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 21

Natalia leaned back against the wall behind her where she had been hiding and took in the man standing proudly before her. The stiff royal blue and white uniform stood out to her against the backdrop of the man's simple look with his mousy brown hair – disheveled and receding – and his uninteresting blue eyes that seemed to look past her, even as he spoke.

The immaculate uniform with its shiny buttons and gold trim was the most striking part of the package. She felt her heart sink.

I'm supposed to marry this man?

Captain Frank Cooper had been speaking the entire time, but she never heard him. It was all she could do not to feel sick to her stomach.

"My apologies, my dear lady." He knelt on one knee in front of her and didn't notice the slight way she pulled back from his imposing form. "I should have ensured that brute Olivia Spencer had perished at the end of my sword, but by my honor as your husband, I will take her head off in your presence as payback for the horrors you've faced in my absence."

She was stunned into silence at his words. At her silence, he continued on, "Here, let me help you up. I'll have my men clear the way and we'll get you to safety."

He pulled her up by the hand, but as he moved towards the cabin door, she refused to move. The gravity of the moment finally sinking in. Frank turned back to her, his face gentled with concern.

"What's the matter, my lady? Do you not feel well?" He cupped her cheek with his rough hand and she winced.

She spoke with a hard edge of conviction in her voice, "I feel fine."

Frank continued his rough caress of her face and mistook the shiver that passed through her body as returned affection. "I'm so glad. I'm going to make you so happy, Natalia. I can't wait to start our married life together. I've always wanted a son."

She felt a wave of nausea hit her hard in the gut at the mere thought of how that son would be made. Okay, maybe she didn't feel so great after all.

He smiled at her fondly, taking her reticent look as residual fear of her enforced captivity. "Come, let's go home."

On deck, the fighting was still raging fiercely. Frank yelled to his men to clear the way for them, and he ordered Rafe to search the captain's quarters for the map. He ignored Natalia pulled back and trying to escape his grip on her hand. Over the yelling and screaming, he could hear her cries to let her go.

The ships had been pulled close together so now the crews were leaping from ship to ship as they fought. Phillip and Josh tried to redirect their ships to come around from the opposite side, essentially sandwiching The Widow Maker between them.

Frank dragged Natalia behind him around the far side of The Devil's Beacon, where there were virtually no sailors present as he was determined to keep her out of harm's way. When he turned to assist her over the side and onto the deck of The Widow Maker, he finally noticed the panic and tears on his future wife's face.

She struggled and fought against his grip, her fear turning to unadulterated panic as she heard him call for one of his men for assistance. He said something to the man about her being in shock, and they talked as if she wasn't even there.

She began fighting back like a wildcat, seeking purchase on exposed skin with her nails. She had no weapon; it was her only defense. Soon, another sailor was called over and the trio lifted her and threw her ungracefully over the side of the rail.

Natalia rolled a couple of times and quickly found her footing. When she looked up, Frank and his men had climbed over the rail to join her. Frank tilted his head and smiled at her, coming forward with his hands outstretched as if he had a right to touch her.

A fury rose up in her to match her panic, and as he came within reach, she stepped back with one leg and with all the force and anger she could muster drove her leg up and between his. Frank fell hard to his knees, groaning in pain and holding his crotch.

She stood over his prone form, screaming. "You arrogant bastard! How dare you presume…?"

Frank's men were already in motion and grabbed her by both of her arms, pulling her back from him before she had a chance to land another kick. She struggled against her restraints, flailing with her legs.

Fighting to get his breathing under control, Frank looked up at her red-faced with pain and rage, "You ungrateful bitch! Take her to the hold."

She felt herself dragged backwards against her will, and as she saw the staircase that led to the bowels of the ship, she gave one last valiant fight and then yelled at the top of her lungs, "Ollliiivvviiiaaa!!!!!"

Olivia jerked her head around at the familiar voice screaming her name, and too late she realized her mistake, when she was thrown hard into the wall behind her as Alan escaped up the stairwell of the cabin.

She scrambled to keep her footing, and when she finally climbed the short set of stairs to the deck, she located Alan's retreating form. She was torn between chasing the bastard and finding Natalia. Another scream from her beautiful stowaway made her choice for her.

"Damn it!" Olivia growled. They'd all have to live to fight another day. This was far from over, but she had priorities and most importantly, she had to get back to Natalia to make sure she was safe.

Racing back to her ship, she called out to her men to retreat. The ships were dangerously close. She leapt to the railing of The Widow Maker, holding on tightly to the rigging next to her to keep her balance. Through the smoke, she could see Frank Cooper standing on the deck of her ship, shouting commands. Across the ship, she caught sight of a struggle near the hold. Long dark hair billowed all around her beautiful face as two men tried to force her down the stairs. Olivia couldn't help the brief smile at seeing the feisty woman giving as good as she got. Something akin to pride welled up in her.

Olivia was so focused on Natalia that she didn't see Frank approaching the group. Natalia yelled something she couldn't hear, and with a shock, she saw Frank slap Natalia causing her to disappear in the hold.

Fierce rage bubbled up in Olivia and screamed over the noise of the canon fire, "NOOOOOOOOOO!!!"

Frank looked up and caught sight of her, smirking in victory. He spoke to the men near him. One disappeared down the shaft of the hold. The other ran to the wheel deck aiming his gun at Holder, the man who served as their helmsman when she and Dinah weren't able to. In a flash of smoke, he was down…gone.

Where the hell was Dinah? Olivia looked up and down the ship, all around her, but the blonde was nowhere in sight.

Suddenly, a loud whistle went up from Frank and Olivia's feet went out from under her. He was using her own ship and his to destroy The King's Vengeance sandwiched between them.

She slipped off the railing but managed to hold on to the rigging. The rope was twisting her wrist painfully as it wrapped around her arm and hand. She still had her sword in her left hand, so she reached up and swung at the ropes, setting her arm free. She tumbled backwards and fell hard to the deck of Phillip's ship. The wind was knocked out of her, but otherwise, she was unharmed.

"Destroy the sails! Ram her!" She heard Frank's commands over the noise.

Rolling up to her knees, she saw a handful of Royal Navy sailors climbing to the top of sail masts.

Phillip came racing down the steps from his post to stand beside her. "Stop them!" He yelled to his men and pulled his firearm out to aim at the men climbing the rigging.

Olivia retrieved her own pistol and side-by-side, they took aim at the sailors being careful to not hit the sails. In a volley of gunfire, two men were hit and fell hard to the deck, long dead before they hit. Another leapt from his hold on the rigging and dug his knife into the sail as he came down. Even though the damage was done, it didn't stop one of Phillip's men from casually walking up to him as he landed on the deck and running him through with a sword as he turned around.

There were still three other naval sailors attempting to climb the rigging. Olivia reloaded her weapon and looked at Phillip who was doing the same. He made eye contact with her and she shook her head. "They're like fucking cockroaches!"

He smirked at her coldly. "And there's only one way to rid yourself of an infestation. You have to destroy the source."

"I like the way you think, Captain Spaulding." She smiled back.

Together they turned and aimed out over the deck of The King's Vengeance towards the cocky form of Frank Cooper. The naval officer's arrogant smirk disappeared as the weapons were leveled at him.

He made the move to dive from their aim even as he sent up the command again. "Ram them!"

Gunfire, crunching wood, and screams were all that was heard as Olivia tumbled across the deck of the ship and the world went black.


Chapter 22

The sun was setting on the horizon as The King's Vengeance and Reva's Torment floated near each other in the calm blue waters of the Caribbean. After reviving Olivia with a good shake and a splash of cold water to the face and after calming her once she realized that not only was her ship gone, but so was Natalia, Josh and Phillip convinced her to have a hot meal and a warm glass of rum.

At the moment, all three sat around a small wooden table contemplating their options over partially-filled glasses of liquor aboard Josh's ship, while Phillip's was being repaired. Frank had managed to ram the ship and crack a decent hole in the hull, but fortunately, it didn't extend to water level. Until it was fixed though, they were immobile so they laid anchor and went to work on the ships.

Phillip poured refills of the glasses and looked at the two pirates. He couldn't believe in a matter of a couple of hours that he'd gone from a naval officer to a traitor to the crown. It had been pretty obvious that he'd taken up the side of two rogues in hopes of taking down his father.

He ran his fingers through his neatly cut blonde hair. "Okay, so this is the situation: Frank Cooper and my father are working together to get this treasure you speak of, Olivia. Apparently, my father has one part of the map. The correct part, that is. The other part is somewhere on Olivia's ship."

Olivia took a long swallow of her rum and nodded as she rubbed at the bridge of her nose. She knew she should stop drinking. It wasn't doing any good in helping the headache she had from bumping her head in the fall. "I'd bet good money they've torn my ship up from tip to stern and probably found the damn map by now."

Josh let out a heavy sigh. "And this map leads to the Skull of Fate? You're absolutely sure?"

If Olivia hadn't liked the man so much, she'd have punched him. She'd told him just as much about three times. She wasn't in the mood to repeat herself.

He saw the look and swallowed nervously. "Alan cannot get that map and definitely not that skull." He looked at Phillip. "It'll be a disaster."

Phillip raised his hands as if the answer was obvious. "Well, then, we just have to stop him."

"And we have to get Natalia." Olivia gripped her glass so tight at the reminder of seeing Natalia slapped by Frank that she threatened to break it in her bare hands.

Josh wrapped his hand around hers gently, drawing her attention back to him. "We will. I promise. Think of it this way, Alan and Frank have a ship full of crew loyal to you. We can't find Dinah so she could still be on the ship. If that's the case, she'll look out for everyone but especially Natalia."

The hold of the ship was dark and dank. Natalia felt around trying to get her bearings. She had only been down there a couple of times to get supplies for Blake, but she had never been there in complete darkness. She ran her hand over the top of a crate, inching her way along until she found the wall. Slowly, she moved along the wall hoping to find the stairs to the deck. She hadn't considered what she'd do once she found the stairs and got back up to the deck, but at least she could think about her options so she could keep her mind off the pain in her cheek.

A wave of anger rose up in her at the incident, remembering the snide, mocking smirk on Frank's face. If she had held any doubt about whether to stay with Olivia or go with Frank, that had certainly sealed the deal. Olivia may be a pirate, but she was far more honorable than her betrothed. The thought of marrying him sickened her. There was no way she was letting that happen.

She was lost in her thoughts and didn't realize until she tripped over the steps that she had found her way out to the deck. In the darkness she couldn't tell what she was doing and stumbled on the stairs. Slipping she fell over and into something that definitely wasn't the hard edge of a crate. Running her hand curiously over the curving form, she recognized the familiar form of a breast.

In the split second of recognition, she tried to scream only to have her mouth covered by a soft but strong hand. "Shhh, I won't tell Olivia you felt me up if you don't. Our little secret."

The hand moved slowly away from her mouth. "Dinah?"

"And Shayne." The familiar, deeper male voice spoke up in the darkness next to Dinah.

Natalia couldn't help herself, she hugged both of them. "Thank God!" She pulled back, feeling relieved and excited that she wasn't alone. "Come on, we have to get out of here."

Natalia tried to ascend the stairs, but Dinah stopped her. "Wait! We can't just go barreling up there. I'd be willing to bet someone's watching the hatch, but they won't leave you down here for long without at least feeding or interrogating you. We need to be ready for that."

"So, what do we do?" Natalia heard Shayne ask.

Dinah spoke quickly and quietly, "Simple. Next man sent down here to check on you, we ambush, knock unconscious, and take his weapons. Eventually, he'll be missed and someone else will be sent to look for him. We'll do it again and snag some more weapons, until we have enough for all of us."

At first thought, it seemed plausible to Natalia but then the obvious hit her. "That sounds great except we can't even see each other. How are we going to ambush what we can't see?"

She could almost hear Dinah's eye roll in the dark. "They're not going to come down in the dark, princess. I'm sure they'll carry a lantern."

"But what about actually getting off this ship? There are only three of us and a ship full of enemies." Shayne added.

"A half-full ship of enemies," Dinah said, her tone telling of her smirk even in the dark. "The rest are Olivia's loyal crew."

A couple of seconds of silence passed as they contemplated the idea. Shayne was the first to speak, "My God, but you are a brilliant woman!"

There was movement and the sounds of kissing. Even though she couldn't see anything, Natalia closed her eyes and dropped her head, blushing fiercely. The feeling it caused only made her want to get off that ship and get back to Olivia faster. The fact that she could feel the rough scratching of the map under her shirt didn't help either. The longer she was on the ship, the more danger there was of her part of the map being discovered.

Natalia smiled. She had an idea. "We need someone on the crew to help us spread the word and organize a revolt."

"You have an idea." Dinah was impressed.

"Blake." Natalia stated.

"Blake…the cook." Dinah deadpanned.

Natalia sighed. "Yes, Blake. Look, since she's the cook, she'll be the only person on the crew that can get close to Frank and Alan, maybe find out what their plans are, and let our crew know what we plan."

Dinah crossed her arms and leaned back against a crate, impressed and amused. Olivia sure knew how to pick her women. "I have one question for you, Natalia. Are you hungry?"

Natalia chuckled. "Ravenous."

Frank stood at the helm of The Devil's Beacon. Alan stood next to him with his arms crossed, looking out over the horizon as the orange and reds of the setting sun lit up the sky.

The older man scowled. "You're sure that your men have checked every inch of this ship."

Frank ground his teeth together. If the governor asked him that one more time, he was going to knock him overboard, consequences be damned. "Positive. There's really only one option left. That map has to be on someone's person on this ship. It could be on any of Olivia's men right now. We'll have to interrogate them."

"And then kill them," Alan stated matter-of-factly.

Frank closed his eyes. "If you insist."

Alan turned to him coldly. "I do."

The dark-haired captain handed the wheel over to his helmsman with instructions to continue heading east by northeast. The helmsman took the wheel and sent up a call to the crew of their companion ship on The Widow Maker. Crew worked in tandem to drop the sails in order to lower the speed for night navigation.

Frank walked across the deck and paused at the opening to the hold. "Morrison, how is our prisoner?"

"Hungry, sir. Should I grant her request for food?" The young man stiffly responded.

As angry as Frank had been with Natalia earlier, he couldn't deny a woman basic necessities. Such horrid behavior would never be looked on well by the crown. "Give her anything she requests as long as it's only food and water, and the privacy to relieve herself."

The officer saluted. "Yes, sir."

Frank began to walk away but then turned back. "By the way, has anyone seen Rafe?"

Morrison shook his head solemnly. "No, sir."

Frank sighed. "Thank you, Morrison. Good evening."

"Same to you, sir."

In the twilight, Rafe finally was able to move from behind the water barrels at the ship's stern. Most of the crew had retired to their quarters, except for the night crew. Rafe eased his way out and along the edge of the captain's quarters.

In the fading light, Rafe could just make out the profile of Captain Olivia Spencer on the bow of the ship.

"This does not bode well for me," he sighed.


Chapter 23

Rafe must have fallen asleep behind the water barrels because he was startled awake by a kick to his feet.

"Get up!" Captain Olivia Spencer stood over him as one of her men jerked him up by the lapel of his uniform. "I said 'get up' ya bastard!"

Rafe struggled to get his footing as he was roughly pushed from behind by another man.

"Take him to the captain's quarters," Olivia stated, coldly.

He was taken to Phillip's luxurious cabin and shoved into a chair. He tried not to grimace when his hands were pulled behind him and bound to the chair.

With a jerk of his head, Phillip had the room cleared of everyone but him, Olivia, and Josh, who had joined them for a meeting on what to do next. One of Phillip's men had found the stowaway as he had walked the deck, and now here Rafe sat staring up at the unrelenting glares of three very angry captains.

He tried to calm his racing heart and not show any signs of weakness, but he couldn't stop the slight shiver that shook him as he took a deep breath.

Olivia stood, leaning against a pole, with her arms crossed. "What is your name, sailor?"

Rafe gritted his teeth, fighting his ingrained instinct to answer a superior.

The beautiful captain kicked away from her post and leaned over, staring at him. "We can make this easy or hard, boy. Start talking now and there's a good chance I won't spill your pretty red guts on this nice Oriental rug."

Phillip tsked and shook his head. "That would really suck because I really like this rug."

Olivia smirked and stood up, looking at Phillip. "Don't worry, Captain. I know how to do it so he'll live for a while. That way, I can make him clean up after himself."

