demise of one Captain Olivia Spencer. This time she wouldn't get away. This time, he'd see her head on a platter on this very desk before he gave up on her destruction. The woman who had humiliated him in the eyes of his crew and the governor by escaping and now threatened the virtue and safety of his future bride. Ah, yes, his second impetus. Lady Natalia.

He sighed. Get revenge, get the riches, get the girl, and get the power he so richly deserved. His time was due.

Gathered around the campfire with his men, Josh Lewis contemplated the scrap of parchment in his hand. He was sure the treasure that Phillip Spaulding wanted him to find, and he was being paid handsomely to find, was on this island.

Looking around the expanse of white sand, glowing in the silver light of the full moon, potholed every few feet from his crew digging, he sighed and scrubbed at his stubbly chin. Trying to find the correct location of the red "X" was difficult since the island on the paper was almost symmetrically rectangular. One side of the island looked just like the other side, and with half the map missing, he wasn't sure what direction he needed to sail in from.

All he could do now was wait for daylight and move his crew to the other side of the island to begin digging anew.

He tucked the parchment into the inside pocket of his vest and laid back on the cool sand. Looking up at the stars, he thought about Reva. A collection of stars above him reminded her of her eyes when she smiled – twinkling and bright. He felt a tug at his heart then pushed it away. It did him no good to think about her. She was long out of his reach and belonged to another, even if the other was no longer there. Jeffrey was the ghost that haunted them from the beginning.

Closing his eyes, he drifted off to sleep. Even if his mind didn't want to remember, his heart did and in his dreams, he saw her again – many years younger and warm in his arms. The gentle breeze of the summer air caressing their naked bodies as they made love in a shadowy corner of the cove back home. In his dreams, he was able to keep her, hold her forever, but in the harsh light of morning, he remembered the truth.

Maybe if he could get this treasure and get his part of it, he could escape privateering and finally have a life free enough to offer his love again to another.

Natalia ran a hand down the face of her cell companion. His fever had broken, and he had eaten several small meals in the last couple of days. Whatever Blake had given him for his injured ribs had worked like a charm. The purple bruises were already turning a greenish-yellow shade, and he had managed to reposition himself several times without her assistance.

At the moment, Natalia was sitting against the damp wooden wall of the cell with Shayne's head in her lap. Even though he was getting better, he was still very tired. Blake had informed her this morning that she had been giving him a mild, natural sedative, but that she was going to start weaning him off of it.

The steady caress of her fingers against his scalp had caused him to drift off to sleep earlier, but now he stirred and looked up into warm, brown eyes.

"Mmmm, morning?" At first glance, it was hard to tell what time of day it was so he had made a habit of asking.

She helped him sit up and she got off the hard floor to stretch. "Actually, it's well past mid-day." She glanced at the small shaft of light coming down the stairs, noting the darkening shadows. "Probably heading into evening. Blake came by earlier with lunch but you were pretty out of it."

"It's a shame. I'm starving." He rubbed at his empty stomach. "And she actually cooks a decent meal."

She moved to the corner of the cell and lifted some straw. Underneath laid a piece of cloth, tightly wrapped and knotted up. It took her a few moments but eventually the knot came loose and she spread the cloth open. Inside were several pieces of hard bread, but there were no bugs or mold.

Shayne's stomach growled at the sight and he took them greedily from the wrap. Before he took a bite of the last piece, he looked to Natalia and held it out. "Miss, please. Perhaps you should take this."

She pushed it back to him. "No, eat. Blake's been good about caring for us. I'm sure there will be more food tonight."

He chewed thoughtfully at the bread and then looked up at her. "They are awfully civilized for pirates, aren't they?"

She shrugged and smiled. "Not exactly as I pictured them, no."

"Especially the captain." He murmured.

Natalia remembered the challenge in the bright green eyes of Olivia Spencer. She shivered and tried to put it out of her head. Instead, she scratched at the parchment in her corset as it rubbed against her skin. The thought of what was on it had the desired effect of drawing her attention to more important matters. She was in a dangerous situation with a dangerous piece of information in her possession. She worried her lip as she thought of the fate that could befall her if the captain found out.

"Something's bothering you." Shayne leaned down and caught her eyes. "Tell me, Miss."

She closed her eyes and sighed. Coming to a decision, she slipped her hand under her skirt, bent a little to the side and pulled out a crumbled piece of parchment.

Shayne noticed the worried and expectant look on her face. He put down the small bite of bread left and took the paper she held out to him. Opening it, his eyes went wide.

"Is this what I think it is?" His voice forced out in a strained whisper.

She nodded, still chewing at her bottom lip. "I think so. I've looked at it several times, praying to God I was seeing a hallucination, but I think this is the map to the Skull of Fate."

He shook his head. "This is not good. How did you get this?"

Natalia opened her mouth to answer when the door slammed open at the top of the stairs. Boots descended slowly and methodically on the stairs as Natalia scrambled to hide the parchment. There was no time to slip it under her dress so she stuffed it inside her blouse. Closing her eyes, she took a deep breath to slow her heartbeat.

