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 34

Blake noticed the look that passed between the two women from across the room. If the house wasn't mostly marble and stone, it would have gone up in flames with the way these two were devouring each other. The redhead couldn't help but giggle a little in delight. This was going to be so much fun!

Without trying to draw attention to what was happening right under everyone's noses, Blake set her wine glass down and wound her way through the crowd towards Olivia. Moving nonchalantly up to the woman's left side, she whispered, "Captain, perhaps we should take this somewhere else."

Olivia smirked goofily, her eyes never leaving the vision that was Natalia. "Absolutely."

Blake rolled her eyes but then began to panic as Natalia took a couple of steps in Olivia's direction. Both women were completely oblivious to anyone else. The cook searched wildly in the crowd for Dinah and Shayne. When she locked eyes with the quartermaster, she gave a panicked jerk to her head.

Dinah shook her head not understanding, but then saw how Olivia was staring into space. She flicked her gaze to what had caught her captain's attention, and when she saw the matching look of adoration in Natalia's eyes, she made a decision on the fly.

Jumping out of Shayne's arms, she screamed at him, "You bastard!"

Shayne still had his arms raised in the general shape of how he had been holding Dinah as they danced. The look on his face one of shock and probably a little bit of awe. "What are you…?"

"Don't you dare act innocent!" Now that all eyes were on them, she leaned forward and grabbed his lapels. She whispered, as she leaned her head subtly to the side, "Follow my lead. We have to get out of here." She then pushed away again and finished her rant, with a slap to his face, "I can't believe you slept with my sister!"

Running from the room, she noticed that her other three cohorts weren't anywhere in sight. She blew out a breath of relief as she took a corner down a hallway, pulling Shayne in when he caught up to her.

He was panting as he lost sight of Dinah down the hall and not really all that surprised as he felt himself jerked into a dimly lit side hall. He couldn't help but laugh a little as he pushed Dinah against the wall and kissed her soundly. "God, you're beautiful when you're angry!"

In the middle of the commotion, Blake finally got Olivia's attention by pulling on her arm. The movement broke the spell for both women and they were suddenly staring at Blake with a slight panic in their eyes. She mouthed, "Upstairs" to Natalia and pulled on Olivia until they were in the back hall where the servants entered.

Natalia got the message and took off up the winding staircase to the upper floor of the mansion, where her and Inez' bedrooms were located. Their parent's room occupied the entire floor above them, she assumed this would be the best meeting place. She paced anxiously when she reached the landing.

Blake tugged Olivia down the long corridor to a heavy wooden door around the corner. Pushing it open, she made way for Olivia to go ahead of her. The captain didn't waste any time as she raced up the flight of stairs.

A soft bang at the end of the hall made Natalia turn around. When she saw Olivia exit, she laughed in sheer joy, tears suddenly cascading down her cheeks, and broke into a run.

Olivia couldn't contain her happiness either. She took a few quick steps and opened her arms as Natalia flew into them, the force lifting the smaller woman off the ground.

What happened next was the most natural and least thought out act, Natalia had ever done. With her arms wrapped around Olivia's neck, she leaned down and kissed her. What normally would have been a quick kiss of happiness and welcome, turned swiftly into passion. Olivia stopped spinning and simply held Natalia in her arms, as the brunette wrapped her small hands in her hair and angled for a deeper kiss. She felt Natalia open her mouth and the quick swipe of a warm and tender tongue made her knees turn weak, and she had no choice but to put the other woman down.

A small moan escaped Natalia as she pulled back slightly and angled her head in the other direction, trying to get as close to Olivia as possible. Her heart swelled with unadulterated joy at having Olivia in her arms and finally showing her how she really felt about the older woman. She couldn't seem to get enough and continued to hold on tight to Olivia's head, tangling her fingers in the soft chestnut hair.

Blake stood off to the side, watching yet trying not to watch, the pair kissing. She was thankful when she saw Dinah and Shayne come through the door they had used a moment ago. When the couple saw their friends all tangled up, they broke into huge matching grins.

They sauntered over to Blake, and Shayne nudged the cook. "'Bout time, huh?"

The redhead raised a finger and rubbed at the corner of Shayne's mouth. "You would've seen more if you hadn't been otherwise occupied."

Dinah and Shayne had the decency to blush and look down. Dinah finally cleared her throat, drawing the two women in the middle of the hall up for air. "It would probably be wise to get going, Captain."

"Not just yet," a voice down the hall startled all of them and they spun around to see Maria coming out of the shadows, with two armed guards at her side.

"Oh, Mom, you scared me!" Natalia raised a hand to her throat in relief.

When the matriarch and the guards were within a few feet of Natalia and Olivia, the two men reached for the hilt of their swords. Instinctively, Olivia put her hand to her side for her sword and growled when she realized nothing was there. She struggled to find it but managed to get a hand under her bulky skirt to pull out the dagger against her thigh.

Maria put out both hands to her sides. She spoke sternly to the two guards, "That's enough. No one will harm a hair on anyone's head today." The two guards glanced wearily at each other, but slipped their swords back into their scabbards. They knew better than to defy the Governess.

Natalia looked back at Olivia and gave her a matching look. The pirate looked properly chagrined and replaced the dagger where it had come from.

"Now, that's much more civilized," Maria said as she admired the way her daughter handled the captain.

She stepped forward and regarded the pirate woman in front of her. The descriptions she had heard were nothing like the reality. The tales had told of a worn and ragged woman with missing teeth and tattered hair. Her skin so sunburned that she was practically the color of stained wood. But the woman before her was absolutely stunning. Except for the cautious and weary look in shimmering green eyes, Olivia Spencer could have been royalty in her own right. She wore the look well, truth be told. Next to her daughter, Maria Rivera had to admit that the two made a beautiful couple.

Olivia, for her part, nervously shuffled on her feet as she was scrutinized by the regal woman coming towards her. She wasn't sure how to act around someone's parents. It wasn't like she'd ever had opportunity for a situation like this to arise before. Then again, she'd never fallen in love with royalty before. She sighed feeling completely overwhelmed, and for the first time, ill-equipped to handle the situation.

Natalia must have sensed the other woman's distress because she reached back and took Olivia's hand, giving it a gentle squeeze.

A feeling of confidence took over and Olivia bowed her head slightly to Natalia's mother. "Governess Rivera, I am honored to make your acquaintance."

Feeling a tad amused, Maria played along to see what the captain would do. She held out her hand in the traditional gesture of greeting she'd have for anyone courting her daughter.

Olivia didn't hesitate but took the proffered hand in her own and bowed again, placing a light kiss on the back of the older woman's hand. She stood back up straight and swallowed nervously. The somewhat stunned look on Maria Rivera's face unnerving her. Then a slow smile spread across the matriarch's face and Olivia saw where Natalia got her dimples from. She let out a sigh of relief she didn't realize she had been holding.

Maria could see now what her daughter found fascinating and attractive about the pirate woman. She was certainly not what she seemed on the surface and was world's away from the dark tales she had heard. "My, my…you are the charmer, aren't you, Captain Spencer?" She turned to Natalia and leaned over to kiss her on the cheek, whispering in her daughter's ear, "I like her."

Natalia pulled her mother into a fierce hug. "Thank you."

Maria closed her eyes and held her close. "I love you, mija. Always."

A clinking of a glass made them break apart, and the mother and daughter looked at each other with confusion. When they heard Hector's voice rise up over the chatter below asking for everyone's attention, Maria gathered up her skirt and walked resolutely to the banister that overlooked the party below. She muttered to herself, "What in the world is he up to?"

Hector held out his hands. In one hand he held a champagne flute and back to his right, as if he was being gestured to, stood Frank Cooper. "My dear friends, I am so thankful to have all of you here tonight to share in this momentous and joyous celebration. I have a very important announcement to make, but first, I'd like for my wife, Maria, and our daughter, Natalia, to come down here."

Natalia looked at Olivia, who seemed a little leery of what was happening. She shrugged at Olivia to reassure her that she had no idea what was going on, but Olivia only managed a wan smile. She gestured for Olivia to stay put and she pulled away to go to the banister. Her mother, however, had different plans and held out a hand, hidden behind a heavy drape, to stop Natalia from coming closer.

Maria spoke out to the crowd, "My darling husband, I will be delighted to join you; however, our daughter is feeling a bit under the weather and has taken to bed."

Hector looked over his shoulder at Frank and decided to proceed as planned. "Ah well, that's regretful as this directly involves her. My darling, forgive me for the surprise, but it is a truly joyous one and I couldn't contain my happiness." He looked out at the gathered crowd as Maria looked on with growing trepidation. "As many of you know, Captain Frank Cooper has been betrothed to our beautiful daughter, Natalia. On their way to their future home on San Cristobel, they were attacked by pirates. Our darling Natalia was kidnapped and held hostage, but thanks to the heroism of Captain Cooper, she is safe with us once again."

A cheer went up from the crowd and Frank bowed his head in a show of humility. Hector smiled at Frank and then turned back to the crowd. "Therefore, it is with great pleasure that I announce that tomorrow Captain Cooper and Natalia will be wed, here, in our gardens at sunset. You are all invited, naturally, and we are happy to provide full accommodations."

Natalia looked over at Olivia in shock and shook her head. "I had no idea. I swear." Maria brushed by her daughter, heading for the staircase. "Mom, where are you going? Did you know about this?"

The regal woman spun around and sighed. She walked back to her daughter, who looked so lost and flailing, and took the younger woman's hands in her own. "No, and it seems I need to have a talk with your father. Is it too late to shoot him in the ass?"

It took a few seconds for Natalia's mind to catch up to the fact of what her mother had said and how she had said it. Then she couldn't stop the laughter that bubbled up.

Olivia merely cocked an eyebrow at the two women and that set mother and daughter off into a new set of giggles. Apparently, this wedding wasn't expected by the two women, nor was it appreciated.

Maria turned to the beautiful captain. "All of you, go into that room," she pointed over Olivia's shoulder to Inez' old room, "and don't come out. I'll be back once I have a nice long talk with my husband." She kissed her daughter on the cheek and turned to go down the staircase.

Olivia muttered, "I kinda feel sorry for your father right now."

"You should," the brunette said and leaned forward to give Olivia a quick kiss.

The captain smiled into the kiss and then leaned back. "I see where you get that fire from now. I think I like this little devil you have in you."

Natalia was thoroughly enjoying the banter and the kisses. She'd be completely happy just kissing her all day. "Mmmm, and to think, we're just getting started."

A tap to Olivia's shoulder stopped her in mid-kiss. She growled as she broke away and looked over her shoulder. Dinah jerked her head to the side. "Come on, you two. It's probably not really smart to hang out in the hallway making kissy face."

Olivia looked back at a slightly blushing Natalia. "You're right. A bedroom is much better." Natalia's blush deepened and Olivia absolutely loved it.

All Dinah could do was roll her eyes and tug on Olivia's arm. Olivia followed suit with Natalia and took her hand. She moved a little too fast and tugged on Natalia's injured shoulder. The brunette hissed in pain, and they stopped outside the door to the bedroom as the others went inside.

Olivia frantically looked Natalia over. "What happened? Are you okay?" She pulled Natalia's hand away from the shoulder she was gripping. "Is it your shoulder?"

The younger woman shook her head. She didn't want to worry Olivia because there was nothing that could be done anyway. It was simply still sore and would need time to heal.

Olivia looked over at Blake who was standing a few feet inside the doorway, watching the exchange. The captain's voice was low and deadly calm, "Blake, how did she get hurt?"

Natalia shook her head trying to get Blake to not say anything. It wasn't like she wanted to protect Alan Spaulding or anything. The man was reprehensible. She was more worried about Olivia and how she'd react.

Sure enough, Olivia spoke again and if it was humanly possible, her voice was more grave than before, "Blake!"

Finally, the redhead broke. "It was Alan. He roughed her up on the ship before we came ashore."

"That BASTARD!" Then a more heinous thought crossed Olivia's mind. She growled at Blake, "Did he…?" Then turned to Natalia, her voice suddenly sounding anguished, "Did he…?"

Both women shook their heads, and Natalia said with absolute conviction, "No."

Olivia nodded her head. "Well, then, I won't kill him in that case…I'll just permanently maim him. Dinah, where's my sword?" She looked into the room and saw her quartermaster straddling Shayne's lap. "Dinah!"

A shove from the back pushed her into the room. She spun around in shock at Natalia doing that. The brunette shrugged. "Sorry! But you were getting loud and we can't afford to get caught by my father's guards."

Olivia paced the room and the younger woman watched her, wondering what she was doing.

Finally, Natalia stepped in front of her. "Honey, what are you doing?"