The three captains had a hearty laugh and Josh scratched at his handsome, stubbled chin. "I'd talk if I was you, boy. I've seen her do it. It took the man six hours to die. He begged her for mercy."

Olivia quickly glanced at Josh, thankful that the young sailor's dark eyes were riveted on her friend. Otherwise, he may have sensed that they were telling some tall tales. Olivia could say that she'd killed many people in her life, but she'd never tortured anyone. At least not unnecessarily. The kid looked nice. She truly would hate to kill him.

"So, let's try this again," Olivia spoke up and drew the scared eyes of their captive back to her. "What's your name?"

It wasn't that Rafe didn't want to speak, but he was so scared that he couldn't. It wasn't until Olivia put her hand on the sword at her side and began to unsheathe it that he blurted it out. "Raphael Rivera!"

Josh came at him to ask another question, but Olivia reached a hand out to stop him. "Did you say 'Rivera'"?

Rafe nodded quickly. He looked intently into Olivia's stunned green eyes. "I'll tell you everything. Just don't kill me."

"Tell what?" Phillip looked at Olivia, who kneeled in front of Rafe's chair.

"You know Natalia," she spoke softly.

He nodded again, slower this time. "She's my cousin."

Dinah hated it when they squirmed so she tightened her forearm around the stocky man's neck and heard a strangled of pain escape from him. Shayne quickly worked the rope around the man's ankles, while Natalia straddled him to hold his legs still. She moved as Shayne nudged her on the shoulder and finished the cattle-style roping on his wrists.

Dinah continued to hold onto his neck to keep him from calling out, but glanced up at Natalia. "Get the gag."

Natalia nodded and found the crate in the dim light of the lantern where they had all ripped the sleeves from their shirts to use as mouth gags. She grabbed one and went back to Dinah's side. She tried to be gentle, but when the man struggled against the gag, she wrenched it a little tighter than necessary to get it tied before it was too late.

Dinah let go and scrambled out of the man's way. He bucked and kicked against his restraints, trying to growl out his words around the cloth in his mouth. Natalia imagined that whatever he was saying wasn't too nice.

Looking down at the man, Dinah tilted her head to the side. He was struggling so much that his dark hair had become matted with sweat. She finally shook her head and gave him a swift kick to the jaw. He rolled over, thankfully silent.

Natalia looked up at her in shock to which the blonde pirate just raised an eyebrow. "What? I want to get some sleep tonight."

"Are you going to keep knocking him out every time he wakes up?" Blake, who had been standing in the corner watching, a tray of food in her hands and uncharacteristically quiet, had finally spoken up.

Dinah smiled at the redheaded cook. "Nope, my dear Blake. I know you have something special you can concoct for us with all those voodoo herbs and stuff you have hidden away. He'll need water eventually, right?"

Natalia saw the frightened look on Blake's face and stepped forward. She took the tray from her hands and set it down on a crate, and took her hands. "You can do this, Blake. You're our only contact with the rest of the crew. The only one who can get close to Alan and Frank."

Blake nodded her head and took a deep breath. "You're right." She looked at Natalia with a new determination and then at Dinah and Shayne over her shoulder. "I can do this. I have to. This crew…and Captain Spencer, you're like family to me."

"You're going to do great!" Natalia squeezed her hands again, causing Blake to smile warmly.

Dinah came forward. "Maybe we should get him hidden behind the crates, just in case we get any surprise visitors. Then we'll go over the plan again."

All of them agreed and moved the sailor behind the crates. He was a solid man so it took all of them to do it. They divested him of his weapons and stored them in the spot where they'd be hiding. Putting out the extra lantern and storing the gags and rope away, they went over their plans one more time.

Frank couldn't sleep. In the dim light of his quarters – Olivia's quarters, he reminded himself – he sat at the large wooden desk. Glancing around the room, he felt uneasy. Beneath the desk, his foot jumped with anxiety. Unable to stand the feeling any longer, he stood and paced the area in front of the desk. The room had been thoroughly searched earlier by his men. No sign had been found of the map that Governor Spaulding so desperately sought.

Running his hands through his dark hair, he began searching Olivia's room again. He decided to leave the trunk that had been taken off of Alan's ship for last. He wasn't seeking the map for Alan. The man held no interest for Frank above his goals to advance further in the royal guard. One day, he'd make admiral and Alan would be the man to help him get there. Whatever it took to please Alan was what he'd have to do.

By the time Frank had covered every inch of the room, he was even more agitated. There were virtually no clues to Olivia Spencer or what she'd want with the map. In fact, you'd hardly know a woman lived there. There were no pictures of family, no familiar feminine articles of clothing, and no letters or correspondence. Nothing but generic maps and a trunk of weapons and clothes.

Moving to Alan's stolen trunk, Frank opened it. Except for a few more weapons and clothes, there was nothing there. He picked up a pair of pants and held them up. They were cut roughly at the ankles and were far too short for Captain Spencer. A sudden awareness came over him. These were Natalia's clothes. He glanced around the room, remembering the last time he'd seen it. Natalia had been trying to hide behind the headboard of the bed. The bed had been rumpled and obviously slept in, much as it was now.

One bed.

A trunk for Natalia's clothes.

A wave of anger and nausea overtook him, and he ripped at the material he held between his hands. "What did she do to you, Natalia?"

A knock at the door startled Frank. He dropped the pants in the trunk and closed it. Stepping to the door, he cracked it open. A slight redheaded woman stood holding a tray. "Sir, I made some food for you. I thought you may be hungry after such a stressful day."

The woman smiled softly at him, batting her green eyes at him sweetly.

Stepping aside, he made room for her to enter. She placed the tray on the desk and turned to him. "I hope everything is to your liking. If you have any special requests, please let me know. There's still plenty of food on board so we have a variety of options."

"Thank you, Miss…," he trailed off, seeking her name.

"Blake Marler, Captain." She gave him a dainty curtsy and winced at her own actions. She hoped she wasn't laying it on too thick. It's been years since she had to charm a man.

"Miss Marler." For some reason, Frank had the urge to make inane conversation. He glanced over at the table of food and then back at Blake. "So, have you been with Captain Spencer long?"

She let her face grow dark and sad. "A while, sir. I've lost track of the years."

Something in the redhead's face caused ire to rise in Frank. He wasn't sure what had gone on aboard the pirate's ship, but if that look meant anything, it wasn't good. "Well, it's a new day now. Captain Spencer's reign of terror will end very soon."

Blake raised her hands to her face and shivered. When she dropped her hands, tears covered her face and her bottom lip quivered. "Thank you…thank you so much." The stricken look on Captain Cooper's face told her she had played her hand well. She used the back of her hand to wipe away the tears and pulled herself together, "I should go and prepare for the morning."

"That reminds me," he spoke and she stopped at the bottom of the stairs. "How is Lady Rivera doing?"

Blake tried not to let her anger at the captain show when she remembered the bruised cheek on Natalia's face. "She ate well, sir, and seemed to be in good spirits in spite of the situation."

He looked down and sighed. "Yes, I hated to go to such lengths. Perhaps after I talk to her in the morning, she'll feel differently. Could you let Morrison, the soldier guarding her, know to bring her to me in the morning?"

She nodded her head, eager to escape. "Yes, sir."

Once out in the cool air on the deck, Blake sucked in a ragged breath. She immediately headed to the hatch, tossing the quarter of sharp-smelling onion out over the railing into the waiting water below. She tapped three quick times before flipping the hatch open and scurrying down the steps. A dim light came from the corner where her three crew mates sat talking.

Blake made eye contact with Natalia. "The Captain wants to talk to you in the morning, and he wants that guy to bring you to him."

Natalia closed her eyes and dropped her head back against the wall. "Great! We can't exactly let him loose now."

Dinah smirked at her then looked at Blake. "We won't have to."

The loud shouting of "man overboard" roused Frank from fitful sleep. He scrambled to pull on his clothes and get to the deck quickly. A crowd was gathering by the railing over the side of the ship. Assuming it was one of Spencer's crew, Frank wasn't in a rush to get there.

Sauntering over, he asked from the back of the crowd, "So who was it?"

"I heard it was Morrison, sir," A young, baby-faced sailor said.

Frank looked over his shoulder to the unguarded hold and then back to the group of men. "Did someone actually see him?"

Blake who had been standing to the side, watching the events transpire, spoke up, "I saw a shadow moving across the ship from over by the hold and then a loud splash. I ran to the side, calling for help, but I haven't seen any sign of him."

Sighing, Frank looked over the group of men gathered. "There's nothing we can do in the dark. We'll do a roll call in the morning after breakfast to make sure it was him. Rodriguez, you're on guard duty now."

The men dispersed, talking animatedly among themselves. Frank saw Blake turn to go back to the kitchen, but he reached out his hand to stop her. "Thank you for trying to save one of my men. Morrison wasn't the strongest mind on this ship. I guess with the recent pressures we've been under, he was bound to break. I'm just really sorry you had to see that."

Blake glanced down and then back up at him, a look of fretfulness crossing her face. "It was shocking, but that's life on a ship. Some just aren't strong enough." She waited a brief moment before excusing herself.

Frank watched her go, but with her back turned to him, he didn't see the smirk on her face. She had really hated to toss that succulent hog overboard. She had been saving it for a special occasion. If it got Olivia's ship back under proper command though, it would be well worth it.


Chapter 24

It used to be that the rolling ocean waves would have kept Natalia up and restless, making sleep elusive. In the last few weeks though, the soft lulling up and down over the waves calmed her. In spite of her confinement in the brig, she was sleeping better than she had ever before.

Shayne had removed what was left of his shirt and Dinah had given Natalia her jacket so Natalia could make a pillow out of it. She didn't have to glance behind the crates to know Dinah was curled up at Shayne's side, her head resting comfortably on his shoulder. Even though Natalia had been a little amused by lack of subtlety between the two lovers, she envied them as well.

Sitting up, she readjusted her makeshift pillow and pulled a tattered blanket she'd found in a crate up to her chin. She shivered at the damp chill in the air and let her eyes drift closed.

It seemed like she had barely been asleep any time when a loud crashing noise woke Natalia up. She sat up and tried to clear her sleep-adled brain.

A split second passed between the sound of a familiar voice outside the brig door and a loud explosion as the door blew to pieces. Natalia scrambled to her feet just in time to see Olivia leap down into the space.

Natalia's heart thumped hard against her chest, but it had nothing to do with the noise or explosion. She raced across the space and flung her arms around Olivia's neck. "Oh, thank God, it's you!"

Natalia sunk into the embrace as she felt strong arms wrap around her waist. A shiver passed through her as Olivia nuzzled into her neck and whispered, "I'm here. I've got you."

Tears stung Natalia's eyes as she put words to the truth in her heart. "I've missed you. I don't want to be without you."

Metal clanged to the floor of the ship as Olivia dropped the sword she had been holding. She gasped as Olivia pulled her surprisingly closer and reached down to lift Natalia off her feet. Without conscious thought, Natalia wrapped her legs around Olivia's waist. She felt rough wood at her back as she was pressed against the side of the ship.

Olivia braced a leg under Natalia and leaned back. Fierce, green eyes drank Natalia's face and body in as Olivia brought a hand around to sensually caress Natalia's cheek. The normally tender gesture didn't have that affect on Natalia. The intense look and wanton touch shot a jolt of desire down Natalia's spine and she was shocked at how she brazenly rolled her hips against Olivia seeking friction that would bring relief.

The sensation wasn't lost on Olivia and Natalia felt Olivia's fingers slide into her hair and tug her forward into a powerful kiss. The air was sucked from Natalia's lungs. A kiss had never rocked her to her core and she moaned with a need so forceful she shook. All she could do was tighten her grip around Olivia's shoulders and hold on.

She was gratefully able to breathe again as Olivia deepened the kiss by tilting her head to the side. Natalia's lips opened on reflex and Olivia's tongue claimed her.

Natalia was so lost in the kiss that she didn't realize that Olivia had unbuttoned her shirt. It wasn't until she felt the piercing twinge of lithe fingers squeezing her nipple that she jerked back with a hiss.

"Oh God! Olivia!"

The fingers were quickly gone and replaced by Olivia's mouth, her teeth working the hardening nipple, until Natalia's head flung back and she writhed in Olivia's arms.

"God, yes!"

She felt the waistband of her pants being tugged open and when she looked down, she took in the most amazing sight of Olivia's tongue licking at her nipple with abandon – eyes closed and needy moans sending vibrations along Natalia's skin.

She could feel Olivia's fingers teasing at the top of her curls, the loose trousers slipping more and more down her hips, as Olivia's hand became more adventurous. Natalia ached for the other woman's touch, to feel her moving inside of her.

She ran her hand through sun-glistened locks as Olivia sucked and tasted her. "Please, Olivia."

Green eyes that had been dark with raw, unadulterated passion, turned soft and tender as she glanced up at Natalia. The brunette could sense the fire underneath, but it was overlaid with a love she had never experienced. Everything she had needed to know existed in this moment between them.

As Olivia slid into her for the first time, she felt the knowing rush of internal peace.

A sudden flash of light jerked her awake and she growled a little as she fought to hold onto the wonderful dream she was in. Blake scampered down the steps, letting in a blinding light as she moved from the doorway.

"Natalia, wake up! It's time to go see the captain."

Josh cursed and ran his hands roughly through his short hair. "Just great! Now we've managed to capture two members of the royal family. First Natalia, now him."

Phillip went over to pour his drink and Olivia held up a hand to Josh to stop his rant. Phillip turned back, tilting his head to the side, recognition coming to him. "Wait a minute. I know you."

Rafe took a deep breath. "Yes. You arrested me five years ago."

The tall, blonde man nodded, putting the pieces together. Josh and Olivia listened in fascination. "I remember now. You had stolen a very valuable necklace from the Queen. A chambermaid saw you and ratted you out."

The young man looked up at Olivia, trying to get comfortable for the lengthy explanation. "My mother, Natalia's aunt, was a single mother and we, in spite of being a part of the royal family, were essentially shunned because we were an embarrassment to them. To save face though, we were invited to the family functions occasionally. At one party we had gone to, I snuck off to the Queen's chambers. I thought that if I could just get one piece, that I could sell it and help my mother out. I was just a kid, and I did something stupid. Captain Spaulding was head of the royal guard at the time and had me arrested. Instead of putting me in jail, the magistrate saw fit to put me in military service. That's how I ended up on Captain Cooper's ship. In a lot of ways, it's been the best thing for me. The discipline and structure work well for me, and he's treated me very much like a son."

Olivia stood and paced, thinking over the situation they found themselves in. Phillip handed a glass of whiskey over to her and she gratefully took it, throwing it back in one gulp. She closed her eyes and pondered her next move. When she opened her eyes and looked back at the scared young man seated in the chair, she decided to go at this directly. No games this time.

"This is the deal, Rafael. It's pretty simple really. You're a member of the Royal Navy, captured by pirates who could kill you at any moment. You have one chance for survival. You help us with getting my ship back, getting Natalia back, and telling us anything and everything you know about Frank Cooper's intentions." Olivia quirked an eyebrow at the young officer and waited as he debated what to do.

Surrendering went against everything Rafe had been taught by the military, but a small part of him questioned whether Frank's intentions were pure. The man he had once looked up to had taken glee in destroying Olivia's first ship, bragging to his men that he'd killed the "dirty bitch," and when he had found out that Olivia was in fact still alive, he had seemed to be on a personal vendetta to save his reputation. It didn't help that Governor Spaulding was constantly whispering in Frank's ear, belittling him with failures and taunting him with untold riches at turn.

Sighing, Rafe looked up at Olivia. "Frank Cooper and Governor Spaulding have a map. It leads to a treasure that some of the men swear is mythic but others have old tales in their families of seeing it."

Olivia, Josh, and Phillip looked between the three of them. Phillip had a feeling what it was, but he had to ask. "What is this treasure?"

"The Skull of Fate," Rafe said. He bit his lip. The deed was done. He couldn't turn back now, even if he wanted to. If Frank found out he'd given up information, he'd rot in prison if the captain didn't kill him on the spot.

Olivia pressed her thumb and forefinger to the bridge of her nose, then looked at the defeated soldier. Rafael Rivera was as good as dead when Frank learned of this. Her heart went out to him, but right now, getting Natalia back and stopping Alan and Frank from finding that skull took priority over every other concern. "Do you know where they're headed?"

She could see him visibly swallow before turning his dark, worried eyes up at her. He had never told anyone this before. The family secret was so deeply buried. He nodded. "The Rivera home island…Roco de Dolor."


Chapter 25

Rolling to her side and thumping her down filled pillow in frustration, Captain Olivia Spencer couldn't sleep. The ship moved and creaked completely differently than The Devil's Beacon. The sounds of the men moving on deck, the snap of the sails, even the crash of the waves against her worn hull, all of it was wrong.

Olivia refused to believe that she was tossing and turning all night because there was a certain dark haired beauty missing from her sheets, causing such problems. Olivia sighed and stared across to the porthole, the bright orange, mauve and rose rays of dawn falling into the small guest quarters aboard Reva's Torment.

After Rafe finally gave up what he knew, they had decided to break for the night. Wrapping up their interrogation quite late, Josh had charmingly flirted with her over a glass of rum, offering his services if she was interested. It wasn't that unusual in the past for Olivia to find a pretty face with deadly curves for a casual roll in the sack to burn off some tension, but as tempting and as sweet as Josh was, with his constant attempts over the years to woo her to his bed, he just wasn't her type. Despite everything that had happened to them that day and the lure of forgetting about everything going on for a few hours it had still been surprisingly easy to turn the man down.

Olivia sighed and rolled to her back staring up at the narrow planked ceiling of her quarters. She only had naughty thoughts of one person racing through her mind these days and she sure as hell didn't have a beard. No, the Captain smirked; Natalia had the softest skin she'd ever had the privilege to touch, even if it was only for fleeting moments, with the faintest hint of roses and lavender clinging to her. She closed her eyes and imagined the darkest chocolate eyes, staring up at her with such trust and something else lingering there, something reserved just for her to see.

As her mind wandered, Olivia's hands started to skim across her own body, moving slowly down beneath the duvet covering her. Long fingers slid under her nightshirt, across twitching abs, moving to cup and squeeze her aching breasts. She moaned softly, picturing Natalia on top, easily straddling her, the little stowaway brazenly touching her, playing with Olivia's body by rolling her stiff nipples, while slowly rocking her hot core rhythmically against her stomach.

Olivia shifted, her hips rolling of their own accord as she pictured Natalia wantonly grinning down at her, while pulling off her own loose white cotton shirt. Slowly, she revealed herself as she tossed the shirt across the room, her pert breasts bouncing and settling again. Olivia's mouth watered thinking about swirling her tongue around the erect tips, the sounds that would come from the brunette's full kissable lips as she did it.

One of Olivia's hands slid down her taut stomach, heading to the waistband of her underwear, while the other hand stayed right where it was, flicking and pinching her nipple, wishing Natalia's bright white teeth were there instead, tormenting her. A soft whimper escaped into the early morning air as she imagined Natalia sliding down her body, arching against her, blunt nails scratching a blazing a trail across her ticklish stomach. The heat left by of her lover's movements could only be quenched by sweet kisses showered upon her as the brunette worked her way down her long form. She could almost feel strong hands tug her clothing from her, dragging her underwear down and off her legs, leaving her naked and wanting. Natalia would stop and stare up at her, her eyes possessive and demanding, the stowaway claiming the Captain with that look as surely as her touch was about to do.

Olivia's hand dipped lower, fingertips teasing along the soft damp curls she found. Her legs naturally fell apart, spreading wider, with thoughts of Natalia's hands gliding along her inner thighs, making her way up her body like a big cat hunting her very willing prey. Curious fingers reached out, curiously tracing the shape of her, learning the curves and hollows of her, memorizing her through taste and touch.

"You're so wet for me, my Captain." She could just about hear Natalia's husky voice, whispering to her, her breath a hot caress against her sweat damp skin.

Olivia dug her heels down into the soft mattress, her body writhing and arched, as she slowly penetrated herself, her fingers dipping into her heat, stretching and filling as she pushed deeper.

"Oh, God!" Olivia gasped, wanting so much more. She could almost feel Natalia hovering between her legs, thrusting deeply, finding their rhythm, long dark hair falling across her flushed cheeks, like a curtain, hiding the sweetest smile and bewitching dimples, long dark locks tickling across her thighs.

Olivia started flicking her thumb across her stiff clit, pressing and circling. In her mind's eye, Natalia stared at her hungrily over the swell of her belly, and then slowly, oh so slowly lowered her head, her hot breath tickling her soaked curls.

"Mmm," She could hear Natalia's voice, practically feel it vibrating against her, low and intimate. She was close, oh, so close now. Olivia rocked a little faster, wanting so much more, desperately wanting to hear Natalia whisper into the morning sunshine. "Come for me now, my love."

It was that thought that took her over the edge. Olivia bucked hard, her body gripping and tensing, as the wave of pleasure rolled over her, her phantom lover's name ripped from her throat as she shuddered and came.


Olivia lay there, panting, her body twitching and throbbing with aftershocks. Easing herself into a more comfortable position, she pulled the duvet around herself, cocooning into its comforting warmth.

Her body calming, Olivia knew she wasn't truly satisfied with her own touch. It wasn't enough for her, not nearly. She wanted the real flesh and blood thing, taking and loving her, claiming her black heart for her own.

"I'll find you if it's the last thing I ever do. I promise." Olivia sighed sadly, tears threatening, not sure it would ever come to pass.

She was finally tired though, her eyes growing heavy as she snuggled into the blanket to keep out the cool early morning air. As sleep finally overcame her, Olivia's final thoughts were of her little stowaway's arms holding her close, surrounding her with love and keeping her safe…

The hatch slammed shut behind Blake, and Natalia sat up groggily as the woman carefully made her way down the ladder to the lower deck. Something smelled heavenly and that more than anything pulled her from her dreams. With a grateful smile, Natalia took the offered bowl of food and tucked into the welcome meal.

"Here, eat quickly. We'll need all the strength we can get today." Blake murmured as she quickly handed out bowls of warm stew. She knew it was almost time to put their plan into action and get back their ship.

"Have you been able to get word to the crew?" Dinah asked, pulling her long blonde hair back out of her eyes and tying it back into a ponytail.

"Yes, they haven't been able to corner Crazy Eddy yet and he's lurking up in the crow's nest awaiting further instructions, and I have old Charlie getting some of the boys lined up. It's hard with the Navy sailors watching them like hawks." Blake grumbled. They ate in silence a moment longer, the calm before the storm, and then started to prepare for the inevitable battle ahead.

Shayne grabbed the thick piece of rope they had found the night before and tied Natalia's hands, showing her how to tug the one end to make the complicated looking knot come apart extremely easily.

Before he could tie her hands again, Dinah stepped forward, staring into Natalia's dark scared eyes. She smiled softly and bent over to pull a thin deadly-looking dagger from her boot, handing it over to Natalia.

"You might need this." Dinah smirked as Natalia nodded and fidgeted, trying to find a place to hide it. "I'd tuck it…" She discreetly pointed towards Natalia's ample cleavage.

"OH!" Natalia blushed slightly and then grinned, carefully arranging the weapon and herself around it so as not to get hurt. She glanced down, pleased. You'd never know it was there unless you carried out a very extensive body search.

"Those bad girls are armed and dangerous now." Dinah teased. "I'll have to remind Olivia to watch her step…"

Blake snorted as Shayne chuckled and shook his head and went to find their weapons. Handing their guard's sword to Dinah and keeping one for himself that Blake had smuggled down, they were as ready as they were going to get.

"Blake has a sword for you, when the time is right she will get it to you." Dinah smiled putting a hand on Natalia's shoulder as Shayne once again tied her hands up with the complicated knot. "And we will wait for your signal."

"Okay." Natalia let out a long nervous breath. It was one thing to dream about the exciting life of a pirate, it was another thing to be living it.

Dinah watched her carefully, their eyes meeting and locking. She could sense there was a core of steel lurking deep inside this delicate looking woman standing before her. No wonder Olivia had fallen for her, it was a breathtaking combination.

"You'll do fine," Dinah murmured finally, tilting her head and grinning suddenly. "Besides, Olivia will kill me if I don't get you and The Devil's Beacon back to her in one piece, so see if you can't help me out here, okay?"

Natalia laughed and nodded, relaxing a little. The thought of making Olivia proud gave her some much needed confidence. She straightened her shoulders and looked at each one of her fellow band of mutineers. The time had come.

"Let's go get our ship back!"


Chapter 26

Midshipman Miguel Alonzo Rodriguez III was not afraid of much, but he sure didn't like the feel of this ship. The Devil's Beacon reeked of debauchery and the foul stench of heathen men and women, dirty thieves one and all. Shivering ever so slightly in the early dawn light, he quickly crossed himself and kissed his gold crucifix in hopes of warding off evil spirits before once again tucking it under his uniform shirt.

Something had caused Morrison to throw himself overboard, straight into the depths of a watery hell. Rodriguez shook his head, sad with the knowledge that Morrison's widow was expecting her first child this spring. He couldn't believe the man would willingly jump to his death with so much to live for.

Rodriquez froze as he heard a noise behind him, coming from the bowels of the hold.

"Who goes there?" He growled, relaxing the grip on the hilt of his sword as he saw Miss Marler step out, with the Captain's fiancée in tow, meekly following behind.

"It's just me, Miguel." Blake smiled gently at the nervous thin man. "I've got some extra stew for you, if you're interested." Natalia and Blake exchanged a subtle look and waited to see if the guard would take the bait or if plan B would need to go into effect.

"Captain Cooper wants to see Lady Rivera as soon as possible." Miguel hesitated. His stomach on the other hand had different ideas, as it growled loudly out of the blue.

"I think the Captain can wait a few minutes. I know Lady Rivera isn't in any rush." Blake handed over the bowl of stew as Natalia put on a show of being annoyed.

"If I never see that brute of a man again, it will be too soon." Natalia grumbled. Rodriguez chuckled as he took the bowl and started digging into the stew.

"Well, considering you are his betrothed, I'd say you better get used to him." The guard chuckled, as he gulped down the still warm meat. "Mmm, Miss Marler this is so much better than what our normal cook could possibly make. What's that tangy spice in there?" Rodriguez couldn't quite put his finger on it. Not tart exactly, more a slightly bitter taste that pleasantly set off the flavor of the meat.

Blake glanced over at Natalia and smirked before answering. The guard was in for a big surprise, quite soon if she wasn't mistaken.

"Oh, it's just a secret ingredient my mother swore by." Blake grinned as the sailor's eyes began to droop. "Back in the old country, they called it a Mickey Finn." Blake turned to Natalia and they both moved forward to quickly help support the suddenly dizzy sailor. From the hatch emerged Shayne, dressed in Morrison's slightly too small uniform, who quickly grabbed Rodriguez as he passed out. Dragging the guard inside the hatch, Blake and Natalia stood trying to cover the movement with their bodies as best they could.

Before long two supposedly armed guards stepped out of the hatch to escort Natalia to the Captain. Dinah tugged at the stiff collar of the uniform, her hair tucked up under a black cap to keep from being detected.

"You look good in a uniform." Shayne murmured, smiling as he was rewarded with a saucy wink from his lover.

"I look even better out of it." Dinah sassed back.

"Do I need to throw a bucket of cold water over you two?" Blake rolled her eyes as Natalia just shook her head and grinned at them all.

"Ok, are you ready for phase two?" Dinah asked softly, quickly getting back to the business at hand. With Natalia's nervous nod, she grabbed the brunette's upper arm and the small band made their way towards the Captain's quarters. Keeping their heads low, the other navy sailors didn't even look twice, but from the crow's nest, Dinah could just make out Crazy Eddy with his sword at the ready watching the proceedings with great interest.

Blake looked back as they stopped outside the Captain's door. She tapped twice on the wood door and waited.

"Come." Frank's voice sounded from inside.

"We're right outside the door if you need us." Dinah whispered, squeezing Natalia's arm reassuringly. "We'll wait for your signal and then go from there."

"Thank you, Dinah." Natalia nodded, smiling. She could see why Olivia would be attracted to this strong woman. The tough blonde had an uncanny way of making her feel safe, easily calming her down, giving her good advice and confidence when needed the most.

Straightening her shoulders, Natalia turned and pushed the wooden door open. Stepping inside she noticed immediately that Olivia's private quarters had been completely ransacked. Undoubtedly they had been looking for the treasure map, which was safely hidden on her person, thank God.

Blake entered the room at her side, for which Natalia was grateful for. Before them stood Captain Cooper, his uniform jacket open, shirt half unbuttoned, seeming very much at home in Olivia's domain. Natalia fought back bitter tears and tried to focus on the mission.

"Ah, Blake. Thank you so much for bringing Lady Rivera to me this morning." Frank smiled at the cook who ducked her head shyly. The woman was a delight, one of the true bright spots of this whole sordid mess. "Please sit, Natalia." Frank pulled out a chair and waited to see what type of reception he would get today.

He had spent the night tossing and turning in the big bed. In Spencer's very own den of iniquity. His thoughts turning to what lewd acts his betrothed had endured under that scoundrel pirate's influence. The seductive images that went with those thoughts were another matter altogether and he smiled again now at the memory.

Natalia sighed and then stepped cautiously forward, before slipping down onto the proffered seat.

"Thank you. Blake. That will be all." Frank dismissed the other woman, turning his full attention to his bride to be. Natalia's eyes grew larger and Blake seemed to hesitate, not wanting to leave Natalia unattended.

"Unless you would like something else to eat or drink, my sweet?" Frank smiled gently at Natalia, his fingers reaching out to gently caress her cheek. He conveniently ignored the bruising still clearly visible there. Natalia jerked her head away and glared at the Captain.

"I'm fine, as long as you stay away from me, Captain Cooper." Natalia growled.

"Um…maybe I should…" Blake began, jumping a little as Frank interrupted her.

"I said, that will be all." Frank stared hard at the cook, not liking his commands disobeyed.

Blake glanced down at Natalia for an instant, who nodded ever so slightly that it was okay, and then did a small curtsy before reluctantly making her way out the door.

"Ah, alone at last." Frank sighed, making his way to the wooden door and sliding the lock into place. Natalia swallowed hard, her back up crew effectively stymied. Frank smiled and sat back down across from her. "Where is the map, Natalia?"

Natalia grew very still, instinctively knowing Frank was quickly coming to the end of his rope with her. She shook her head, flicking her long dark hair back over her shoulder and out of her eyes before finally speaking.

"I don't know what you're talking about."

Frank stared at her for the longest moment, realizing that she had indeed been won over to the pirate's side. If that's how she wanted it, he was more than ready to take drastic measures to get what he needed.

"We have checked this ship high and low and no luck finding the map. I know it's here somewhere and the Governor has given me permission to kill each and every pirate on board until I discover where it is." Frank leaned closer, smiling grimly. "Surely you don't want all those deaths on your soul, haunting you forever, now do you?"

Natalia closed her eyes, the stiff edge of the treasure map digging into the underside of her breasts. So much pain over a silly piece of paper. Was the Skull of Fate really so important. She could almost hear the echo of her grandmother's voice in her ear. "It is your destiny, little one..."

Snapping her eyes open, Natalia glared at the smug bastard sitting across from her. Olivia and her men would rather die than let a man the likes of him take their ship or the treasure. And neither would she.

"Damn you," Natalia growled, her decision made. "You call Captain Spencer and her crew criminals, when in fact you are the disgraceful one here."

Frank stood suddenly, his chair falling to the deck with a clatter as his ire started to overcome him again. The foolish girl needed to be shown who was in charge around here. And it wasn't that Spencer whore who had taken her and defiled his sweet innocent fiancée. The sooner she learned that the better.

Natalia startled at the sudden movement, cringing as she expected another blow to the face again. Instead, Frank's cold fingers gripped her shirt and pulled her up from her seat. Spinning slightly, he tossed her down onto the soft mattress of the bed, smiling at the girl's spunk as she scrambled back against the headboard as quickly as she could.

"Captain Cooper, just what do you think you are doing?" Natalia gasped, her mind racing as she frantically tried to tug her rope bindings loose. Unfortunately they didn't seem to be pulling apart like they were supposed to. Natalia bit her lower lip and kept working at the thick rope.

"Actually, I was thinking that it's high time you see what a real man can do." Natalia's stomach churned as she watched Frank approach the bed, his rough hands starting to unbuckle and tug at his belt. "After all, I will be your husband soon enough."