When she opened them, the lithe body and long blonde hair of the quartermaster stood before her. With her thumbs tucked into her belt, Dinah observed the two prisoners, allowing her eyes to wander over the form of the man a little longer than usual. She noted quickly that he was fairing much better and with a good bath, he may actually be presentable.

She smirked a little as he seemed to squirm under her scrutiny. She ignored the woman and addressed Shayne directly. "Good evening. It seems you're doing better. Perhaps you would be up for a few questions and some…dinner."

His immediate reaction was to reject the offer. Something about the idea of being alone with this woman for God knows how long set him on edge. He could almost literally feel the hair on the back of his neck rise yet it wasn't unpleasant either. The feeling was strangely invigorating. When he opened his mouth to reject the invitation, she interrupted him.

Raising her hand, she stepped closer. "Before you say 'no,' I should fully disclose that there will be no other meals tonight, except this one. If you wish to eat, I suggest you join me."

His traitor stomach growled and she smiled. "I'll take that as a 'yes' then. Blake will come for you momentarily and have you escorted to be washed and dressed. Then you can join me in my cabin."

Shayne finally spoke up at the odd remark. "Washed and dressed?"

She had turned to the stairwell to leave, assuming her commands would be followed. "Yes, washed and dressed. You stink, and I don't like it when people stink and I'm trying to eat." She tipped her head to them and exited the brig.

He shook his head and looked at Natalia. "This is weird."

"At least you'll get a good meal. Just, you know, sniff it before you take a bite." She tried to joke.

He laughed in spite of the situation. "Not funny."

"It was a little funny." She held up her thumb and forefinger close to each other.

"Okay, maybe a little." He scuffed his boot along the bars of the cell.

"And don't tell them anything about the map. In a pirate's hands, this is very dangerous." She stepped closer and whispered. "An immortal pirate? I don't even want to think about."

After a few minutes of waiting, Blake entered the brig with two burly men in tow. One opened the cell while the other shackled Shayne's wrists to his ankles with a long crisscrossed chain dangling between the four appendages.

Natalia watched as Shayne was pushed rather roughly up the stairs to the deck. Blake turned back to her. "You're next."

"Next?" Natalia had no idea what she was talking about.

The redhead looked chagrined. "Ah, I guess, Dinah didn't mention it. The captain requests your presence at dinner tonight."

The brunette scoffed. "Requests? And what if I say 'no'?"

Blake looked at her, closely. The strength of conviction in her eyes told Blake all she needed to know. "Believe me, you don't want to do that."

Natalia glanced down, feeling angry and trapped. She dug her fingernails into her palms and told herself to redirect it.

Blake held up two dresses for her. "Pick one." Natalia looked at her incredulous. "Well, you can't go in that. It's all torn to shreds and honestly, honey, you're a mess."

The younger woman tried to stand up straighter and hold her head high. No one had ever talked to her like that. She was a lady of the court, after all. She also knew she was in no position to cause trouble or force an issue, so she nodded her head to the royal blue gown with the eyelet overlay around the skirt. Honestly, it surprised her that such a garment would be on a pirate ship and Captain Olivia Spencer didn't exactly strike her as the dress type.

"Good choice. I'll be back momentarily to help you get ready." Blake turned with a smile on her face and climbed the steps.

The warm bath littered with scents and soaps had almost made Natalia forget she was aboard a pirate ship. She had looked at Blake surprised when she was escorted by a guard into a small room with a tub.

Seeing the look on her face, Blake had smirked. "You're on a ship, run by a woman. This tub…gets a lot of use!"

Natalia had actually chuckled at that. "Who knew?"

"Captain Spencer has a lot of surprising qualities." The redhead had smiled and then turned away. "I would say that you could take your time, but dinner is almost ready. And you don't want to keep the captain waiting."

Natalia had watched Blake leave the room before she stripped out of her torn and dirty dress. She placed the map on a side table in plain view and ran her hand over the satin of the dress hanging nearby.

Carefully, she had climbed into the tub and sighed. "Much better!"

A few minutes later, the brunette was dressed again - the map hidden inside her corset. She was led across the ship to the captain's quarters. A sharp wind blew across the ship and on the horizon storm clouds were brewing. Through the small round window she could see the flickering of candles. What she didn't expect was the soft music playing. Passing through door as her guard pushed it open, she saw Captain Spencer, her head bowed and her eyes closed, as her long fingers passed over the keys of the regal in front of her.

The burly man to her left cleared his throat. "Captain?"

Olivia stopped playing and stood. Her smile, somewhere between charming and mischievous, was infectious to Natalia, and she fought to hold back returning the friendly gesture.

The blonde stepped closer and bowed slightly to Natalia. "Good evening. Thank you for joining me."

Natalia gazed warily as Olivia raised her hand to guide her to her seat, then took it. The softness and warmth of the captain's hand surprised her. "I don't believe I had much choice in the matter, did I?"

Olivia led her to the table elaborately decorated with fine china and a moderate-sized candelabra. She pulled the high-back chair out and waited for Natalia to sit before assisting her with moving it back in closer to the table. When Olivia moved to the other side of the table to take her own seat, she tilted her head to the side. "There's always a choice, Lady Rivera."