The pirate drew up short at the term of endearment. She really liked how that sounded coming from Natalia. She couldn't stop the quick smile from popping up, but it faded quickly as Natalia looked at her, not amused.

"What? I was looking for a sword!" Olivia threw her hands up.

Natalia raised a finger to silence Olivia when the older woman acted like she was going to say more. "No, you're not going off half-cocked. We'll sit and wait for my mother to return, and then we'll figure out a way to get out of here without being seen or caught."

That wasn't what Olivia was expecting. Hoping for, definitely, but not really expecting it. "You're leaving?" Mischievous brown eyes looked up at her.

Natalia nodded. "With you. If you want me to, that is."

A slow, hesitant smile crossed Olivia's face. "Really?"

Natalia bit her bottom lip and nodded again. "Really."

Olivia couldn't believe this was really happening. She never imagined something this wonderful for herself. She traced Natalia's bottom lip with the tip of her finger, relishing in the noticeable shiver that ran through the petite woman's body as Natalia closed her eyes in pleasure. She couldn't stop the words that were begging to be said and that embodied everything she was feeling at that moment.

She ran her fingertips along Natalia's jaw and into the thick, dark hair. Natalia opened her eyes and Olivia was swept away on a wave of love unlike any storm she had ever known.

She whispered reverently as she leaned in close, breathing in the delicate scent of her soon-to-be lover, "I love you, Natalia Rivera."

Natalia shivered as strong arms pulled her closer. She leaned in a little more and ghosted her lips over Olivia's own. "And I love you, Olivia Spencer."

For a small moment in time, the world around them disappeared. The kiss they shared saying more than a thousand ceremonies ever could.


Chapter 35

Alan Spaulding leaned against the rail of The Widow Maker and took a deep cleansing breath of the cool night air before glancing up. Overhead hale and hearty sailors worked hard at unfurling the sail, preparing to leave port. He listened to the now familiar sounds of the men calling to out to each other, the snap of the sails as the wind caught the canvas, the gentle lap of the waves against the hull of the ship.

The ship lurched slightly and the rattle of heavy chains caught his attention as the anchor was lifted into place and The Widow Maker began to move from the dock and head out into the harbour.

In another life he would have enjoyed this simple existence, but here and now, Alan knew deep in his bones that he was destined for something more, something much bigger. And no one, not his arrogant son, those blasted pirates, or the King of Spain himself, none would be able to stop him once he finally had the Skull of Fate in his hands. He smiled at the thought.

"Governor Spaulding, sir?" The ship's helmsman appeared at his side drawing him from his dreams. "We're under way, what are your orders?"

Alan pulled a cigar out from his inside pocket, tucked behind the folded map Governor Rivera had so graciously provided him earlier in the evening, and put it to his lips. The sailor brought his lantern closer for the Governor to light it from the burning wick.

"Head south," Alan puffed on the cigar a few times until he finally got it lit. "And I'll be up on the bridge to go over our course with you shortly." With a curt nod, the helmsman disappeared once more and Alan turned back towards the slowly receding city of Costa Brava. Soft light glowed from the many windows of various homes, and from top a small hill overlooking the city he could clearly see the Governor's mansion.

Alan watched the small city start to recede as the ship navigated its way out to open sea. He sighed and took a deep drag on his cigar before exhaling slowly, the smoke swirling around him and then disappearing into the night sky.

Yes, things were definitely looking up.

Maria Rivera slipped her arm into the crook of her husband's arm and waved off the last of their guests. After Hector's announcement she had stayed by his side, trying to figure out what he had been thinking and to stop him from doing anything even more damaging. Captain Cooper had lingered for a while, accepting congratulations from various and sundry, but he soon claimed his injury was bothering him and had retired to his quarters several hours ago. And Natalia had wisely stayed hidden upstairs with her band of charming rogues. Now, as one of the servers quietly shut the main door and started locking up, Maria glanced at the grandfather clock in the hallway as it chimed midnight and sighed.

"Hector, love, we need to talk," Maria had been as shocked as anyone when her husband had out of the blue announced the upcoming nuptials of their eldest daughter to Captain Cooper, and then to state it was going to be held the next day in the gardens of the mansion. There wasn't enough wine in the cellars to help her handle this situation. Luckily, there was still time to get this all straightened out before they lost their daughter for good if Natalia decided to disappear with her pirate friends because of this.

"You're upset," Hector said quietly, noting as the warmth of his wife's hand left his arm and she moved away from him. "I know it was a shock but –"

"A shock?" Maria's eyebrows all but rose off her forehead as she turned to face him again a fresh wave of anger churning inside. "Seeing a mouse run across the floor is a shock, this was…was…" Her hands waved before her as she searched for the right word. She stopped and glared at him, her lips pressed together in displeasure. "This was a blatant disregard for the feelings and needs of your daughter; and of me as well, for that matter. We are your family, Hector, not your playthings to handle or manage at your whim." Maria picked up her half finished goblet of wine and took a long drink to try to calm herself, before slamming it back down on the side table.

"I thought family meant something to you," Maria said very quietly. "That I meant more to you than that."

Hector ducked his head and stared at his shoes. Maria stared at him a long time, until finally he looked up to meet her eyes. They were filled with tears. He stepped forward quickly and gathered her up into his arms, holding her close, kissing her forehead softly as she quietly wept.

"Querida," Hector murmured into his wife's soft hair. "I didn't mean to hurt you so. I thought it was only for the best. I was just so worried about Natalia's mental state, the trauma she must have endured, the anguish. And then when Alan Spaulding insinuated that our daughter had been deflowered all but bewitched by the Terror of San Cristobel, I-I…" Hector sighed and leaned back to look into his wife's sad eyes. "I couldn't stand it, Maria. The thought of sweet little Natalia, at the beck and call of a dirty pirate, surrendering herself like a common whore to…" Hector grimaced, not even wanting to think about what his daughter had done to save herself. He thanked God she was alive, but what hell on earth had the girl been subjected to. He looked back at his wife with dark tormented eyes. "Well, it's just too much to bear."

Hector glanced away, tears of his own burning at the back of his eyes. Delicate fingers cupped his cheek, and gently turned him back to face his wife.

"Oh, my love. What am I going to do with you?" Maria smiled sadly at her husband. He was really a good man at heart. And yes there were days he was a fool but he was a lovable one, and he was all hers. "Protecting our baby's honor is admirable, but you really need to consider the source. I don't trust that Governor Spaulding as far as I can throw him and neither should you. And a surprise wedding is something you should have talked with me about first."

Maria glanced back at the main staircase, knowing that there would be only one way to bring Hector around and to calm his fears. Besides, she had some questions of her own that still needed to be answered. Dabbing at her eyes with handkerchief, Maria turned to her husband and kissed him gently on the cheek. There was no time like the present, after all.

"I think there's someone you need to meet."

A tray of fruit and cheeses and a variety of tasty morsels sat half eaten on the small side table in Inez's room, with empty wineglasses sitting on the table beside it. It was still and quiet in the small bedroom suite except for the gentle snoring coming from the corner of the room.

Lying on a soft duvet, Shayne and Dinah snuggled together, asleep in each other's arms. Blake's shawl served as a makeshift pillow. The redhead had said she would retire to her own quarters, but not before finding Josh in the garden below and giving him an update. The Captain wanted the men stay in hiding close by, but to rest as best as they could until she sent word first thing in the morning.

For her part, Olivia couldn't recall a time in her life when she had felt like this. Giddy and happy, thrilled to be in a lover's presence, sure; it was the vulnerable and incredibly protective side that was a little new and unnerving.

Natalia sat beside Olivia on the narrow bed as they leaned against the headboard together. The brunette was tucked under her arm, and a part of her did not want to let her out of her sight. Olivia's heartbeat thundered in her chest at the simple look, as the girl glanced up at her from under her eyelashes, shyly. In that moment she realized she would die for this woman, without hesitation.

"What are you thinking?" Natalia asked softly, so as not to wake the others in the room. Olivia swallowed hard and shrugged a little, not ready yet to really explore her deepest feelings.

"I was thinking that I would do anything to protect you," Olivia ran a finger tip along Natalia's forehead, tracing the delicate arc to the other woman's eyebrow. "I'm so sorry I couldn't get to you faster, to save you from suffering at the hands of that dog Spaulding." The thought of the man roughing Natalia up and tying her to keep her under control made her blood boil. Natalia looked down and then back up, gracing her with the most perfect of smiles.

"You're here now, that's all that matters." Natalia's smile grew as Olivia flushed slightly. It struck the younger woman yet again how beautiful the rough, tough captain truly was. The green silk dress drew out every curve and hollow, and she admired each and every inch of the woman beside her.

"What are you thinking about?" Olivia asked quietly, curious about the heated look crossing Natalia's face.

"You," Natalia clearly couldn't lie to save her life, nor did she try to stop the answering grin. "How stunning you are and that it amazes me that you'd even want to waste your time on me, with all the trouble I'm causing you and everything with my father and that imbecile Captain Cooper…"

"Ssh, don't even go there," Olivia pressed her finger to Natalia's mouth, effectively silencing her as she slowly traced along the full lips. "Don't you know? Trouble is my middle name."

Olivia smiled softly, and removed her hand, pleased as Natalia shifted slightly against her. She watched as Natalia moistened her lips with her tongue, the self conscious movement drawing her attention, like a moth to a flame. She stared into the depths of the darkest eyes she had ever seen, and felt the connection between them down to her very soul. Leaning forward she hesitated, desperate to taste the tantalizing lips once more, but was determined to wait for the girl to give her permission.

She didn't have to wait long.

Natalia focused on Olivia's full lips for but a moment, before her eyes fluttered shut and she quickly closed the distance between them, her kiss desperately wanted. She almost didn't recognize the moan that came from deep inside, soft and needy, vibrating against sweet lips.

On The Devil's Beacon, the Captain had always cut a dashing figure, in her well fitting yet masculine styled attire. Natalia had found that boyish look attractive and yet knew that beneath it all beat the heart of a formidable woman. Now, with Olivia dressed in the latest fashion, with her hair and makeup done perfectly and all the trappings of high society showcasing her feminine assets, Natalia found herself wanting to touch and explore even more.

Somehow Natalia's hand had found its way along the slippery folds of the green silk dress, her fingers digging into the firm muscles of Olivia's back, before sliding lower to cling at the curve of her hip. She couldn't seem to stop herself from devouring the Captain, taking her into her hands and moulding her to her body.

Olivia moaned softly, as their tongues duelled, a timeless battle between two lovers, a growing desire and need, each woman wanting and taking, claiming and being claimed. She smiled against needy lips as Natalia's hand snaked into her hair, grasping the nape of her neck to keep her steady and right where the demanding brunette wanted her, to do with exactly as she wished. So caught up in each other, neither woman was aware of the bedroom door slowly creaking open.

"What the hell is going on in here?"


Chapter 36

Olivia jerked away from Natalia at the exclamation. Instinctively, she sought out her sword at her hip but came up empty. Coming out of her kiss-induced haze, she finally realized that Natalia's parents were standing in the doorway. A wave of self-conscious embarrassment swept over her, and she damn well knew she blushed at being caught kissing their daughter. Then she just felt angry at letting those emotions even bother her. Nobody ever made Captain Olivia Spencer feel that way, but this did and it confused her.

When she looked back down at Natalia's dark eyes, still glazed slightly with desire, the reason became very clear. She loved Natalia and wanted a life with her, and she knew to do so that she'd have to be the kind of person who would bring honor to the Rivera family. She sighed thinking of all her past misdeeds as a pirate and came up feeling unworthy. She began to slip off the bed and face the inevitable condemnation of Natalia's parents, even possible imprisonment, when a gentle hand on her cheek turned her to look into dark, determined eyes.

"Let me handle this," Natalia said quietly and brushed a soft kiss over Olivia's lips before getting out of bed to face her father. Her mother she was convinced wasn't a problem, but the angry, hard look on her father's handsome face was another matter.

"Natalia, come here," Hector commanded and reached for her hand. "Get behind me. Guards, take them into custody."

One of the soldiers pulled his sword as the others stepped forward to apprehend the four pirates. Shayne and Dinah jumped to their feet and brandished their own swords. In the corner, Blake swallowed nervously at what was transpiring and tried to make herself as inconspicuous as possible.

Natalia fought to get around her father, pulling and tugging on his arm. A soldier came up and grabbed her arm. She swung around and punched him square in the nose, sending him falling to the ground in a heap. Maria stood there, eyes wide, but stunned and pleased with her daughter's tenacity.

Natalia swung back around and yelled at her father, "Don't do this! Please!"

Olivia couldn't stand to see Natalia upset so she yelled over all of them and raised a hand at Shayne and Dinah, "That's enough. Put your weapons away!"