"Dear God," Natalia whispered. "No…"


Chapter 27

Blake stood outside the wooden door to the Captain's quarters, her heard pounding as she tried to think of a way to logically get back in without tipping off the enemy captain inside to their ruse. Her heart sank as she heard the lock solidly slide into place inside and heavy footsteps walking away.

"Blake!" Dinah hissed behind, making the redhead jump. "What the hell are you doing out here. You weren't supposed to leave her."

"Tell that to Captain Crankypants. He's in a foul mood today." Blake chewed her bottom lip. "I don't like this. I don't like this at all."

"What should we do?" Shayne asked, running a hand through his short hair in frustration, one hand on the hilt of his sword as he carefully kept an eye out for any more trouble.

Dinah leaned against the thick door, listening intently but hearing nothing. She closed her eyes, and prayed she was making the right decision. She didn't know how Olivia did this day in and day out, making life and death choices, and in this moment she didn't envy her friend one bit. The Quartermaster turned back to her mates and straightened her shoulders, decision made.

"I have faith that Natalia can look after herself. She knows the plan and she said to wait for her signal, so we wait." Dinah glanced back at the heavy wood door, and sighed.

Captain Josh Lewis stood at the bow of Reva's Torment in the bright morning sunshine, watching as the necessary repairs were being finished up on the naval ship anchored a short distance beside them. He shook his head in admiration of the swarm of sailors working hard to get her shipshape. They had toiled practically non-stop since the sea battle and all their training and efforts were now paying off. He heard a yawn from behind and turned to find the Captain of The King's Vengeance approaching him.

"You're up early." Josh grinned as the other man came to join him at the rail. "Your boys do fine work, Philip."

"They're good, honest men, hard-working and loyal to the core." Philip glanced over at his busy ship and sighed. "That's the problem."

"Not a bad problem to have." Josh laughed and took a sip from his mug of coffee.

"No, that's true." Philip smirked, tilting his head slightly. "They would follow me anywhere, I know, but now…" He rubbed his jaw and looked out over the restless ocean. "Now they're doomed to be criminals, if my father has any say in the matter."

Josh followed his gaze across the water, knowing that Spaulding was right and there was precious little he could do to help. Philip and his men were about to become outlaws because they dared stand up to the Governor and that blasted Frank Cooper

"It's too bad you can't beat the Governor to the punch. Get him in trouble, before he gets you and your men." Josh swirled his drink, staring into the liquid as if able to find the answers in its dark depths. "Unfortunately he's the law in these parts."

Philip blinked, and froze for a moment as he suddenly had an epiphany.

"Of course. Why didn't I think of it before?" Philip suddenly grinned, thumping Josh on the back. "What a brilliant suggestion."

"Glad I could help." Josh coughed slightly and cocked an eyebrow. "Now what the hell are you talking about?"

"My ship must return to Spain as soon as possible, before my father can send a report of any of this to the King." Philip leaned on the rail, the fresh sea air suddenly feeling wonderful on his skin as his mind whirled with possibilities. He glanced back at the scruffy privateer. "My father tried to lure me into his plans from the beginning, talking me into helping him find this supposed hidden treasure and use it against the King. However I'm beginning to think that he planned to throw me to the dogs all along, in order to make his own clean escape."

"Jesus." Josh stared back hard, as it became painfully obvious there was no love lost between Philip and his sneaky father.

"I know, he's always been a bastard to me, but it's a new low, even for him." Philip sighed sadly. "However, I think I could make a good case with the King, who I know was reluctant to give my father the Governor post on San Cristobel. But with the rebels there, he needed a strong hand to govern there. So, if the governor's own son reports to him that he's gone a little power crazy, terrorizing local citizens who dared to question his actions, even attacking one of the King's own ships, he might be willing to listen. I could say he forced that idiot Cooper to do his bidding so that he can take over this corner of the world for himself." Philip turned and sat on the rail, pleased with how he could rectify the situation. "I think the King might be very interested in hearing what was going on down here. And suddenly any of my father's reports that I've turned to consorting with pirates looks rather suspicious, don't you think?"

Josh's eyebrows rose higher, realizing that Philip was making a very excellent case. It would all come down to whom the King trusted more, Allan or Philip.

"Remind me never to get on your bad side, Spaulding."

"Always good advice, my friend." Philip chuckled and stood. "As soon The King's Vengeance is able, we will head out." He paused for a moment, as he realized what this would mean for Lewis and Captain Spencer. They still had a dangerous mission ahead and he was essentially abandoning them.

"I understand, and so will Olivia." Josh sighed and ran his hand across his beard, smoothing the short hair across his chin. Things were going to get very difficult in the next few weeks, but it would be a good fight. And it had been a long time since he'd felt like he was actually doing some good in the world. "We can take care of ourselves and handle whatever comes our way."

"I'm sorry I can't stay and help fight at your side," Philip looked up, his eyes locking with Josh's concerned gaze. "But maybe I can smooth things out for you with the King and with luck, bring back reinforcements to stop the Governor and Cooper from doing any more damage."

"You had better, Captain Spaulding, for your father's sake." A low voice growled behind the two men. They turned to find the Terror of San Cristobel standing there, her hair flowing around her shoulders in the slight breeze, a steady hand on the hilt of her sword and determination burning brightly in her eyes. Olivia looked from one man to the other and smiled grimly. "Because I have not yet begun to fight."

Aboard The Devil's Beacon, Blake stood outside the wooden door to the Captain's quarters, listening closely for any sounds from inside as she tried to think of a way to logically get back in without tipping off the enemy to their ruse. Her heart sank as she heard the lock solidly slide into place inside and heavy footsteps walking away.

"Blake!" Dinah hissed behind, making the redhead jump. "What the hell are you doing out here. You weren't supposed to leave Natalia's side."

"Tell that to Captain Crankypants inside. He's in a foul mood today." Blake chewed her bottom lip, knowing in her heart that Dinah was right. She shouldn't have left Natalia alone inside with that man. "I don't like this. I don't like this at all."

"What should we do?" Shayne asked, running a hand through his short hair in frustration, one hand on the hilt of his sword as he carefully kept an eye out for any more trouble. He knew that the rest of the crew needed some time to get into place and it would do no one any good to reveal their hand too soon.

Dinah leaned against the thick door, listening intently but hearing nothing. She closed her eyes, and prayed she was making the right decision. She didn't know how Olivia did this day in and day out, making life and death choices for her friends and crew. In this moment she didn't envy the Captain one bit. Turning back to her mates, Dinah straightened her shoulders and made her executive decision.

"I have faith that Natalia can look after herself. She knows the plan and she said to wait for her signal." Dinah glanced back at the heavy wood door, and sighed. "So we wait."

Natalia lay on Olivia's large bed, pressed tight against the wooden headboard, horror and revulsion rolling deep in her guts, as her betrothed continued to approach her. Struggling with the knot tied around her wrists, she gulped down deep breaths, trying hard to calm down and think. Her eyes widened as Frank's pants dropped to the deck, his heavy leather belt and sword hitting the planks with a solid thump. He looked up at her and grinned, his obvious arousal tenting the cotton of his underwear.

Swallowing hard and not wanting to dwell on his shortcomings, Natalia scrambled back, as if trying to get further away. Losing her balance slightly she tipped to one side, her hands slipping down between the mattress and headboard, suddenly touching cold hard steel.

It was Olivia's spare pistol. Natalia almost wept with relief, the Captain coming to her rescue even when not on board the ship.

Glancing back at the bumbling fool standing at the side of the bed struggling with his clothing, Natalia also realized that the knot had also loosened around her hands, and she wiggled her wrists free. Her eyes hardened and she prepared to defend herself.

"No need to be afraid, my pet. That ruffian Spencer touching you will soon just be a bad memory." Frank mumbled as he continued to try to step out of his uniform pants, a foot getting trapped in the stiff material. "I'll just be a moment…"

Natalia whipped out the pistol, the hammer cocking sounding loud in the quiet room.

"I don't think so, you cowardly dog." Natalia growled, shoving the loose ropes completely off her hands and moving to her knees, keeping the shocked enemy in her sights.

"Natalia! You wouldn't dare. I'm to be your husband." Frank gaped at his fiancée, stunned by the dangerous turn of events.

"Over my dead body." Natalia suddenly grinned, her dimples flashing. "Or yours, I'm not choosy."

"Okay, she's late." Blake paced, biting her nails as she made her way past a silently brooding Shayne. She stopped next to Dinah, who moved away from the door to glare at her. "We have to go in and get her."

"Blake, calm down." Dinah said. "Natalia said she was going to signal us when – "

A gun blast echoed into the still morning air, followed closely by a solid thump from inside.

"Well, not exactly subtle, but it will do..." Dinah smirked at an equally surprised Blake, both women oddly proud of the spunky stowaway.

"What the hell?" Shayne pulled his sword and turned to the door, as it was suddenly flung open.

Natalia stood there, clothes askew, eyes flashing and her dark hair flowing around her shoulders in a wave. Behind her on the floor lay her ex-fiancé, moaning pathetically, his sorry ass bleeding from the flesh wound she had just disabled him with. Dropping the spent pistol to the deck, she found one of Olivia's prized swords hanging by the door. Grabbing it, she stepped out into the morning light once more.

"It would seem the reports of my upcoming nuptials have been greatly exaggerated. I think I've taken care of that now." Natalia grinned at her each of comrades, feeling alive and free. "Now let's get this party started."

Governor Alan Spaulding sat bolt upright in the narrow bed of the guest quarters, the sound of gunfire spurring him into action. He knew staying on board the damned pirate ship would come back and bite him in the end.

Outside his cabin he could clearly make out the sound of feet dashing to and fro across the worn deck. Yanking on his clothes, he quickly made his way outside and into a sea of madness.

The gun shot had mobilized the pirate crew, and they suddenly streamed out from all the various nooks and crannies to fight off their enemy. From the vantage point of the crow's nest, Crazy Eddy could see that The Widow Maker was continuing on its course, making good speed towards port, completely oblivious to The Devil's Beacon slowing and starting to turn. Grinning, he knew they were at a safe enough distance that the time had come.

Wrapping a thick cord of rope around his wrist, he leapt out from the crow's nest, swinging with sword in hand. With one well placed chop he cut down the Spanish flag that had been fluttering from the mast. As it lazily dropped to the main deck in a heap, more pirates were already swarming out of the bowels of the ship, easily breaking into the chests holding their confiscated swords and weapons and over powering the royal navy officers that had been holding them captive.

Alan ducked down behind some barrels as more people dashed past. Peering out cautiously he realized that they had come from the Captain's quarters and he sent up a curse. He knew he shouldn't have trusted Cooper to get the job right. Find the other half of the map; was that such a hard task? He shook his head and briefly worried about Frank Cooper's safety as they needed to get back to The Widow Maker in one piece and regroup. Glancing over the rim of the nearest barrel, he could just make out the seductive curves of several women dressed in men's clothes, one of them very familiar.

"Lady Rivera." Alan's eyebrows rose as he murmured to himself, before ducking down as a group of fighting sailors rolled across the deck towards his hiding spot. Dropping to his hands and knees the Governor crawled along, making his way towards the Captain's cabin. Finding a guard on the door, he pulled a blade from his boot and threw it, hitting the pirate square in the chest. Stepping over the slumped body, Alan pushed the door open slightly, finding Cooper sprawled on the floor.

"I can't believe she actually shot me…" Frank groaned pitifully.

"Frank!" Alan hissed from the door, pleased as the wounded man looked over at him.

"Governor Spaulding, thank God." Frank winched as he struggled to get into a somewhat more dignified position. "We need to get off this ship."

"I know." Alan grimaced. Somehow he would figure out how to find the hidden treasure with only half his map. After all you need to be alive to enjoy spending your wealth. Maybe if he could win the help of ...

Alan smiled widely as an idea began to form in his mind. He glanced back towards the door, realizing that returning Lady Rivera to her father might just be enough to woo the Governor of Roca de Dolor to his cause. Now he just had to get her off this fool ship with them.

"Come on, I thought I saw some of our men struggling into a lifeboat on the starboard side. I think we can make it there." Alan winced as he caught sight of the other man's backside, seeing that it was pretty chewed up. Shaking his head, he slipped under the Captain's arm, shouldering some weight as Frank gingerly stood and together they hobbled their way out of the cabin.

On deck the battle to take back the ship raged on. Naval officers continued to be tossed overboard or slain where they stood. Dinah looked up and smiled as Crazy Eddy slowly descended from the crow's nest, as the black skull and cross bones flag once more made its way up the main mast. A small cheer from the men sounded and the fighting intensified.

Shayne kicked open the door to the guest quarters, and Dinah rushed in after him, both determined to personally turf Governor Spaulding off their ship. Unfortunately the room was empty.

"He's gone." Dinah growled. "Damn it!"

"He's got to be around here somewhere." Natalia said from the doorway, ducking to one side as a knife whizzed past, embedding itself into the door frame beside her. Behind her Blake crossed herself and yanked the offending blade from the wall.

Dinah glanced out of the porthole, seeing The Widow Maker still making good speed away from them, completely oblivious to battle to free The Devil's Beacon. She could feel the ship turning, heading back the way they had just come. Back to Olivia.

"He must have realized what was happening and is trying to escape the ship." Dinah said, turning in time to see several burly sailors about to grab Natalia and Blake. "Look out behind you!"

Large meaty hands grabbed them, pulling the two women back out onto the deck, as Dinah and Shayne both dashed after with their swords at the ready. Blake turned and attacked the sailor holding her, fighting with the larger man with all her might, the blade she had taken from the doorframe flashing in the sunlight.

Undeterred, the other naval officer sent a barrel flying towards the other two armed pirates with a good kick, and pulled a struggling Natalia against his chest, determined to get her back to the lifeboat as ordered. Natalia's sword slipped from her fingers and she cursed, much to the officer's amusement. This one certainly was a handful.

"Settle down now, Lady Rivera. We've come to take you back to where you belong." The sailor hissed in her ear hotly. Natalia flushed with anger and dread, desperate now, more than ever, to escape the man's clutches.

"This little one belongs right here." A familiar voice growled behind them. Natalia's heart swelled at the sentiment and she watched as Old Charlie slowly stood to his full height, a sword in his hand ready to fight. "Now, unhand the Lady. I won't tell you twice, boy."

"Shove off, you old codger. She's coming with us, Governor's orders." The officer sneered, pulling Natalia tighter before lunging suddenly towards the lifeboat. He could see they were getting ready to lower it, and make their escape and he for one didn't want to be left behind with these cutthroats.

Charlie raced forward with a bellow, as Natalia stomped on the naval officer's foot and rolled out of his grasp, falling to the deck to get out of harm's way. Howling with pain, the sailor was suddenly defending himself from a flurry of blows from the seasoned pirate. The sound of metal sliding against metal mingled with angry grunts, as Natalia looked for her missing sword.

Looking up, she saw both men grappling in close combat and then silence as both men froze. Each man glanced down to find a sword spearing into their guts. The naval officer fell first, landing at Charlie's feet in a heap, dead in a matter of moments.

"Charlie!" Natalia scrambled closer, catching Charlie as he sank to his knees. She tried to avoid the sword sticking out of his chest as best she could, but she could tell by the look in his eyes that it would be over soon. She didn't want to believe it though. "Don't move, I'll get help. Maybe Blake can…"

"No, don't go." The old pirate coughed, blood starting to blossom on his white cotton shirt around the wound. "I've lived a good long life, and now it's done. Did he hurt you?"

Natalia shook her head, tears starting to burn behind her eyes. He smiled gently then, before a shudder wracked his body.

"That's good. The Captain would have my balls if anything happened to you." He chuckled softly and coughed, Natalia's grip tightening around him. His eyes grew serious as he stared up into her sad dark eyes. "Promise me…"

Natalia flinched as the old man spasmed in pain again, his warm blood now coating her hands. He relaxed against her again, his shoulders drooping as he steadily lost strength.

"Anything." She whispered into his hair, tears now freely falling down her cheeks.

"Take care of her." Charlie said. "You're good for her and the Captain will never admit it but she needs you. She saved my life and this crew a hundred times over; she deserves something good in her life, someone to love her, even if she doesn't think she's worthy. And you do too, miss. Now…promise me… " His eyes suddenly widened and he took a last rattling breath, as he slowly reached up to touch her flushed cheek.

"I promise, Charlie." Natalia whispered back, watching as the old man's arm fell away and he slumped, dead in her arms. "I promise."

Weeping softly she closed her eyes and prayed, commending his brave old soul to heaven.

Not far away, Blake pulled her blade from another dead man's chest and turned to look for her mates. Dinah and Shayne stood back to back battling the last few sailors into submission. Turning she saw Natalia cradling Old Charlie in her arms.

"Oh, no." Blake murmured sadly, heading towards the two of them. Suddenly she saw two sailors come up behind Natalia, pulling a burlap sack over her head before dragging her away towards the lifeboats. Rushing after them she reached the life boat just as they lifted Natalia into the boat beside a semi conscious Captain Cooper.

"Captain Cooper, please sir." Blake tried to think fast on her feet. She couldn't let Natalia disappear with these men alone and unprotected. "Let me come with you. I beg you. Don't leave me here with these heathens."

The sailors about to lower the boat turned to their Captain and the Governor. Alan rolled his eyes, wanting nothing to do with this. Frank nodded weakly and smiled as the redhead scrambled into the boat beside the Governor and a still struggling Lady Rivera.

"We will get you back to your parent's gentle care and get this craziness sorted out Lady Rivera." Alan nods at the men to hang onto the struggling woman as the lifeboat drops to the water with a splash. Several of the sailors grab and oar and they begin to make their way towards The Widow Maker, which was clearly turning around now and making its way back towards The Devil's Beacon.

It would be too little, too late though.

"Full sail back to the rendezvous point. Best speed." Dinah ordered to the helmsman. Around her the men cheered and raised their swords, the battle won. With luck they'd be back with Olivia by sunset. For the first time she noticed a missing figure, and a bad feeling gripped her heart. She turned to a cheering Shayne.

"Where's Natalia?" Dinah asked, afraid she already knew the truth. Shayne stopped and looked around, not seeing the familiar dark head anywhere. Together they made their way back towards the Captain's quarters, the last place they had seen her.

"I think I saw Blake helping her with Old Charlie." Shayne said as they turned the corner, finding the dead bodies and signs of a scuffle. He frowned, his heart heavy at the sight of his dead friend. He glanced back at Dinah, who had grown very pale as she noticed the missing lifeboat.

"Dear God." Dinah closed her eyes. "No."

Ducking into Olivia's cabin she found a spyglass and headed to the nearest rail, Shayne right behind her. Extending it, she quickly located The Widow Maker, which was growing smaller by the minute. She could just make out Blake being helped up into the ship, and an angry Natalia already standing on deck, Alan Spaulding ripping a canvas sack from her dark head. Dinah lowered her spyglass and turned to her very worried lover.

"Olivia's going to kill me."


Chapter 28

Natalia struggled against the rope around her wrists as her hands were bound to the bedpost in the Captain's quarters. She growled around the gag in her mouth which was placed there after she tried to bite a chunk out of one of the men's arms that held her. Alan stood nearby watching as the men worked to secure her, careful to restrain her legs to keep her from kicking them. He couldn't help but admire her tenacity, even if it did grate on his nerves. Damn women!

He turned to see Frank hanging wearily on one of his men, his uniform pants soaked with blood. He sighed and shook his head. "Captain Cooper, considering your current…situation, would you allow me to commandeer your ship?"

As Governor, Alan didn't have to ask and he damn well knew it, but it's always good to get the permission of the captain if possible. Frank lazily rolled his head around and tried to raise it to look at Alan. Feeling woozy from the loss of blood and now the radiating pain down his leg, all he could manage was a weak grunt and nod.

Alan smiled victoriously and cheerfully spoke to those present, "Wonderful! Gentlemen, take the captain to the infirmary to be tended to. Young man," he spoke to a boy could be no more than eighteen, "tie the redhead up here as well."

Blake jumped in surprise and looked frantically from Alan to Natalia and then to Frank and back to Natalia. She tried to think a way out of this fast. She'd be of no use to Natalia tied up. "Please, Governor, sir…I have medical training. I can help care for the captain."

He stepped close to her, letting his height and size impose on her personal space. Smirking a little and speaking just low enough so Frank couldn't hear, "Do not think you have fooled me. When I am back on San Cristobel and back in my seat of power, I will have full control of the noose. You do not want to cross me. Do you understand?"

Blake battled against her instincts to fight. A lifetime on a pirate ship instilled the desire to survive at all costs, but a movement on the bed caught her eye and she looked at dark eyes begging her to hold back.

Hearing the redhead's sigh, Alan stepped back from her, pleased that she had shown some common sense for a change. With a jerk of his head, the soldiers pushed Blake onto the bed with her feet facing Natalia. They bound her and turned back to the governor. The shorter of the two men asked Alan, "Should we gag her as well?"

Alan rolled his eyes as if the choice should be obvious. "Yes, please. Her voice annoys me."

He waited until the work was done then exited the cabin behind the others. Considering the madness that had been going on lately, he didn't trust anyone – naval soldier or not. He walked to the railing of the bow as The Widow Maker cut through the water in the waning light. In the distance, Alan could just make out a speck of land – Roca de Dolor.

They'd have to slow slightly for nightfall, but tomorrow they should make land. Then, Alan can truly put his plan into action.

"Aye! Captains!" A loud bellow called out from the crow's nest of Reva's Torment. Olivia, Josh, and Phillip looked up at the scruffy man at the same time. His hand pointed out to sea.

Olivia reached for her spyglass and ran to the railing. Josh and Phillip came to either side of her, waiting. The pirate above yelled down again, "I believe it's your ship, Captain."

As soon as the pirate had said the words, Olivia knew it was true. She'd recognize The Devil's Beacon anywhere. She just knew Dinah would get her ship back! And that meant that she saved Natalia too. Leaning back and laughing, she backhanded both men playfully in the stomachs, feeling better than she had in days. "Hahaha! Well, I'll be damned, boys, but she did it! I don't know how…but she damn well did it!"

The two men smiled at her and then joined in the celebration. Phillip called for some of their best ale to be brought over from his ship, which was nearly finished being repaired, to celebrate.

For the next thirty minutes, the crew raced around the ship readying it for the arrival of The Devil's Beacon. The lookout in the nest kept an eye out to make sure it wasn't a trick, but he, like the rest of them, knew there was no reason for Captain Cooper and the Governor to turn around. It had to be their long lost crew.

The arriving ship made a large circle around them to come up in between Josh and Phillip's two ships. The crews jumped back and forth between the two ships, congratulating and celebrating their reunion. All the while, Olivia waited anxiously at the railing as Dinah and Shayne made their way down from the sponson. She swallowed nervously as Dinah neared but didn't make eye contact. The blonde climbed the railing and jumped over to join her captain.

Olivia knew something was terribly wrong, and she shook her head, tears already coming to her eyes. Her voice broke when she finally spoke, "Dinah…"

The blonde reached for Olivia's hand and gripped it tightly, hoping to be reassuring. "She's alive," she heard Olivia let out a rush of breath she had been holding, but she soldiered on, "but they still have her…and Blake too, we think. No one's seen either of them since."

"Since what?" Olivia looked at her worriedly.

Dinah smirked a little at what they had done. "Since we, Natalia included, overthrew command of the ship, and Natalia shot Frank Cooper in the ass." She couldn't help snickering then at the tales the crew had told her. She hadn't seen it with her own eyes, but she could imagine and it made her laugh every time.

"Natalia did what?" Olivia's eyebrows went up to her hairline in surprise, but she smirked a little too at the possible image in her head. She couldn't wait to hear it straight from Natalia.

"Aye, 'tis true, Captain." One of Olivia's crewmen said in passing when he overheard the conversation. He laughed at the memory of seeing Cooper wandering off with a whole in his ass and continued on, "That lass of yours is a fiery little pistol!" He walked away with his fellow crewmates, wiping away tears from laughing so hard.

Dinah looked at Olivia, happy to see her face soft, relaxed, and smiling. She took a deep breath, realizing that she had fortunately escaped the angry wrath of Olivia Spencer. "Come on, let's have a drink and I'll tell you all about it." Dinah headed in the direction of Olivia's quarters, smiling with relief.

"Yes, I'm very interested to know how you managed to let Natalia be kidnapped…again," Olivia's dark voice said from behind her, making Dinah's smile drop.

"Shit!" Dinah grumbled low to herself.

Smiling with grand satisfaction, Alan watched as the sailors prepared the small boat to disembark for the mainland of Roca de Dolor. Climbing into the dingy and heading for shore, he mused at the perfection of the situation. With Natalia secured and unable to interfere, he could ingratiate himself with her family and hopefully get information on the treasure. As an ally and governor of a neighboring island, it would be a smart alliance for the Riveras.

As the small boat came closer to shore, Alan could make out through the thick brush of palm trees and other tropical foliage, a massive white mansion with a classic rust-colored Spanish-style roof came into view. In spite of his own riches, Alan was still in awe.

Alan and two of Frank's officers came ashore only to be met by a small cadre of men with muskets. One of the guards spoke firmly to the trio, "State your business, sir."

Alan clasped his hands behind his back and adopted an air of authority. "Gentlemen, I am Governor Alan Spaulding of San Cristobel and a member of the Royal Court of Spain. On behalf of your King, I have urgent political and personal matters to discuss with Governor Rivera."

The guards looked at each other and suddenly bowed. The guard who had addressed them first, spoke again, "Sir, our apologies! Allow me to escort you to the mansion."

Alan nodded his head, regally. "Very well. Lead on."

"Keep on course and maintain heading," Olivia commanded her helmsman with a slap to his shoulder.

After a thorough discussion last night of the events that had transpired since the separation from her crew, Olivia, Dinah, Shayne, and Josh prepared their strategy into the wee hours of the morning. With assistance from Natalia's cousin and former royal naval seaman, Rafe, they concluded the high potential that Alan and Frank were headed for Roca de Dolor to get information on the treasure and use Natalia as a pawn in the process.

All agreed that it would be wise for Phillip, now that his ship was able to sail on its own, that he head back to Spain to talk to the King about the situation.

That left Olivia and Josh barreling through the Caribbean as the fastest speed possible in hopes of intercepting The Widow Maker before it could make landfall.

Olivia walked down the few short steps to the main deck and coming face-to-face with Dinah sharpening her sword. The captain looked down at her second-in-command and bit at her bottom lip. "What if we don't get there in time, Dinah?"

The blonde glanced up at her friend, a sad but determined smirk coming over her face. "Why do you think I'm sharpening my sword?" Olivia nodded resolutely at her and Dinah continued, "I instructed the rest of the crew to prepare their weapons as well."

A few seconds of silence passed between them with nothing but the sound of metal scrapping on stone before Olivia spoke, "Thank you."

Dinah shook her head and didn't look up. "Don't thank me. I let you down, and if something happens to Natalia, I'll never forgive myself."

"It won't come to that." Olivia put her hand on Dinah's shoulder and squeezed. "I'd sooner swing by my neck before I let anything happen to Natalia." Natalia was naturally her first priority, but ultimately, she had to keep the Skull of Fate out of Alan Spaulding's evil and greedy hands.

The blonde reached up and squeezed Olivia's hand back. "But it won't come to that."

Olivia smiled. "Damn right it won't!"


Chapter 29

The veranda wrapped around the back of the mansion and looked out over a lush garden of tropical plants, palm trees, and vegetation. Colorful birds called to each other and swooped down out of the trees to snatch the plentiful mosquitoes and bugs from the air.

Alan stood with his back to the massive double doors that led back into the waiting area of the house. He took a deep breath of the light salty breeze coming off the ocean and sighed. This, he mused to himself, he could definitely get used to. Somehow, someway he'd make it his.

A gruff voice with a subtle Spanish accent pulled him out of his thoughts and he spun around, "Well, what an unexpected surprise!" The dark-haired man was slightly shorter than Alan, but his shoulders were wide and his body solid and sturdy. Alan would not be shocked to find that underneath the man's tailored white suit were muscles big enough to intimidate a prize fighter.

Alan stepped forward confidently, reaching out his hand. He wanted to be sure to leave an image on the other man's mind as well. Giving a strong handshake that was probably a little firmer than necessary, he greeted his peer, "Governor Rivera. It's a pleasure to make your acquaintance. I wish it was under better circumstances."

"Ah, please, we are equals, si? Call me Hector."

Alan nodded slightly. "Very well, Hector. Call me Alan."

"Ah! Forgive my manners." Hector looked around quickly and then clapped his hands several times. A servant quickly appeared and bowed. Hector addressed him, "Bring our guest our best wine and rum." The servant bowed again and scurried away to do as he was told. Hector turned back to Alan. "I let you choose what you wish to drink, eh? Please, have a seat. It sounds like we have very important business to discuss. But first, tell me of my daughter, Natalia. How is she settling in on San Cristobel? I assume we'll hear of a wedding announcement soon for her and Captain Cooper?" Hector motioned to the high-backed white porch chairs behind Alan.

The men took their seats and as soon as they were settled, the servant returned with their liquor. When the servant was dismissed, Alan sighed and leaned forward with his elbows on his knees, hoping to appear deeply concerned. "Hector, that's what I came to speak to you about. In our passage to San Cristobel, our ship was attacked by pirates and your beautiful daughter was taken captive."

"What?!" Hector jumped to his feet. He whispered to himself and shook his head, "Mija," then looked up at Alan, "is she…?"

Alan stood then. "No, that's the good news. Captain Cooper and I took off after the bastards and fiercely battled them until we spirited Natalia away. Sadly, though, I think Natalia may have suffered at their hands. She's not herself, my friend. It's like she's brainwashed."

Hector's face was red with rage and his lips quivered beneath his bushy mustache. "Who are these scoundrels? I'll rip their entrails out and feed them to my dogs for laying a hand on my child!"

Alan felt a shiver of pleasure race down his spine. This was turning out far better than he hoped for. "The Terror of San Cristobel herself…Captain Olivia Spencer."

The Devil's Beacon sliced through the water gracefully and Olivia stood at the tip of the bow staring out over the ocean. Any moment now they should see Roca de Dolor begin to come into view. The sun was high in the sky, and if their timing was right, they could make a course around the island so as not to be seen by Frank's crew.

Dinah watched her friend for a moment. She noticed how Olivia gripped the ropes holding the sails, her fingers occasionally flexing and tightening. She stepped closer and spoke, "Feeling anxious?"

Dinah stepped up to the railing next to Olivia. She turned to look at her captain and Olivia smiled knowingly at her. "Yes, but not for the same reasons anymore. I used to get that rush at knowing we were heading into a battle and that our lives were on the line, and if we did everything right, we'd get some bounty for our troubles. I don't care about that anymore. This isn't about riches. It's about her." Olivia swallowed around the sudden lump in her throat. When she was able to speak, her voice barely rose over the sound of the waves breaking against the ship, "I just want to see her again. I want to tell her…that I love her."

The blonde felt her heart break for her friend, and she reached out to take her hand. She squeezed Olivia's hand and tugged her close. Lifting her chin, she saw a tear slide down Olivia's cheek. She brushed it away quickly and cupped her cheek. "Trust me, she knows it, and we're going to get her back. I promise."

Olivia looked into her friend's eyes and drew strength from her. She nodded and chuckled a little. "Damn, look at me…blubbering like a little girl. What would the guys say?"

Dinah bumped Olivia a little and smiled. "They'll never know. It'll be our little secret."

Olivia batted her eyes, jokingly at the blonde. "Awwww, are you going to defend my reputation?"

"Aw, hell, Liv! That was gone a long time ago!"

Olivia gasped in fake shock at her friend and slapped her on the arm. "Bitch!"

Their joking was interrupted by Crazy Eddy yelling down from the crow's nest, "Land, ho!!!"

Olivia turned to her helmsman. "Alright, Moody, port round before those devils see us."

"Aye, Cap'n!" Moody called out the command to the crew and the men got busy adjusting the sails as he steered the ship to the left.

Olivia called back up to Eddy, "Do you see that blasted ship, Eddy?"

Peering through his spyglass, Eddy adjusted and focused in until he saw the outline of the ship. He yelled back down, "Aye, I see 'em!"

"Good! Keep a sharp eye out, Eddy. If you see those bastards budge, let me know." Olivia nervously ran her fingers through her light hair and looked at a smirking Dinah. "Not much longer."

Standing guard over two sleeping women wasn't exactly the highlight of Samuel and Jonathan's naval careers. Samuel, the taller and older of the two, tapped Jonathan on the arm. "These two have been out for an hour. Let's go get a drink or something."

Jonathan was new enough to be worried about making a good impression on the captain, so he hesitated. "What if we get caught shirking our duties?"

"We won't. Trust me, Governor Spaulding is a land lover. He's in no rush to get off that island and away from a few luxuries, and the captain is laid up with his ass in a sling." Samuel smirked a little at the mental image.

"Yeah, caused by that one." Jonathan pointed at Natalia, who was snoring lightly.

"Fine. Stay here and watch the wenches. I'm sure you'll get a medal for your valor." Samuel threw out the verbal jab at the newbie before climbing the stairs and opening the door to the main deck.

Jonathan looked at the two women. As far as he could tell, they were pretty out of it. He sighed and followed Samuel.

A few moments after the door was latched closed Natalia nudged Blake with her foot. Both cracked one eye to make sure the coast was clear, and when they were sure they were alone, Natalia began trying to work the gag out of her mouth. After a few attempts of rubbing the cloth against her shoulder and pushing out with her tongue, she got it down to her chin. It was barely enough to talk, but it would do.

"Okay, this is really not good." Natalia rested her head back against the wood paneling, trying to think of a way out of the situation. But all avenues were cut off to her.

Blake had copied what Natalia had done with her own gag and managed to make some room to talk as well. "All we have to do is wait it out. You know Olivia is on her way. She's not going to let anything happen to you."

Natalia felt tears well up in her eyes, but she refused to give in to her sadness. In her heart, she knew Blake was right. She could practically feel Olivia out there, like a physical force tugging at her. Yet, she had heard where Alan was taking them. God knows what he was telling her father at this very moment. Blake was right. All they could do right now was try to bide their time and hope that they had enough of it to spare.

The latch to the cabin began to move and both women looked at each other in a panic. Frantically, they tried to work gags over their mouths. Blake got hers in place just as the door opened, but Natalia's loosened even more and fell down around her neck. Blake's frightened green eyes waited, following Natalia's lead. Suddenly, Natalia dropped her head over to her shoulder and let out a loud fake snore. Blake closed her eyes too, but turned so she could crack open one eye to see what was happening.

The two guards came back in with a pint of ale and a bowl of soup. Samuel set his stuff down and walked over to the side of the bed nearest Natalia. "Huh, I wonder how that happened?" At that moment, Natalia let out another loud snore and rubbed the side of her face and chin against her shoulder. "Ahhh, so that's how. Well, I don't wanna listen to your harpin' right now, lady, so we'll fix it back when you wake up."

The two men sat down at the table and began a card game. Blake smiled at Natalia's quick thinking. As she was about to close her eyes for a real nap, she saw a twinkling brown eye looking back at her. With a wink, they finally went to sleep.


Chapter 30

Hector Rivera paced the veranda, his mind racing with ideas on how to hunt down Captain Spencer and make her pay for her crimes. Alan watched the man in amusement as he ranted about various tortures he'd inflict on Olivia. The man was feeding into Alan's hands perfectly.

Alan was on the verge of interrupting his ramblings when a servant walked out to speak with Governor Rivera. The lanky, dark-skinned man dressed crisply in a white tunic and trousers bowed slightly at his boss. "Sir, we are arranging the tables for the ball tomorrow night. What is your preference?"

Hector sighed and waved his hand dismissively at the servant. "Oh, Rodrigo, that is for my wife to decide. Please don't bother me with such nonsense. I have far more important matters to attend to right now."

Rodrigo glanced at Alan, unsure of how to proceed and not wishing to question the governor in front of company. Hector noticed the hesitation. "Is there a problem, Rodrigo?"

"Sir, your wife left the decision to you. She said she's attending to her mother and doesn't have time to be bothered with this." The servant glanced down and swallowed nervously.

Hector sighed again. "Very well. I'll be there momentarily."

Rodrigo bowed quickly and left the two men alone. Hector glanced at Alan who raised an eyebrow at the shorter man. Hector threw his hands up in the air. "Women! She's a good wife, but her time has been taken up with caring for her ailing mother. It's quite sad."

Alan nodded in understanding, but truly he didn't give a damn. Then he got an idea. "My friend, considering you have a ball you are preparing for, I hate to make such a request; however, I was wondering if Captain Cooper and I could make use of your hospitality for a while. See, the good captain was injured in our battle and he could use some quality accommodations."

"Oh, of course! Of course!" Hector was stricken by his own forgetfulness. "Forgive me, I am struggling to keep my head on straight these days. There's so much to do."

Inside, Alan couldn't help but berate the man. He was obviously overwhelmed and not handling it well. It seemed the more time Alan spent around him, the lower his opinion of Hector Rivera's governing capabilities became. Considering his plan though, that wasn't a bad thing at all.

He plastered on his best smile for Hector and chuckled good-naturedly. "No forgiveness needed. If it's okay with you then, I'll send for the captain and some of the crew."

"Yes, please. Make yourselves at home. Oh, and of course, I'd like to see my daughter. Perhaps being around her family will get her in touch with her old self, especially seeing her grandmother. They were so close." Hector sighed lightly and smiled. "Well, I'll have the servants prepare your quarters. In the meantime, I should check on Rodrigo."

Alan smiled and nodded pleasantly, but when Hector's back was turned, he rolled his eyes. Muttering to himself, he walked back through the mansion to the foyer where the soldiers who had followed him ashore waited. It hadn't occurred to him that he'd have to bring Natalia over to see her family. Scrubbing his beard, he contemplated his best options under these new circumstances. It seems he had very few choices left, and if this plan didn't work now, he'd not only lose the chance to get the treasure but possibly be brought up on criminal charges.

Heading back to the ship, he had only one thought in his mind: I can't fail; I must find the treasure.

Olivia felt restless. She looked down at the stew in front of her and told herself that she needed to eat. She needed her strength for whatever may happen in the coming days. Then she smiled to herself wistfully because the voice in her head saying that sounded suspiciously like Natalia. If the spunky brunette had been there right now, she wouldn't rest until Olivia ate, probably going so far as to deny eating as well just to get Olivia's attention. Not that Natalia had a hard time getting the captain's attention. That…was definitely not the problem.

Everything in Olivia's world collapsed into a single, recognizable point of light and in the center of that light was Natalia. Everything was about Natalia now. Olivia dropped her head into her hands and groaned in frustration. God, she had it bad!

Standing up from the table, Olivia picked up her spoon and bowl and exited the cabin. Perhaps the warm, salt air would lighten her spirits.

She took the few short steps up to the helm and leaned against the rail next to Moody as he steered. The sun had set about an hour ago, but there was a little light left to navigate by and Moody was taking advantage of it.

Olivia spooned some of the warm stew into her mouth and swallowed before speaking, "How's it going, Moody?"

"Aye, if me navigations are correct, da island be thataway, Cap'n." He spoke slowly and pointed a crooked finger off the starboard side of the ship. He put both hands back on the wheel and continued, "I spoke to dat soldier boy from da udder ship. He says da west side of da island are full o' caves and a steep cliff."

Olivia nodded and swallowed another spoonful. "Good thinking. That would make a good place to come in at since it'll probably be the least guarded."

"I have you in position shortly, Cap'n. Alls you need to do is take da little boat in." Moody nodded, determined to do right by his boss.

She finished the last spoon of stew and sighed. "That'll be for in the morning, my friend. Tonight we all need to get a good night's sleep."

"Aye! Night, Cap'n."

Olivia nodded and headed back to her quarters. She stood at her door for a moment, looking off in the general direction of where she assumed The Widow Maker was anchored. "Good night, Natalia. I…" She started to say that she loved her, but hesitated. She wasn't going to say it that way. When she said those three words, out loud to her, she was going to do it looking into the warm, brown eyes of the woman she loved. Dropping her head, she sighed and opened the door.

Natalia and Blake were jerked awake by the cabin door slamming open. Alan stood in the doorway, ominously, blocking what little light was coming from the full moon outside.

The governor looked at the two soldiers who had jumped to their feet when he entered. He glanced down at the pints of ale and cards lying on the table. "Working hard, I see."

Samuel and Jonathan glanced at each other and swallowed nervously. Alan decided the two boys weren't worth his effort so he dismissed them. "Leave us."

"Yes, sir!" They said in unison and scampered from the room.

Alan removed the white gloves that went with his uniform and dropped them on the table. He picked up one of the pints and finished it off. "Ahhhhhh, not bad." He dropped the mug back to the table and then turned to the two bound and gagged women. Tilting his head to the side, he smiled menacingly at Natalia before speaking, "Your father is very…understanding, Natalia."

He enjoyed the thrill of seeing Natalia's dark eyes widen in surprise. Oh, yes, I have a surprise for you. He gathered his hands behind his back and walked aimlessly around the room as he talked, "Yes, we got along quite well, and he was particularly like-minded when I told him of your 'adventures' at the hands, ahem, of Olivia Spencer. It seems he has some dogs that would be quite fond of the cuisine she could be to them."

Natalia's heart was pounding, and she couldn't stop herself from yanking pointlessly at her bindings. She growled in frustration around her gag.

He raised a hand to his ear. "Oh, what is that, dear? You have something to say?" Amused at her attempts, he decided to humor her. Walking over he pulled the gag from her mouth.

Natalia didn't waste any time speaking, "If anything happens to Olivia, so help me God I will slit your throat myself. You bastard!" She jerked again at the rope around her wrists. A loud pop shocked everyone, and Natalia let out a pained scream when her shoulder came out of its socket. Alan quickly replaced the gag to avoid having attention drawn to the room. He wasn't quite finished yet with what he had to say.

Straightening back up, he shook his head. "My goodness, child. That Spencer woman really has messed you up. I told your father that she must have brainwashed you because you aren't acting like your old self."

Tears streamed down Natalia's face but she refused to react to his words. Inside though, she knew her father wouldn't believe her, and everything she had done and was doing could be used against both her and Olivia. Whatever it took, she had to figure out a way to keep Olivia from getting hurt.

Alan saw the shift in her eyes, an acceptance, and he smirked at having the upper hand. He walked over to the table and leaned against it. "The good news is, they want to see you. The hope is that some time with your family, especially your ailing grandmother, will get you back to normal."

Natalia felt her heart break a little. Her abuela was ill.

Alan's cold voice brought her back to the present, "You know, Natalia, it would be a shame for anything to happen to your family. I'm sure you don't want that to happen."

She closed her eyes, feeling the walls close in on her, and leaned her head heavily back on the wall behind her. Alan sighed and stood to leave but got in one more comment on the way. "Think about how you want to play this. The choice is yours, but remember, every choice has a consequence. I'll send a medic in to tend to your shoulder. In the meantime, rest. We'll head ashore first thing in the morning. It seems there's a ball going on tomorrow night, and it would be wonderful for you and your fiancé, Captain Cooper, to attend."

The King's Vengeance made record time getting back to Spain. Phillip drove his men and the ship hard, going so far as to refuse to stop to anchor for the night. A voyage that would have normally taken four days and nights was cut down to two. All of his men, weary and short-tempered, cheered when they saw the port come into view in the dawning light.

Phillip didn't waste any time. As soon as the ship was docked, he sent one of his men to find Beth and get her back to the ship. He didn't want to leave without seeing her and letting her know what was happening. If his father managed to escape, he needed her aware of the potential danger she'd be in and give her a rendezvous point, just in case. Once he saw his man off, he acquired a horse and raced for the King's castle.

Every second counted and he was out of time.


Chapter 31

Anchored far out to sea where they wouldn't be visible, The Devil's Beacon and Reva's Torment rolled lazily on the low waves as their captains and crews prepared to go ashore. Earlier that morning, Olivia had briefed the crews on her plan. Winning them to the cause was easy because all of them were a little in love with Natalia. The men would fight for Olivia, but the looks on their faces and the hearty whoop of exhilaration they raised at Olivia's words convinced her that they'd all die for Natalia.

She hoped that wouldn't be necessary but was nonetheless grateful for the support.

The sun was getting low in the sky as she worked with Josh to stock sufficient ammo and prepare ties in case they had the opportunity to apprehend Alan and Frank. By now, Phillip should have held court with the King, and if all went well, Olivia would have reinforcements on the way. If the King didn't believe Phillip though…

Olivia shook her head as she worked. She didn't want to consider the outcome if the King wouldn't listen to Phillip.

Sighing, she stood up and began wrapping the rope up to put it on the dinghy. She glanced down at Josh who was finishing his work on his own rope. "Looks like we're almost ready."

He glanced up and nodded, then looked out over the sea to the lowering sun. "Right on time too."

"Alright, let's load her up!" She called to the crew.

Dinah and Shayne lowered their secondary boat with extra flintlock pistols, daggers, and cutlasses to the water then climbed down and released their ropes.

Olivia and Josh loaded their small boat with the extra artillery and ropes. Olivia threw a leg over the railing to follow Josh down when a hand grabbed her arm to stop her. She turned to look into the dark eyes of Natalia's cousin.

"I want to go too," he said decisively.

She shook her head. "No, you're one of Frank's men. I can't trust you not to turn on us once we're there."

He held onto her sleeve as she tried to pull away, assuming the discussion was over. "You trusted me enough to get you this far."

Olivia smirked. "That was fear talking. I could've gutted you at any moment."

The dark-haired man, with dimples so much like Natalia's, met the captain's smirk with a knowing one of his own. "But you didn't and you wouldn't. I may have been on Frank's crew, but I'm Natalia's family. Look, after all I've done to my family, I owe them this. I need to stop Frank and Alan from hurting any of them."

Olivia looked away, clearly debating the logic of giving into the young man. He smiled and pushed her figuratively over the edge. "Please."

With a heavy sigh, she acquiesced. "Fine, but stay out of my way, okay?"

He gave a mock salute and grinned. "Aye, aye, Captain!"

Hector Rivera gasped when he saw his daughter as she was escorted at gunpoint by several naval officers. Her dark hair looked wild in the blowing wind, and her face was ruddy with dirt and streaked from tears. The tattered clothes she wore, if one could call them that, hung loosely from her frame, and her feet were bare.

She looked more like a slave than a princess.

When she stumbled on a rock, one of the soldiers grabbed her arm and she hissed in pain. Hector looked to Alan in shock. "What happened to her? Is she hurt?"

Alan made sure to jump in before anyone else could speak. "Perhaps I should have been more cautious with my words, Hector, but last night I told her of you and your wife's desire to have her come home and she…." Alan hesitated as if what he was about to say was painful, "she reacted like a wild, caged animal, yanking and jerking at her restraints as she had been doing ever since we rescued her from that pirate's clutches, and it seems she was so wildly oblivious to her pain that she dislocated her own shoulder."

Hector turned back to his daughter, his dark eyes broken and sad. He stepped closer to Natalia. "Dear God, child!"

She raised her head to look at him, and she shook her head. "Father, don't believe him. Olivia never hurt me, I swear."

Alan tsked and stepped forward. "It's such a shame to see such a delicate flower mistreated so horribly. I saw it with my own eyes. The way she pawed her shamelessly and passed her around from man-to-man on her ship."

Natalia screamed at the man who had held her captive, "She did no such thing! You lie!" Against her better judgment and caught up in the emotions Alan had evoked in her, she lunged at him. The soldiers were on her in an instant, using the advantage of her injured arm to subdue her.

"What is the meaning of this?" An incredulous female voice called from the second floor railing that looked over the patio outside. The woman gasped when she recognized the dark-haired girl below. "My baby!"

The woman disappeared from the railing and reappeared within seconds as she ran out the front doors, her pale yellow dress blowing in the breeze. She raced down the steps and threw her arms around her daughter, causing Natalia to wince in pain.

Natalia whimpered as the older woman let go of her and pulled back to look her over. "Mom…it isn't what you think. It isn't whatever he tells you."

She looked in worry and fear from her husband to the taller, gray-haired man next to him and then back again to her husband.

"Maria, please," Hector began.

Maria Rivera raised her hand to stop him. "No! Do not try to console me. My child…our child is hurt and in pain and…" she glanced at the soldiers around them and more coming up the walk with a red-headed woman and bloody man, "she's being held at gunpoint. Does this not bother you, Hector?"

Maria was livid with anger at her husband. Apparently, something had transpired recently and he didn't bother to inform her. The two had barely spoken in recent weeks as her mother's health had steadily declined, but to not tell her that their daughter was not only here but also being held captive was inexcusable.

Hector turned to address his wife, but Alan interrupted, "Madam, allow me to explain. As Natalia and I traveled on Captain Cooper's ship to San Cristobel, we were attacked by pirates, but not just any pirates. We were attacked by The Terror of San Cristobel, Olivia Spencer. Her legend doesn't match the reality. She's far more brutal, I'm afraid."

Frantically, Natalia shook her head. "No, that's not true! Don't listen to him, Mother!"

Alan gently took Maria Rivera's arm and led her away so he could talk to her privately. "Captain Cooper and I managed to rescue her, but it took a few days and I'm afraid she's exhibiting some after affects of her treatment. She's actually resistant to our help and has fought us viciously at every turn.

Maria turned back to look at her daughter who was crying quietly. The other woman was standing next to her and seemed to be whispering to her.

Blake leaned toward Natalia and whispered as best she could, "Try to keep it together. I know it's hard to listen to the lies, but we'll figure a way out."

Natalia took a deep, ragged breath. Her friend was right. Overreacting wasn't going to help. They had to bide their time and wait for an opportunity. Or maybe Olivia was on her way. She wouldn't just let Natalia go. She knew it in her heart.

"Mom," Natalia spoke softly. The older woman turned to her, a questioning look in her dark eyes. "Can I see abuela?"

Maria sighed in relief. "Of course, querida. She'd be so happy to see you. Let's get you all cleaned up and fed." For the first time, she noticed that the bloody-looking man that had come hobbling up was Frank Cooper. She had met him briefly when he had inquired about marrying Natalia. Maria turned to a servant behind her. "Take Captain Cooper to the sick room and call for the doctor."

The servant nodded and moved to assist the captain as the others walked into the mansion.

Alan and Hector stood in the corner of the room as the doctor cleaned Frank's wound. At first, it had appeared worse than it really was. On the ship, the medic had given Frank some painkilling herbs and the captain wasn't feeling much of anything anymore.

The doctor sutured up some of the deeper cuts and applied a salve to help fight infection, then applied a dressing. A half hour later, Frank was bathed, dressed in some comfortable island apparel, and resting from his ordeal.

Hector shook his head and turned to Alan. "She really shot him."

Alan shrugged. "I tell you the truth, Hector. I've never seen a woman so out of control. He was trying to save her and she turned on him…like a wildcat."

"What in the world did this Spencer woman do to make her act this way?" Hector puzzled.

He looked down at the shorter man and raised an eyebrow. "I'd rather not think about the possibilities."

A long moment passed and Hector finally got the insinuation. Alan watched as the other man's face turned several shades of red and even bordered one time on purple as he struggled with his anger. Eventually, Hector Rivera spoke, "Well, there's only one way to fix that. My daughter is betrothed to Frank Cooper, and before she leaves this island, she will be married to him. I won't allow her to be a common whore to that woman. We'll make the ball tonight a celebration. Tomorrow, they'll wed!"

It wasn't exactly one of Alan's goals to get the bumbling captain married off, but if it got him in closer to the Riveras, then so be it.

Alan scrubbed at his beard and glanced at Hector. "I think I know why Olivia was so determined to get her clutches into Natalia."

"You do?" Hector asked.

Trying to play it as nonchalant as possible, Alan played his card. "I overheard some of Olivia's crew say that she was looking for a treasure that's hidden on this island. Something very rare and very dangerous if in the wrong hands. It may be wise for me to place it under the protection of the Crown to ensure that Olivia can never get her hands on it."

Hector looked at him for a long moment before turning away and walking over to a window that looked out over the palace gardens. He knew the treasure Alan spoke of. Legend said that his wife's family, the matriarchal side anyway, were the heirs to the legacy of the Skull. That didn't mean that he didn't know its hiding place. He sighed, feeling trapped in a terrible spot. His wife would never trust the Skull in the hands of a stranger, but he felt like he had little choice in the matter. His was a small island and they had minimal security. It wasn't nearly enough manpower to fight off blood and treasure-thirsty pirates, and he couldn't trust his daughter to not willingly hand over the Skull to that Spencer woman.

He turned back to Alan. "Very well. I'll tell you how to find it, but you have to promise me that you'll take it directly to the King."

It took all of Alan's willpower not to laugh with glee. He nodded his head solemnly to the other man and spoke in a voice as calm and as serious as death, "Absolutely."


Chapter 32

Natalia sank down into the steaming hot bath and sighed, her belly full of good food, luxuriating in the familiar scents and sounds of home swirling around her. The throbbing ache of her shoulder, however, was a constant reminder of the current predicament she was in; otherwise she could have been twelve years old again, getting ready to visit with her abuela.

Natalia leaned back in the big tub and ran her hands slowly along her wet skin, building up some suds with the thick bar of soap, as her mind turned from the past to her future, or at least her preferred future. Flashing green eyes came immediately to her mind's eye, followed by a wicked grin and a delicately arched eyebrow, as if taunting her to make the next move.

Damn, did she ever want to make the next move. Even if she wasn't exactly sure what that should be. Natalia's smile grew wider as she let her imagination wander and her hands slipped down beneath the surface of the water, making slow seductive circles across her twitching belly, her fingers stretching ever lower…

"Natalia," her mother's voice called out through the door. "Hurry up in there. The carriage will be ready any minute."

Natalia startled, sloshing the water as she sat up suddenly, embarrassed by her wayward thoughts with her mother and Blake just in the next room. Okay, so maybe this wasn't exactly like when she had been twelve.

"Yes, Mom," Natalia answered back, as she quickly finished washing up and then stood, water falling from her skin in fast rivulets. Stepping gingerly out of the tub, she wrapped a thick cotton towel around her body and started to pat herself dry, being mindful of the few cuts and scratches marring her skin.

Natalia looked into the full length mirror, barely recognizing the woman that stood there anymore. She certainly wasn't the same girl that had gone off to Spain, that was sure. She had a mind of her own and a heart that belonged to another now. She smiled softly as she ran her hands along the curves of her body, her mind turning once again to Olivia, and wondering just where the fearless woman could be right now.


It had to be spiders.

Olivia shuddered and closed her eyes as their battered dinghy made its way through a rarely used, sub-terrain water tunnel that ran below Roca de Dolor's capital city, Costa Brava.

"How are you hanging in there?" Dinah murmured, leaning closer to her captain, trying hard not to smirk. Not many people knew of Olivia's phobia of the little creepy crawlers and this dank old secret pirate's backdoor to the city was certainly infested with them.

A cobweb, one of many, broke against the boat's occupants as they swept past, brushing against Olivia, making her jump. She quickly pawed at her cheek, trying not to seem too spooked.

"Damn it, how long until we land?" Olivia growled, shifting in her seat wishing she was back out in the sunshine instead of underground in this rank smelling tunnel.

"Josh had said that there should be a dock not too far down here," Dinah said, rubbing small circles low on Olivia's back to try and soothe her. They could easily make out the glow of Josh's lantern on the bow of his dinghy not that far ahead of them, leading the way.

Dinah's eyes widened as she spotted a quite large and furry spider making its way along Olivia's arm. She barely had time to blink before a hand reached out and gently swept it away, making the captain jump in surprise at being touched.

"What the hell?" Olivia snapped, wiping anxiously at her arm before fixing a mean stare at the offender.

"Sorry, I thought I saw a mosquito." Rafe grinned, winking at Dinah. Olivia glared at him a moment, obviously not sure she believed him, before finally letting out a long breath and visibly relaxing as she turned back to stare after Josh's boat. Dinah raised an eyebrow and smiled back at the young man.

So much for Olivia's tough as nails reputation…

The scent of candles and medicinal herbs hung heavy in the small bedroom. A frail woman lay in her narrow bed, her rattling and rasping breath easily heard in the silence of the room. Natalia's eyes welled with tears as she quickly made her way deeper inside.

As their tribal queen, Isabel had always been so vibrant and strong, a true leader in her day before the Spanish had arrived. It had taken all of her and her husband's skill to keep their tribe from being wiped out by the invaders. A peaceful takeover had been accomplished, with Maria volunteering to pay the ultimate price to seal the deal by marrying a Spanish diplomat, a man she barely knew, let alone liked very much. In the end though, it merged the old with the new ways of the colonists.

Now though her grandmother lay in bed, a mere shell of her former self. It broke her heart to see her abuela like this but Natalia sent up a silent prayer of thanks that she would have some time with her before the end came. She knew she should have left Spain sooner, but their father had insisted that she and her younger sister stay there and finish their education.

"Natalia?" The old woman opened her eyes, and blinked in the dim light. "Is that you, child, or am I dreaming again?"

"I'm here, Abuela," Natalia moved quickly to her grandmother's bedside, as Maria came into the room behind her. Her mother pulled a chair closer and wearily sat down as she perched on the edge of the bed and gathered her grandmother's hands up. "And I'm very real, but I've been having dreams of you too lately."

Tired eyes stared up at her, dark and wise, her illness and time not taking her mind from her yet. She sighed and nodded, squeezing her granddaughter's hands warmly.

"So, it has begun then. Good. I wasn't sure if it would survive another generation. You are the chosen one, mija." The dark eyes suddenly seemed brighter, more alive, and almost alight with joy. Turning her head slightly to look at her own daughter, she nodded and smiled. "She has come back to us, to take her rightful place. There is so much to do and I am so weak now."

Natalia frowned. What were they talking about exactly? She glanced over at her mother, whose eyes were filling with tears.

"Don't worry, Mama," Maria whispered gently. "There is still time. And if I must, I will teach her the ways, tell her what she needs to know and show her where her duty now lies."

Isabel nodded slightly and turned back to her granddaughter who was clearly ready to explode with questions. She looked closer and saw something else buried deep inside the young woman. She suddenly smiled knowingly.

"Ah, of course, I should have known. The visions start when true love blooms," Isabel chuckled softly. "Tell me, have you finally found your hero on a white horse, mija?" She took no notice of Maria's long suffering sigh.

"Not exactly, Mama…" Maria began.

Natalia looked away, knowing this was going to be hard. Somehow she would make them understand. She just wasn't sure how to go about it without sounding insane. Taking a deep breath she took a leap of faith and started talking.

"Actually, I think I have found someone, someone who is very…" Natalia hesitated not quite sure how to express her feelings to the two most important women in her life. A wave of terror washed over her and she swallowed nervously, however she would not hide this from her family, especially not from her beloved grandmother, who always seemed to understand her so well. "Someone who is very special to me."

Maria glanced at her daughter, concerned. Hector had been rambling about Natalia suffering at the hands of her captors and being confused, but this seemed to be something quite different than that.

"Go on," Natalia's grandmother stared at the nervous girl and squeezed her hands reassuringly. "Is it that strapping Captain Cooper your father has told us so much about?"

Natalia sighed and stood, making her way to the window, fingering and twisting the heavy curtains hanging there, feeling the velvety material slide against her skin.

"Erm…not really," Natalia hedged.

"She actually shot him, Mama," Maria said. Natalia's grandmother turned to stare at the young woman by the window in disbelief. Natalia closed her eyes and waited for the lecture she was sure was going to come. Instead she heard a very familiar cackle followed closely by her mother's laughter.

"Dear God, I should have tried that long ago on Hector. It would have saved me years of trying to keep him in line," Maria said as she chuckled away, wiping a tear away, Isabel suddenly laughing harder again. Soon they quieted again, and Natalia hoped the rest of their conversation would continue to as well.

"Oh, I needed that. There is nothing like the healing powers of laughter," Isabel said, before starting a coughing fit. Natalia quickly brought over a mug of water, helping the older woman to take a drink and then settling her back into her pillows.

"Well if your sister Inez can find a suitor in Spain, then it stands to reason that you would too," Isabel said, still not understanding the whole picture.

"There's no man in Spain that I'm pining away for." Natalia fidgeted slightly. "The ship I was on, headed for San Cristobel was captured and I hid, trying to stay safe and somehow ended up stowing away on the invader's ship." Natalia shifted slightly and then looked straight into her grandmother's eyes, drawing strength from the love she saw there. "I've fallen for the captain of the ship that rescued me from a fate worse than death." Natalia ran a hand through the long dark curls of her hair. "And I think she has feelings for me too."

The older women grew very quiet beside her and Natalia waited with bated breath for what either woman had to say.

"She?" Maria said quietly, trying to wrap her mind around what her eldest daughter had just said. It was true then, what Hector had been babbling about as she had rushed to leave their home. A pirate corrupting their daughter's mind and body. She hadn't wanted to believe the tale that scoundrel Alan Spaulding told, not trusting him the moment she laid eyes on him.

"Did you just say she?" Isabel whispered finally. Natalia nodded and sank down on the edge of her grandmother's bed again.

"I didn't mean for it to happen, it just…" Natalia waved her hands, trying to come up with the right words. "It just did."

"Oh, my God," Maria's eyes widened and it suddenly occurred to her who the only female captain around this part of the Caribbean was. She crossed herself, her mind spinning; Hector was going to have a heart attack when he found out. "Not the Terror of San Cristobel."

"The very same." Natalia raised her chin in defiance. Her mother made Olivia sound like a criminal and not the woman she had gotten to know over the last few weeks. "Her name is Olivia. Captain Olivia Spencer and she's not as evil as she's been made out to be by that incompetent twit Frank Cooper, or any of the other rumors about her escapades that we may have heard."

Natalia turned to face her abuela, who was quietly lying in her bed, watching her very closely. She couldn't tell what the old woman was thinking, and the silence was starting to scare her terribly.

"She's a pirate for God's sake, Natalia," Maria stood and started to pace. There was no political upside to this at all, no way for her to spin it to the masses that their daughter had snubbed San Cristobel's honored Naval Captain for true love of a good man. Nothing she could use to help her daughter have what she herself had never been able to have. Something she desperately wanted to do, but this was not going to work. She couldn't see how.

"Don't you see? Olivia takes from the rich and gives to the poor," Natalia tried to explain, trying to put a positive slant on it all. She started to pace as she tried to make them see her side. "Spain conquered San Cristobel and has been suffering civil uprising and war with that nation's still in hiding royal family and their loyal supporters for years. The local pirates always hit Spanish ships, laden with riches from other conquered lands and battle with the Royal Navy. Sure Olivia makes a profit, she's a good business woman, but I know she also helps the poor and needy…"

"Did she ever hurt you, mija? Or make you do anything you didn't want?" Isabel asked, her voice low and concerned. Maria moved closer, also worried for her daughter's safety at the hands of a pirate. Natalia sank down beside her grandmother's bed, holding her gnarled fingers.

"Never, I swear. Olivia has been nothing but honorable and dashing and protective of me. Her crew adore her and she treats them well …" Natalia's eyes grew soft, and the sweetest smile crossed her lips, her dimples showing ever so slightly as she thought of her noble captain. She sighed and looked up at both women. "And at the same time she's so frustrating and stubborn, it nearly drives me insane. Sometimes I just want to throttle her, or…or…" Natalia growled under her breath.

"Indeed," Isabel smiled kindly at her granddaughter. "Sounds like love to me, don't you think, Maria?" Natalia's mother just snorted and nodded her head.

"Oh, my little one," Maria said tenderly, opening her arms as Natalia stood, both women moving close for a much needed hug.

"Mama, I'm so sorry." Natalia whispered into her shoulder, taking comfort in her mother's the strong arms. "I wanted to do my duty, but…"

"Sshh, I know you did," Maria stoked through her daughter's dark hair. She had volunteered to her future with Hector; she would not force her daughter into that same role. It was a hard enough road to follow at the best of times. "We'll figure something out."

"The heart wants, what the heart wants. And who are we to say any different." Isabel finally murmured from her bed, her eyes growing weary. Natalia and Maria both turned realizing that their visit had worn the older woman out. Still Isabel rallied, not finished saying her piece. "Hector insisted that you girls be raised in the Catholic faith, but there is a rich history of two spirited people in our lands."

Natalia leaned against her mother and wiped away the tears that were now starting to well in her eyes. It was so different to what she had always known, and now her own family was telling her something else completely.

"I know, it's confusing," Isabel said softly. "You have received a great gift from the Creator, housing both male and female spirits within you, and therefore able to see two perspectives at the same time. It marks you as a true leader of your people, mija, and certainly nothing to be ashamed of. The other foreigners living amongst us are not as…open to the concept however."

Maria snorted at that understatement. Isabel glanced at her, both of them knowing Hector would not be pleased with this new development and something would clearly need to be done to keep him from doing something stupid.

A light tap at the bedroom door interrupted.

"I'm sorry, but you asked me to remind you when you needed to return to the Governor's mansion for the ball this evening." Isabel's caretaker said. The portly woman smiled kindly, pleased to see the old woman so active and alert, but obviously ready for a rest.

"Thank you," Maria said sadly. She leaned down to kiss her mother goodbye and then made her way to the door to discuss her mother's health with the nurse for a moment.

"Natalia, child," Isabel said sleepily as her granddaughter softly kissed her cheek in farewell.

"Yes, Abuela?" Natalia asked staring into her grandmother's wise eyes.

"There is much you still need to learn, that I need to tell you, but always remember that love will save the world." Isabel suddenly grinned impishly. "And if that fails, a sharp sword and a strong arm by your side never hurts."

Natalia hugged her grandmother close. God, how she had missed this woman.

"Now go get on your finest gown and try to have some fun tonight." Isabel said as Natalia made her way to the door. "Tomorrow will look after itself. It always does."

Natalia nodded and smiled as Isabel's eyes drooped and then shut. She quietly closed the door behind her and went to find her mother, her heart so much lighter than when she had entered the room. They had a ball to prepare for.

Blake stood in the small garden just to the side of the Governor's mansion, looking for the perfect rose. A simple thing of beauty which would set off Natalia's dark hair wonderfully with the any of the five gorgeous gowns her father had sent up to the girl's bedroom to wear to the ball that evening.

Blake shook her head yet again, she couldn't even imagine growing up with wealth like this. Or wanting to give it up for the life of a pirate. She sighed and wandered a little further down the pathway, finding another rosebush full of blooms. Behind her she heard a snap, as if a twig breaking underfoot. Turning at the sound, Blake found herself suddenly immobilized, powerful arms wrapped around her, and a meaty hand clamping over her mouth, stopping her terrified scream from being heard…


Chapter 33

The Governor's mansion stood atop a small hill, overlooking Roca de Dolor's capital city, Costa Brava. Visitors from Spain would often comment on how regal the house looked, like a small palace almost. The locals would mutter that it should, as it had been the home for their island's royal family before the invasion of the foreigners.

The white walls positively gleamed in the lantern light that was slowly being lit around the grounds, the overflowing gardens bursting with blooms, the sweet scents floating across the terrace on the gentle breeze.

Rodrigo Sanchez had seen his share of intrigue and excitement over the years, having joined the military as a teenager seeking adventure. When his tour of duty was finally up, he was more than ready to just try to forget the things he had seen, and done, if that was at all possible. After wandering the world, he finally came to settle down on this sleepy island in the middle of the Caribbean, landing the position of assistant to the Governor's wife and hooking up with a local young man who had somehow managed to steal his heart. And he hadn't regretted it since.

Rodrigo looked up from the lantern he was trying to light at the edge of the terrace patio, his dark eyes scanning the driveway and the shadows beyond. He had been sure he had heard something, the whinny of a horse maybe. The shattering of fine china inside the mansion quickly diverted his attention.

"Dear God, I can't leave you people alone for a moment without the whole place falling apart," Rodrigo grumbled, walking through the open patio doors and into the main ballroom to find out what disaster needed to be averted now.

From the shadows, a delicate hand emerged, reaching out to turn the lantern wick down with a quick twist and snuffing out the flame, before disappearing once again into the shrubs, leaving that side of the terrace just a little darker than the rest of the patio.

"So you just want me to stay here and get married?" Frank asked, shifting where he stood, trying to get more comfortable as he closed the trousers of his dress uniform without squishing his healing injury painfully. "That's it?"

A part of Frank was a little afraid to go through with marrying the woman, despite the assurances from Governor Rivera that Natalia was just a little high strung at times. His backside throbbed slightly, and he sighed, knowing that he had gotten what he had deserved for acting like a boor that with the girl. Maybe he just needed to take a step back and try to woo her, reason with Natalia now that she was back in the real world and not on the deck of that blasted pirate's ship.

Alan stood by the window, looking out across the small city to stare at the few tall ships docked at the harbour. The Widow Maker would soon be making sail, once Hector returned with the necessary map to the Island of the Skull.

"Yes, but don't underestimate the significance of it," Alan turned back to look at the confused captain. "It's the lynch pin to our whole plan." He smoothed the short hairs of his beard over his chin, hoping the idiot would fall for it. "You keep everyone occupied with the wedding while I slip out with the Widow Maker under the pretense of urgent business back on San Cristobel, and then take the Skull into protective custody for the King."

Alan paused, his hand outstretched as if already holding the artifact and then closing it into a fist, the idea of finally having the Skull of Fate in his posession needing to be savored. Screw the King and Spain; it would be finally his time to rule. Want, take, have. A simple concept really, brilliantly executed, if he did say so himself. Alan turned to Frank, thumping him heartily on the back.

"Think of it, Frank," Alan leaned closer, his hands wrapping around the captain's shoulders. "The challenge of taming that little spitfire in the bedroom, bending her to your will and showing her who wears the pants in your family. Imagine Natalia as your wife, wanting you, needing your touch, her belly swollen with your unborn child as another plays at your feet, calling you Daddy…"

Frank's eyes glazed over, picturing it perfectly. Watching the sun set as Natalia brings him lemonade on the porch of their home, smiling at him as her hand slowly circles low over her very pregnant stomach, her heavy lush breasts straining against the bodice of her sundress, a come hither look in her eye as he stands and she shyly leads him back inside, into the bedroom to have his way with her…

"Okay, good point," Frank swallowed hard and adjusted his trousers as something else started to become squished. "You have command of my ship and my men, Governor. And I will make Natalia Rivera my wife, if it's the last thing I do."

"Good man, Frank," Alan smiled widely. By midnight he would be on board the Widow Maker and making his way to his destiny. Everything was finally starting to fall into place.

Blake's eyes were the size of saucers, frightened as she struggled against the strong arms holding her close. The hand covering her mouth clamped down tighter, not letting any sound escape into the early evening air and she felt herself turned ever so slightly. Anger started to build deep in her guts, as she started to plot her escape.

Damn it, she would not go down without a fight.

"Blake, it's us!" A very familiar voice hissed from the shadows to her right. "Stop making so much noise." The scared woman immediatey stopped her struggling and tried to make sense of what was going on. The grip on her lessened as she did so, but the hand over her mouth stayed firmly in place.

"Cmmptn, imm thmmt moo?" Blake mumbled, straining to see in the darkness.

"Like I'd let you suffer at the hands of those Spanish dogs, Blake." Olivia stepped forward into a shaft of light falling from a nearby mansion window and grinned at her old friend. "Josh, will you let Blake go."

"Some suffering," Josh smirked and slowly released the fiery redhead, before looking up at the huge mansion behind them. "Not your typical prison setting."

"A prison none the less," Blake bristled and turned to look at the man. "Even a gilded cage is still a cage." Josh looked down at his hands, knowing the woman had a point.

"Where is Natalia?" Olivia couldn't stand it anymore. She had to find the dark haired beauty and get out of town before they were discovered.

They had landed their dinghys exactly as Josh had planned, followed a narrow stairway up to the street level only to find Spanish sailors and officers everywhere. Luckily Rafe had been able to navigate them expertly through the back streets of Costa Brava to the Governor's mansion. And now Olivia had her best men surrounding the perimeter awaiting her signal to attack or retreat as a small team went in first to try to extract Blake and Natalia. If Olivia didn't have to wage war against Natalia's family to get the girl back, all the better. However she would do whatever was necessary.

Blake glanced back at her captain and smiled, recognizing the worried tone in Olivia's voice for what it was. She needed to see the woman, if only to soothe the ache in her heart at having lost her in the first place.

"Natalia is fine, a little scratched and bruised from that bastard Spaulding tossing us into custody on that cursed ship," Blake grimaced. "She wants to straighten this all out, but her grandmother is very ill and she needed to go see her before her father forces her to attend this fancy ball tonight."

Olivia sighed in relief, running a hand through her hair and smiling softly. Of course Natalia would be concerned about her grandmother's well being. They would just have to wait for her return before spiriting her away. Blake reached out and squeezed her arm, their eyes meeting as the redhead's gaze softened.

"Natalia misses you and she's determined to find her way back to you as soon as possible," Blake said quietly, not wanting everyone to know the Captain's business. Olivia's eyes glistened and she swallowed hard, smiling, obviously needing to hear that Natalia was still invested in the hunt for the Skull, and more importantly, still wanted to be with her. After returning to her old life, Olivia had wondered if Natalia would have second thoughts.

Olivia looked up at the impressive mansion, wondering if she would be able to give this life up if the tables were reversed. Then she remembered warm brown eyes, staring at her for long intense moments, full plump lips quirking up in a small grin, and the most adorable dimples making an appearance and Olivia knew she would leave a mountain of riches behind for the simple pleasure of spending their lives together. Olivia turned her head quickly as she heard a twig snap and leaves rustling.

The sound to their right made everyone freeze and duck down. Two bird-like whistles were heard, low and subtle. The group slowly stood again as they recognized the signal from their own team and Dinah appeared from the direction of the back terrace.

"Lanterns are dimmed, Captain, and the route to the back kitchen is clear. It will be hard for their staff to see us enter or exit," Dinah reported before smiling at Blake. "I see you found some trouble lurking in the garden."

"I knew you'd miss me," Blake grinned back and shook her head.

"More like your grub, you mean," Dinah teased back, before giving the woman a quick hug.

"Yeah, yeah," Blake shook her head before moving away again. She glanced towards the mansion, and a thought occurred to her. "Are you planning on sneaking in and kidnapping Natalia back?"

"That was the rough idea," Olivia nodded. "And to stop Spaulding and Cooper from finding their way to the hidden treasure." Her green eyes dimmed and her voice dropped low, her hand shifting to grip the handle of her sword at her side. "I have no problems ending this here, and now."

Blake grew thoughtful. If an outright battle between Olivia's men and Hector Rivera's security team could be avoided, it would be better for all concerned, emotionally and politically. And the mansion was crawling with the Governor's security for the ball tonight, it would be an uphill battle at best for the scrappy band of pirates. They needed to infiltrate the mansion somehow more subtly…

Blake's eyes widened and she looked up to the glow of warm lamplight falling from Natalia's bedroom upstairs. The bedroom with several stylish gowns waiting for Natalia to choose from to wear to the ball that evening.

Blake smiled. She loved it when a plan came together.

"Captain, I think I have an idea…"

A steady steam of guests poured into the Governor's mansion, dressed in all their finery. The weathy and influencial men and women of Costa Brava knew it was always an honor to be invited to such events, but the sudden arrival of Lady Natalia and her betrothed, the famous Captain Cooper of the Royal Navy, made this an even bigger occasion.

Delicious food sat heaped high on the banquet tables, and red wine flowed freely. A lively band played music in the corner, mixing classical stringed compositions with a few more local island flavoured favourites. Everyone was having a wonderful time.

Governor Rivera stood to one side, introducing Captain Cooper to the many guests who stopped to greet their host. During a lull, Hector glanced at his watch. He had seen his wife and daughter come flying into the manion moments after the first few guests had started to arrive. Undoubtedly they would be joining the party soon enough.

As if his thoughts conjured them, Hector looked up in time to see his wife and daughter standing at the top of the main staircase. His heart beat faster as he took in their beauty. Mother and daughter clasped hands and began to decend the stairs together.

His wife was was stunning, as always. Impecibly dressed, her dark hair swept up, diamonds at her throat, a red silk dress flowing around her, fitting her like a glove. He never failed to thank God for the love and strength he had found in Maria. Without her he would surely just be a clerk hidden away somewhere in the Spainsh kingdom. Instead here he stood, Governor of a favoured Spanish colony, enjoying the fine life with a woman he truly respected and loved at his side.

Hector's gaze turned to his daughter, as the two women continued down the stairs together. Natalia's dark hair was curled and flowing around her shoulders, a string of bright white pearls around her neck. The dress had come straight from the latest ship from Spain, the latest fashion. Midnight blue with while lace at the cuffs and hemline, hugging her curves as if it had been made for her and her only.

His little girl had been exposed to so much, her time in the Spanish royal court and now her misadventures coming home. If it hadn't been before, it was now very clear to everyone attending that evening, with her sure step, regal smile, and confident attitude carrying her down into the waiting crowd of guests; little Natalia Rivera had grown up.

Elbowing Frank to follow him, Hector approached the staircase, meeting his family as they reached the bottom step. Kissing his daughter on the cheek, he took her hand and gave it to the waiting captain. Natalia hesitated, glaring at her father and then up at the vacantly smiling Cooper before sighing and slipping her hand into the crook of the Captain's arm.

The Governor smiled. Natalia was always the dutiful daughter, Inez was the tempestuous one. Like night and day those two girls were, despite looking so alike. If it had been Inez who had been involved with a pirate, he wouldn't have even batted an eyelash. Turning to offer Maria his arm, he ignored his wife's pointed look of irritation.

He smiled brightly, focusing on the guests around them and praying for the best. Now was obviously not the time to bring up his grand plan for holding the wedding tomorrow. He would just spring it on both women, when he announced it later to the crowd.

It would be safer that way.

Blake quietly made her way into the crowd of guests, heading for the bar. She needed a glass of wine after all the work she'd just managed to pull off. Glancing around the room she saw Natalia and her mother had arrived and were mingling. Natalia looked like she was ready to kill Cooper at any moment, and she couldn't blame her one bit. Being forced to endure any more time with the man would make her want to poke her eyes out too.

Glancing to the right, Blake noticed that Shayne and Dinah were now swaying together at the edge of the small dance floor, slowly making their way deeper into the room. They had cleaned up quite nicely, once she'd been able to talk Dinah out of her thigh high boots and into a pair of silk slippers.

Thank heavens the Governor had sent up so many gowns for Natalia to choose from. A few nips and tucks and a well placed pin here and there and the dresses fit perfectly. The real surprise though had been the Captain. Blake didn't think she'd ever seen the woman in anything but pants in all the time that she'd been with her. And now…

Blake smiled and nodded, impressed all over again, as Olivia entered the room.

Natalia smiled and nodded politely as yet another guest wished her all their best for the future. Stepping away from the milling guests, Natalia pulled her hands away from the man at her side and made her way to one side.

"Lady Natalia," Frank began. He had been trying to get her to speak to him earlier, but to no avail. And he couldn't really blame her after everything that had transpired between them on the Devil's Beacon. Still Governor Spaulding was counting on him.

"Get away from me," Natalia growled under her breath, glaring at him as she crossed her arms. "I am not going to marry you, so forget trying to sweet talk me."

"I-I owe you an apology," Frank looked down at his shoes and sighed. Somehow he would make amends.

"That is the very least you owe me, Captain. You're lucky my aim was not straighter or one of us would not be standing here discussing this," Natalia said frostily before stepping away to find a waiter with a glass of wine. After the last half hour with this man she needed a drink.

A sudden movement caught her eye, and Natalia turned to look out across the shifting sea of faces. Time slowed and it was as if the guests parted and there she stood.

"Olivia?" Natalia whispered in disbelief, her heart hammering in her chest.

It couldn't be, could it? Surely she wouldn't make such a bold move. A hunted pirate, wanted by the Royal Navy, standing here in the middle the Governor's ball as calm as you please. This was a way too dangerous a situation for her to be here. Her mind must be playing tricks, the longing and desire to see the captain making her see things..

And then, as if sensing someone watching her, the woman turned and faced Natalia, their eyes meeting and locking from across the room. Her hair was swept up, revealing a long elegant neck adorned with a simple gold necklace. Her makeup was done exquisitely, and the dark green dress highlighted the color of her eyes, making them even more captivating than usual.

The dress itself was made from the most expensive silk available, and it clung to the woman in all the right places, hugging her curves and hollows, making silent promises of the mysterious delight hidden beneath. In her hand was a glass of red wine, which she brought to her lips and slowly drank, as her eyes raked appreciatively down Natalia's body, sending flames of desire licking through her veins as if she'd been touched. Finally meeting her eyes again, a delicate eyebrow arched and the woman smiled at her and Natalia knew that this was no figment of her imagination.

The Terror of San Cristobel had returned for her.

And God help whoever stood in the way.

Part 34

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