She straightened at hearing her formal name used but didn't break eye contact. "How did…?"

Olivia chuckled lightly and raised her hands into a steeple below her chin, resting her elbows comfortably on the table. "The news of your impending marriage has been all over the islands for months now. I have ears everywhere so you can't keep a secret from me for too long."

Natalia fought down a wave of panic and was happy to be distracted by Blake entering the cabin with their first dish of the evening. She didn't realize how ravenous she was until she saw the steaming soup in front of her, but she hated to show any weakness in front of the captain.

The blonde noticed her hesitation, even as she raised her own spoon. "I know you must be hungry. Don't let your pride get in the way of sustenance."

Natalia clinched her jaw. "I'm not prideful. My friend, a member of my court, is being interrogated by your quartermaster. I can't bring myself to eat until I know he will not be harmed."

Olivia rested her spoon in the bowl and regarded the beautiful woman across from her. "Unlike many of your kind, you seem to genuinely care for your people. Interesting." With a sigh, she raised her spoon again. "Do not worry about your friend. Trust me, he is in very good hands and will be taken care of."

Even though she felt a little unnerved by the comment, Natalia could no longer resist the delicious smell of the soup.

Olivia heard the low moan of appreciation from Natalia. It made her shift in her seat, thinking of other noises the young woman may make. Instead, she covered it with a smirk. "Good?"

"Mmmmm, wonderful!" Natalia opened her eyes to see intense green watching her. She reigned in her enthusiasm and stared down into her bowl.

"I'm glad you like it." When Natalia didn't respond, the captain continued on. "So, how did a lady of the court learn to wield a sword so well?"

For a moment, Natalia hesitated on responding, thinking mystery would serve her better long-term, yet she couldn't stop her response. "It's a dangerous world, Captain Spencer. My father wanted me to be able to protect myself should the need arise."

Olivia finished her soup and leaned back in her chair. "He did you a favor. And call me Olivia, Natalia."

The brunette felt her ire rise at the casualness of the woman across from her and the strange feeling it gave her to hear her name roll off the pirate's tongue. "Yes, he did. And I will continue to call you Captain Spencer because we are not friends, and you forget I'm royalty and you should address me as such."

Blake opened the door to the cabin and Olivia's eyes flashed at her a warning to leave as she held up one hand. The door was quickly closed as a rush of cool wind and rain entered the cabin. Olivia stood and quickly came around the table, the anger in her eyes forcing Natalia out of her own chair and into a defensive posture.

Natalia felt the rough wood of the cabin wall against her back, but the captain continued to advance. The other woman was so close she could smell the clean scent of soap and the sweetness of the wine on her breath. Natalia shivered, and she wasn't sure if it was out of fear or not.

"You forget as well that this is my ship and you are my prisoner, royalty or not." Olivia's voice was low and threatening. To emphasize her point, Olivia gripped Natalia's waist and pressed her into the wall. "I have no use for formalities, Natalia. Whatever you were there or will be anywhere else has no bearing here. It's meaningless, do you understand?"

Natalia couldn't ignore her racing heart. Olivia's left hand was edging dangerously close to the hidden map but also to her breast. The thought made her head spin as her dark eyes flickered down to full lips and she had the urgent desire to pull Olivia closer.

Instead, she grabbed Olivia's wrists and attempted to push her away. The ship suddenly tilted and Olivia crashed against Natalia - her hand rising along Natalia's ribcage as she attempted to brace herself. She pulled back from the brunette at the feel of a misplaced crease in her corset. The ship tilted back to the other side but Olivia held on to Natalia as the force attempted to separate them.

"What is that?" Olivia growled at her and reached for her waist.

Natalia pushed her back forcefully, finally getting some much needed distance from the other woman. Before she could answer, the door flew open and Dinah appeared. She was soaked from head to toe, and behind her, Olivia and Natalia could see the blowing winds and flashes of lightening.

Dinah didn't have to state the obvious. Olivia raced out the door to take the helm. Natalia started to follow, but Dinah blocked her exit. "Don't get any bright ideas."

Dinah whistled over the storm to a tall deck hand pulling on some rigging. He tried to block the driving rain with his arm as he ran over to her. Dinah yelled, "Take her back to the brig!"

"Aye!" He grabbed her by the arm but all three lost their footing as the ship leaned hard to the left.

"Aye, the boom, Cap'n! Watch the boom!"

Both Dinah and Natalia looked up in time to see the long rigging beam swing around knocking several crew members overboard and head straight for Olivia.

"Olivia!!!!!" Dinah screamed but the boom came at her too quickly and before she could duck, she was gone over the side of the ship.

Natalia frantically got to her feet. Forgetting she was a prisoner, she pulled at the man restraining her. When he wouldn't let go, she kicked him hard in the stomach, doubling him over. Dinah made a grab at her but the brunette was well out of her reach and already running toward the front of the ship.

When Natalia reached the spot that Olivia had gone over, she looked out over the turbulent sea. About two hundred feet away was Olivia, face down in the water, her white shirt billowing around her.

Part 12

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