They lowered their swords at Olivia's command. She raised her hands at the guards as she slipped off the bed to indicate that she wasn't armed or going to try anything. She glanced at Natalia who was still struggling behind her father. Their eyes locked and she gave the brunette a tender, reassuring smile.

"It's okay," she spoke directly to Natalia. She then looked at Hector Rivera regarding her warily and released a deep sigh. "It's not them you want. It's me. Let them go, and I'll come with you."

Maria had finally had enough and stepped forward. "This is ridiculous! No one's going anywhere." She looked at her stubborn husband and said in a way that brooked no argument, "You're going to sit and listen to what she and Natalia have to say. I will not allow you to run our daughter off because you're too damn stubborn to listen."

He felt his ire rise at being openly challenged in front of these pirates by his own wife, but he loved her so thoroughly that he could never deny her anything she wanted. After a few reluctant seconds, he muttered, "Very well. I'll do it for you."

Maria quirked her mouth to the side in a self-satisfied half-grin, making one dimple show. He always turned to mush over her dimples and blast it if Natalia didn't have a matching pair. "Good enough, dear."

The governess looked back at the man Natalia had punched earlier as he leaned against the door, his head back, trying to staunch the flow of blood from his nose. "Guard, go find Selena and have her bring some tea for our guests. And have the house doctor look at that. It should have stopped by now."

The guard grunted and attempted to talk around the bloody handkerchief over his face, "Yith, ya Hithneth." He stumbled out the door attempting to walk while holding his head back. A thump was heard and then a curse. Maria shook her head, rubbing at the tense muscles between her eyes, and turned back to the room. She motioned to the other guards, who were always annoyingly close by, to exit the room. When they were gone, she looked at her husband and daughter then at the captain.

"Think we can try this again?" She tilted her head to the side.

Hector gave a slight nod and Natalia pushed past him to run to Olivia's side. She wrapped her arms around the slender waist, not caring that her parents were watching. She pulled the taller woman closer and felt Olivia's arm curl protectively around her shoulder. They pulled away when Hector cleared his throat.

"I guess we should get on with this," he groused. "Say what you need to say."

Olivia and Natalia straightened up and looked at the governor, but they kept their hold on each other. Olivia looked down at Natalia and gave her shoulder a gentle squeeze, indicating that she should be the one to start.

Natalia smiled sweetly then took a deep breath and looked at her father, who was standing proud and somewhat resistant with his hands linked in front of him. It was an open yet cautious pose that she'd many times as a young girl, and it was usually when he was trying to be tough with her but quickly failing. She took that as a good sign and decided to press forward. Now if she could just get him to see that her love for Olivia was real.

"Dad, I know it's hard to believe because of the way you first saw me and the way Governor Spaulding made it look, but Olivia has done nothing wrong. She's been nothing but honorable and good to me. She's saved my life and protected me over and over again these past few weeks. Slowly, I started to see her in a different light. She wasn't the monster the stories told her to be. She's good to her crew and they would willingly die for her, not out of fear or obligation, but because she's worthy of that kind of loyalty. She's not only breathtakingly beautiful but strong, courageous, and loyal." She paused to take a breath and when she saw her father move to interrupt her, she raised her hand and stepped forward.

She reached down and took Olivia's hand to pull her forward with her. Together, they stood directly in front of her father. The governor glanced from his daughter up to the striking pirate that was slightly taller than him. What he saw surprised him. Olivia looked at his daughter with complete adoration. It showed in the tender gaze, soft expression, and glistening tears that the proud woman fought to hold in. Lost in his thoughts, it took him a moment to realize Natalia was speaking again.

"The way Alan Spaulding made it sound was a total lie. Olivia never hurt me or pursued an unwanted touch." Those last words made him look at his daughter with surprise. Did she mean what that sounded like? Natalia grinned and blushed a little when she realized the words had hit home. "The truth is that I've fallen in love with Olivia – heart-pounding, hands-sweating, soul-shaking love. I can't and I won't marry anyone when I know that a love like this exists. I know you mean well and for that, I love you, Dad. But I don't deserve a loveless marriage, nobody does."

Natalia looked from her father to her mother, knowing their marriage had been arranged and with time they had come to love each other too.

Her father put her thoughts to words. "It's not impossible. Look at your mother and me."

She tilted her head to the side and smiled at her father. "But did anyone before you got married to mom make you want to give everything and everyone up for just one more kiss? Did anyone ever move you that much?"

Hector looked down at the floor, thinking and feeling the weight of her words. He hadn't felt that way about anyone before Maria, and only with time did he come to appreciate and value all of her wonderful qualities. He couldn't say he had ever had that earth-shattering falling in love experience people talk about, and suddenly he felt very selfish for wanting to deny his daughter that. Swallowing hard around the lump in his throat, he looked up at his daughter once more and shook his head in answer to her questions.

Natalia felt the compassion for her parents well up in her. She couldn't imagine a life of never knowing a love like what she felt for Olivia. She forced out the words around the emotion in her voice, "Then why would you deny me?"

Hector broke then as tears flooded his eyes, and he shook his head in a vain attempt to pull himself together. Maria came closer and took his hand in her own, squeezing it tightly.

He drew strength from her touch and said in a rush, "I can't."

Tears rolled down Natalia's cheeks as she dropped Olivia's hand and threw her arms around her father's neck. "Thank you."

He pulled her close and whispered in her ear, "I only want the best for you, querida. I love you so much, mi corazon." He leaned back and brushed away a tear as she smiled shakily at him.

Hector looked up at Olivia and noticed she brushed quickly at her own cheek, yet an unmistakable shimmer of tears remained. "The fact remains though that she's a pirate and therefore a wanted criminal."

Olivia stiffened and prepared to defend herself. She could sense Dinah and Shayne behind her, who had been watching the scene unfold, step forward. Even Blake stood up out of her chair ready for whatever may happen.

Hector glanced over at his wife, who was watching him with unamused trepidation, and he smiled before continuing, "But I think I know a way around that little problem."


Chapter 37

Captain Frank Cooper stood in the kitchen of the Governor's mansion, nibbling on leftover finger foods from the ball that evening. He sighed as he shifted from one foot to the next, still not able to sit and slightly uncomfortable because of his healing injuries. He still wasn't extremely happy about marrying the little harpy but Governor Spaulding he was certain would make it worth his while to obey his wishes.

And besides, just because he would be a married man, it didn't mean he couldn't have the occasional dalliance, now did it? Frank popped another tasty morsel into his mouth as he glanced over at the lovely girl who had discovered him raiding the pantry, taking in her tempting curves and smiling softly at her as she made her way towards him.

"Here you go, Captain Cooper. Just what my momma used to make us girls when we couldn't sleep, a nice hot cup of chamomile tea to help calm you down before bed," Selena smiled shyly back as she poured a little milk into the fine china cup and handed it over to the gallant captain. The Governor's daughter was certainly a very lucky woman to be marrying this handsome, strapping man. Selena leaned over slightly, her full breasts straining against the bodice of her dress, the movement drawing Frank's eyes to the woman's ample cleavage. "Is there anything else you'd like, sir?"

"Ah…no, thank you," Frank shifted again, making an effort to look the sweet blonde in the eyes for a change as he brought the teacup to his lips. It would be so easy to bring this little kitchen wench back to his quarters and have his way with her. As a little pre-wedding gift to himself, as it were. His grin turned lecherous as his mind wandered, sipping the hot liquid in his teacup quickly and promptly burning his tongue. Cursing, he looked up as the kitchen doors suddenly swung open and a wounded guard came into the room.

"Sakes alive, Ronaldo. What have you gotten into now?" Selena rushed over, pulling the blood soaked handkerchief from the guard's nose and fussing over the man.

"Blasted pirates," the guard grumbled, happier now that the bleeding had stopped but his pride was clearly still bruised. "And Lady Natalia hit me! Some nerve too, after finding her like that, throwing herself all over that…" His eyes looked past Selena and settled on the startled blue eyes of Lady Natalia's fiancé. This night was just going from bad to worse for the poor man, as an awkward silence descended on the room.

"My fiancée was all over whom, guard?" Frank finally asked, his eyes glittering with anger. He already knew the answer in his guts before the man was able to spit the words out.

"The Terror of San Cristobel, sir," Ronaldo swallowed hard and looked at Selena, who crossed herself and glanced up at Captain Cooper, afraid of what the man would do.

"Give me your sword," Frank growled. "Now!"

Ronaldo jumped, his hand going immediately to his hip and handing it over to the angry captain. Frank tested the sharpness of the blade with his thumb, and smiled, pleased.

"It would seem that Captain Olivia Spencer and I have some unfinished business to take care of."

"Should I be afraid, Hector?" Maria asked, moving closer and wrapping her hands around his muscular arm before smiling up at him. She was half joking, but a part of her really was concerned about what her well-meaning husband had up his sleeve now. His last brainstorm of a surprise wedding had nearly sent their eldest child screaming into the night, not that she would have blamed her either, and Maria didn't want to think about what more trouble he could possibly get into yet this evening.

"Trust me, querida," Hector murmured softly, his reply meant for her ears only, as he patted his wife's hand. "All I need is a bible and to speak with my legal advisors in the morning." He smiled at his wife's quiet sigh of relief as he dropped a soft kiss against her temple before getting down to business.

The Governor stepped away from her warm touch and wandered past the cutthroat pirates that had so won over the loyalty and heart of his young daughter. He studied the small band of rogues, looking each one in the eye and measuring their worth. He paused as Blake stepped forward with a bible that she had just found on the nightstand beside the bed.

"Sir," Blake smiled as she curtsied and handed it over. Hector raised an eyebrow, a little surprised, and oddly impressed, with the woman's hearing abilities. He stood before her and shook his head. Even this apparently harmless friend of Natalia's was clearly a part of the pirate crew if you looked hard enough.

"Miss Marler, please tell me what you do on Captain Spencer's ship," Hector asked, as he took the offered bible from the woman's hand. Blake glanced over at Olivia and then with her encouraging smile turned back to the Governor.

"I'm chief cook and ship's doctor on The Devil's Beacon, sir," Blake said quietly, glancing down demurely. Hector's eyebrows raised, impressed all over again with the woman.

"She saved my life, father," Natalia said quietly. "And she's been a good friend, risking her own life by joining me on Captain Cooper's ship of fools, to protect me as best she could until we could somehow gain our freedom," Natalia and Blake exchanged warm smiles. Theirs would be a lifelong friendship; she knew it in her very soul.

Hector nodded, but didn't say anything more. Moving on down the row, he studied Shayne next, his size and strength an obvious choice for a pirate, but there was something about him that exuded military training. Perhaps it was the short haircut, or the precision of his movements, combined with an obvious intelligence lurking just below the surface, as the pirate listened to everything going on around him very carefully, as if on guard. Hector narrowed his eyes and glared at him to see if he got a response but the man merely stood straighter and looked straight ahead.

The governor moved on, taking in the blonde at the man's side, dressed to the nines in an elegant ball gown taken from his daughter's well stocked wardrobe. He never would have guessed that this group was a band of cutthroat thieves, as they were all dressed in their finery still. Clearly things were not always as they seemed.

"And you?" he asked gruffly as the beautiful woman stood confidently and totally at ease before him. This was a formidable woman in her own right, and yet she clearly chose to serve at the side of Captain Spencer. This further piqued Hector's curiosity about just what was it about the pirate captain that kept them at her side.

"I'm the Quartermaster, sir, and you won't find a faster ship or finer crew than those on The Devil's Beacon," Dinah looked the older man in the eyes and smiled. Hector raised an eyebrow and nodded, impressed. It took a sharp mind to pilot a ship and plot a course correctly. And he had no doubt the woman could handle a sword, if their earlier scuffle was any indication.

"Father, they all tried to save me from…" Natalia's mind flashed back to Frank coming towards her, determined to take her whether she wanted to or not. "From Captain Cooper trying to force himself on me…"

"You saved yourself from that dog, Natalia," Dinah smiled. "We just had your back if you needed it."

"Still, I-I can't thank you enough," Natalia's eyes filled with unshed tears. Olivia squeezed her hand gently, trying to soothe her and give her strength.

"Captain Cooper will be dealt with, of that there will be no doubt," Hector turned to look at his daughter, who stood at the side of the pirate captain, their fingers tangled together, clearly standing exactly where she wanted to be.

No one had forced her to join these people, these strangers that she clearly trusted to protect her, and that she called her friends. His baby girl had grown up and Hector wasn't sure he even recognized the woman standing before him now.

Hector sighed, realizing that it was time to let her go, release her from her old world duties and usher in a new future, for her and for them all. Captain Cooper, on the other hand, had a lot more explaining to do, now that he was aware of more of the actual facts of the matter.

However the Governor still had some questions for the pirate captain herself. As touching as this all was, and despite knowing that Natalia obviously knew her heart, he needed to finish this little interrogation. While he respected his wife and her opinions, he refused to bend to anyone's wishes until he was satisfied with the Terror of San Cristobel herself. He moved to stand directly in front of the tall woman, her green eyes steady and sure, ready for anything.

"Captain Spencer, before we go any further, I think you need to tell us what your intentions are with regards to our daughter," Hector smiled thinly. "And what your plans are for the future."

The Captain glanced over at Dinah, Shayne and Blake and then looked back down at Natalia, into the darkest eyes she could ever remember seeing. She wasn't exactly sure how to answer her father's question. They hadn't had a chance to discuss the future really, especially since they'd barely admitted their feelings for each other. Besides, if she was honest with herself, she usually didn't like to dwell on the future that much.

Olivia had resigned herself to the likely fact that her days would end hanging from the end of a rope or with a sword embedded in her chest. Now though, she desperately wanted a happily-ever-after. Olivia wanted to end her days, in front of a crashing ocean, sand squishing between her toes, watching the sun slowly set, with Natalia snuggled tight in her arms. She saw the promise of all that, and more, reflected back at her, in those warm brown eyes.

Olivia straightened her shoulders and drew strength from these unspoken promises passing between them, for a future they both greatly wanted. And, God willing, she would find a way to make it happen. First though, she needed to soothe Natalia's father's very understandable worries about her.

"Governor Rivera, I have no argument with you, your wife or with the good people of the island of Roca de Dolor," Olivia began, looking the man straight in the eyes as she felt Natalia squeeze her hand in support. "However, I do have an issue with the way my home island of San Cristobel has been conquered and raped by the colonists from Spain, and the horrid treatment of our royal family by the various men who were assigned to govern our lands. Our nation's royal family is scattered and hidden in exile, hunted down and executed as criminals against the state. It makes me sick to think of all the atrocities going on, the corruption and deceit."

Olivia sighed and looked back at her friends. Sure they were criminals trying to eke out an existence, but there had always been a motive behind her actions. A deeper reason for doing the things that they did. She turned back to the waiting governor and smiled, hoping the man could understand.

"My crew and I are freedom fighters in my homeland, sir. The items I take are from the Spanish fleet, riches that have been taken from their rightful owners." Olivia paused as the governor broke into her explanation.

"So you take from the rich and give to the poor, is that your angle? Is that how you justify all the pain you cause?" Hector said, sarcasm dripping from every word. Agitated, he started to pace before the pirate captain. If Natalia was going to be with this woman, she needed to see what she at heart, a criminal. "And I suppose all of the profits from your ill gotten gains you…what? Donate it to the wee orphans of San Cristobel?" He glared at Olivia, before locking his gaze with his daughter. He wanted Natalia to think with her head and not her heart. "More likely they are for yourself, keeping you the comfortable lifestyle you've become accustomed too. Wasting it on wine, and what? Women…men…does it matter? It sounds to me to be a very nice sideline business to your so called honourable intentions, hmm?"

Hector waited to see if Olivia would rise to the bait, would he push enough buttons to get her to show them her dark side. The side he was afraid Natalia would discover after it was too late for him to protect her. Would he be able to beckon the Terror of San Cristobel out of the woman before him?

"Yes, I have to feed my crew and repair my ship, sir, but I serve my country faithfully. San Cristobel is in my blood, and has my allegiance, not those Spanish dogs that have taken my homeland by force," Olivia didn't back down, even as the Governor snorted at her answer. She gritted her teeth, clenching her jaw and trying not to react too hastily.

While Olivia more often than not lived by her sword, she was also a skilled diplomat when necessary. Any captain worth their salt was. Clearly the Governor was not impressed with her though, and to be honest, she couldn't blame him. She wouldn't be too thrilled either if she was in his shoes, with a daughter about to disappear God knows where with a thief.

Olivia glanced down at the beautiful girl standing beside her, looking back at her with those steady trusting eyes. She still didn't know why Natalia wanted to be with a wretch like her, but she refused to question it, and would fight with everything at her disposal to keep her love.

"Look, Governor, I understand that you don't like me or my friends. I get that, okay? Only time will prove our worth," Olivia said quietly, her eyes locking with the man in front of her once again. "But I love your daughter, more than anything. I would give my life, without hesitation, to protect her and those she loves. And I will do whatever it takes for you to allow us to be together."

Hector stared at the woman before him, carefully weighing her words. God help him, he believed the scoundrel pirate. He didn't want to dwell too long on what the Church or the people in the colony would think of all this either. He sighed, knowing that there were still a lot of things to be worked out. Still he couldn't help himself, he liked the damned woman. Well, he supposed there was no time like the present to try to find a diplomatic solution to the whole sordid situation.

His decision made, the Governor finally nodded once, satisfied with the woman's answer.

"Swear to me now, on this bible," Hector lifted the good book and held it out. "Pledge to me as Governor of this Spanish colony and to Maria, representing the royal family of this island nation, giving us your loyalty and your sword, to serve the people of Roca de Dolor when your assistance is requested, and as we see fit, from here on forward."

Olivia put her hand on the warm leather cover, her eyes never leaving the Governor's, her voice calm and clear.

"I swear."

Hector and Olivia stared at each other a moment longer, an understanding passing between them. He glanced over at his beaming daughter and shook his head. Leaning forward slightly he had one more thing he needed to impart to the pirate before he left his daughter in her capable hands.

"If you hurt her, I will hunt you down and kill you with my own hands," Hector said, very quietly to the deadly woman. "Are we clear?"

"Crystal, sir," Olivia grinned. At last the father inside the politician had shown his face to her. She had more faith in a father's ire than in anything the governor of a colony or even the King of Spain could threaten to do to her. And she didn't blame the man one bit; she'd be just as protective of her own daughter if she had one.

"Very good," Hector stepped away, smiling that they understood each other. ""I hereby pardon you, and your crew, of any crimes against the colony and nation of Roca de Dolor. Tomorrow I will instruct my legal advisors on how best to petition the King of Spain on your behalf for a full pardon. Until then, I will personally endorse and submit your application as a buccaneer to my magistrate as soon as we can."

"Thank you," Olivia said, smiling widely, feeling suddenly lighter. She turned to her crew, all of them grinning back like fools. They had all been given a great gift. Hope for a better future.

Hector smiled back, as Maria stepped up behind him, slipping her arm around her husband. He glanced down at his wife, who clearly was pleased with his plan. He wasn't quite finished though. He turned and faced his daughter now.

"And I'm not done with you either, young miss. Lady Natalia Rivera, you are hereby commanded to act on your nation's behalf, as a diplomatic liaison with the buccaneer's ship, to ensure that they are not violating their agreement with Roca de Dolor, and to oversee and make sure that Captain Spencer and her crew follow the occasional order or mission we send their way."

"Yes, father," Natalia smiled widely, thrilled with this latest development. "I mean, yes, Governor." Hector glanced at the bible and coughed softly. Natalia quickly placed her hand on the good book.

"I swear it." Natalia said solemnly. Hector smiled at his daughter, his heart warming at the dimples flashing back at him. He was such a sucker for those dimples, and he had a sneaky suspicion that Captain Spencer knew exactly how he felt.

"So be it." Hector tossed the bible back at Blake, who snatched out of the air expertly and placed it back where it belonged. "Now, it is getting quite late and we have all had an exhaustive day. We will continue this in the morning, get the paperwork drawn up and get everything signed and sealed."

"For now, Natalia, you will retire to your room and we will show your friends to their own quarters." Maria said, as pleased as her daughter with her husband's plan. "One thing about a mansion this size, we always have a spare bed somewhere around here." She turned just as Selena arrived with tea for everyone.

"Excellent timing as usual," Maria said smoothly. "Please, everyone help yourselves some calming tea before bed, as I arrange which rooms will be available to you. Selena, come with me, dear, you can help get things in order…"

The two women started to discuss what needed to be done. Selena glanced back at the pirates, her eyes narrowing and shaking her head. Ronaldo had been so right; it was as if the governor was making a deal with the Devil himself. Or herself, as the case may be.

"In the morning, we will meet and draft an official petition to the King on your behalf, asking for a full pardon of your crimes," Hector yawned and ran a hand through his short dark hair, while Blake took the lead and started to pour a cup of tea for each of them. He watched as Olivia smiled at his daughter, her adoration for his daughter plain to see, as Natalia leaned closer and happily squeezed her hand.

They were all quite civilized for pirates, which was a pleasant surprise and it gave him hope for Natalia's future with them. As he sipped at his tea a thought occurred to him, now that he was assured of the Terror of San Cristobel's loyalty, there was no need to worry about the safety of the Skull of Fate.

"And I need to remember to send someone after The Widowmaker, telling Governor Spaulding to come back from Skull Island, now that everything is under control." Hector shook his head. The man had the most uncanny knack of getting him riled up over nothing…

Maria froze in the doorway, as her husband's words sank in. Skull Island. Governor Spaulding.

"Dear God, Hector," Maria looked back at her confused husband. "What have you done now?"

"What?" Hector asked, suddenly concerned that he was in trouble again. "I was trying to protect…you know." He looked meaningfully at his wife, not wanting to give too much up to the pirates surrounding him.

Olivia pinched the bridge of her nose and sighed. Well, so much for a little rest and relaxation, getting to know Natalia's family better. Grimly, she looked at her friends, one by one and then finally settled on Natalia's worried eyes. It would seem they had their first assignment from Governor Rivera on behalf of the people of Roca de Dolor.

"Come on, my motley crew, we have a ship to catch."

Natalia quietly stood in the doorway as Maria pulled the details from her father. He had apparently even given Alan Spaulding the map to the island and everything. She closed her eyes and made her way down the hallway to the room assigned to Olivia. Tapping lightly she cracked the door open a few inches and peeked inside.

"Hey, there you are. I was getting worried," Olivia glanced up, dressed once again in her flowing white shirt, tan pants and black leather boots. She was just buckling her sword at her side when Natalia appeared in the doorway. "Our copy of the map should be here soon and then we can be on our way. I sent Blake to update Josh and have him and the men make their way back to our ships, so we can set sail as soon as possible."

Natalia nodded, tears coming to her eyes suddenly, and before she knew it, she was gathered in Olivia's strong arms, holding her close. She snuggled close, her nose nuzzling along the collar of Olivia's shirt, taking comfort there.

"Sshh, don't cry," Olivia murmured softly into the long dark hair. "Your father meant well, he didn't know—"

"My father always means well, doesn't he? And time after time he screws it up," Natalia sniffed into the warm cotton shirt, soaking up the scent of the woman holding her.

"People make mistakes; I know I've made my share over the years too. Luckily, he has your mother and you there to help and support him. And now you have me too," Olivia murmured, pulling back slightly to look at Natalia, to make sure her words hit home. "I'll fix this, I promise."

Natalia's gaze locked with hers, connecting them as if with a physical touch, her eyes dark and large and growing bigger. Olivia notices as she swallows hard, and shifts nearer. The girl is braver than they give her credit for around here.

Natalia's hand moves against the soft cotton material of her sleeve, tentatively sliding across her bicep. Olivia can do nothing but watch the long graceful fingers leave a trail of goosebumps in their wake. Her body trembled, reacting to the touch despite her best attempts to stay calm, slow down, and not wanting to spook the girl.

"Natalia," Olivia whispered, her voice dropping to almost a low growl. It's a warning, not so much for the brunette in her arms as to bring the pirate back to the here and now, to remind her they couldn't do this, shouldn't do this here in her parents home.

Natalia ducked her head and then looked up at her from under those long dark lashes. Soft and sure, trusting in Olivia with every fiber of her being, her gaze is heated, laced with a longing and desire that she wasn't exactly sure how to express.

Olivia's breath caught, her heart nearly stopping at the sight. This time she is the one who swallows hard.

"Olivia," Natalia exhaled the name, like a small sigh as she said it, tempting her, silently asking Olivia to respond to her, to touch her just once more.

Olivia's eyes travelled to the tender mouth so close, offering her a shy smile. Full plump lips she wanted to trace with the tip of her tongue, slowly outlining them. Visions suddenly flooded her mind, thoughts of Natalia lying in her big bed aboard the ship. She laid there naked, wet and wanting, as Olivia moved over her, teasing her, caressing her, holding her impossibly close, before finally touching her lips to her smooth skin and devouring every inch. The fantasy raced through the Captain's head, tempting her even further, a soft whimper the only sign of weakness she dared expose.

Olivia's hand made its way into the thick dark hair, threading through the long strands, moving to cup a flushed cheek before the pad of her thumb pressed against Natalia's lower lip, rubbing across it gently, tenderly, possessively.

The need became too much, as Olivia finally surrendered and leaned forward, ever so slowly closing the scant distance between them. She heard Natalia's soft exhalation, noticed the movement as her nostrils flared, their breath mingling. The Captain closed her eyes and all she could sense was Natalia's lips, pressing, soft at first, so gentle and sweet. Before she knew it, Natalia's fingers slipped into her hair, and held her steady, keeping her right where the brunette wanted her.

Natalia seemed to melt against the Captain, warm and soft. Her hands moved lower, slowly exploring muscle and sinew and feminine curves. She moved to Olivia's trim waist, sliding around her body before she splayed her fingers across her lower back, drawing her closer still.

A kittenish mewl sounded at the back of Natalia's throat, as Olivia stroked against her mouth with a roving tongue, silently asking to deepen the kiss, and then, permitted to explore as she parted her lips, their tongues playfully slid against each other, wet and slick. Too soon the need for air forced them apart and all Natalia could do was stare at her, panting and waiting for whatever came next.

Natalia's eyes fluttered shut once more as she felt Olivia pull her close again and then felt the gentle press of her lips against her own once more. Time stood still, two hearts thundering in sync, as the kiss deepened again and once more slowly broke. They brought their foreheads together, thrilling in the simple contact between them, each one simply needing the other.

"You should go grab your gear, before I forget where we are and let you have your way with me," Olivia whispered, pleased with the hot flush it produced on Natalia's skin. The giggle and whack on her arm didn't deter her from grinning and dropping a tender kiss on the woman's closest dimple.

"Don't tempt me," Natalia sighed and moved reluctantly from the warm strength of Olivia's embrace. Olivia sighed too and stepped further away, not wanting to be enticed by the brunette's seductive curves.

"Go on. I'll meet you at the bottom of the stairs when you're ready," Olivia nodded towards the door, as Natalia slowly headed off. She paused at the door, her gaze raking possessively down Olivia's body as she slowly licked her full lips, before meeting her gaze once again. With a naughty grin, shamelessly flashing her dimples, Natalia was gone.

Olivia let out a long shaky breath as the dark haired beauty disappeared. Was it possible to spontaneously combust from a look like that?

She sure was willing to find out.

Dinah and Shayne were already in the carriage waiting for them outside the mansion, ready to take them to their ship. Olivia dashed out of her room, the map safely tucked into the waist of her pants. The governor and his wife had thoughtfully sent up a bag with several documents and information about the Skull of Fate that might be useful during their mission.

One final mental check that she had everything distracted Olivia, as she headed down a dark corridor towards the staircase to head downstairs. She didn't notice the movement in the shadows, and was surprised to find herself grabbed and pulled to off to one side. She went to draw her sword only to find herself overpowered and unable to move.

Olivia struggled against her captor, a cold clammy hand clamped across her mouth, keeping her silent, and a strong arm holding her close. She continued until she felt metal against her skin and then she stilled, and tried to figure out her next move. As for her captor, she would recognize his stench anywhere.

"Captain Cooper, so nice of you to join the party," Olivia mocked, hoping to push him into making a mistake, something that she could capitalize on to win her freedom.

"Thought you could steal the girl, humiliate me and get away with it, didn't you?" Frank's eyes glittered in anger, his sword pressed tightly to Olivia's throat. "Well, think again, you filthy, pirate whore."

"Shut up, Frank," A familiar voice said from behind both of them. Frank froze as he suddenly felt cold hard steel against his back. He shifted as if to try to escape but was quickly thwarted.

"Give me a reason, you ass," Natalia growled, pressing her sword into his spine a little harder to make her point as she pushed her hip against his tender backside. "Or what's left of it, anyway."

Olivia snorted as Frank yelped and then cursed under his breath.

Things were about to get very interesting around here…


Chapter 38

The whimper of pain that fell from Frank Cooper's lips gave Natalia a perverse thrill. After what he and Alan Spaulding had put her through, the discomfort of a sharp blade in the spine was a small price to pay. She looked over his shoulder at the amused green orbs shining back at her, and remembering the horrible things he had just said to the woman she loved, she gave the blade a quick jab making the man suck in a startled breath.

Leaning closer towards Frank, she spoke but never took her eyes off of Olivia, "I think it's time you had a little chat with Daddy. Huh, Frankie?"

Olivia glanced at the other captain, who was sweating profusely with a look of panic in his eyes. She couldn't stop the smile from spreading across her face, not only at Natalia's sexy-as-hell actions but also at the gulp of air swallowed forcibly by Frank every time Natalia made the slightest move. "Oh, yeah, you've done it now. See, the good governor just pardoned me and made me and my crew buccaneers. It seems you just attacked without provocation a member of the royal navy."

The fear turned quickly to anger and he growled at the former pirate, "You can't do this! I'm a loyal and decorated captain of the Crown!"

"Of course, she can," a stern voice came from around the corner. All three turned to see Hector and Maria Rivera appear around the corner. Hector stepped forward and continued, "She can and so can my daughter…on my authority and the authority of the Crown."

Hector motioned to Natalia to let him free, and she backed up but kept her sword between him and Olivia. She wasn't about to let him take another shot at her.

For the first time, Olivia got a good look at Natalia and her "gear." Apparently, she had raided some of the soldier's wardrobe. She looked more military than pirate, but it suited her. The crisp black leather laced-up boots that ended just below the knee with tight white sailors trousers, a royal blue vest with gold buttons and trim, and a free-flowing long-sleeve white shirt. Her dark, curly hair was pulled back loosely in a partial ponytail, tendrils falling here and there in her face. To Olivia, she was the most stunning sailor she'd ever laid eyes on.

At that moment, she desperately wanted to kiss Natalia senseless but there were far more vital matters to attend to. She took a deep breath to clear her mind but not before she caught the slightly wicked and knowing smirk on Natalia's face. Saucy little wench!

"So, Captain Cooper, tell us, what is the meaning of this?" Hector clasped his hands behind his back. He had been foolish to trust the word of this man and Alan Spaulding. He wouldn't make that mistake again; however, he wouldn't be smeared either. He'd give Frank, and Alan once he's caught, a chance to be heard before the royal court of Roca de Dolor. It didn't mean he'd believe a word that they said though.

Frank did his best to adjust his vest and stand a little straighter before addressing the governor. "Sir, I was under the impression that Olivia Spencer was still a wanted criminal. When I saw her wandering the corridor, I took it upon myself as a member of the royal navy to protect and defend the Rivera family. I was…," he paused and struggled to finish his thought since it was one he was loathe to make, "obviously mistaken that circumstances have changed."

Natalia stepped forward but still far enough away to have the sword in her hand outstretched. "They most certainly have changed, but you haven't. You attacked me on the ship, trying to forcibly take what wasn't yours to have."

The tremor in Natalia's voice made Olivia as well as her parents glance in the young woman's direction. All three felt a mutual anger rise up in them towards Frank Cooper, but Natalia continued before any of them could do anything, "And now you come here, attacking the woman I love as if you have a right. You have no rights to me, Frank Cooper, and you never did. I would have never been yours even if you had forced yourself on me. I belong to Olivia and I will always belong to Olivia. Do you understand me?"

When Frank didn't respond, she put the sword to his throat. "Answer me, Captain, or forfeit your life!"

"Yes!" Frank squeaked out. "Yes, I understand."

"Good. Stay away from me, stay away from my family, or so help me God, I will gut you and throw you to the dogs where you belong." Natalia stepped back and slid her sword into her scabbard. Glancing to Olivia, she tilted her head away from them. "Come, we have a traitor to catch."

"Be right there, honey." Olivia looked to Natalia's parents who were still a little stunned at the actions of their daughter. She pulled out a pair of cuffs that she had only had in her possession a few hours and put them around Frank Cooper's wrists. "Hey, Hector, think your boys can keep an eye on the trash until we get back?"

Hector shook his head to clear it and looked up at the smirking buccaneer. He cleared his throat and spoke, "Yeah, yeah. No problem."

She shoved Frank a little harder than necessary towards a soldier waiting behind the Riveras. "I'm sure you have a lovely cell with his name on it?"

The soldier saluted absentmindedly and barked, "Yes, sir! I mean, yes, ma'am. Ummm…"

Olivia laughed. Land-lovers never knew what to make of her. "Just lock him up and keep an eye on him, 'kay?"

The soldier nodded and took Frank away. Olivia looked to Hector and Maria who still seemed a bit out of it. She took Maria by the arm and tugged. "Can I call you Mom and Dad now?"

The shocked look on their faces made Olivia burst out laughing as she walked them down the stairs and out to the docks.

The sun was barely peeking over the horizon as Olivia and Natalia climbed into the small row boat to head back to board The Devil's Beacon. Dinah, Shayne, Blake, and Josh had already headed back earlier to prepare the ship for departure. Olivia had given strict instructions to strip the ship down to make her as lean and as fast as possible. They had at least a full day to make up and they couldn't afford to be weighed down. To assist, Hector had sent a small cargo boat to meet up with Olivia's crew and lighten their load.

The only person that had stayed behind to wait on Olivia and Natalia had been Rafe. While it was partially out of loyalty to his newfound captain, it was also about family. Natalia was his cousin and he had wronged them all a few years ago. He owed them all an apology and the debt of his life, if needed.

As the carriage came into sight, he stepped out of the shadows and waited. He recognized his aunt and uncle immediately. They were older obviously, showing signs of distinguished graying around the temples that was common to his family's lineage, but otherwise, they were exactly as he remembered from his youth – proud bearing and broad shoulders.

When Natalia saw Rafe, she knew why he had chosen to stay behind. The older couple watched silently as Natalia looked up at Olivia and communicated with her without saying a word, before walking over to a skinny, dark-haired young man that looked like he had seen better days. Maria tilted her head a little, noticing something familiar in his facial expression.

When he began to bite on his fingernail, she gasped, "Oh my God!" She grabbed at Hector's arm.

He looked at her in alarm. "Darling, what is it?"

Natalia and Rafe heard the noise too and looked in their direction. Maria spoke in a whisper to her husband but kept her eyes on the young man, "Raphael?"

He squeezed Natalia's hand and stepped away from her, towards the older couple. "Aunt Maria," he looked over at the stout man next to her and nodded slightly, "Uncle Hector. It's good to see you."

There was a long stretch of uncomfortable silence as his aunt and uncle stared at him, taking him in. He fought the nervous energy coursing through him that made him want to turn and run. He admonished himself for doing this. Perhaps it was a big mistake. He sighed and looked down, readying himself to turn and leave, when strong arms wrapped him in a hug.

Hector had him in a vice grip and wouldn't let go. "We're so glad you're okay, Raphael. So glad." He pulled him in a little tighter then gave him a hearty and manly pat on the back before pulling away.

Maria stepped forward and placed both hands gently on his stubbly cheeks. "I've missed you so." She tenderly kissed him on the forehead and then wrapped him in a hug. She pulled back from him after a moment but kept her hands on his handsome face. "Tell me, how did you get involved in this?"

He sniffled a little and smiled. "That's a bit of a long story."

Natalia glanced quickly at Olivia then stepped forward. "Why don't you stay here and tell them, Rafe?"

He shook his head, the wavy hair shaking with the movement. "No, after all I've done, I should help you catch Governor Spaulding."

She smiled gently at her cousin and squeezed his shoulder. "We'll be fine. There's a lot you need to catch up on with the family, and besides, I have a feeling you have many more tales to tell on Captain Cooper as they ready for his trial. I'm sure my father will be very interested to hear all about it. If you really want to help, share all you know about Captain Cooper and his interactions with Governor Spaulding."

His boyish face lit up at the possibility of truly doing something good for a change. He nodded. "Okay, I can do that!"

"Great!" Natalia hugged him and then her mother and father in turn.

When Olivia stepped forward, she reached out to shake Hector Rivera's burly hand. He looked down and then looked up, raising a dark, shaggy eyebrow at her. She sighed, trying to get used to the new formalities, and placed her hand in salute at her forehead. He smiled at the dashing woman and saluted in return, then reached out his hand towards her. She shook her head and took it firmly in her own.

"Godspeed, Captain."

Olivia nodded in acknowledgement and glanced over at Maria who had long stopped trying to hide her tears. She reached forward and cupped Olivia's face in her hands, just as she had done with Rafe. The maternal gesture wasn't lost on Olivia, and she was surprised to find tears surface in her own eyes.

"Come, Olivia, I'll walk you to the boat." Maria took the younger woman's hand and led her down to the water's edge where Natalia waited for them next to the boat.

She lifted Olivia's hand out to Natalia for her daughter to take. The older woman watched as the fingers intertwined as if they had been doing it all their lives. A thought came to her that maybe they had and didn't know it. She was reminded of a tale that was connected to the Skull of Fate, and she had wished that Natalia and Olivia had more time to spend on the island so they could talk to her mother about it. Maria could only hope she got it right.

She took a deep breath as she began, "Many years ago, I heard a tale about the Skull of Fate. I'm not sure if it's true or not. I only heard it this once. According to legend, the Skull has the power to grant the keeper of the Skull their most sought for desire – whether power, riches, love, or something else all together. But it's more than that; it can see your soul…your deepest desires. See, there was a story of a young man who tried to steal the Skull from our tribe many generations ago. He was a cruel and heartless man with a thirst for power and gold and women. He wanted it all. He managed to get the Skull but in doing so, it saw deeper than even he realized it would. The root of his desire was in his father and to see his father destroyed. When the man took possession of the Skull, he got his wish. His father slowly began to die – a horrible, painful death that was torturously slow. It was exactly as the man had fantasized about it all his miserable life. In the dying of his father though, what the young man didn't realize is that he was also destroying himself. While it was true that he reveled in his power and riches and women, and had the satisfaction of bringing his father the pain he felt was justified, he was also dying. If his father was dead, he could no longer exist either. The sickness that had taken his father began to overtake him and he felt the pain his father had felt. By the time he was willing to give up the Skull, it was too late to save his own life. He died with nothing. All the power and riches in the world couldn't save him."

Maria took a long shuddering breath as she twisted a handkerchief she held in her hands before looking at her daughter. Natalia reached out to her and shook her head. "This is…"

"Very dangerous," her mother confirmed, "And very important. You have to keep the Skull out of Alan Spaulding's hands at any cost. Even your father doesn't truly realize its importance. He just thinks its superstition."

Olivia reassures Natalia's mother, "I promise to stop him at all costs."

The older woman smiles gently and reaches out to cup Olivia's cheek. Her fondness for the fierce pirate woman was growing every single second she was in her presence, but it didn't stop her from worrying. "I pray we're not wrong about you, Captain Spencer. You have our daughter's heart and her life. Please be doing this for the right reasons."

Olivia swallowed hard around the lump in her throat and nodded quickly to hold back her emotions as Natalia watched the exchange curiously. The buccaneer looked to the stunning brunette at her side and smiled shakily, "I guess we should go before Alan gets further ahead of us."

With one last hug between Natalia and her mother, they were on their way to The Devil's Beacon.

The naval frigate sliced through the deep blue waters of the Caribbean as it headed southwest towards Roca de Dolor. Phillip looked over his shoulder at the two naval support ships behind him, loaded with enough ammunition and supplies for easily several brigs. The King of Spain had been livid at the details of Alan Spaulding's deceit. He had long suspected that the man was not all he had seemed. The well-mannered and sharply-tailored politician ended up being nothing more than a wolf in disguise and the King would be happy to be rid of him.

Phillip had made good time by sailing through the night, and now as he turned back to scan the horizon for signs of Olivia, he raised a hand to block the glare of the rising sun off to the east.

Opening his hand, palm up, out to his side, he felt the cool wood and metal of his spyglass placed in his hand. Lifting it and stretching it to its full length, he made out a small dark image rising off the water. He adjusted his scope and the image sharpened. He smiled wickedly and rubbed his hands together.

"It's time, Father."


Chapter 39

When Olivia and Natalia boarded the ship, Dinah and the crew were nearing finishing their departure preparations. She watched satisfyingly as the men untied the crisp white sails and the southerly winds caught one making it snap sharply. The strong winds would help them make good time in getting to Alan.

"Aye! Thar be ship on da horizon," a sailor bellowed out to the crew.

Olivia lingered for a long moment on the man speaking and had the misplaced thought, as she eyed his worn and ragged brown pants, that now that she was a buccaneer it was time to have a crew look worthy of the role. She quickly scanned the few men around her and concluded that most would clean up decently with a nice haircut and clean clothes.

All eyes turned to where the speaking man pointed and sure enough a large frigate began to form in the distance. Dinah pulled the spyglass from her belt to get a better look, but before she could get it to her eye, Olivia was beside her, taking it from her hands.

With a wink, she turned northward towards the open sea. After a few seconds, she dropped the scope and graced her quartermaster with bright smile. "It's the navy. Either we're getting good news from Phillip's visit to the king or we're under attack. Either way, it's a hell of a way to start the morning!"

Olivia barked out some orders to her men to raise the anchor and prepare to fight, if needed, but they were to hold off until they knew for sure. She also told a couple of men to put all of Natalia's belongings in her quarters. She looked down at the dark-haired woman who hadn't left her side since they had come aboard and was greeted by a smile that made her heart race and her body ache. She blew a strand of honey blonde hair out of her eyes and fought to focus on the immediate matter at hand. Soon they'd be underway and there wouldn't be anything to do except wait until they found Alan.

Thirty minutes later, after the crew had devoured breakfast, Phillip stood on the deck of Olivia's ship sharing a hot mug of coffee with her, Natalia, Dinah, and Josh. Natalia and Dinah shared a little happy dance when Phillip told them about the king wanting him to capture Alan.

"By any means necessary," Phillip reiterated, "Yes, those were his exact words."

Josh did a fist pump in the air. "Yes! I can't wait to get that bastard!"

"You and me both," Phillip added. He pushed himself away from the railing and handed his mug over to Olivia. "Thank you for the coffee and biscuits, Captain, but I think we need to get a move on if we want to make up time on him."

Olivia nodded in agreement. "I agree. While the wind is to our backs, we need to take advantage of it."

Phillip placed his royal blue naval hat on his head and smirked at the former pirate with her arm wrapped possessively around Natalia's trim waist. She was doing absolutely nothing to hide her feelings for the stunning brunette at her side and he found it incredibly endearing and romantic.

He cleared his throat and adjusted his crisp white vest. "Shall I lead?"

It wasn't that it particularly mattered who led the seamen into battle, but he got the feeling from the sultry glances passing between Olivia and Natalia that they didn't need any distractions at the moment.

Olivia was lost for a moment in rich, velvety brown eyes and didn't respond right away. Phillip cleared his throat again and managed to pull the intimidating captain back to the present. "If you don't mind, that would be wonderful."

The odds were very low that they'd chance running into Alan within the next twenty-four hours. In fact, it was more likely to take a couple of days to catch up even with the wind to their advantage, and Olivia had some very specific ways she'd like to pass the time until then.

"No problem at all! In fact, Josh, you can bring up the rear. That way these beautiful ladies can get plenty of rest before going into battle mode," Phillip clarified.

Josh rolled his eyes and barely managed not to make a funny comment about there being little chance for rest taking place. He had a feeling that Olivia's crew, as a whole, wouldn't be getting much sleep tonight either.

"Oh, I can bring up the rear alright!" Josh smirked at Olivia who gave him a death glare.

"Great! Glad that's settled." Phillip bowed at the beautiful women before him. "Ladies. Well, let's get these ships a-movin'!"

Patting her helmsman on the shoulder as he set the ship on course to keep pace behind Phillip, Olivia happily skipped down the steps to the main deck and across to her private quarters. All day she had been waiting for this moment when the brilliant full moon would raise high in the sky and the ship would quiet.

Natalia was waiting for her. Of this she was certain because she could feel the presence of the other woman in the air and dancing along her skin. She couldn't see her, but she sensed her.

She opened the door to her quarters and was greeted by a low dim light emanating from the corner of the cabin. The large feather bed was covered with a dusting of various flower petals – numerous shades of purples, reds, and yellows everywhere. On the wooden table in the middle of the room, a glass bowl is filled with water. Floating on the surface is a small ceramic square with a stick of incense in the middle. The soothing and sensual scent of lavender fills the air.

Olivia smiles to herself and looks around the room as if she expects Natalia to be lurking in the shadows. Stepping closer to the table, she picks up a rolled up strip of parchment and unties it. In a looping, gentle script is a message from Natalia:


Tonight, a new legend is written of an eternal and undying love. Come to me. You'll find me in the north sheltered under a blanket of stars. Come to me, darling, and witness a love as eternal as the stars themselves.

All my love,


Exiting the cabin, the beautiful captain looked to the sky and turned purposefully as she ascended the steps to the fore deck. When she reached the top step, a faint glow of a lantern caught her eye. Leaning against the rough wood of the cabin wall was the most beautiful sight Olivia Spencer had ever laid eyes on.

Natalia had been very busy, and sneaky, the last couple of hours while Olivia conferred with Dinah and the lead crew on their coordinates and sailing time. She had spoken with the night deck crew and instructed them to stay away from the fore deck on forfeit of their lives, then spent the rest of her time arranging a private hideaway on the bow of the ship, replete with feather quilts and nearly a dozen pillows.

Olivia smiled softly at the image before her, feeling her body and heart warm at the sight. The lantern hung from a hook over the makeshift bed casting an ethereal glow over Natalia's face.

The brunette watched the captain intently for a moment, simply taking the beautiful and powerful woman in with her eyes. Then she smiled as Olivia shifted nervously from one foot to the other. She sat up and propped herself up with one hand and beckoned Olivia with a curled finger of the other.

Olivia swallowed and stepped closer, feeling nervous for the first time in her life. She looked down at the goblets of wine and plates of finger foods spread in front of Natalia. When she spoke, she prayed her voice didn't come out in a squeak, "What's this?"

To Natalia, her lover's voice was rich and warm with a slight huskiness to it that belied the desire already coursing through the strong body. That thought sent a shiver of responsive desire through her and she licked her lips nervously and followed Olivia's eyes down to the food in front of her.

"Snacks. I have to keep your strength up."

Olivia quirked an eyebrow at the subtle erotic suggestion and decided to test the waters with Natalia a little. Teasingly, she placed her hands over the buckle of the leather belt holding her sword at her side. She waited until brown eyes locked on her hands and began to slip the leather from its hold. The captain was pleased when she saw Natalia take in a shaky breath. She dropped the sword to the deck and knelt down on the quilt facing Natalia.

For her part, Natalia was trying desperately to maintain a sense of confidence but the intimate gesture of Olivia removing her sword made her mind quickly jump to other pieces of clothing she'd like to remove from the captain. Her nervousness was given away when she tried to hand a goblet to Olivia and it visibly shook in her hand.

Olivia felt her heart clench when she realized just how scared Natalia could be. She took the goblet and quickly set it aside so she could instead take Natalia's hand in her own. Brown eyes were locked on their entwined fingers so she gently raised Natalia's chin until they were eye-to-eye.

She brushed her thumb tenderly over Natalia's bottom lip and when Natalia's eyelashes fluttered shut, her heart beat triple time. She hated to admit it, but she was just as frightened at the moment. This was so much more than just sex and that thought terrified her.

Olivia swallowed hard and spoke, "Natalia, I love you, you know that. There's nothing I'd like more than to show you just how much, but I also love you enough to not do anything you're not ready for. If you want to take it slow, I'm fine with that. If you don't want anything more than this, right here, right now…I'll accept that too. No matter what, I love you."

Tears sprang to Natalia's eyes and she couldn't help but smile. "Who knew you were such a romantic?" She took Olivia's hand more securely in her own and lifted it to her lips, gently brushing them over the warm skin before placing a kiss tenderly to the palm. "Thank you for saying exactly the right thing at the right time. I'm nervous and a little scared, but not in a bad way. I've just never made love before…with anyone. I'm not sure exactly what to do. But I want to." She smiled then like a giddy schoolgirl and rolled her eyes a little. "I really want to."

Olivia chuckled, thankful for the lightened mood and truly grateful that she and Natalia were still on the same page. She quirked an eyebrow playfully. "You really do?"

Natalia's voice was shaky but husky, "Oh yeah. I really do." To prove her point, Natalia reached up and tucked her hand behind Olivia's head, pulling her into a kiss.

They fell into the kiss, taking their time and enjoying the slow, deep exploration. Every inch of Natalia's body reacted to the kiss – her skin tingled and her heart raced. An ache, low and dull, settled below her stomach. She couldn't stop the moan that bubbled up as she tugged at Olivia's hip in reaction. She wanted to get closer and feel Olivia's body against her.

The firm tug on her hip made Olivia break the kiss with a gasp. A sharp spear of desire hit her hard between her legs and she squeezed her eyes shut to hold back on acting on it. She wanted this with Natalia so desperately bad, but she wanted to enjoy it, relish in it, make it last as long as possible. They had all night and she didn't want to waste a minute of it.

She glanced down at the tray of food and wine between them and picked up a plump strawberry. Smirking teasingly at Natalia, whose eyes were almost black with desire, Olivia traced Natalia's full bottom lip with the fruit. To her surprise, Natalia teased the pointed end of the berry with the tip of her tongue, and Olivia swore she nearly orgasmed from the visual.

The fruit fell between them and Olivia pulled Natalia into a passionate kiss. She thought she was gaining control of the seduction back until she felt something cool tracing her cleavage. Breaking the kiss, she glanced down to see long, slim fingers teasing the strawberry along the inside of her breast.

Natalia enjoyed the look of raw arousal that came over Olivia's face when she realized what Natalia was doing. The rush of making this beautiful and powerful woman whimper with need was intoxicating, and she wanted more of it.

Breathlessly, Olivia said her name, "Natalia."

To the brunette, it sounded like a prayer by an angel. She removed the fruit from Olivia's cleavage and leaned over to replace it with her mouth.

With her eyes closed, Olivia was shocked by the sudden sensation and her body reacted instantly – bowing and arching against Natalia's warm mouth. Soft, wet kisses were placed all over the exposed skin of her cleavage, and she brought her hand up to not only hold Natalia in place but to steady herself.

Natalia lost in the taste of Olivia's skin – a mix of sun, salt, and warm earth. She wanted more…every gorgeous, intoxicating inch. Slowly, she reached up and began to undo the ties of Olivia's billowy white shirt. With every inch undone, her mouth moved lower in her quest to claim Olivia. She wasn't entirely sure what she was doing or what to do next, but she liked it and it seemed like Olivia did too so she didn't stop.

"Natalia?" She heard her name said on the end of a groan and laced with worry.

She moved up until she was looking into stormy green eyes. A moment of silent communication passed between them. Whatever fears haunted Olivia, Natalia obliterated when moved the tray of food away and took Olivia's hand. Placing Olivia's hand at the apex of her thighs both women gasped at the first touch.

The older woman was surprised to find the thin sheet covering Natalia from the waist down hid the fact that Natalia was wearing nothing but the shirt she had on earlier that day.

Natalia shifted closer to the other woman, sliding a bare leg up and over Olivia's thigh and causing the sheet to fall away.

The movement opened Natalia further to Olivia's touch, and never looking away from Olivia's smoldering look, she pressed down again between them guiding Olivia's fingers deeper into her wetness.

"Oh God…Olivia," the brunette gasped as Olivia gently stroked her opening.

The pirate watched in amazement as Natalia's dark eyes fluttered shut and her head fell back. She could feel the tightness against her fingertips and tried to gently penetrate her lover, barely entering her over and over again.

Natalia couldn't wait anymore. The dull ache from earlier had become a persistent stabbing throb. It was the most pleasurable form of torture that at some other time she'd welcome, but more than anything she wanted to belong to Olivia completely. She wanted…no, needed to feel Olivia inside of her. Holding Olivia's hand in place, she pushed her hips down impaling herself on the long digits. Burying her face in Olivia's neck, she panted as she worked past the initial pain. When it passed, she opened her eyes and wrapped the hand that had been between them around Olivia's neck, effectively rolling the other woman on top of her.

Instinct took over as she opened up to Olivia, reveling in the feel of the strong and curvaceous body above her, wrapping her legs around her waist.

Olivia squeezed her eyes shut tightly as she felt the resistance give way and she was finally buried deep inside of Natalia. As if they had been lovers for millions of years, their bodies began to move in rhythm to each other. She pushed up on one hand and watched as Natalia became lost in their lovemaking – her head thrown back and hands gripping the pillows violently behind her head. She had never seen anyone or anything look more beautiful.

She slowed her thrusts when she felt Natalia tighten around her. She wanted to make it last. She wanted to stay in this moment with the island beauty forever. Leaning down, Olivia traced a line up Natalia's neck until she was just below her ear.

She sucked, kissed, and nipped every tantalizing inch of Natalia's exposed neck, paying an inordinate amount of attention to an exceptionally tender spot just below Natalia's ear.

Olivia found herself lost in the sensations all around them and the emotions coursing through their bodies. She nuzzled into the sensual warmth of Natalia's skin and began to speed up her thrusts.

"Say my name, baby," she whispered intimately into Natalia's ear as she nipped on a pink-tinged lobe.

"Look at me," Natalia commanded and leaned back to catch Olivia's gaze. When unfocused green eyes turned to her, she leaned up to capture Olivia's lips then breaking it to whisper, "Olivia."

Natalia rolled her hips frantically, chasing the orgasm that was teasing her on the precipice of abandon. "Olivia," she said a little more desperately.

Never breaking eye contact, Natalia wrapped her fingers tightly into the hair at the back of Olivia' head and held on as Olivia pushed in as far as she could go. Her body bowed up tightly and her hips tilted driving forward looking for the friction she so desperately craved.

Natalia rode the wave of her orgasm as it built deep in the pit of her stomach and then exploded into every inch of her body. Letting go and giving her body and soul completely to Olivia's loving and intimate touch, she cried out Olivia's name.

She wasn't sure if she had passed out or not. She remembered little after coming apart in Olivia's arms until she opened her eyes. Olivia was still on top of her, shaking with her exertion and placing small kisses all over Natalia's chest, shoulder and neck. She felt her body jerk to life when the beautiful woman above her moved slightly. Olivia's fingers were still buried deep inside her and the movement sent a shock wave of renewed desire through her.

Sighing, she tenderly brushed her lips over Olivia's exposed shoulder and neck as she watched the stars twinkle above them.

"What are you thinking in that gorgeous head of yours?" Olivia teased as she continued to nuzzle and kiss on Natalia.

The brunette smiled. "Aside from this being the most utterly amazing moment of my entire life?"

Olivia chuckled and propped up on one arm to looking into Natalia's eyes. "I guess that takes care of the 'was it good' question. But, yes, aside from that."

Olivia tried to describe in her mind the look on Natalia's face, but it was almost unreadable. She struggled and worried through Natalia's silence, until the word came to her: transformed. Natalia looked transformed. There was something powerful and wonderful, even terrifying, in thinking that. But, oddly enough, it was the way Olivia was feeling at the moment too.

Natalia brushed a lock of hair out of Olivia's eyes and was blindsided when tears sprang to her eyes. She saw the look of worry and concern darken Olivia's face, but she immediately shook her head. "No, I'm fine. I just…I have no words right now."

Olivia could sense that her lover was processing the feelings in her head, so she gave her time to think it through.

Finally, glistening brown eyes turned back to Olivia. "Maybe it's being here, under these stars and with so much alive and pulsing around us…or maybe it's just you," Natalia paused and traced Olivia's strong cheekbone before continuing, "but I feel somehow connected more to…everything – the stars, the sky…you." Natalia shook her head. "I know, it's crazy and silly, but…"

Olivia chuckled and shook her head, bending down to quiet Natalia with a soft kiss. "It's not crazy or silly, baby. I feel it too."

"You do?" Natalia asked incredulously.

She nodded and sighed a little herself. Then pressed her lips together trying to think of the right words for what she was feeling. This was never her strong suit, but both of them, and Natalia especially, needed to put voice to what was happening between them. "My life has never been the type for feeling contented or at peace, but here…in this moment, feeling you and loving you like this, I've never felt more a part of life than I do right now." Suddenly tears came to Olivia's eyes. "It's like something essential has shifted and changed in me." She shrugged helplessly.

Natalia understood perfectly, and even as the words were on the tip of her tongue to speak, she knew they weren't big enough for the emotions they were sharing at the moment. Words seemed so trite and simple. "I love you so much." But, actions…maybe actions could express what she was feeling. She pulled Olivia into a kiss and endeavored to try.


Chapter 40

The sound of the ocean crashing against the hull of The Devil's Beacon as it sliced through the night was like music to Olivia's ears. The snap of the canvas sails billowing and whipping far above them, and higher still, the twinkling lights of a million stars simply added to it all. At the moment though she only thing the Captain could focus on was the thundering of her heart as she became lost in the dark depths of the most gorgeous brown eyes she had ever seen.

Who would have thought that popping open that old wooden chest that she would have discovered such a treasure hidden inside? She had discovered her heart, and some would say the other half of her very soul, that day. And now laying here under the stars with her now, Olivia felt as if eternity could be found in the depths of this wee slip of a girl

The Captain wasn't much for religion, having seen too many hard things in this big world to be able to truly believe anymore, but tonight Olivia thanked God for granting her a miracle, for delivering to her this flesh and blood woman in her arms, for giving her Natalia. And she would do everything in her power to keep it.

She smiled as Natalia nuzzled lazily along her neck, still trying to recover some of her energy. A rush of pride washed over her at having worn her lover out. Olivia reached up and tenderly tucked a stray lock of hair behind a delicate ear, thrilling at the shiver the simple touch caused in the dark beauty's body and their eyes once again locked.

"I-I need…" Natalia paused, floundering a little as she searched for the right words. "I mean, I would like to…" Natalia blew out a long frustrated breath, unsure how to proceed as her glance settled on Olivia's full lips.

"Anything. You can have anything," Olivia husked into her lover's soft skin, still scented like roses and lavender. "My black heart, devious mind and tarnished soul, such as they are, are already yours. I freely give myself to you, my love." Olivia looked up into the dark eyes above her confidently, sure in her emotions. "Now, Natalia, dare to take what is yours."

Olivia knew she was no saint but she had meant every word. In truth she belonged lock stock and barrel to the girl already, even if Hector Rivera hadn't made her pledge her allegiance and all but married them. She watched as the truth of her words hit her lover and sank in. Natalia frowned and shook her head, dipping to nip along a tempting collarbone.

"I see you, y'know, the real you, all those parts that you try to hide, deep down inside. When I look at you I see a wise old soul, with a sharp clear mind, balanced by a heart of gold," Natalia smiled, flashing a little dimple. "I see who you really are reflected back to me when I look into the eyes of your loyal men, in the fierceness in which you battle for what is right, and in the gentleness of your touch." Natalia cupped her cheek and dipped her head to place the sweetest of kisses to Olivia's lips. "I want to make love to you, but I'm not sure…"

Olivia rolled her hips up against the sweet curves of her lover, revelling in the silky smoothness of flesh against flesh, before pulling the thin sheet back to finally reveal herself to her young love.

"Just touch me," Olivia said simply, taking Natalia's hand and placing a gentle kiss on the warm palm before placing it on her breast. She smirked as Natalia's eyes travelled possessively along her body, a soft gasp escaping from her full lips as Natalia's hand moved slowly across her breast and squeezed, learning the touch and textures of her body. She could see the beat of her lover's heart twitching steadily at the base of her neck. She felt warm breath against her lips and the taut lean muscles of Natalia's naked belly stretch and tense against her.

With growing desire, Olivia watched as Natalia moistened her lips with the tip of her tongue, the self conscious movement drawing her attention, like a moth to a flame. Before she even realized what she was doing, Olivia moved forward to take control again but she hesitated at the last second, stopping a hairs breadth from the delectable lips that she desperately wanted to taste.

Unable to stand it any longer, Natalia's eyes fluttered shut and in an instant she moved to claim her Captain. Olivia's moan was soft and needy, kittenish almost, vibrating warm against Natalia's mouth. And still Olivia held back, fighting her desire to take her lover again, to mark and to claim the brunette as her own once more. Instead she surrendered herself, spreading herself wider so Natalia could settle against her, giving her the chance to explore and discover. Olivia finally relaxed, trusting and allowing herself to be taken by Natalia, much to the delight of both women.

A strong hand snaked into her thick hair, and grasped the nape of Olivia's neck to keep her steady as their kiss deepened. Olivia gladly surrendered, more than ready to let Natalia do whatever she wanted. They broke apart finally; both of them panting for much needed breath, as Natalia's hands began to roam across Olivia's long, lean form.

"Mine." Natalia all but growled in her new found confidence, before smiling down tenderly, her eyes growing darker and larger as her need grew. Olivia could only watch as her lover descended, her dark head dipping and devouring, taking her and moulding to her body.

With soft cushions beneath her and Natalia's supple curves above her, it was almost too much for Olivia to take in as she bucked against her lover. Reaching up she ran a long finger along the gentle swell of her flushed cheek, tracing along a delicate eyebrow, memorizing the flecks of color in her eyes before Natalia grew impatient once again and dipped her head for another searing kiss.

Olivia was certainly no innocent, and she had seen her fair share of women warming her bed, but never had anyone claimed her heart and mind so completely. Dinah had come the closest, but there still was always a part of her that she kept hidden away, that kept her safe. It was the part of her that had fallen in love that very first time, only to have had her first love torn away from her. And after having loved so completely and then lost it forever, she could never bring herself, never dared to hope again, afraid that it would be ripped away again.

Until now.

Now, it was different. Natalia was different, hell, even Olivia herself was different if she was honest with herself. Somehow this slip of a girl had stolen her heart, taken her and forced her to want more, to do better, to allow herself to love and be loved in return. Olivia had been transformed in so many ways by Natalia. And this was just the beginning.

Olivia gasped and was pulled back into the here and now as Natalia confidently began to map the curves and valleys of her body, caressing and sucking, discovering favourite spots to torment her with delicious kisses. She willing remained trapped beneath her lover, moaning and writhing with need by the time Natalia had barely explored down her torso.

Natalia's hand shifted, finally wandering down to find Olivia swollen and slick, spreading herself a little wider for her. Moving to look into Olivia's stormy green eyes, she teased her stiff clit, pleased that she seemed to be doing something right. Olivia arched up, meeting her, gasping and trying to catch a deep breath, followed by thick moans coming from deep within her.

"Please." Olivia whispered on an exhale, slow and steady. Natalia would tease her no longer. She felt everything so intensely, responding so subtly to her touch, Olivia's body was inviting her with its every movement. They both moaned with pleasure as Natalia slowly pressed into her, their bodies slowly starting an age old dance back and forth together.

Moving back up to look into Olivia's stormy green eyes, she smiled and slowly pulled back and then filled her again. And then again, this time angling her hand just so. Olivia's hips arched off the cushions to meet her slow thrusts, trying to dictate the pace, but Natalia simply ignored her impatient lover and set their pace, soon adding the extra strength of her muscled thigh between her legs.

"Dear God!" Olivia gasped as Natalia just chuckled against her heated flesh. Natalia was enjoying learning all the sounds that Olivia made while making love, committing them to memory and pledging to coax them out as often as possible. Natalia made a sympathetic groan as Olivia couldn't help it anymore.

She kept up the pounding rhythm, the muscles in her arm bunching and flexing as she struggled to keep up. Then she curled her fingers ever so slightly, remembering Olivia doing something similar to her not that long ago. Pressing against slick flesh, she found a spot that quickly sent Olivia bucking up off the cushions. Olivia started to tense, her body tightening as she strained to pull Natalia in deeper.

Picking up the tempo of her thrusts, Natalia angled deeper as Olivia moved with her, panting into her ear, rocking harder. She started to feel her tighten, Olivia's body clenching around her fingers.

"Look at me, Olivia," Natalia murmured, pleased when the captain's eyes snapped open at her soft request. Olivia tried to focus, but Natalia's touch was too distracting. She was close and Natalia instinctively knew it. "I want to watch you come for me for the first time."

Natalia's eyes sparkled in the dim candle light and all Olivia could do was nod and gasp as she was rewarded with a strong thumb circling her clit. Olivia struggled to keep her eyes open as they stared into each other's eyes. She stilled at the intimacy of the moment, feeling for all the world like Natalia could see into her soul. It was suddenly all too much, too real and the feeling of being cherished overwhelmed her. Her body responded next, as her back arched and finally she came, hard, her mind body and soul shattering against her lover as she trusted her to keep her safe.

"Natalia…" Her name was ripped from Olivia's throat, followed by breathy cries, and still Natalia stared into her green eyes, exposing everything to her as asked. Finally Olivia's racing heart slowed and she blinked up at Natalia, the indulgent smile she finds there warming her to her bones. Reluctantly Natalia pulled away from their intimate touch, her hand soon roving across ticklish skin.

Tangled together in a heap amongst the pillows, exhausted and spent, Olivia softly kissed her, their thundering heartbeats slowing. Natalia snuggled closer, burrowing against her neck as Olivia quieted in her arms. For a long time they simple held each other, curling together in the blankets, touching softly.

"God, I love you." Olivia whispered into the night like a prayer, and maybe it was. Suddenly her arms were full with Natalia's slight frame, crushing against her.

"I love you, too." Natalia said softly, wiping away a happy tear.

They lay breathing for a bit, gathering strength and drawing comfort from each other. Olivia ran the pad of her thumb across full plump lips and kissed her again. Natalia was so damn beautiful like this it made her ache inside. She sighed into the dark chestnut hair and surrendered to the peace she had been give, not quite sure how she'd come to deserve it.

"Are you cold?" Olivia asked, as she felt Natalia shiver slightly as they lay together, both of them spent and sleepy. She tugged the light sheet tighter to their overheated bodies as Natalia just hummed against her, all but asleep. They would nap for awhile and then Olivia would take her lover back to their quarters for the night. After all, she had not yet begun to show Natalia just how much she loved her.

Glancing up into the heavens, a shooting star blazed across the dark sky. Olivia smiled as she drifted off, with wishes and dreams of the future dancing in her mind.

Alan Spaulding stood on the deck of The Widow Maker and pulled a cigar from his inside jacket pocket. Popping it into his mouth, he leaned into the wick of a burning lantern, and started to puff on it, trying to coax it to light properly. Drawing in a deep breath, he started to relax as the warmth of the smoke hit his chest. Releasing his breath slowly, he looked up in time to see a streak of light shoot across the night sky.

"No need to make wishes anymore," Alan chuckled to himself and pulled out the folded treasure map Governor Rivera had given him. With luck they would spot land before the new day was done and then the Skull of Fate would be his.

"It's soon time for me to meet my destiny."


Chapter 41

Natalia sleepily emerged from a very pleasant dream. She smiled as she felt soft lips brush over her naked shoulder and realized why her dreams had consisted almost entirely of a beautiful pirate. She sighed and stirred a little as Olivia's arm wrapped more possessively around her waist. Reaching back, she ran her hand along the other woman's bare hip, eliciting a soft moan of approval as Olivia's hips rolled against her.

Turning in Olivia's arms, she snuggled into the warmth of her lover's body, remembering the previous night. Images of sweat-dampened skin, lingering kisses, and roaming hands mixed with her decadent and seductive dreams. Leaning up, she kissed Olivia tenderly but with barely constrained passion. She didn't remember how they got below decks. All she recalled was being wrapped up warmly in the blanket she had placed on the deck. She had no problem remembering what happened once they got to bed. It was amazing how Olivia's kisses could ignite her desire so easily. Somehow, they had found the energy to make love several more times that night. A feat that was about to flow over into the morning.

Natalia rolled over and braced herself above the beautiful captain. "Good morning." She leaned down and kissed her.

"Mmmmm, very good morning, indeed," Olivia pressed up into her lover as her hands mapped the curves of Natalia's hips and ass. She dug her nails into the firm muscle of the brunette's rear causing Natalia to gasp and push into Olivia. "Ohhhh, I think somebody likes that. Should I do it again?"

Natalia reached back and grabbed the woman's hands then pinned them over Olivia's head. The urge to take Olivia overpowered Natalia, and she kissed her roughly, demanding entrance to Olivia's mouth. Over and over again, she plundered the blonde's mouth with her tongue, claiming her, until Olivia writhed beneath her.

Natalia broke the kiss and quickly leaned down to take a nipple into her mouth.

Olivia bucked up against her hard, struggling against still being restrained by her wrists. She gasped as Natalia sucked on her breast hard, "Jesus, God! Natalia!"

The urge to taste Olivia, to want more of her pirate lover, was becoming too demanding. Last night, she had begun to kiss her way down Olivia's body, intent on loving her with her mouth, but somehow Olivia managed to deter her. This morning though, she wouldn't be denied.

Thoroughly, she re-discovered every inch of Olivia's torso, lingering on the tender skin around her bellybutton. It was a spot that Natalia had learned last night drove her lover crazy. She wasn't disappointed this morning either. Finally releasing Olivia's wrists, the blonde couldn't resist running her fingers through the thick, dark hair covering her stomach as Natalia moved down her body.

Spurred on by the gentle but firm grip of Olivia's fingers in her hair, Natalia moved lower to the patch of hair tickling her chin. She paused only a moment overwhelmed at the intimacy, but when she detected the heady musk of her lover, all hesitation was gone.

Growing up, she heard the fairy tale-like stories of romance and passion, but she had no idea what it really meant to truly be in love with another person until now. The stories suddenly made sense as she abandoned herself completely to the desire to love Olivia. As she took Olivia into her, she understood what it meant to be bound not just in body but in soul to another person. She felt the power of this truth hit her hard. Something bigger than a sexual act was between her and Olivia. It was spiritual. She knew this as if it was stitched into the essence of her being. It was a bond that would never be broken.

Even as Olivia came apart beneath her, they held onto each other desperately. Discretely, Natalia brushed away a tear that was sliding down her cheek as she kissed her way back up Olivia's body, but she was surprised to see the dark green eyes of her captain shimmering with tears too. Tenderly, she reached up to brush them away with the back of her fingers. For long moments, she simply ran her fingers through Olivia's hair, occasionally kissing her on the forehead or the cheek, loving her with a gentle touch. Neither one of them needing words to explain how they felt. As sleep began to claim them again in the early morning light, Natalia rolled over and pulled Olivia against her, cradling her lover protectively in her arms.

A pounding on the door awoke Alan with a start. Cursing, he bellowed at the incompetent twerp that dared wake him at this early hour. The governor rolled out of bed as a nervous seaman entered the cabin.

"What is it?" Alan growled at the young sailor.

"Governor, sir. I believe we've spotted land."

Alan straightened up and began tucking his shirt in his trousers to make himself presentable. Running his fingers roughly through his short gray hair, he then slipped on his jacket and patted the pockets until he found a cigar. "Well, why didn't you say so, boy?"

The young blonde man opened his mouth to answer, but Alan dismissed him, "Never mind! Get me some coffee and something decent to eat. I have a big day ahead of me."

The seaman nodded and quickly left the way he came.

Alan shook his head as the boy left and sat down to slip on his boots, tucking in the leg of his trousers as he finished. Not knowing what he'd find on the island, he buckled his sword to his waist and slipped another knife into the side of his boot. Checking his reflection in the mirror next to the door, he surmised that he looked worthy of a man claiming his rightful treasure. Smiling to himself, he exited the cabin.

Above deck, he confirmed with his spyglass that it was indeed land directly ahead of them. The ship's navigator determined that it would be a couple of hours before they'd make landfall. Alan used the time to coordinate a land crew of a few select men to accompany him. He made sure to choose those who were young and quick because they also tended to be the more naïve of the crew. In all of his years, he had learned that younger men were easier to manipulate. He wasn't sure why and honestly, he really didn't care. He just didn't need trouble from a doubting Thomas as he was trying to find his fortune.

Alan checked with his navigator one last time. "How far out are we?"

"About an hour, governor," the man answered.

Alan nodded. "Excellent." He held up his mug. "I need some more of this. Keep us on course and let me know when we're ready to drop anchor."

"Aye, sir." The navigator left to return to the wheelhouse.

Alan looked up into the cloudless sky and sighed. "Today's going to be a great day. I can feel it."

Natalia tugged at Olivia's belt, pulling her forward and closer to the bed. "Do we really have to get up?" She kisses the captain temptingly. "I don't think I'm done yet."

Olivia laughs between kisses before finally pushing away from her lover with effort. "I think I've created an animal." She starts to say more but is distracted by Natalia's hand disappearing below the sheet. "Dear God, you are tempting."

Natalia smiles widely and beckons her forward with a finger. "Just a little longer then."

Sighing in frustration, Olivia closes her eyes and blindly reaches for the clothes she had seen on the floor. Tossing them to her sexy lover, she says, "Put them on, woman. We're probably close to land by now and as much as I'd love to keep loving you…damn, you have no idea…we have to deal with Alan. I doubt I could explain his escape to your father as 'oh gee, sorry, but I was busy having sex with your gorgeous daughter.'"

Natalia laughed at Olivia's antics and threw a pillow at her. "Smart ass!" She sat up and slipped her shirt over her head. "Fine, I'll get dressed, but we are so not done."

Olivia quirked an eyebrow at her, saucily. "I think that's something we can both agree on, darlin'."

Once dressed, they exit the cabin to a beautiful day. Natalia covers her eyes with her hand as she follows Olivia to the foredeck.

"What a beautiful day! There's not a cloud in the sky," she says.

"That's a good thing. It'll make it easy to see land as we approach," Olivia adds. She checks coordinates with her helmsman and ensures they're still on the correct heading. When she's confident that all's well, she turns to Natalia. "Want to get some breakfast? We could have a long day ahead of us."

In the galley, they find Dinah and Shayne debating the merits of threats versus actual torture in getting an enemy to talk.

Olivia guides Natalia to a bench as they listen. Finally, Olivia interrupts, "Is this some kind of bizarre foreplay or something? Who in the world talks about torture over biscuits and coffee?"

Dinah ignores the jab and tilts her head playfully. "You're one to talk about bizarre foreplay. I thought maybe there was some torturing going on last night from the sound of things."

Natalia blushes and looks down, suddenly finding the top of the table very interesting. She leans over closer to Olivia, whispering in her ear, "Was I really that loud?"

Trying to save her lover any further embarrassment, she shook her head. "Not at all." