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 12

The last thing Olivia remembered was a flash of lightning and then the huge wooden boom coming straight for her, before finding herself airborne, falling and spinning, hitting the water hard. Fear gripped her guts as she sank deep, struggling to right herself in the water, the weight of her clothes heavy and pulling her down. She fought off the impending darkness threatening to overtake her as her lungs began to burn, needing air.

The world seemed to spiral around her, growing very quiet and she was suddenly bathed in a misty fog. In the distance Olivia could hear something out there, a woman's voice, chanting in what sounded like another language. She knew that voice from somewhere.

"Who's there?" Olivia called out. She took a cautious step and then another, looking down she saw her boots sinking into soft beach sand. She noticed things lying on the ground, like round white rocks, but she couldn't quite make out what they were.

"Knock, knock, Olivia." The familiar voice seemed to come from behind her, chuckling in Olivia's right ear.

Olivia spun around too quickly, stumbling a little. She stretched out her hand, reaching out to steady herself, grabbing at something cool and smooth to her right, to stay upright. She glanced down her mind not wanting to but inevitably realizing that she was touching a human skull, bleached white and perched on top of a post.

"Aaahh!!" Olivia lifted her hand off of it quickly, stepping backwards. Suddenly she saw them, recognized the white rocks for what they were.


Human skulls. Everywhere.

Olivia clutched at her throat, unable to catch her breath, her heart pounding in her ears. She looked up into the mist, a figure coming towards her, cloaked in animal skins, feathers dangling from her red hair.

"Holly?" Olivia choked out as she fell to her knees, needing air but not getting any. She was growing weaker by the second, but she needed to make sense of all this. What was Blake's mother doing here? If this was more of Holly's weird voodoo nonsense interfering with her life there would be hell to pay…

"In the flesh, Olivia darling." Holly stepped closer, her thin boney hand grasped Olivia's chin, forcing her to look up at her. "Well, sort of anyway."

"What the hell?" Olivia felt herself growing dizzy again, light headed. She had to really focus on the older woman's words as Holly leaned closer still.

"This is merely a friendly visitation, my dear." Holly murmured into her ear, nuzzling into her hair. "Think of it as a gentle reminder to open your mind to the possibilities and to remember the things I taught you…"Holly nipped a tender earlobe and moved away, laughing softly as Olivia glared at her.

"Get your mind out of the gutter, Spencer. I meant all that voodoo hocus-pocus you love so much. Blake will help you; just try to go with it for a change, okay? Whatever is meant to be, will be." Holly tapped her chin, deep in thought. "Why do I feel a song coming on? Oh, I almost forgot..." She snapped her fingers and reached into a leather bag at her waist, digging deep before finally pulling something out.

Olivia's eyes widened. It was another skull, but this one was different. It sparkled in Holly's tight grip, light reflecting and dancing within its depths. She could feel the power pulsing from it. It was a crystal skull, the legendary Skull of Fate.

"Accept your fate, Olivia." Holly moved in a flash, pressing the smooth, cold skull to Olivia's flushed cheek, forcing her to look at it, to feel the vibrating energy emanating from it. "Don't be afraid to follow your destiny, my girl. Now hold on, Olivia." Holly smiled warmly at her as she slowly started to fade away into the mist, dissipating with the fog, her voice hard to hear as darkness closed in on Olivia's vision. "Hold on tight…"

Olivia felt the sea churning around her, as something splashed into the water near her and then quickly brushed against her. Strong hands grabbed at her, spinning her around in the turbulent waters, keeping her face above the choppy waves.

"Hold on, Olivia. I've got you…" Natalia's familiar voice washed over her, Olivia felt tears prick at the welcome sound. Lightning flashed across the angry sky, bathing the younger woman in an eerie green light, yelling loudly over the crashing thunder. "Come on, breathe."

Olivia gasped like a newborn, taking in a much needed breath, and then coughed, choking and spitting out sea water. It was as if she had swallowed half the ocean. Gulping in more air, she wrapped her weary arms around Natalia's narrow shoulders and held on for dear life.

Rain pelted down on them, and as Olivia blearily looked around, she could just make out The Devil's Beacon in the distance, valiantly trying to turn back for them in the raging storm, and a smaller manned lifeboat a little closer, rowing madly towards them. They just had to hang on until they picked them up out of the water.

"Are you crazy?" Olivia growled, once she finally caught her breath, both of them treading water to stay afloat. "Jumping in after me like that, you could have been killed."

"You're welcome." Natalia shook her head and smiled, bobbing up and down in the water beside her. "Although I don't think I'll ever be able to wear that gown again, I had to basically tear it off before following you in. I figured I'd stay afloat better in my corset and bloomers. Some rescuer I'd be if I was dragged under by all that finery."

Olivia suddenly noticed the other woman's state of near undress, with all that tempting skin wet and slick, pressed against her.

"Not exactly how I planned to get you out of that dress…" Olivia raised an eyebrow and smirked slightly at the girl, crying out as the brunette swatted her in the shoulder, sending a wave of pain through her injured shoulder. "Aaahh, God damn, woman!"

"What? What's wrong?" Natalia held Olivia tighter as the pirate squirmed in pain. She didn't think she had hit her that hard.

"Stitches. In my shoulder." Olivia gasped again, the pain starting to fade.

"Sorry, I-I didn't know." Natalia adjusted her grip slightly to avoid the wound, but didn't let go. She watched, concerned as Olivia just nodded wearily, her eyelids drooping slightly. "Hey, stay with me here. You took quite a crack to the head too."

"Ah, that explains it then…" Olivia mumbled sleepily. "Holly always was a crazy bitch, but that was a little weird, even for her..."

Natalia stared at the captain, worried that she was becoming delirious, that she would slip into unconsciousness again. She glanced around to see the lifeboat making its way steadily through the storm-tossed seas. Only a few more minutes and they'd be safe. Olivia seemed to slump a little, her head listing to one side.

"Hey, where are those big green eyes?" Natalia gave the pirate a little shake, pleased as her head snapped upright again.

"You keep this up and I'll think you're flirting with me." Olivia slurred slightly, staring into the brown eyes so close. She glanced down, watching as Natalia swallowed hard, as they both became aware at just how intimately they were clinging to each other. Their legs tangled together, churning in the water, as they struggled to stay afloat. Tender curves and hollows pressed close, fitting together in perfect harmony.

"Who says I'm not." Natalia whispered, her words all but lost in the howling wind and pounding rain. Olivia heard them though, as their eyes locked, their lips a hairs breadth apart.

"Ahoy, Captain!" A booming voice called out of no where, breaking the moment as Natalia turned away slightly and waved frantically at the lifeboat.

"She's here, we're right here." Natalia yelled and splashed a little in the water to get their attention, the light from the lantern on the bow of the lifeboat illuminating the churning waves.

A beefy hand grabbed her narrow wrist, pulling the two women towards the side of the boat, and before long, both were aboard, shivering and huddled together under a warm blanket. The boat quickly rounded up the other men who had been knocked off the ship and headed back to The Devil's Beacon as the storm seemed to be letting up.

Captain Phillip Spaulding stood on the deck of his ship, and stared out across the restless ocean, watching the dark clouds moving quickly across the sky, lightning flashing in the distance slowly dissipating. Something didn't feel right.

Lewis and his band of cutthroats were busily scouring various potential islands, speculating locations for the treasure from his half of the map his father had given him to hang on to when he left Spain. Hopefully they would find the treasure, whatever it was, before his father managed to get his own search party up and running. Phillip would beat that old man at his own game, if it killed him.

"Captain Spaulding, sir!" A voice called out from across the deck. Phillip turned as he heard footsteps rushing towards him.

"What is it, boy?" Phillip growled. He was not in the mood for stupid mistakes by the men tonight.

"San Cristobel has been sighted, sir. We should be in harbor by midnight." The young seaman smiled, pleased he hadn't annoyed his mercurial commanding officer.

"Excellent." Phillip nodded, dismissing the boy before turning once more to the storm grumbling along the horizon. He still had a bad feeling about all this. And he had learned the hard way that he should always listen to that little voice inside.

Especially when Alan Spaulding was involved.

"Dinah, she saved the Captain's life, I think it's the least we could do." Blake stood just inside the door of the Captain's quarters, two hot bowls of broth in her hands, shaking her head at the stubborn woman beside her. Walking over to place the bowls onto the table, which was still set from their interrupted dinner, she turned back to face the annoyed Quartermaster. "And I don't think Olivia is going to mind at all."

Dinah ran a hand through her long blonde hair, not liking it, but seeing no other options. The Devil's Beacon was luxurious as pirate ships went, but there was still limited space. Bowing her head, she sighed.

"Fine. All the beds in the guest cabins will be full with the other injured men. And if Olivia needs to be woken every few hours anyway, then I suppose it makes sense to leave that damn stowaway stay in her quarters."

Blake wisely said nothing and got the large bed ready. Once they finally got the Captain back onboard ship she would feel much better. Both women looked up as the door suddenly burst open, letting in the howling wind and their missing crew mates.

"Olivia!" Dinah rushed forward to help, but Natalia glared at her from the Captain's side, stopping the blonde in her tracks. "Thank God you're all right."

"I'm still here. You're gonna have to try harder to get your hands on this ship." Olivia teased her friend weakly as she leaned heavily on Natalia, slowly making their way into the room. Blake scrambled to the other side of the captain, shooing the big deck hand that had been helping them away and out of the room.

"You're soaked to the bone," Blake clucked, directing them towards the end of the bed "And lucky to be alive. Strip out of those clothes; I've got thick towels and fresh nightgowns for you both to change into and then hot broth before bed rest."

Olivia groaned, but was smart enough to do as she was told. She lifted her arms up and sat meekly as Blake pulled the sopping material from her body, and threw it into a basket in a wet heap.

"Ooo-kay!" Natalia quickly averted her eyes. "I'll just step into the bathroom and…" She nervously indicated her own dripping clothing before quickly grabbing a few towels from the pile and disappearing into the small in-suite chamber for privacy. After wrapping her wet hair up and out of her eyes, she untied her corset, peeling it away from her skin and carefully pulled the folded treasure map from its folds.

Natalia stared at the parchment, making sure it hadn't been damaged. It was wet but otherwise looked in perfect condition. She just needed to let it dry completely before she attempted to open it again. She glanced around the small room, glancing upward to find a shelf where spare bed linen was stored. Reaching up, she stood on her toes and tucked the document on top of the folded bedding, just out of sight. The petite woman nearly jumped out of her skin when there was a rap at the door.

"Miss Natalia, I have your nightgown here if you're ready for it." Blake's warm voice came through the door. Natalia quickly wrapped a long towel around her body and wiggled out of her bloomers, kicking them to one side before opening the door a crack. A hand with a soft white cotton nightgown appeared.

"Thanks, Blake." Natalia whispered shyly. Blake pushed the door open a little wider and stuck her head in, smiling softly at the gently blushing girl.

"No problem." Blake glanced down and then back up again, serious blue eyes meeting dark brown. "You did a good job today girl. Your quick thinking probably saved the Captain's life. I can't tell you how much that means to the whole crew. That woman means more to some of these men than their own family." Blake smiled and moved to leave before turning back at the last moment.

"I still need your help though. I've got six men plus the two of you to nurse back to health. It's a big bed and she'll be out like a light once she puts her head down, but the Captain should be woken every few hours and I'll keep checking in…" Blake dithered on, as Natalia just smiled.

"Okay." Natalia wasn't quite sure she was the best girl for the job, but it sure beat that cell in the brig.

"Okay?" Blake blinked and then smiled widely. "Okay! Well, I'll just wait for you out here then and get everything situated…" The redhead backed out of the room and quietly shut the door behind her.

Laughing softly, Natalia thoroughly dried herself off and slipped on the comfortable nightshirt. She slowly buttoned the long gown, the hem coming down to just below her knees. She wondered briefly if it was one of Olivia's nightshirts, and then blushed at her own wayward thoughts. Shoving the sleeves back, she grabbed her wet clothes and used towels and went back into the Captain's quarters.

Dinah eased Olivia's nightshirt over a freshly wrapped bandage on her shoulder. The older woman sighed before sliding her feet under the silk sheets.

"Did she finish her soup?" Blake asked, taking Natalia's items and adding them to the basket of Olivia's clothes. Dinah nodded, bringing the empty bowl with her as she made her way from the bedside.

"The gash is looking a little angry. We'll have to keep an eye on it for infection." Dinah murmured to the medicine woman. Blake frowned, but nodded in agreement as the blonde squeezed her shoulder in thanks.

Dinah turned and met Natalia's eyes, staring hard at the petite brunette. She took a step closer, leaning in close so only she could hear.

"Take care of her, or so help me the Lord himself will not be able to save you from the wrath of my sword." Dinah glared a moment longer. "Are we clear?"

Natalia jutted her chin out stubbornly, refusing to be intimidated by the woman. She nodded once, not backing down from the intimidating blonde. Dinah stared a second more and then left the Captain's quarters.

"Finish your broth." Blake said quietly from Olivia's bedside, gently tugging the sheet up to the sleeping woman's chin.

Natalia wandered over to the table and picked up her bowl of soup, slowly spooning the warm broth into her mouth. It trickled down her throat and hit her stomach, the warmth spreading quickly through her body. Quickly devouring more, she glanced down at the still set table from their dinner earlier in the evening. She still couldn't quite wrap her head around the fact that a few hours ago she had been so furious with the Captain, the captivating woman sleeping so peacefully before her. And now she wasn't furious with her, in fact she wasn't sure exactly how she was feeling for the woman.

Natalia turned back to her bowl, refusing to let herself even go there. She was an engaged woman, trapped against her will with a wild band of thieves and murderers. How could she even think that this was just the type of adventure she had always wanted in her life?

Blake came up beside her, interrupting her jumbled thoughts by gently placing a hand on her shoulder.

"Stop thinking so hard, it's going to give you a headache." Blake smiled and handed the obviously confused girl a book and a pocket watch. "A little something to pass the time until I come back. Keep an eye out and wake the Captain every hour." Blake patted her hand and headed for the door. "I'll be back."

Natalia nodded and yawned as Blake disappeared, before taking the leather book and wandering over to the large bed. She smiled as she realized what the woman had handed her.

The Bible.

It would seem the pirate wasn't as much of a heathen as she made out.

Natalia lifted the sheets and slowly slipped under the covers, sighing as her whole body finally relaxed. Shifting lower, she snuggled into the warmth and comfort of Olivia's bed. She glanced over at the sleeping pirate, so peaceful in her slumber. Olivia groaned and turned in her sleep, mumbling softly to herself. Natalia froze until the older woman finally settled down again, facing her this time, warm puffs of breath hitting her arm.

She waited a few more minutes until she was sure the Captain was fast asleep again, before opening the leather bound tome, and turning to a much loved part. A passage she had once thought to have read at her wedding. Now though they seemed to mean something completely different to her.

"And Ruth said, Entreat me not to leave thee, or to return from following after thee; for whither thou goest, I will go; and where thou lodgest, I will lodge: thy people shall be my people and thy God my God." Natalia murmured quietly into the night, glancing over at the sleeping woman next to her, and felt at peace.

She knew she was dreaming and yet there was nothing she could do to stop it. It was dark and the water pulled at her, the weight of her clothes dragging her down. Natalia tried to scream but nothing came out. She struggled, arms and legs tangled in material, unable to pull free. Strong arms wrapped around her, holding her close, trying to calm her writhing form.

Natalia felt herself rolled onto her back, a leg thrown over her hips, suddenly straddling her. Her breath caught in her throat, as her hands where held down above her head, and she felt the long body above her stretch out, curves and hollows pressing against her. They were intimately clinging to each other, just like before in the water. Her eyes flung open to discover she was no longer dreaming.

Olivia stared down at her, flushed and feverish, her eyes unseeing but her body reacting. Natalia's eyes grew wide as she saw the look of pure lust, her own body responding as the Captain's head slowly dipped, bringing their lips ever closer…


Chapter 13

A wave of panic and something else shot out through Natalia's body. It wasn't fear. This feeling was something she had never experienced and yet only dreamed of…fantasized about. But she refused to name it. Her mind couldn't deal with it even if her body had other intentions.

She pushed back against the Captain's restraining hands holding her down. The green eyes glazed over in a feverish fit. Natalia tried to use her body to move Olivia off of her, but the action had another effect on Olivia as she ground against Natalia's hips. The motion sent a shudder through Natalia's body and she slammed her head back into the pillow. 

"Dear God in Heaven." She gasped out at the sensation.

Olivia was hovering close above her; their lips barely an inch apart. Warm breath danced across her skin. Her eyes fluttering shut as she anticipated the kiss.

"Captain!" Natalia jumped at the unexpected voice in the doorway. Looking around Olivia, Natalia saw Blake standing there with a rag in one hand and a bowl in the other; her mouth hanging open in surprise.

"Natalia." Her name was whispered above her, and before she could react, Olivia's eyes rolled back in her head and she slumped unconscious against her. Natalia tried to roll her over when Olivia began to shake and convulse.

Quickly, Blake dropped the bowl and rag on a nearby table and came over to help Natalia.

"Restrain her." Blake instructed as she struggled to straddle the flailing woman on the bed. Natalia used all of her strength to hold Olivia's arms down. Blake reached for something in the pocket of her skirt and pried Olivia's lips apart. She forced what appeared to be a spoon between her lips and held it tightly until the convulsions let up.

When Olivia's body went slack, Blake returned the spoon to her pocket and checked the wound on her arm. The stitches were red and inflamed with a foul white liquid beginning to ooze from the injury. Natalia watched the redhead as she climbed off the bed and went to the table with the bowl and rag. From the other pocket in her skirt, she removed two dark brown vials. She dripped several drops of one bottle onto the rag and nearly half of the vial from the other to join it.

Blake turned to Natalia, her face drawn in a deep, worried frown. "Go to the galley and get a bowl of boiling water from the fire." Blake opened a door on the table and pulled out a leather-bound object. She moved to the desk with it and the rag in her hands. Laying it out and opening it, Natalia gasped at what she saw. Shiny scalpels and needles of different sizes rested innocently on the leather awaiting use. Looking up from the instruments, Blake realized Natalia hadn't moved. "Go…now."

Natalia took off up the steps into the darkness. The ship was quiet except for a small group of men manning the ship to keep it on course during the night. Across the ship, she raced and scrambled down the steps into the galley. Trying not to think about what had transpired in the last few minutes, especially the feel of Olivia stretched out against her and her mouth so close, she quickly found a bowl and gathered the hot water.

When she returned to the captain's cabin, Blake had shifted Olivia to her side so the injured arm was easily accessible. The woman had cut the stitches and removed them. Natalia felt her stomach lurch as Blake squeezed the length of the cut and a grayish puss poured from it. Though unconscious, Olivia moaned at the pain.

Blake motioned for Natalia to come over. "Bring me that and get that tall brown bottle over there." She pointed to the small table with liquors and wines on it on the other side of the room.

Natalia handed over the bowl of steaming liquid and retrieved the liquor bottle from the table. She watched as Blake gathered rags and other material under Olivia's arm, then opened the wound and poured the hot liquid into it slowly. Olivia groaned but didn't wake. Natalia finally noticed the sheen of sweat on Olivia's face and how her hair was becoming wet and matted.

"Uncork it and hand it to me." Blake reached for the bottle and Natalia did as she was told. Again, Blake poured the liquid into the wound. She patted the area dry and gathered the rag with the stuff from the vials on it. She stuffed it into the wound, packing it tightly, then wrapped the arm in gauze to hold the rag in place.

When she was finished tending to Olivia, she rolled Olivia onto her back and settled at her side. Natalia watched curiously as Blake brushed the damp hair from Olivia's face. She covered the captain up with the blankets and tucked them up tightly under her chin.

"Rest, my friend." Blake blew a strand of hair from her eyes and stood to gather her materials together.

Natalia watched her in silence but she seemed to be lost in her own world. Finally, she couldn't help but ask. "Friend? You consider her a friend."

Blake looked up and smiled. "She's more than that." 

The shot of jealousy that shook Natalia surprised her. Certainly, Blake didn't mean what she thought she did.

"She's more like family. My life didn't really begin until she took me and my mom aboard her ship." Blake smiled at the memory.

Natalia sat in the leather chair behind the desk, curiosity taking over. "Tell me."

The other woman tilted her head regarded Natalia for a moment. "Only if you'll return the favor." Natalia nodded. Blake happily sat back down on the edge of the bed thankful for the rare chance to sit and talk. "The short of it is that Olivia saved mine and my mother's lives."

"And the long of it?" Natalia smiled. She always loved a good story, but it was more than that. She was finding herself more and more fascinated by the enigma of the unconscious woman on the bed. In one moment, Natalia saw the flash and fire of her anger. It made grown men shake with fear and cower in submission. In the next, she was passionate and soft – all woman. Natalia sighed at the thought and then pushed it aside to hear the story Blake was gearing up to tell.

"About thirteen years ago, my mother and I were on a merchant vessel from France, headed for the islands. We were attacked and captured by a band of pirates. Olivia was on the ship but she wasn't the captain. The captain was Mad Dog Murdock."

Natalia gasped. She had heard of the terror Mad Dog had reined over the region for years. One tale in particular she heard from her father as a child of Mad Dog attacking and killing everyone – men, women, and children – on a passenger ship. There was no glory or riches in the attack. It was merely for the sake of killing. The legend goes that the sea of that area ran red for a week before dissipating.

Blake smirked at Natalia's surprise. "But, that was Mad Dog's last attack. See, he was going to make a show of raping and torturing my mom and I. He probably would have if Olivia hadn't separated his head from his shoulders."

She watched as Natalia looked at Olivia with new eyes. Inwardly, she smiled, knowing her mother would be happy they had played their small part in the fulfillment of the prophecy. "She took over the ship and I've been with her ever since."

Natalia's voice was softer, almost melancholy sounding. She glanced away from the beautiful captain on the bed. "And your mother?"

"She died a few years ago during an attack." Blake looked down. "But she hasn't really left us." Natalia tilted her head to the side with a look of confusion and Blake smiled. "She…well, both of us, are a bit eccentric. We're what you'd call medicine women and…seers." 

Natalia was skeptical, naturally. The religious beliefs she was raised with making it hard for her to believe humans had those kind of capabilities, but she also knew the world was made up of all kinds of different and unique people and she really liked Blake, even if she was a little strange.

They shared a brief smile. Blake opened her mouth to ask about Natalia's history when she noticed a glint of rising sun coming through the porthole. Natalia had followed her gaze before looking back at the other woman. Blake smirked. "It looks like you're off the hook for now, but turnabout is fair play so you owe me your story."

Blake stood to leave, gathering the dirty rags and bowls. "I'm going to get breakfast started for the men. Do you want to help?"

Natalia's gaze had fallen back to the captain, who dozed fitfully, her feet kicking under the covers occasionally. "Actually, I should probably stay and keep an eye on her. If she has another attack, someone should be here."

Blake nodded. "That's a good idea." At first she wasn't going to say anything about what she'd seen when she came in on them earlier, but she changed her mind. "You know, it's not like the captain to act like that." She saw the blush of embarrassment spread across Natalia's face but the woman didn't say anything so she continued on. "She's never taken advantage of a woman. She's feverish and probably hallucinating. I doubt she'll even remember what happened." 

The brunette looked down and nodded. She was oddly happy and sad at the same time. The fact that Olivia's earlier aggressive behavior was atypical confirmed what Natalia was learning about the other woman. She wasn't nearly as hard and vicious as the rumors suggested. Yet, she was sad to think that Olivia would have no memory of it or that it may have not been an expression of her true feelings.

That last thought drew Natalia up short. She took a deep breath and wondered why she would even care. She should be happy that Olivia wouldn't remember or didn't feel that way. After all, she is betrothed to another. She certainly shouldn't be entertaining the notion of the ship's beautiful female captain being attracted to her. 

Blake observed the younger woman as thoughts flitted across her face. She bit back the laugh bubbling up inside and quietly exited the cabin. Once outside, she let the laughter out. "Oh, Momma, this is gonna be fun to watch! You certainly got this one right."

Josh Lewis ran his grimy hands frustratingly through his short hair as he stood on the bow of his ship. He watched his discouraged crew come back aboard and felt his ire grow at Phillip Spaulding. It wasn't the first time the thought had run through his head that the well-groomed captain had hoodwinked him. For the past week, his men toiled daily digging through sand and surf on three islands in hopes of finding the elusive, and now possibly non-existent, treasure.

As the last of his crew came aboard, he angrily pushed away from the rail of the bow. Turning to his men, he barked his orders. "Set sail for San Cristobel, boys. I have a meeting with one Captain Spaulding."

Relieved to get a couple of days free to knock the sand out of their boots, the men sent up a happy but weary cheer as they set their sails to the east-fairing winds.

The San Cristobel Governor's palace lived up to its name. It was well-appointed from top to bottom. Frank ran his hand along the marble banister at the top of the stairs as he left his massive guest suite. Soft, muted light cast shadows over the foyer below him as the morning began for the residents of the palace.

A sharp clang of pans was heard as the kitchen staff started breakfast and Frank caught the faint hint of a cigar. Governor Spaulding had practically made him sick with the scent of them as he smoked them constantly on the ship. The captain descended the steps, adjusting his formal dress uniform on the way, save his hat which was left in his room out of courtesy. Today was the day he had to give the governor his answer, and he wanted to assert an air of confidence and authority.

Following the sounds and smells, Frank rounded at the bottom of the staircase and walked to the back of the house. Directly off the large formal dining hall, boasting a chandelier that was probably the size of Frank's room upstairs, was the patio overlooking the cliffs. As Frank approached, he realized it wasn't an ordinary deck but a full entertainment area that ran from one end of the palace to the other and extended out to the cliff. There were half a dozen sitting areas throughout the space and Alan Spaulding sat at one of them. His bare feet rested in on an ottoman as he lounged back in his chair, examining a letter as he puffed on his cigar.

Alan felt a shadow fall across him, and he schooled his face to show only the friendliest of gestures. "Ah, good morning, Captain! You slept well, I hope."

"Wonderfully, thank you. The accommodations are beyond expectations." Propriety told Frank to stand and wait to be invited to join the governor; however, he had business he was eager to get down to. He gestured to the chair opposite the governor. "May I?"

"Of course, please. Forgive my rudeness." Alan snapped his fingers and a young man in bleached white shirt and pants raced over. "Coffee and breakfast for the captain. Just coffee for me."

Frank waited as the young man scampered off and once he was out of earshot, he turned back to Alan. "I'll do it."

Alan paused in snuffing out his cigar. "That's wonderful news, my good man. Perhaps we should celebrate."

Frank raised his hand in hesitation. "Let's not celebrate prematurely. There's still the matter of finding the treasure. Perhaps once it's found then celebrate."

The governor nodded his head. "That's a wise decision and why I chose you for this job. There is far too much at stake here, and I'm sure your personal incentive will be your driving force. It's dreadful to think what that perverse woman is putting your dear fiancé through aboard her ship. I simply hope we find dear Natalia in time."

He noticed the tightening of Frank's jaw and covered his amusement by sipping the coffee that had been brought to them. "Please, Captain Cooper, eat…drink. Tomorrow morning you will set sail with the finest seamen the Crown can offer. But for today, let's enjoy what is offered to us."

Snapping his fingers again, several scantily clad women exited from the palace and came to bow at Frank's feet.

The Captain looked first at the women, who seemed to be edging closer and getting bolder, then at the governor across from him – a smug smirk on his face. Alan stretched back in his chair raising his arms over his head and clasping his hands together behind his head. "Mi casa, su casa."

Dinah leaned back in her chair, eyeing the sleeping form in her bed. Smooth, wide shoulders healing of the cuts that had been inflicted. Lower, the faint mark of bruises lingered on the taunt skin. The rest, the most interesting part, she mused, aside from the naked calves and feet, were hidden by a thin white sheet. 

Since their dinner had been interrupted by the storm and Olivia being knocked overboard, Shayne hadn't left her cabin. For two days, when she wasn't running the crew, they were holed up in her cabin fucking like rabbits. The way they had sex had coincided with the way they had first met – rushed, frantic, and sexy as hell. There had been no use for talking. Hell, she didn't even know his last name, but she did know that she had never been this content before.

For a moment, she felt a touch of guilt. She should feel something, or at least she thought she should, for doing this with him when she had been with Olivia. But they had never staked any claims to the other or spoke words of forever. It was safe and friendly, gentle even. As if they were friends who understood the mutual need for intimacy and closeness. It wasn't bad, and certainly not something Dinah regretted or felt bad about, but it wasn't this…this fire that Shayne seemed to bring out in her. 

She shook her head of where that thought took her mind. The couple of times she had tried to see Olivia, Blake had intercepted her and said that Natalia was with her and tending to her. Dinah's natural reaction to protect Olivia had her rejecting Natalia's private care as a safety issue. After all, the woman was still a prisoner on their ship. Then she looked at Shayne as he shifted in the bed, the sheet drifting lower to expose his abdomen as he rolled onto his back. She moaned a little as she forced herself to stand and exit the cabin. Dinah mentally kicked herself because she obviously had no room to talk about what was safe.

Out on the deck, the sun was rising warm and humid above the horizon. The beauty of a well-led ship was that little had to be done to keep the crew working. Already the men were at their stations working diligently on their daily tasks.

She crossed the deck to Olivia's cabin. She hesitated momentarily before opening the door enough to poke her head inside. In the corner, she saw Natalia's reflection in the mirror as the brunette dressed in an oversized shirt and trousers a couple of sizes too big. Natalia bent over to roll the legs up and when she stood, she reached for a piece of parchment on the table in front of her. Carefully and with great care, she slipped the paper underneath her shirt and tucked it in her pants.

Dinah quietly stepped back and shut the door. Her old fears rose up, and she fought the urge to crash into the cabin, slam the woman against the wall, and demand to know what she's up to. An unease settled low and sickening in the pit of her stomach. She wasn't sure what that woman was hiding but she was determined to find out.


Chapter 14

Natalia let the leather bound Bible drop to her lap and leaned back against the headboard of Captain Spencer's bed, stretching her legs out on the soft mattress. She glanced at the still sleeping woman snuggled against her hip. The fever had finally broken earlier in the day and the restless woman had settled next to her like a content cat. She smiled softly and slid her fingers into the thick hair, gently massaging as she went. Suddenly beneath her hands she felt Olivia stir, jerking slightly with a sharp inhalation. 

The Captain was awake. 

"Hey! It's alive…" Natalia murmured softly so as not to startle her too badly. Her hands continued to stroke through the other woman's hair as bright green eyes fluttered open and blinked up at her sleepily. 

"Barely." Olivia groaned, not wanting to move, enjoying the affectionate touch of her bed mate. Sore muscles demanded movement though and she reluctantly rolled to her back, flopping her arm over her eyes to block the afternoon sunlight. "How long have I been out?" 

"About two days, your fever broke this morning." Natalia shifted, grabbing her book and sliding off the bed. She quietly went to prepare a bowl of special broth for the sick woman; Blake's parting orders should Olivia wake while she wasn't there. 

Olivia's mind rolled back over what she remembered. She recalled having an argument with the feisty stowaway, getting knocked overboard in a storm, a weird hallucination with Holly, being rescued and dragged back on board, and then more bizarre dreams. Probably fever induced.  

Her eyes snapped open as she recalled a particularly vivid dream, a passionate entanglement with a certain luscious stowaway. Olivia flushed, with arousal at the recalled response by the little spitfire, but also with embarrassment at her own lack of decorum.  

Her gaze fell on the petite woman, dressed in an oversized shirt and a pair of men's trousers held in place by a make shift belt made of rope. The trousers had been shortened roughly, probably a good six inches removed by blade, with Natalia's ankles and bare feet peeking out underneath. The new men's clothing couldn't hide the womanly curves underneath though, and Olivia swallowed hard at the memory of having her writhing beneath her. Jesus…it wasn't a dream, was it? 

Natalia turned and smiled at the Captain, catching her eyes before making her way back to her bedside with a bowl of something delicious smelling. She sank onto the mattress and held the bowl steady for the still fragile woman.

"I…uh, I think I might owe you an apology…" Olivia shifted under her covers and tried to sit up. She watched the brunette for any signs of anger or disgust. Obviously the girl hadn't run screaming from the cabin, but still, her actions had been way out of line. 

"No, no. Don't worry about that, you were feverish…" Natalia quickly avoided the subject, but oddly pleased that the Captain remembered. She placed the bowl on the nightstand and moved to help the weak woman into a more comfortable position, tucking another pillow behind her back for support. "Drink this broth Blake left for you. There are some herbs or something in it to speed healing and to help with the aches and pains." 

"Still, it shouldn't have happened, and I'm sorry if I made you uncomfortable." Olivia took a sip of her broth and waited for the woman's reply.  

Uncomfortable wasn't necessarily the word she might have used, but it was an apt enough description. Natalia smiled wryly to herself as she clearly remembered her body's reactions to the Captain's touch. Her hand fell to her Bible still lying on the mattress beside her and she sighed as reality crashed back in. As much as she was actually enjoying her captivity on the pirate ship, she had responsibilities, a duty to both God and country, and her family. 

"Apology unnecessary, Captain. However it is accepted." Natalia said quietly.  

Olivia felt the change in mood and she looked up, their eyes locking. A light tap at the cabin door broke the intense gaze, and a familiar blonde head poked into the room. 

"Olivia? You're up!" Dinah smiled widely and came into the Captain's quarters. "You had us worried there for awhile." The Quartermaster eyed Natalia as the dark haired girl slid from the Captain's bed and stood. Since seeing her tuck away that mysterious piece of parchment, she was determined to watch the girl like a hawk. Shayne had been stubbornly silent on the whole affair as well. She didn't trust the woman as far as she could throw her. She just needed to bide her time. 

"I'm a tough old bird. It will take more than a little fever to get rid of me." Olivia smiled warmly as she continued to work on the tasty soup. Her eyes narrowed thoughtfully however as she noticed the blonde's suspicious glances at Natalia. Something was going on there that she didn't know about. Yet.  

"I'll keep that in mind." Dinah grinned. "We're just pulling into Pirates Cove. When you're up for it, we should go through the haul from The Queen's Bounty and then send the boys down to the black market with what you don't want to keep." 

Olivia nodded, her eyes starting to droop again slightly. She sleepily watched as Natalia took the almost empty bowl from her and gathered some other dirty dishes from around the room.


"I think maybe I should take this back down to the galley and report to Blake. Let you get some more rest too, hmm?" Natalia said softly, moving towards the door. She glared at Dinah, trying to silently get the woman to leave the room.  

"Report to Blake?" Olivia yawned, wiggling back down under the covers again. 

"Natalia has been helping Blake feed and tend to the men. They've been raving about the new recipes actually." Dinah said before Natalia could get a word out. "And Shayne has also started helping the crew. With several men hurt we can certainly use the extra hands on deck." She smiled as Olivia muzzily nodded at her. "Get some rest, I'll report back later." 

Olivia's eyes were already closed. 

Dinah shook her head and Natalia just smiled. Together they quietly left the Captain's quarters. 


Reva stood behind the long polished bar, idly drying several glasses. It was mid-day and some of her girls were busy upstairs but it was always nice when the joint was relatively quiet. It gave her time to regroup and think. Buzz was in the kitchen trying to come up with a decent menu for the week and she had Stump mopping the floor. Her sources had told her that there would be a lot of Navy ships in and out of port in the next few days and she wanted the place ship shape. There were a lot of sailors waiting to drop some serious coin and she was more than willing to take it. 

In fact Reva had already seen a ship dock earlier in the day, and the grumblings on the street were that the Governor's son had arrived. Another damn Spaulding on San Cristobel soil, what the hell was the world coming too? 

The heavy oak door swung open and a familiar figure sashayed into the bar, elbowing poor Stump out of her way as she came in. Reva smiled and grabbed a bottle of her best whiskey from under the bar and started to pour into a freshly cleaned glass. The redhead sank onto a bar stool and smiled warmly as the glass was slid directly in front of her. 

"How's tricks, Doris?" Reva grinned, leaning against the bar at one of her best customers. 

"Shouldn't I be asking you that question?" The woman grinned and winked, gulping down her shot of whiskey and dropping the empty glass back to the bar top for a refill. Reva chuckled and gladly refilled the glass. 

"How is the Judge doing? Is his gout still bothering him?" Reva asked, starting to polish the bar top. Doris rolled her eyes and took another sip of her drink. 

"You would think the man was dying the way he goes on. I should be so lucky…" Doris grinned at the other woman. "Widow Wolfe, it has a ring to it, don't you think?" 

Reva laughed and shook her head. Doris was one of her best informants. Judge Wolfe confided everything to his wife, trusting her opinion implicitly and with good reason. The woman was a political shark. Without her influence and social cunning, he would still have been some lowly clerk in some pathetic law firm. The fact that Doris liked the company of women was a small idiosyncrasy that the man could live with, as long as his wife was discreet. At least that was how Doris portrayed it. 

Reva privately wondered just what Doris had on the Judge to be given such free reign, and to sway such influence on his judgments. Wisely she didn't ask. It was always best to stay on the good side of Doris Wolfe. 

"I have Kitty available if you're looking for some entertainment today…" Reva murmured quietly, pleased with the hungry gleam that suddenly appeared in her friend's eye.  

"I just wondered if you had any scuttlebutt about the new Governor?" Reva had no need to beat around the bush. It was a simple transaction of information for female companionship. Reva and Doris both knew the score, and gladly accepted the terms.  

"God, what a blow hard." Doris took another sip of her whiskey and rolled her eyes. "Too bad Spencer didn't do us all a favor and kill Alan when she had the chance." 

Reva's bark of laughter caught the attention of some of the patrons and she quickly stared them all down, before turning back to the redhead. She saw Kitty sitting in a corner talking to one of the other girls and made eye contact, silently signaling that the buxom girl was needed at the bar. 

"Captain Cooper was at the Governor's mansion, stayed overnight. Something is brewing there; I just don't know what yet. Alan's son is supposedly arriving shortly, and there is no love lost there according to my friends in Spain. And my husband has seen several girls from your competition coming and going at all hours. It would seem that it's business as usual up on the hill. " Doris nodded. Reva needed to know that other brothels were making inroads with Spaulding. Lost business and missed opportunities to curry favor with the Governor was something she needed to worry about. 

Reva sighed and nodded. It wasn't anything she didn't already know.  

Doris glanced up as Kitty appeared beside her, her hand sliding with familiar ease along the girl's narrow waist. She smiled as the girl leaned close, nuzzling along her hair, before whispering in her ear. 

Reva chuckled as Doris' eyes grew wide. Good old Kitty always knew how to scratch that itch. She poured a fresh shot into the whiskey glass and handed over a room key. Doris grabbed both gratefully, grinning rakishly before heading towards the small staircase with Kitty in tow. 

Reva went back to polishing her glasses and sighed. It was just another day in sunny corrupt San Cristobel…


Chapter 15

When The Devil's Beacon pulled into the port of Pirate's Cove the following day, Olivia made her first venture outside in almost a week. The concoctions that Blake had created had worked their magic, and Olivia felt capable of getting out of bed under her own power after several days.

The bright sun made her squint, raising a hand over her eyes waiting for them to adjust, but the warmth reached down into her spirit and made her feel alive. She felt so good at simply being alive that she startled a deck hand by smiling and greeting him with a "Good Morning." The gap-toothed young man looked at the one-armed man next to him and they both shrugged and shook their heads.

Olivia climbed the steps to the forecastle to look out over Pirate's Cove. In the light of day, it didn't look seedy. To the average person, the bustling decks with men carrying crates of merchandise to the waiting buyers looked like a typical port of trade. To a pirate though, this small port was as notorious as any you'd find on Tortugas. It was probably even more dangerous because it was more secluded and less well-known than its infamous cousin.

"Aye, mornin', Captain!" Dinah bounced up the steps to stand next to Olivia.

Olivia scrunched her eyebrows together in slight amusement. "Aye, you're awfully chipper this morning."

The blonde shrugged at Olivia's side and looked at the men moving on the decks below. "It'll be nice to get on land for a little while and conduct a little business."

"I suppose so." Unlike Dinah, Olivia had the ocean in her blood. The idea of being landlocked for a few days as they re-supplied and made some money on their goods frazzled her nerves. Olivia liked the freedom of being on the open sea; to be on land made her feel…claustrophobic.

"Good morning."

Olivia and Dinah turned to the voice behind them and saw Natalia and Blake standing there holding two bowls of food.

Natalia stepped forward first, stretching out her hands with the bowl to Olivia. "I went looking for you in your cabin. I assume that you're feeling better."

Olivia took the bowl, blushing slightly at the warm feeling it gave her to be served breakfast by the stunning woman. "Yes, I do. Thank you." Olivia felt stunned into silence as gentle brown eyes regarded her. She could feel Dinah and Blake watching their exchange with interest so she cleared her throat and nodded at Blake. "And of course, thank you Blake for the wonderful care you gave."

Blake nodded and smiled, handing off a bowl similar to the one Olivia held to Dinah. "You're welcome, Captain."

An awkward silence stretched between the four of them. Finally, Blake grabbed at Natalia's arm. "Do you smell that?"

Natalia sniffed the air but all she could make out was salt water and dead fish. "Smell what?"

Blake raised a hand to her mouth. "Oh no, I think I'm burning the bread."

"What bread?" Natalia shook her head. She had no idea what Blake was talking about. She wasn't even baking any bread. She didn't have a chance to question any further because the redhead grabbed her wrist and tugged her down the steps, pulling her back in the direction of the galley.

Dinah shook her head and started to turn around to lean on the rail when she saw the almost imperceptible smirk on Olivia's face. Dinah jammed her spoon back into the mush in her bowl and looked at Olivia. "What are you doing?"

The captain turned a harsh eye on Dinah. "I don't think I know what you mean."

"You know exactly what I mean, Olivia. I know that look in your eyes." She watched as Olivia turned around, unable to make eye contact with her, but suddenly very interested in the food in her bowl. "Don't be foolish and fall for the wench."

A moment of silence passed between them before Olivia shook her head and scoffed. "You're one to talk."

"What do you mean?" Dinah swallowed nervously.

Olivia smiled wistfully at her friend. "You haven't been in my bed in almost a month."

The blonde waved a hand in the air. "You were injured."

Olivia's voice was hard-edged. "Not the whole time. Besides, injury and illness never stopped you before from joining me in bed." She watched as Dinah rested the bowl with shaking hands on the rail. "I noticed this morning that you had a bounce in your step that you haven't had in a long time. You're my friend and always have been, and more than anything, I want you to be happy. If Shayne makes you happy, then I'm happy for you. I'd appreciate it if you could feel the same for me."

The relief that came over Dinah was palpable. She was truly worried that Olivia may be upset about her interest in Shayne. "I do want you to be happy, Olivia." She hesitated before she said the next part, but since they were being honest this morning, she decided to go all out. The memory of seeing Natalia hiding that parchment continued to haunt her. "But, I'm not sure if Natalia is the right one for you."

"I never said she was, but if you can have a roll in the hay, then certainly I can too." Olivia straightened her shoulders and raised her chin unconsciously in defiance.

The action made Dinah smile a little. "But that's not all it is and you know it." She pulled back at the cool look Olivia turned on her. "I know you, Olivia. You act tough but you're not. I just…I don't want to see you get hurt."

Olivia was ready for the conversation to be over. She laughed a little. "If I can take a knock to the head and survive nearly drowning, I think I can handle that little wench."

Reading the captain's body language, Dinah knew it was time to drop the subject. This was how it usually went with Olivia. You had to plant a seed, but the doubts and fears of her friend always seemed to nurture the seed into full-blown, overgrown weeds before all was said and done.

"I'll see you on land shortly." She clapped her friend on the shoulder and took her bowl to return it to the galley.

It was several hours later when Olivia and Dinah had finished going through the prizes they'd gained from the Queen's Bounty. The men had hauled several trunks off the ship and waited for further instruction on the docks.

Olivia stood at the ramp to disembark, double-checking that she had her cutlass and flintlock pistol on her person. She glanced behind her at Natalia and Shayne. The subtle smile Natalia cast her way showing off a hint of dimple made her hesitate on what she was about to say to Dinah. Closing her eyes and looking away, she steeled herself and looked back at her quartermaster.

"I won't be on shore long. I need to get some supplies and information. I need your utmost attention in watching our prisoners. Don't get…," she raised an eyebrow and looked over at Shayne, being sure to avoid Natalia's dark eyes, "distracted. They're still prisoners and should be treated as such."

Olivia watched and waited for Dinah's reaction. A few seconds passed as the blonde looked down, obviously not liking the instructions before glancing back up and nodding her head with determination.

Dinah followed the captain until she was out of sight down an alley. Narrowing her eyes, she turned to the two prisoners. Walking slowly over to them, she glanced around the nearly empty ship as an idea came to her. She called a man over to them.

"How much repair needs to done on the hull, sailor?" Her jaw clenched as she conveyed a stern look to the toothless man.

He blew out a rancid breath and scratched at bald head. "Aye, enough that we be lucky to finish by the time we're set to leave."

She straightened up and looked down at him satisfied with the plan. "It's safe to say then that extra hands would help greatly."

"Aye, most definitely!" His blue eyes, the only attractive part of him, twinkled at the thought. Anything to make his life easier at this point was welcome.

The blonde gestured at Shayne. "Meet your new assistant."

Shayne looked at her in surprise. "What?"

"Don't question me!" She growled out and Shayne jerked back. She hated having to be like this towards him, but to have her plan work she needed him out of the way. Looking back at the other pirate, she made sure to be clear. "Do not let him out of your sight. If he so much as moves one hair without your approval, you have the right to gut him from stem to stern. But if he manages to escape your sight, know without a doubt that you'll face the same fate."

The grizzly man swallowed hard. "Aye. You have my word."

"Good." She made room for the two men to leave and get to work on the ship. Looking over at Natalia, she smirked at the brunette. "Looks like it's you and me."

Natalia refused to look away from the chilly eyes glittering at her. She tilted her chin up in a show of defiance. "I think Blake needs me to clean out the galley for new stock."

The blonde stepped closer. "Blake's been doing that on her own for a long time now. I think she can do without your assistance this once."

"What did you have in mind?" She regarded the other woman wearily.

Dinah tilted her head at Natalia, shrugging slightly. "Just a little chat…woman-to-woman."

Natalia knew she didn't have room to barter or get out of the situation. The best she could hope for was buying some time until Olivia came back. A firm hand on her arm encouraged her to move towards Dinah's quarters.

The dank alley's of Pirate's Cove were probably some of the most disgusting in the Caribbean. It wasn't uncommon to see dead rats and human feces as you passed the entryway of bars and brothels. Olivia cringed as she walked by a pirate and a whore having sex in the alley. She didn't fashion herself as someone prudish and uptight. In fact, she had quite a colorful sex life, but even she had her limits.

Finding the door to the merchant she was looking for, she knocked briefly before entering. The small space was so littered with odds and ends that she could barely move once she closed the door behind her.

"Hello?" A loud clatter up the steep wooden staircase made her jump.

"Coming, coming!" A chipper voice called down from the loft. She couldn't see the person descending the steps and was almost caught off guard when a short man in glasses appeared in front of her. He stopped short and peered up at her through his glasses, pushing them up on his pointed nose for a better look. "Oh my, Captain Spencer! Long time, long time. How have you been?"

She smiled down at him. "Very good, Curtis. How are the grandkids? Marla must be…what, 12 now?"

He shook his graying head. "Thirteen, actually. Hard to believe. I'm afraid to say though that my oldest boy, John, went off to join the royal navy. He didn't fare well in their last pirate raid and infection set in his wound."

Olivia blinked back the tears, remembering the man as a young boy. He had liked to play hide and seek with her when she came looking for supplies from his father and had always been a bit enamored with her. She felt the nagging guilt of her profession and had little consolation to offer the old man. "I'm sorry, Curtis."

He wiped away a tear quickly and smiled. "Ah, 'tis the life we lead here. No use frettin' over it. I'm sure he's better off. So, what can I help you with, Captain?"

She sighed and gave him a list of items she needed. Looking around the mess, her mind drifted to Dinah's comments that morning. They had known each other for many years and were obviously more connected and in tune with each other than the average crewmates. However, what Dinah didn't know was that for years Olivia had felt a restlessness that even the seas couldn't tame. There was something she had been missing and she hadn't even been sure what it was until Natalia showed up. She was loathe to admit it, but she hadn't slept so good as the few days and nights Natalia had comforted her as she recovered from her injury. There was something calming about the younger woman's presence, and it would have suited Olivia fine for them to simply drift among the waves for the rest of their lives.

The thought startled her, and she reprimanded herself for it. She had fallen for a prisoner and not just any prisoner but one with ties to the royal family. It surprised her that even in all this time she hadn't bothered to ask Natalia any personal questions. Interrogation of prisoners was a normal part of capture, but nothing about this situation had proven normal.

She sighed as Curtis carried around a box of staple supplies for the ship and took it from him. Passing over a bag of coin and hoisting the box under her arm, she left the store. The sun was beginning to set. She walked with purposeful steps through the alley, a smile on her face as she looked forward to seeing Natalia again.

Dinah poured from the decanter into a glass. Out of the corner of her eye, she could see Natalia standing uncomfortably near the door. "Please, take a seat." She held up the decanter as an offering, "Wine?"

Natalia crossed her arms. "No, thank you, and I prefer to stand."

The blonde poured another glass anyway and strolled over to Natalia. "It wasn't a suggestion. Sit." She smirked as she could tell Natalia was clenching her jaw in anger. She could almost hear the thoughts in the brunette's head as she debated the merits of pushing her luck. When Natalia did acquiesce and sit, Dinah handed the glass of wine to her. Natalia took it but didn't drink.

Dinah stepped a couple of feet away to lean against her writing desk. She allowed the silence to stretch between them. Most people would get nervous and talk, but Natalia simply sat there watching her. It was infuriating yet she couldn't help but admire the other woman's spunk. Finally, she broke the silence. "I think it's time you came clean, Natalia."

"With what?" Natalia kept her face neutral. When she had put her mind to it, she had always been very good at hiding her emotions.

Dinah sighed, annoyed by the resistance. "Whatever it is you're hiding, and I know you're hiding something." She waited, and when Natalia refused to speak, she put her glass down and stepped forward. "I saw you hiding a piece of parchment under your clothes. I want to know what it is."

Dark eyes looked up at her with simmering anger. Dinah felt her resolve snap. She gathered a handful of dark hair in her hands and yanked Natalia's head back.

Natalia yelped at the pain and almost immediately growled in anger.

Dinah tightened her grip. "Olivia cares about you, and I care about her. We can do this the easy way or the hard way. I know how to hurt you without leaving a mark, and Olivia would never know. Do not test me because if you hurt her, I will kill you. Slowly and painfully."

The force of the tugging at the nape of her neck was pulling Natalia up from her chair. It made it hard to talk so she spluttered out her response. "I'm not here to hurt her."

"Then what are you hiding?" Dinah insisted.

Natalia panted, "Something useful. Something Olivia would want for herself."

Against her better judgment, Natalia was willing to give up the information on the map. It wasn't because she necessarily trusted pirates with the treasure, but that she trusted Alan Spaulding with the other half even less. If anyone could stop Alan from gaining access to the Skull of Fate, it was Olivia Spencer. What Natalia would do once Olivia had it, she wasn't sure. She guessed she'd have to figure that out later.

Curious at the response, Dinah let up her death grip on Natalia. "And that is?"

"I'll tell Olivia myself when she returns. Until then, you can tie me to this chair or do anything you want, but I'm not saying anymore until she gets back."



Chapter 16

The sun had set, dipping below the horizon, the last rays of sunlight turning the sky brilliant shades of orange and purple as Captain Olivia Spencer finally made her way back down the dock to her ship. Tucking the box of supplies tighter under her arm, she dashed up the boarding ramp and nodded to the old seadog finishing up one last repair on deck before it became too dark.

"Is she sea-worthy, Charlie?" Olivia paused, smiling impishly at the weathered man as he stood and wiped his brow.

"Aye, Cap'n." The toothless grin was worth the whiff of sour breath. Olivia nodded, pleased, a little surprised though as the usually stoic man continued. "That new hand, Shayne? He'd make a mighty fine addition to the crew, if'n you don't mind me sayin', Ma'am."

Olivia lifted an eyebrow. That was high praise indeed from the crusty sailor. And he knew she had a bad habit of taking in stray dogs and blending them into her crew of misfits. It would seem Shayne had made the grade with old Charlie today.

"I'll keep that in mind." Olivia shifted her box and started towards the crew quarters. "Now go get some grub before Blake strings you up from the crow's nest." She smiled to herself as the old man's cackle followed her in the breeze. 

Olivia had worried a little about leaving Natalia onboard with the mood Dinah had been in, but the Quartermaster had made her point. She did need to interrogate the girl and find out just what made her think she was such an asset, besides the obvious slave trade value she could earn.

A cold knot formed in her stomach and Olivia frowned at the thought of some dirty man touching Natalia's delicate skin, pawing at her dainty frame. It made her skin crawl just thinking about it. Not that she would ever stoop to selling anyone, more likely she would try to save someone in that type of situation. Still she needed to find out more about her lovely prisoner. Looking up she realized that she had arrived at Dinah's quarters. She heard soft moans coming from inside, the door slightly ajar.

"What the…" Olivia knocked and pushed the door open fully, lifting an eyebrow as she took in the sight in front of her.   

Dinah's head snapped up, eyes flashing dangerously. A soft blush tinted her fair skin as she slowly stood and extricated herself from the prisoner tied to the chair. She was either very angry or very aroused. Or possibly both.

"I hope I'm not interrupting anything?" Olivia stepped into the cabin and shut the door behind her.

"Olivia! " Dinah smiled rakishly and started buttoning her shirt back up. Olivia bit her bottom lip and tried very hard not to smirk at the flustered woman. "I didn't expect you so soon…"

"So I gathered. Interesting interrogation technique, Dinah." Olivia teased as she dropped her box onto the desk and completely ignored the gagged and sweaty half naked man tied to the chair, currently struggling with his bindings. She popped open the lid and pulled out her special treat for her friend. Dinah smiled widely and snatched the riding crop from out of the air as her Captain tossed it to her. "Don't say I never get you anything."

"Well, considering you broke my last one…" Dinah's eyes narrowed as she studied her new toy, before slapping it playfully against her thigh and laughing softly.

"Yeah, yeah. Don't start…" Leaning forward Olivia ran her fingers through short damp hair and tugged his head back roughly and whispered softly into the man's ear. "Don't struggle so much, Shayne. She ties the knots so they get tighter when you do."

Olivia laughed at the mischievous glitter in the man's eyes who was obviously enjoying himself and let him go. Dinah had certainly found herself a live one with this man, and honestly she was happy for them. She shook her head and gathered her box of supplies before heading to the door.

"I left you a present in your cabin too, Olivia." Dinah trailed the leather crop across Shayne's broad shoulders before snapping it sharply against tender skin, grinning widely at his yelp of surprise. "I think she has something she wants to tell you." 

"You have had a busy day, haven't you?" Olivia nodded, a little concerned about what she'd find waiting for her in her own quarters. She never knew what Dinah would do when she was in one of these moods. She shut the cabin door behind her, soft moans of pleasure reaching her ears as she left.

She had no one to blame but herself and Natalia knew it. She had basically taunted the Quartermaster, daring her to do her worst. She had successfully evaded every probing question the persistent blonde had launched at her about the hidden piece of paper and what it meant, all while refusing glass after glass of wine or mead. 

Natalia however had greatly underestimated the sneaky pirate, thinking she was so much smarter and onto Dinah's wiley ways and that had been her mistake. She knew she shouldn't have trusted Dinah, who finally seemed to give up on plying her with alcohol and instead offered her fresh squeezed orange juice. And as the Quartermaster had poured her glass after glass of the tasty juice, she hadn't thought anything of it.

Natalia had thought she had everything under control, as Dinah smugly sipped at her own goblet of wine still grilling her with questions about her past. Instead she had been played for a fool. It wasn't until half way into her third large mug of the tasty fruit juice that Natalia realized she was starting to feel tipsy, even a little woozy. Dinah meanwhile seemed none the worse for wear with her goblet of wine. She just seemed very amused at the whole situation, in a patronizing kind of way.

The woman was most annoying in general really, the way she mooned after Olivia. And if she hadn't tumbled out of her chair, Natalia would have told her as much. Luckily though, after the laughter had died down, Dinah merely shook her head and helped her to her feet, before promptly depositing her into the Captain's quarters. She was leaving her there for a 'proper interrogation' when Olivia returned, Dinah had cryptically said, and then she had left, locking the door behind her.

That had been at least a half hour ago. Natalia stifled a hiccup and tried to lie perfectly still on the Captain's comfortable feather mattress. She couldn't fathom why the world seemed to be spinning when her eyes were closed, and yet when she opened them again nothing had moved. It was most odd. Her eyes popped open as she heard the key in the door finally turn.

"Natalia?" Olivia stopped and stared at the disheveled girl lounging in her bed. What had Dinah done now? 

"You're back!" Natalia tried to sit up and lost her balance, clumsily falling back down into the soft duvet.

Olivia dropped her box of supplies on the small desk and noticed an almost empty mug of juice. She picked it up and sniffed, faintly smelling the tell tale scent of rum mixed in. She glanced over at the giggling woman across from her. Just how much had the girl had to drink? Her eyes narrowed and she recognized Dinah's sneaky hand in all of this.

"Dinah said I needed to tell you something or she'd tell you herself. She's awfully bossy where you're concerned..." Natalia frowned. She didn't like the way the blonde watched Olivia. Possessive and familiar. Too familiar. 

"You don't say…" Olivia smirked, noting the jealous tone and poured herself a glass of wine before coming sit on the edge of the bed. Natalia was drunk, no ifs, ands, or buts about it. And she was adorable. She watched as the woman struggled to sit upright and then made her way down the bedcovers to perch beside her on the mattress, swaying ever so slightly.

"Is the ship spinning a little?" Natalia murmured running a hand through her hair, before reaching for Olivia's glass and stealing a sip of her wine.

"Ah, no…" Olivia shook her head and took her glass back. Standing she wandered over to the table and poured a big mug of water from the pitcher before handing it over to the woman in her bed. Dark eyes looked up at her, her long lashes blinking slowly as a smile broke out, flashing those dimples that did things to her heart.

"Drink this. It will help you in the morning. Trust me." Olivia watched as the girl obediently swallowed, drinking the whole glass down and handing it back to her. She sat back down on the bed as Natalia stretched and yawned beside her. "Now what was it you need to tell me?"

"I have a secret." Natalia moved forward, putting her hand down on the mattress and leaning close. "I have something that I want to give you. Something I think you're going to really like." Her other hand went to the hem of her white cotton shirt as she started to pull it free from the waistband of her trousers. 

Olivia's eyebrows rose nearly off her forehead and she took a big gulp of her drink. Surely she couldn't mean what she thought she meant.

"But you have to promise you'll still respect me…" Natalia murmured softly, worried that once she gave up the map Olivia would have no use for her any longer and she would be cast aside. And that thought hurt her more than she thought possible.

"Oh, honey, you have my word of honor." Olivia smiled, her hand moving to gently cup Natalia's cheek, her thumb moving to trace the dimple she found there. Natalia lowered her eyes shyly and then looked up at her with such trust. Olivia's heart started to pound.

"I have it here…" Natalia began to tug at her trousers, popping the first few buttons on her pants open and pulling the tails of the long cotton shirt completely out.

"Hey, slow down. There's no rush. We've got all night and I'm not going anywhere." Olivia smiled softly, pleased when Natalia paused in her movements.

"Don't you want to see it?" Natalia blinked slowly, her befuddled mind trying to figure out the best way to tell the Captain about the map.

"Of course I do...I just don't want to do anything you don't truly want to do." Olivia shook her head and took another gulp of wine, smiling as Natalia reached out and stole her glass again. She watched amused as the brunette handed the drink back after a long swallow and began pulling on her shirt again, as if willing her fingers to undo the stubborn buttons. 

"Damn it." Natalia's eyes suddenly grew wide and she covered her mouth in shock at what had just come out of her mouth.

"Well, you're a sailor now with a mouth like that." Olivia teased, leaning back on her elbows to semi-recline on the bed. Natalia flopped back onto the downy mattress beside her and sighed.

"My grandfather was a sailor. He sailed in the Navy for many, many years. I think it's in my blood y'know?" Natalia turned her head. "I never knew why my father went into politics when he could have sailed the seven seas too. I wish…"

Their eyes locked as they stared at each other for a moment, the air growing charged between them. Time seemed to stretch forever, as they searched for something found only in the other.

"You have the most amazing eyes…" Natalia murmured finally and then she sat up abruptly as she realized what she had said. Olivia followed, sitting up and reaching out with her hand, long fingers curling around her shoulder, turning her back to face her.

"What do you wish, Natalia?" Olivia smiled softly, tentatively offering more wine from her cup to the suddenly shy woman.

Natalia closed her eyes and sighed. She wished for so many things that she could never have. She bowed her head, accepting that the Captain was most likely going to steal her map away and try to take the Skull of Fate for herself. Meanwhile she would be returned to her fiancé, safe and sound, and trapped in a life she couldn't see herself living anymore.

She opened her eyes, feeling the world spinning again. Natalia knew she would rather Olivia have the treasure instead of Alan Spaulding any day. It was time to confess all and hope the Captain might let her stay.

"There is so much you don't know…" Natalia smiled sadly. There was so much she wished she could change now that she'd had a taste of what freedom was. "I was on my way to San Cristobel to be married to Captain Frank Cooper." She watched Olivia stiffen at her words. "I'm the eldest daughter of the Governor of Roco de Dolor, and the marriage was arranged to strengthen our ties to San Cristobel and Spain."

Olivia swore. The thought of that bumbling fool touching Natalia…no one deserved that fate. She turned to meet the sad dark eyes before her once more, lifting a hand to brush soft strands behind a delicate ear. She smiled as Natalia's eyes drifted closed and she turned into her touch, sighing with pleasure. She really needed to help save her little stowaway from a fate almost worse than death.

"It doesn't matter. I just wish…" Natalia's lip started to quiver and she felt light headed again. She had an overwhelming desire to just be held, but she needed to reveal everything to Olivia first.

"What I-I mean is that I want you to have…" Natalia began, nervously trying to figure out the best way to say this, slowly starting to unbutton her shirt again to get to the map tucked inside. She watched Olivia's eyes drop to follow her hands, staring at her body as she peeled the cotton shirt opened to reveal her toned stomach. She felt very warm, light headed even as her heart began to race even faster. She pulled the parchment from the folds of her clothes and felt herself leaning closer to the Captain. Everything seemed so far away and dark all of a sudden…

Olivia glanced up from Natalia's toned abs in time to see the woman fall forward, catching her as she slumped right onto her lap. She quickly held her tight before she tumbled to the bed. Laughing softly, she noticed something, and moved to pull the faded parchment clutched in the other woman's hand.

"Just what were you trying to show me, hmm?" Olivia glanced down and smiled gently at the softly snoring woman. She shifted her to one side, making sure she was comfortable and taking one last longing look at a tan toned stomach, before sitting up and turning her attention to the paper the girl had apparently been hiding from her for so long. Their conversation was far from over but it would have to wait for now.

Olivia slowly stood and moved from the bed, heading towards her desk, opening the folded paper as she went. Laying it flat on the desktop, she realized what she had before her.

A treasure map. 

Or more accurately, as the Captain ran her long fingers along the ragged edge of the paper, it was half of a treasure map. It was the outline of an island, somewhere in the Caribbean. In the bottom corner of the yellowed paper was an inscription in a language she didn't recognize. And in the center was a red x with a drawing of a skull. A skull that looked eerily familiar to the Captain.

Olivia's heart beat a little faster as she recalled where. Surely her visitation from Holly had been merely a crazed dream, and yet here was a map showing her the path to the very thing the crazy voodoo woman had said. She quickly turned to the box of supplies sitting near by. Digging down, she located the book that she had found in town, a reference manual on voodoo, spells and magic.

Flipping through it, she found the page that had drawn her to buy the strange book in the first place. There was an illustration of a crystal skull, again similar to the one that she had seen in her dream. Olivia had heard old sea tales about a crystal skull, but she never really paid much mind. Now though as she quickly skimmed through the pages she found the image and started reading.

"The Skull of Fate is made of pure crystal…" Olivia scanned a little lower. "Its magical powers are said to grant immortality when in the right hands and will show the true fate of the heart that holds it." Olivia's eyes widened as the implications hit her.

Immortality. If the legend was true, this would be an incredibly valuable object.

Bringing the book closer to the map, the Captain stared back and forth between the two skull drawings. She glanced up, her eyes falling on the sleeping woman passed out in her bed.

"Dear God, Natalia. You have a map to the Skull of Fate!"


Chapter 17

After getting the ship to set sail again, Olivia returned to her quarters and a snoring Natalia. For several hours, she had sat and read, and re-read, the passages about the skull. Closely examining the map, she rubbed at her eyes and struggled to focus. The edge of the paper was jagged, obviously ripped apart, letting her know that somewhere, someone had the other half of the map, and perhaps the most important part of it showing where to dig for the treasure.

She sighed and stretched in the solid wooden chair at her desk, giving her eyes a temporary rest. She used to think she decided her own fate, determining what path she took and answering to no one. However, looking over at the sleeping form of the dark-haired woman, she knew fate had brought them together. Any other time and in any other situation, she would have left Natalia on Alan's ship the way she had found her. But she had been drawn to Natalia from the moment she had laid eyes on her. It wasn't just the smaller woman's fire, though that was intriguing, but it was definitely something she couldn't put her finger on. Glancing back at the map, she smirked and ran the tip of her finger over the outline of the mystery island. Maybe she had finally figured out what she had been seeking for so long.

When Natalia stirred, Olivia set the book aside and moved to the side of the bed. Dark hair fell across a pained face as Natalia pushed up on her elbow. Pushing her hair back with the other hand, she licked at her dry lips and smacked them. She gave a disgusted look like a rat had died in her mouth and shook her head. The mistake was instantaneous, and she sat up the rest of the way in order to grab her head with both hands to stop it from splitting apart.

Natalia peaked between her fingers, letting her eyes slowly adjust to the light in the room. She was greeted by a smirking and amused Olivia Spencer.

Natalia growled out, her voice gravelly, "What are you looking at?" 

Olivia quirked an eyebrow and glanced at the beautiful expanse of naked breasts and stomach in front of her. She couldn't stop the laugh that bubbled up when Natalia followed her eyes down to her own naked body and quickly jerked the sheet back up to her shoulders. With realization setting in, Natalia could feel that not only was she naked from the waist up but very much so from the waist down.

Olivia's sultry green eyes looking at everything but Natalia's face was doing nothing to quell the feeling of nakedness either. Then another thought came to the forefront in her foggy mind since she knew that Olivia had a preference for women. "What did you do to me, you heathen?"

The captain tilted her head to the side, clearly amused. "Heathen? Oh my dear lady, I assure you that I was a complete gentle…man. I heard no complaints from you anyway, and 'heathen' wasn't exactly your word of choice earlier. I have to say, you have some fine stripper skills."

Natalia blanched white at the thought and then felt a jolt hit her dead in the center under the covers. Did I…did we…did I miss it? A wave of disappointment overcame her almost as fast as her internal reprimand. You shouldn't be disappointed! God help me!

The dark haired woman deflected the emotions her thoughts stirred onto the captain. "How dare you take advantage of me!"

Olivia couldn't help herself. "It's only taking advantage when you put up a fight." She let Natalia twist in the wind for a moment and finally came clean. "But get you drunk enough and you spill all the beans! Apparently, you can't hold your liquor either because you…," Olivia made the universal gesture of throwing up and smiled, "everywhere. Blake had to help me get your clothes off because it was everywhere. I have a new set here."

Natalia wasn't sure to feel relieved, disappointed, or angry that she had been played by Olivia. She gritted her teeth together, then let up and sighed when she felt the throbbing in her head intensify. "Can I have the clothes?"

Olivia smirked and leaned in a little closer, her hand brushing along the outside of Natalia's thigh that was covered by only a thin sheet. "Only if you ask nicely."

Natalia tried to roll her eyes but it hurt. She closed them instead and moved her leg away from Olivia's touch. "Please."

"Better." Olivia stood up from the bed and went to the table across the room, gathering the clothes in her hand. Walking back over, she tossed them to the end of the bed so it would force Natalia to sit up on her knees to reach them.

Instead of showing her unease, Natalia called Olivia's bluff and slowly moved to her hands and knees letting the sheet drop from her body.

Olivia swallowed hard at the sight. My God! Spinning around, she gave Natalia some privacy to dress. She didn't think she could handle much more. 

Natalia pulled the shirt and pants to her chest and sat back on her haunches. Seeing that Olivia was turned around and pretending to look at something on the table, she stood up from the bed, swaying slightly at the effects of the hangover, and quickly got dressed.

She sat back down on the edge of the mattress and watched Olivia for a moment. The honeyed strands of her hair was falling around her shoulders and Natalia had a brief flash of wonder at what Olivia was like without the cutlass and pistol at her waist. What would she look like in a dress…or without? Natalia thought. The train of thought derailed her breathing and she took in a ragged gasp of air.

Olivia glanced over her shoulder and saw Natalia watching her intently, her cheeks slightly reddened. She could only speculate on what put that there, but the few moments she had bought while she had been turned away Natalia had helped her mind get back on important matters at hand.

Olivia walked toward the cabin door. "You need some food. I'll get Blake."

Natalia let out a deep sigh as Olivia exited the room. She tried to gather her wits about her again and convince herself to not get too comfortable. She was still a captive on a pirate ship, and she still had obligations to her family and to Captain Cooper as his future wife. The thought gave her a sinking feeling, but there was little choice in debating it. This was her lot. She didn't remember much of last night, but she did remember the quartermaster's interrogation and her own decision to give Olivia the map. If Olivia had stripped her of her clothes last night, the pirate certainly had to have the map now one way or another.

Maybe now if fate was on her side, Olivia would see fit to set her free in exchange for the map. Every pirate wants riches and treasure, right?

The door creaked open and in came Olivia with a tray of soup, bread, and hot tea. The smell was wonderful and Natalia's stomach grumbled in both good and bad ways at the scent filling the cabin. 

Olivia nodded her head toward the table. "Here, sit and eat. Blake put some special herbs in the tea to help with your headache."

Natalia sat down at the dining table and pulled her chair up close. She glanced down as Olivia slid the tray in front of her. Looking back up, her eyes locked with smoky green, and for a second, Natalia was taken aback by how soft and vulnerable Olivia looked. She cleared her throat. "Thank you. For the food. For…everything. You were very…gentlemanly."

Olivia smiled genuinely, chuckling a little at the re-use of her earlier word to Natalia. "Some pirates do have integrity. Besides, you're a lady and deserve to be treated as such."

Natalia had dipped her spoon into the soup but stopped short with bringing it up as her stomach flipped at the words. She wasn't sure why she pursued the line of discussion but the thought wouldn't leave her. "Is that how you treat women?"

The captain saw the hesitation and maybe even fear in Natalia's eyes at asking the question. She wasn't sure why Natalia was opening this door, but she felt like somehow this was crucial for Natalia to know. Tilting her head a little, she regarded the dark-haired beauty, who still hadn't lifted the spoon in her hand. "I don't treat women like whores, Natalia. Even my whores aren't treated like whores. Any woman that shares my bed does so willingly because every woman deserves to be truly loved by her lover." 

Natalia pondered over the words. Setting her spoon down against the bowl, she took the bread from her tray and she leaned back in her chair. "Have you always had female lovers?"

Olivia leaned against the wall behind her and crossed her ankles, her hands behind her back. "Yes," she stated without elaboration. She wanted Natalia to ask only what she felt comfortable with asking.

"Who was your first?" Natalia's voice was soft and difficult to hear from across the room.

Olivia pushed off the wall and sat down in the chair across from Natalia. She leaned over on elbows. "Sarah. My best friend."

"What happened to her?" Natalia wanted to know but dreaded the answer. She could see the loss and sadness on Olivia's downcast face, but it quickly shifted to something dark.

"Three sailors in the Royal Navy docked on San Cristobel. We were walking home from church and took a detour into an alley so no one would see us. But they did." Olivia's voice was low and angry, and Natalia felt her stomach knot and a rush of hatred at the men boil in her blood. 

"I'm sorry." Natalia didn't know what else to say. She reached across the table and took one of Olivia's hands in her own.

Olivia continued as if she hadn't heard. She was lost in her own world, trapped in that time. "She got an infection from the internal injuries and died a week later." Olivia stood and walked across the room. She poured a hearty helping of whiskey from the decanter and tossed back the shot in one gulp. She poured another and sipped it a little slower.

Natalia sat there feeling sick to her stomach and it had nothing to do with her hangover. To think that Olivia had gone through such a horror make her angry and sad. She wanted to go to her, hold her, and try to make her forget that the world could be such a painful place. It explained so much about her though and why she had chosen this path.

Revenge was a dark mistress.

Olivia turned from the wall and regarded Natalia. "I need your help with something." 

Natalia was surprised by the quick change in subject and demeanor of her captor. Suddenly, Captain Olivia Spencer was all business. The older woman came back to the table and sat down again. From her trouser pocket, she pulled the map and spread it out on the table.

"You do have it," Natalia remarked.

Olivia smirked, realizing that Natalia probably didn't remember much of what happened after her interrogation by Dinah. "You gave it to me. In a very unique way, I might add."

"What?" Natalia furrowed her brows.

Olivia scratched at the back of her neck, feeling a little self-conscious at the admission. "I thought you were trying to seduce me. You were unbuttoning your shirt and…," Olivia motioned with her hand as if it would explain any other actions Natalia had taken.

"Oh." Natalia blushed furiously. 

"You're very flirtatious when you're drunk." Olivia smiled.

Natalia was ready to change the subject. The thought that she had flirted with the good looking female pirate unnerved her. "So, what do you need help with?"

Olivia tapped the map on the table with her finger. "Where is this?"

Natalia slid her chair back and went around the table to stand over Olivia's shoulder. "It's obviously an island." 

Olivia looked back at her and gave her a disbelieving look. "Really? I never would have guessed that."

Natalia leaned a little closer, studying the topography. She continued on, not paying attention to Olivia's sarcasm. "It's almost impossible to tell without the rest of the map. It looks like every other island in the Caribbean – high in the middle with the mountains, waterfalls at the base." 

An idea occurred to Olivia. "How did you get this map?"

The look on Natalia's face made Olivia think she may have had the same thought. "It was in the trunk that I was hiding in on Alan's ship."

Olivia leaned back and rubbed at her chin. "That means either that it's still in the trunk or someone else has the other piece of this map."

Natalia shook her head. "The rest of it is not in the trunk. I checked."

"Damn it!" Olivia jumped from her chair and threw the door open on her cabin. Natalia raced after her, climbing the steps of the deck to the wheel two at a time to keep up.

"What's going on, Olivia?" The pirate manning the wheel gave Natalia an odd look for addressing the captain so casually. Olivia pushed him out of the way, ignoring the look on his face. Natalia grabbed at her arm as the older woman took hold of the wheel and began to turn the vessel around. "What are you doing?"

Green eyes danced with fire and Natalia felt the rush of it to her core. "Heading back to San Cristobel to find Alan Spaulding and get the rest of my map."


Chapter 18

Josh scrubbed at his stubble with his blistered hand. He winced at the pain forgetting yet again that he had spent the last two weeks digging on abandoned islands all over the Caribbean trying to find that blasted treasure Phillip Spaulding had sent him on a wild goose chase for.

He slammed back the shot of rum in his glass and tapped the bar for another filling. Reva's bar was packed and Buzz didn't have time to deal with Josh's petulance. He grabbed the bottle of liquor and slid it down to his friend.

"Perhaps you should try putting some of that on those hands of yours, Josh. You never could handle pain very well." Buzz joked with the younger man.

Josh pulled out the cork and swallowed a healthy dose of the alcohol, letting it warm his gut. His voice was gravelly when he spoke and slightly slurred, "Kiss my hairy, white ass, Buzz."

"Love you too, buddy." The older man laughed and continued to serve his customers, never missing a beat.

Out of the back room, Reva appeared carrying some rags and a bottle. She came around the bar to stand beside Josh, her blue eyes worried and her forehead creased. "Let me see." She motioned to his hands.

Setting the bottle down, he turned to her, his hazy gaze eyeing her predatorily. "Yes, ma'am!"

She shook her head, blondish red curls bouncing around her face. "What were you thinking?"

"It's all about the money, honey." The alcohol was really hitting him now, and he swayed a little on the stool as he spoke, holding his hands out to her to doctor up, "One day…one day we won't have to live like this."

She dabbed the salve gently into the raw skin of his hands and winced when he gasped at the burn. Her voice was low, almost undetectable over the noise of the bar, but he heard it and his heart soared, "I'd live with you in a cave if you asked me to."

His head drooped down, close to her shoulder, as she wrapped his hand in the rags to keep out infection. "You deserve so much more. More than me."

"I wish you wouldn't do that." His self-deprecation always got under her skin. He didn't see what she saw in him, and that bothered her.

"Do what?" He made eye contact with her and smirked.

"You know what. I hate it when you do that. You're a good man." Her frustration rose because he was already shaking his head to deny her comment.

"No, Jeffrey was good for you. He could give you everything you wanted." She sat back angrily and looked at him. "And he's dead. You're not so stop acting like it, damn it!" She finished binding his other hand with a little more force than needed and he cursed. She snatched the remainder of her medical supplies off the bar and walked off.

Josh groaned at his own stupidity and dropped his head to the bar. Buzz came over and picked up the bottle. Josh raised his head when he heard the movement. "Hey, where are you taking that?"

Buzz looked hard at him. "You've had enough, Josh. You're starting to act like an ass. You don't treat a lady like that, and you know it." Josh dropped his head, knowing his friend was right. "She loves you, and you keep screwing it up. What the hell's wrong with you, man?"

Josh sighed and dropped his head into his hands. He spoke through the gap in his fingers, "I don't know."

The barkeep could only shake his head. One of these days, if Josh wasn't careful, he'd push Reva too far away and he'd never get her back. "Well, get yourself together. Here, have a cup of coffee. I got word from one of the street kids that Phillip just docked. He should be here any minute."

Josh sobered almost immediately, remembering why he was really on San Cristobel. Josh had sent word that he needed to meet Phillip to discuss their agreement. He hadn't found what he was sent after and now he wasn't so sure that he wasn't set up.

An hour later, Josh had moved to a booth on the far side of the bar where he could see everyone who entered. It was easy to tell when someone of importance came to town because the air seemed to vibrate with anticipation. People talked excitedly, looking around and gossiping about who was coming and sometimes getting into heated political arguments, even fights, before dignitaries arrived.

Josh felt the excitement in the air as well, even though he had met Phillip before. His legs bounced under the table as he hovered over his third cup of coffee, the effects of the rum almost completely gone. If the captain didn't arrive soon, Josh feared he'd have to stand and pace to work off his nervous energy.

"I thought I'd never find you." An amused voice spoke from over Josh's shoulder, making him jump. He turned to see a tall man in raggedy clothes and a scruffy beard watching him as his blue eyes twinkled with mischief.

He watched as the other man walked past him and slipped casually into the booth across from him. There was something familiar in the eyes and in a split second, the words were out, "Captain Spaulding?"

Brilliant white teeth that didn't belong to an aging man shone back at Josh. "Well, this is kind of clandestine. I couldn't have the natives see me."

Josh tilted his head. "Oh, but I thought you'd enjoy making a fool out of me in front of everyone I know."

Phillip leaned forward. "What do you mean?"

Josh reached into his vest pocket to produce the folded map. "I hope you had fun making me run all over the Caribbean for your riches – riches you obviously didn't need. This was a scam, Captain. I'm not exactly sure what you get out of this, but I assure you that I don't appreciate being made a fool of."

"It wasn't there?" Phillip asked incredulously and took the map.

Josh slammed his fist down on the table. "It wasn't anywhere, you miserable bastard!"

Ice blue eyes flashed up at Josh and a cold voice to match followed, "Stand down, Mr. Lewis. Do not forget who you are talking to."

Josh took a deep, shuddering breath to get himself under control. He couldn't afford to lose Phillip Spaulding's good favor. If he ever wanted out of this mess called his life, Phillip could make the way for him. He scrubbed his fingers through his hair in frustration. "My apologies. I diligently examined a dozen islands that fit the description on the map. There was nothing."

Phillip opened the map and tapped his finger against the red "X", thinking through his options. "If you're lying, you know I'll find out about it."

Josh nodded. "Yes, but I'm not. I gain nothing by turning you against me. I just can't understand why you'd trick me."

With a shake of his head, Phillip looked up, a new fire in his eyes. "I didn't, but I think someone may have tricked me."

The San Cristobel harbor was two days away. Alan had felt no rush to reach land and since he had acquired the accompaniment of Captain Frank Cooper's naval fleet, he had virtually no worries.

For several days, he and Frank had poured over the portion of map in Alan's care, considering all of the options of small, unoccupied islands in the vast ocean. But first, Alan wanted to cruise into San Cristobel and settle into his new home before sending Frank on his way for the treasure. A part of him, the distrusting part, wanted to follow Captain Cooper on his hunt. The other part wanted to leave the dirty work to the less deserving. He also wanted to check into the gossip common among the women of the whorehouse he visited to see if anyone had heard word of Phillip.

He smirked to himself thinking of his inept son wandering the islands unaware that he was set up from the beginning. Raising a glass of red wine to his lips, he muttered to himself, "That'll teach Phillip to have his eye on my authority." He remembered well, a fresh wave of anger stirring in him at the thought, about how Phillip had tried to have a servant poison him.

Alan could have easily had Phillip killed, and as governor no one would dare attempt to convict him. However, he liked the idea of toying with his wayward offspring for a while. Eventually, he'd tire of the game or Phillip would meet his demise at the hands of a pirate. Either way worked for him. He really didn't have use for those who usurped his authority.

That's why he liked Frank Cooper. He flashed a little coin and glory the captain's way and Frank crumbled like a stack of cards. Easily led; easily manipulated. Sighing with pleasure, Alan propped his feet up on the edge of his desk and eyed the luxuriously appointments of his quarters. Snipping the end off of an expensive cigar, he lit it and leaned back in his chair. This was his life and the life he loved. No one would take it from him.

Olivia made record time coming back into port at San Cristobel. The crew cheered wildly as they realized where they were heading, but Olivia cut that off quickly. She made sure it was understood that when they docked no one was to leave the ship because as soon as she got what she needed, they'd head back out. The men had grumbled but went back to task.

The captain raced down the stairs and entered her cabin to get the map and her extra pistol. Natalia followed close behind, blocking the doorway as she tried to leave. "I'm going with you."

"No, you're staying here." Olivia tried to edge past her, but Natalia stood firm.

"Why not? Don't you trust me? I gave you the map, Olivia, and I did so willingly. I told you…everything." Natalia was angry and hurt at the same time, and Olivia felt her heart break a little.

Olivia cupped her face, wanting desperately to deny the thrill that ran through her at the touch of her skin. "I do trust you. This map is an invaluable gift and a dangerous one in the wrong hands, but you trusted me with it. But…I need you safe. I need you to stay here, please."

Natalia's eyes fluttered shut at the gentle touch on her cheeks, and she felt a wild stirring in her belly. She didn't want Olivia out of her sight. She needed to keep her close, to know she was okay. She raised her hands to Olivia's and brought them down in front of her, holding tight as she pulled Olivia close. "Hurry, okay? Alan has the other half. We have to stop him."

The captain ran her thumb over the soft skin of Natalia's hand, smiling at the warm and trusting eyes looking back at her. "I'll be back before you know it. Wait for me here."

Something in the tone of Olivia's voice made Natalia shiver. There was an intonation that her words implied more than a mere request for her presence when Olivia returned. No, there was more to it and Natalia realized she wasn't shocked or even scared. She didn't pull away, but she felt her blood begin to pulse and run hot in her veins as Olivia leaned down towards her. Her eyes drifted shut as she waited, imagining Olivia's kiss. When she felt the lips she was imagining against her cheek, she couldn't withhold the whimper from escaping.

She opened her eyes in time to see Olivia's tender smile. "I'll be back soon."

It wasn't until Olivia brushed past her and climbed up the steps that Natalia was able to breathe again. Collapsing against the door, she put her hand to her chest in hopes of calming her racing heart. She swallowed hard. "Dear God, I wanted her to kiss me."

The dark recesses of the bar were hard for Olivia to adjust her eyes to. She squinted and rubbed at them until the spots of light dissipated. Heading towards the bar on instinct and hoping she didn't bump into anyone in her near blindness, she eventually found her way and took a seat at the bar.

When Buzz saw her, he came around the bar to give her a fatherly hug. She returned it gratefully, appreciating the authenticity of the long-time friend. Leaning back, she asked, "Is Reva here?"

He nodded. "Yeah, in her office. Do you want me to go get her?"

"Can I just go up? I'd like to talk in private," she inquired. She loved the man like a father, but the information she had was sensitive. If it wasn't necessary to put someone she cared about in danger, she didn't want to.

"Sure, go ahead. I'm sure she won't mind." He walked ahead as Olivia followed through the kitchen doors.

At the back of the kitchen, a set of stairs led to Reva's room and office. After three quick knocks followed by a short pause and another knock, the door opened. Olivia didn't wait for an invitation but barreled on into the room. "Sure, Olivia, come on in. Make yourself at home!"

Olivia paced over to the window, looking out the open window to what was supposed to be a garden but was in essence a dank, weed-filled lot for beggars and vagrants. Turning, she ran a hand through her hair. "I need to find Alan Spaulding."

The urgency in Olivia's eyes worried and, though she wouldn't admit it, kind of frightened Reva. She wasn't sure she wanted to get in the middle of whatever was driving Olivia's wild look right now. She walked to her private liquor cabinet, not only buying a little thinking time but also getting a reinforcement that she could tell that Olivia needed.

Reva handed the glass over to Olivia. "Sit. I think I know someone that you should talk to."

Normally, Olivia wouldn't appreciate someone ordering her to sit like a dog, but she could tell that Reva was serious because there was no amusement or sarcasm in her voice. "Who?"

Reva spoke over her shoulder as she headed out the door, "You'll see. Just keep your britches on…please."

She was too tense to sit down so she paced the room and sipped the whiskey. She heard a protesting female voice coming down the hall. "Interrupting at such a sensitive moment was not a professional way of running this business, Reva."

Olivia quirked an eyebrow as Reva guided a woman through the door. She appeared to be a little older than Olivia with short, brown hair that was amusingly disheveled at the moment. Olivia tried not to laugh imagining what Reva must have interrupted that was so sensitive.

Reva stepped around the woman and motioned to Olivia. "Captain Olivia Spencer, wanted pirate and mutual lover of the ladies, meet Doris Wolfe, wife of Judge Wolfe and frequenter of my fine establishment."

Doris gasped and looked like she was going to slap Reva. "That was not nice, Reva Shayne! The whole damn island doesn't need to know!"

Reva just rocked back on her heels and smiled. "Ah, but now you're on even ground. No secrets." She grandly gestured towards Olivia. "Ask away, Olivia."

Doris looked at Olivia warily. "Ask what? Wait a minute, I thought you were supposed to be dead. At least that's what Captain Cooper has been telling everyone."

Olivia pursed her lips. If she never heard that man's name again, it wouldn't be soon enough. "Yeah, well, Frank Coopers is a lying little prick."

Doris shrugged. "Yeah, I guessed as much. So, what's your question?"

Looking at Reva, Olivia pondered the wisdom of opening her mouth to too many people, but Reva had a point because she does have some juicy blackmail on Doris Wolfe. The businesswoman looked between the other two and gracefully found her exit. "It's getting close to dinner time. I should go help Buzz. Besides, there are just some things I don't need to know."

Olivia waited until Reva pulled the door closed behind her. "Drink?"

Doris pulled her shoulders back with confidence. Considering she was talking to a presumed dead pirate, she didn't feel the need to cower with too much worry. Not that she did cowering very well anyway. "No, thank you. I'm kind of…busy. So, why don't you just get to the point?"

"I can respect that." Olivia smiled and drained her glass. Setting it down, she turned and crossed her arms, "I need to find Alan Spaulding."

"Can I ask why?" Doris crossed her own arms and leaned back against the wall.

Olivia couldn't help but laugh a little. "You could, but that doesn't mean I'd tell you. Trust me, it's probably better you don't know."

"Trust? A pirate?" Doris smirked back at her. "That's rich." When Olivia didn't continue the banter and merely looked at her without expression, she continued, "Last I heard, he's on his way here."

"How long?" Olivia was already thinking of the possible route he'd be on and calculating the chances of intercepting him.

Doris shrugged, estimating how long it had been since she had heard that information and when he was supposed to be arriving. "A day's sail, maybe a little more."

"Thank you." Olivia took off out the door.

Doris swung around barely catching sight of the retreating woman's back as she flew down the stairs and out the kitchen. "Nice to meet you, too. We'll do lunch!" She called to the empty air.


Chapter 19

Olivia had bolted down the steps of the bar and was nearly out the door when Josh yelled for her. She stopped long enough to hug him and started walking briskly again.

"Hey, what's the rush?" Josh held his arms up as she began to disappear into the crowded street.

She turned back and waved him forward. "Come on! Walk with me!"

He glanced over his shoulder at Phillip who had followed him out into the alley and shrugged. Jogging, he came up alongside her. "Okay, talk. Where's the fire?"

Olivia crossed the town square and took a shortcut down another alley. She kept talking over her shoulder. "I'm on my way to intercept Alan Spaulding and finally kill that man like I should have when I had the chance."

"Alan Spaulding?"

She spun around at the unfamiliar voice to her other side. "Who are you?"

Josh glanced between the two and suddenly realized that being between them was probably a very bad place to be. He cleared his throat, nervously. "Um, Captain Olivia Spencer, this is Captain Phillip Spaulding. Alan's son."

A split second passed as she glanced at Josh with shock and then anger, assuming she was being betrayed, before she slipped her gun from its holster and pointed it between Phillip's eyes.

"Whoa! Wait!" Phillip threw his hands up in immediate surrender. The woman's movements were so fast he never had a chance to react otherwise.

Josh, in an instinctual response, raised his hands as well, but having seen the dangerous glint in Olivia's green eyes, he knew better than to make any other movement. "Olivia, stop! Don't shoot!"

She cocked the gun and growled. "Give me one reason not to."

"Alan betrayed him too. He's on our side." Josh's voice pleaded with her to listen to reason."

"How? Tell me." She wasn't giving an inch, but at least she was willing to listen and for Josh, that was good enough.

Josh sighed and lowered his hands. "Alan tricked Phillip. He told him there was a treasure that would make him instantly powerful and wealthy. He gave him a map and sent him off."

Olivia raised an eyebrow and glanced back at Josh. She pulled the pistol back slightly but didn't lower it. "A map?"

Phillip nodded and lowered his hands. "Yeah, and my intent was to get this powerful treasure and take my father down. He's a cruel leader and if he gets any more power…well, let's just say, he can't."

Josh followed up from there. "So, to make the search more expeditious, Phillip co-opted my assistance in the search."

Olivia didn't take her eyes off of Phillip, but she did finally lower the gun. A Spaulding couldn't be trusted and she wasn't about to let her guard down completely. "And?"

"And it's a fake." Phillip pulled the map from his pocket and held it up, "Josh has searched almost every island he can think of for it. There's nothing. It was just to get me out of the way so he could go after it himself."

Olivia considered the situation and the two men before her. One she had trusted for many years. The other could easily be setting up a trap. It wouldn't be beyond Alan Spaulding to send his son to capture and kill her. If what Phillip said is true though, Alan could either have or be very close to getting his evil hands on the Skull of Fate.

She slipped her gun back in its holster, and with a heavy sigh, she ran her hands through her hair. "Mr. Spaulding, it sounds like you and I have a mutual goal. If you're up for it, I could use your assistance."

He smirked at her. "I thought you'd never ask."

She saw the glint of Spaulding madness in his blue eyes. "Don't think I won't kill you if you cross me. I don't trust you. I just need your arsenal."

He nodded at her. "Understood."

Spinning on her heel, she took up a brisk walk again. "Let's get going then."

Glancing over her shoulder, she saw Josh standing still. Turning back around, she went up to him and grabbed him by his vest, jerking him forward. "Don't think you're getting out of this."

When she had finished with helping Blake prep the meal for dinner, she went to Olivia's cabin to take a quick nap. The hangover she had still clung to her slightly, and she couldn't seem to fight the weariness it has caused. She fell into a fitful sleep as she waited for Olivia's return from town.

Images flashed into her mind – wild highlighted hair blowing in the wind, vivid green eyes and full red lips so close, a touch, a shiver of understanding, the map, her island home, playing in the thick green grass behind the plantation and watching the waves crash onto the shore, an old woman with a cane and her face etched with wisdom.

She drew closer to the old woman, feeling inexplicably pulled forward. There was familiarity in the face, yet she didn't think she had ever seen her before.

The old woman's mouth didn't move, but Natalia heard the words all the same. "Remember your home, my dear one. Remember your roots, your destiny."

The old woman reached out her free hand, clasping tightly to an object. Opening her hand, Natalia saw the dark brown cord fall forward. A necklace – a skull necklace.

It was familiar. She had seen it before.

"Your home. Remember your home." The familiar voice made her jerk her head up.

Through the screen door of the plantation, Natalia saw her. "Mom?"

The older woman looked like Natalia remembered her as a child, long flowing dark hair and dancing brown eyes. She watched as her mother brushed a hand over the space in front of her neck, a flash of light and the necklace appeared around her neck. Natalia felt a weight against her skin and glanced down. Dangling from her neck was the same skull necklace her mother and the other woman. She looked up at both women, noting the striking resemblance between all of them. Tears sprang to Natalia's eyes and she felt a catch in her chest.

"Granny?" She choked out.

The old woman's smile was gentle and Natalia instinctively reached up for the pendant around her own neck. As soon as she gripped it, new flashes of images yet to happen appeared before her – gun smoke and cannon fire, screams, darkness and pain, separation and loss, and a voice calling to her that was familiar, warm, and seductive.

"Remember your home."

With a jerk, Natalia awoke. Above her, she could hear voices yelling and the scrambling of feet. She jumped to her feet and headed for the door, but stopped as she reached for the handle. Turning back, she scrambled through Olivia's trunk for what she was looking for – the map. Stuffing it inside her shirt, she reached back in the truck.

Behind her the door of the cabin banged open. Natalia spun around with the sword in her hand and Olivia stopped dead in her tracks. Natalia immediately dropped it to her side in relief.

Olivia laughed in amusement. "What are you doing?"

"I, uh…I thought the ship was being attacked. I fell asleep and I woke up to a bunch of noise and yelling." Natalia stuttered.

"The ship's fine. We're moving out is all. That must have been a hell of a dream for you to be that out of it." The captain smirked at her and walked forward.

The younger woman blew some hair out of her face. "You could say that."

When Olivia came closer, she put her hands on Natalia's shoulders and squeezed. "I missed you."

Natalia felt the warmth of the words. Tilting her head to the side, she reached up for Olivia's hands. "I, um…missed you too." She could feel Olivia's grip on her tighten and the very subtle tug closer.

"Want to tell me about your dream?" Olivia noticed the flush of Natalia's cheeks and brushed her fingers over the soft skin, "You look upset. Are you okay?"

Natalia turned away, needing some distance from the feelings Olivia was evoking. "The dream was strange. I think it was more like a premonition."

She told Olivia all of the details of her dream. She didn't leave anything out. Olivia paced the small cabin as she listened. Turning to her captive, or was she even really that anymore, Olivia looked at her as if she finally had an answer to a question. "It's time you go home."

"What?" Natalia was surprised by the suggestion.

Olivia came back over to her. "There's some connection between you and the Skull of Fate. There has to be. This isn't a coincidence. And you're being given the answer…home. You have to go home."

Natalia shook her head. "Do you think it's on my island?"

"Maybe." Olivia shrugged.

"But Roco de Dolor looks nothing like the island on the map."

Olivia's gut instinct told her that this was what they had to do. Finding the secret to the map meant going to Natalia's home island. "Do you trust me?"

Natalia closed her eyes. "Of course."

A momentary smile passed between them before the door to the cabin flew open again. Dinah leaned down to make eye contact with Olivia, her blonde hair whipping out behind her and a wicked smile on her face.

"Captain, we've spotted Governor Spaulding's ship," Dinah stated, breathlessly.

"Excellent! I'll be right up." Out of habit, Olivia slipped her pistol from her holster and checked to see that she was loaded. She felt Natalia reach for her and she turned towards the worried brown eyes. "It's okay. Even if we find some answers on Roco de Dolor, we're still going to need the other half of your map."

Natalia tugged at Olivia's arm harder. "But…"

Olivia reached up to Natalia's face with both hands, caressing the soft skin with her thumbs. The pull towards the younger woman was the strongest she had felt so far, and she felt the rush of desire pound in her veins. Natalia leaned into the touch, tilting her head up as Olivia neared. She was shaking, but not out of fear, and she couldn't bring herself to pull away.

A raucous chant from above broke the moment, and Olivia leaned back to look into Natalia's eyes. "Stay here. You'll be safe." After a lingering kiss to Natalia's forehead, Olivia ran up the steps.


Chapter 20

A dark cloud of smoke hung heavy across the ocean horizon, the afternoon sun hidden in the haze. Two tall ships circled each other at the center, each looking for the best chance to strike. Cannon fire flashed, lighting up the clouds here and there, the booming blasts echoing across the water, drawing attention from miles around. Commands and counter-commands were shouted back and forth across the decks of both pirate and Navy vessel as each struggled for the upper hand. There was madness and chaos everywhere.

It was a glorious show.

"Rick! Tell those men to fire, but to make sure to aim away from the sails. We almost caught Reva's Torment with that last volley." Captain Phillip Spaulding yelled down to his second-in-command, who quickly scrambled to relay the message to their men. He loved Commander Rick Bauer like a brother, but he knew the man was a little squeamish when it came to these strange political missions. Luckily though, Phillip knew that his friend would follow him into Davy Jones' locker if he asked.

Phillip turned away from his well-trained troops and raised his spy glass, trying to scan the horizon, but it was too hard to see through the smoke. He only prayed this little scheme would work.

"Come on…" he murmured. "Where are you?"

"Move it!" Captain Josh Lewis yelled at his men once more. "Get those extra blankets into that copper barrel and set it on fire, you old sea dogs! We need more smoke for cover." He shook his head at his suddenly scrambling crew. Did he need to do everything around here? He spun around to find his quartermaster struggling with the ship's wheel, trying to keep their ship from ramming into Phillip's ship, The King's Vengeance.

Josh tipped his head and glanced through the haze up to the crow's nest, looking for a signal from Miguel the cabin boy, who he had assigned there as look out. A blast of cannon fire exploded to the port, drawing his attention away. He grimaced at the smell of gunpowder and sulfur floating across the deck and tried not to worry about what else might be catching on fire on board his ship.

"Captain!" Miguel waved frantically from above. "Cap'n Lewis! There's a ship on the horizon, sir! And she's flying the Royal Navy colors."

"Well, I'll be damned, Olivia." Josh grinned rakishly, pleased with the report. "I love it when a plan comes together…"

The Widow Maker was at full sail, making it's way as fast as possible towards the obvious pirate battle happening. Captain Frank Cooper stood at the helm, his men working smoothly and efficiently together, preparing for battle. He was pleased to be getting back into the thick of things, his ship steady under foot, fighting the good fight. This looking for treasure business was a lot more dubious trouble than Frank was used to getting into.

He turned to find Governor Alan Spaulding standing behind him, leaning on the ship's rail, staring towards the dark cloud they were heading straight for.

"Can you tell which ships are involved yet, Captain?" Alan put a hand to his brow, squinting as he tried to make out what flags were flying and who had the upper hand. With any luck the blasted pirate was that crazy woman who had his map. He really wanted to see Spencer suffer, but if he had a hand in it personally, even better.

"Not yet, sir." Frank turned back to his men. Spying just the man he was looking for, he barked out his orders. "Rafe, report!"

Dashing around several sailors to come closer, the young man saluted and relayed the information from the crow's nest.

"Two ships in close combat, one is definitely flying a skull and crossbones, the other looks to be The King's Vengeance, sir." Rafe glanced towards the Governor, knowing exactly who was on that ship.

"Phillip…" Alan ran a hand over his beard, smoothing the short hairs against his skin. This was a most interesting development. Perhaps he could kill two birds with one stone, or cannon blast as the case may be.

"Very good, sailor. Return to your post." Frank smiled as the boy saluted and disappeared once more into the mass of men toiling below. The Captain turned back to his helmsman. "Best speed, Lieutenant. Our brothers need our help…"

It was as if the sea itself knew what was coming, and churned with excitement. Waves crashed hard against the hull of The Devil's Beacon, as the ship surged on its course, headed straight for the frigate on the horizon. At the helm Dinah stood, facing the wind, her blonde hair swirling around her, her evil grin flashing for all the world to see.

Today was going to be a good day; she could feel it in her bones. Dinah glanced to her right as Captain Spencer dashed up the short flight of stairs to the upper deck. Olivia didn't meet her eyes, and Dinah sensed that she had interrupted a tender moment between her friend and the little stowaway.

"Olivia, are you okay?" Dinah finally spoke, concerned.

"I'm fine." Olivia's terse reply surprised her, but Dinah didn't let it deter her from following her gut. She watched unconvinced as Olivia pulled out her brass spyglass and extended it to its full length, and zeroing in on their target.

"Olivia…" Dinah tried again, softer this time, meant only for the Captain's ears. She reached out and placed a hand on the older woman's arm. Olivia's arm dropped and she looked at her old friend, their eyes locking. "Natalia's different, isn't she?"

Dinah didn't need an answer, she saw it right there before her, reflected in her former lover's eyes. The mighty Terror of San Cristobel had finally been defeated, conquered by a tiny wisp of a woman no less.

The temptation to smirk and tease was there, but Dinah also saw the truth in the other woman's eyes. Olivia hadn't been bested; she was ready to give herself over willingly. And that desire to surrender to the little spitfire was scaring the hell out of her.

Olivia closed her eyes. If this had been any other wench, they would have had had their way with each other, repeatedly and enthusiastically, and she would have moved on to another by now. And yet, here she was, mooning over the girl like some crazy love-struck teenager.

Was Natalia different? Oh, most definitely.

Olivia opened her eyes again and sighed. What the heart wants and what reality dictates are two very different things. Reality was a much harder path to follow - especially her reality.

"This is no life for her, Dinah. Natalia deserves a real home, with a family swarming around her. What do I have to offer her but this crazy madness?" Olivia stared out across the ocean, watching The Widow Maker make its way across the water to the mock battle. "Maybe if we can find this hidden treasure…"

Dinah squeezed her friend's arm, knowing that in reality it was unlikely that either of them would grow old with a loved one. The hidden treasure was a nice dream for a better future. More likely though, they would be swimming with the fishes or rotting in a prison somewhere some day.

"Your secret is safe with me." Dinah smiled softly. She glanced down across the deck and spotted her own stowaway, as Shayne reached out and held the boom as old Charlie tied back a sail. She loathed admitting it but her life had been turned topsy-turvy by their uninvited guests as well.

"Well, rogues like us have to start somewhere, don't we?" Olivia raised her chin, a new determination in her eyes. She'd have that future or die trying. She collapsed her spy glass with a snap and tucked it back into her belt and turned to her quartermaster. "Now let's go get that map!"

The Widow Maker's sails billowed as the ship moved ever closer to the battle unfolding before her. Cannons blasted and the dense smoke made it difficult for all concerned to see. As the naval ship sped deeper into the dark haze, they failed to see The Devil's Beacon headed directly to the sea battle from the south, sneaking into the dark cloud as well.

"Steady, Dinah. Don't crash into anything. Josh would never let us live it down." Olivia grinned, calling out over the sounds of battle. A particularly energetic volley of cannon fire reverberated across the water. Olivia shook her head. The boys were certainly making a good show of it. She turned and shouted over the din. "Remember to keep The King's Vengeance between us and The Widow Maker."

"Aye, Captain." Dinah grimaced and continued to struggle with the big wooden wheel of the helm, grateful that their ship was relatively responsive to her wishes.

"Drop the main sail, lads. We're going in under stealth mode now." Olivia growled to the men on deck, who quickly leapt into action. "And set those rags on fire, we need all the help we can get."

The Devil's Beacon moved in tight to join her allies, well hidden by the circling ships and fresh smoke coverage. Meanwhile, Olivia quickly triple checked that she had everything she was going to need for her mission and then turned back to her Quartermaster.

"Keep an eye on my ship, Dinah!" Olivia grinned wildly, more than ready to get going.

"She'll be here waiting for you." Dinah's eyes sparkled with mischief. "They both will."

Olivia smiled softly as her thoughts turned to Natalia, waiting for her below, annoyed as hell at being left out of the adventure. She was also touched by Dinah's protectiveness on her behalf. She knew her second-in-command would keep everything under control on board until she got back and she trusted her to take care of all of her treasures.

"I'll hold you to that, my friend." With one last nod of approval, Olivia waved and made a mad dash to the aft of the ship, grabbing a rope that was strung up to the crow's nest on the tall mast as she went. It was her usual mode of transportation when boarding an enemy ship.

Running at her top speed, Olivia launched herself off the ship, gripping the thick rope and swinging out over the ocean, waiting as she swung back across the deck of The Devil's Beacon and out over the far side of her ship. Releasing the rope, she gracefully landed on the deck of The King's Vengeance.

Slowly standing up to her full height, Olivia turned around, coming face to face with several raised pistols and drawn swords.

"Well, hello boys." Raising an eyebrow, she calmly surveyed the situation and waited. She would kill Phillip Spaulding with her bare hands if this was a trap.

"Hold your fire!" Commander Rick Bauer bellowed at the small crowd of men. "Captain's orders. Do not attack any pirates. Stand down, I said."

Olivia stood stock still for a moment longer before grinning like a mad woman as each and every man lowered their weapon as commanded.

"Good to see Phillip is as good as his word." Olivia said. "As much fun as it would be to play with you all, I'm afraid I'm just passing through." Glancing up she saw the other Captain standing beside the helm, watching the situation carefully. With a sharp salute of thanks to the handsome man, Olivia made her way to the far rail of the ship. The Widow Maker, and her spineless goat of a Captain, was almost within reach. If she was able to mix a little bit of revenge against the man during the business of retrieving the other half of the map, well, so much the better.

"Soon Captain Cooper, we shall meet again…" Olivia growled under her breath, as she pulled a dagger out from between her breasts and prepared herself for action.

Natalia paced inside the Captain's quarters, listening to the sounds of battle getting more intense with every passing minute. She hated not being up on deck, in the thick of things, but she knew this wasn't the time to argue with the Captain. She needed to pick her battles and prove that she could be a capable member of the crew - that Olivia didn't need to protect her.

Mind you, the sentiment was very sweet. Natalia smiled, remembering the tingle that surged through her at Olivia's chaste kiss to her forehead. She sighed, worried again about the stubborn woman. She ran a hand along her body, finding the edges of the map safely tucked away against her skin. She would protect this map with her life. It was her future.

Natalia sank down onto the Captain's bed, running her hand along Olivia's pillow thoughtfully, tracing the indent where her head had lain. She wanted that future, more than she had ever thought possible. And if her dream had been any indication, it could even be her destiny. With Olivia at her side, she couldn't imagine a better fate…

"Report, damn it, Frank." Alan Spaulding demanded.

"We're almost within firing range, but Phillip's ship is in the way." Frank paced in a circle, glaring at any man who dared to look his way.

"Captain!" Rafe ran up to get the man's undivided attention. "There's a second ship that's swooped into the fight. The Lieutenant just spotted it."

Frank swore. God, he hated pirates. They never played by the rules like decent folk.

"It's The Devil's Beacon, sir." Rafe ran a hand through his thick dark hair, glancing back and forth between the Captain and the Governor. He swallowed hard as both men turned to face him.

"What?" Alan bellowed first. "The Terror of San Cristobel herself?" Alan's mind spun at the possibilities this opened up. If he could just manipulate things a little...

"Lady Rivera…" Frank whispered softly, and quickly pulled out his spy glass to see if he could make out anything through the thick smoke. He needed to get onto that ship, if there was any chance that his fiancée was still on board, he would find her.

"I smell a rat in all of this," Alan grumbled to himself. "And he looks a lot like my son."

"We're going after the other ship. I need to get on board with a small cadre of men." Frank started formulating a plan as he went. "Rafe, you're with me."

Alan stood gaping for a moment, for once impressed with the man as Cooper started organizing an infiltration team. He sighed and realized that the Captain had a one track mind at the moment. He hated men who felt the need to be the hero all the time.

"Fine, go find your precious fiancée." Alan snarled, realizing that the holier than thou woman he remembered had most likely been tormented and tortured and who knew what by those filthy pirates on that blasted ship. Why Cooper would even want to touch the sullied wench now was beyond him.

It didn't matter anyway. Alan suspected that Spencer had found the hidden half of the treasure map in his trunk that had been taken from the hold and was on her way to hunt down the other half. It would be a perfect opportunity to rid the world of one more greedy whore.

"It would seem that I have a date with destiny myself…" Alan smiled and made his way back to his quarters.

Josh stood with his spy glass raised, watching the ships maneuvering around each other, everyone jockeying for a better shot. He prayed that Olivia's plan worked and she found that damn treasure map quickly. He didn't know how long they could chase each other's tails before the battle began for real.

He swore as The Widow Maker moved quickly around Phillip's ship, headed directly for The Devil's Beacon.

"Oh, that's not good…"

"Oh, that's not good." Phillip signaled his helmsman to try to maneuver the ship forward to ward off The Widow Maker.

"We'll ram her, sir." The sailor looked worriedly at his Captain. Phillip gritted his teeth and sighed.

"Just do it."

"Damn." Dinah saw The Widow Maker coming around to take a run at them. Seeing the men hesitating she made her decision. They'd not go down without some sort of fight.

She noticed a figure swinging across from The King's Vengeance and knew instantly that the plan was in motion. She only prayed that they would be in one piece for her to return to.

"Sorry Captain. Your ship might have a few dents in her when you get her back…" Dinah murmured, before handing the helm off to one of her trusted men. "Try to keep her steady." With his curt nod, the Quartermaster moved towards the men busily preparing for the worse.

"Load those cannons with ammunition, you scurvy dogs." Dinah called out, her eyes narrowing as she started to formulate a plan of attack. "And make it quick, or I'll see you all in Hell!"

Olivia swung across the ocean, clinging to the thick rope from The King's Vengeance, her dagger clenched between her teeth. The Widow Maker was on the move and she didn't have a lot of time before she would be out of range again. Grabbing the hilt of the dagger with her right hand, she let go of the rope and leapt towards the hull of the enemy ship, the sharp blade digging into the weathered wood with a crunch. Scrambling for some footing, Olivia reached up and luckily was able to grab some netting hanging over the edge of the ship.

Pulling herself up to the deck railing, she peered over cautiously to try to get the lay of the land. The sailors were all preoccupied with preparations for battle and the haze from the smoke still hung heavy in the air.

It was perfect.

Olivia pulled herself up and was able to swing a leg up and over the rail before rolling over and dropping down to the deck, hiding among the rest of the netting stored there. Crawling quickly behind some wooden barrels, she crouched and waited for her chance.

A sailor soon dashed past, and Olivia leapt out behind him, overpowering him quickly with her dagger at his throat.

"Governor Spaulding's quarters. Where are they?" The Captain growled. She had no time for stubborn loyalty, so she pulled the sharp edge of the dagger tighter against the man's tender skin, making her point.

"There." The man wisely pointed to where the private cabins were located. "His is the second door on the left."

"Thank you, my good man. For that I will not kill you today." Olivia grinned before cold cocking him with her pistol, slowly easing the wiry sailor down to the deck and pulling him into the wooden barrels to hide him. Hopefully he wouldn't be missed by anyone for a short while anyway.

Looking quickly at what was unfolding in the battle, she saw The Devil's Beacon was very close, easily within attacking range. Olivia wasn't surprised by the command to fire that was bellowed across the decks and cringed as a volley of cannon fire exploded.

She quickly turned away and steadily made her way towards the cabins. She needed to find that missing map as soon as possible before things went horribly wrong.

Frank waited for the first cannon fire to launch at the enemy ship before he and his small team of men swung out over the ocean and landed unnoticed on the deck of The Devil's Beacon. He smiled, knowing that with the crew now so preoccupied with the fight, they would easily be able to find Lady Rivera and maybe that map Alan was so anxious to find.

"Private quarters are this way, sir." Rafe reported as he shuffled back from a short recon of the area. Frank nodded, pleased with the young man and waved the small group onward.

Alan stood inside his quarters, pulling the treasure map out from under his mattress. Not the safest location around but he at least could get to it quickly when needed, like now. Folding it carefully he opened his jacket and started to stuff it down into his pants. He froze and then spun around at the sound of his door being kicked open.

Before him stood The Terror of San Cristobel, her hair flowing around her shoulders, sword raised and ready to be used. Her green eyes stared intensely at him as she smirked and lifted an eyebrow.

"Hello there, Governor." Olivia stepped into the room, carefully watching her cornered prey, a corner of tell-tale tan parchment sticking up out of his trousers. "Is that my missing treasure map, or are you just happy to see me?"

The King's Vengeance started to move forward, gaining momentum as a stiff breeze hit a newly raised sail, the bow of the ship coming dangerously close to the rear quarter of The Widow Maker and potentially sending that ship into the side of The Devil's Beacon. This was about to get really messy.

Phillip closed his eyes and prayed he wasn't making a huge mistake.

Natalia listened to the booming cannons and waited anxiously as the ship lurched under the attack. She quickly sank to her knees beside the bed, digging into the pocket of her trousers. She pulled out her rosary, bringing the cool metal crucifix to her lips and softly kissing it. Her eyes fluttered shut and she began to pray.

As she ran through old trusted prayers and a few Hail Mary's, Natalia slowly began to calm, the familiar words soothing her mind and soul. Her whispered words were drowned by the sounds of battle raging on around her. She desperately tried not to think about who was being injured or killed. She bit down her frustration at not being out there in the thick of things to help her new friends and… and whatever it was the Captain was becoming to her. Natalia rolled her eyes skyward and bit her lower lip. No time like the present to discuss her heart with God.

"Heavenly Father," she whispered devoutly, clutching her rosary tighter. "Help me to understand your will. Give me the strength to do what you need me to do, and the wisdom to decipher my dreams."

Natalia paused, her heart finally being laid bare.

"I know some say these feelings I'm having are a sin, but how can this be so? For the first time I feel like I am comfortable in my own skin. I feel valued for myself here on this ship. And when I stand by Olivia's side, it's as if I have finally come home." A tear squeezed out from dark lashes and slowly trickled down a flushed cheek. "She makes me so happy, Lord…"

A loud crash sounded and the ship listed slightly to the starboard. All she heard was men yelling and the sickening sound of wood crunching. It was as if Hell itself had opened and was pounding on the poor ship. Natalia bowed her head again.

"Protect her and those brave souls who follow her. Help me find my way. Send me a sign and as always, thy will be done…"

Natalia looked up again as she heard heavy footsteps rushing past the cabin door and then the door latch being rattled. It struck her as strange, as the Captain's quarters were not locked. She frowned and only had time to duck down behind the bed for cover as the door suddenly crashed open, splintering the doorframe unnecessarily.

A lumbering man fell to the ground in a heap, his Royal Navy uniform immediately marking him as a member of the enemy's ship. Rubbing his shoulder, the man quickly stood and looked around the room.

"Lady Rivera?" He called out, smiling softly as Natalia's head popped up and she peered back at him from the far side of the bed.

"Yes?" Natalia said cautiously. She watched as the man ran a hand through his hair and straightened his floppy bangs back into some semblance of order, before straightening out his uniform jacket and stepping forward, extending his hand to her.

"I'm Captain Frank Cooper, and I've come to rescue you!"

Part 21

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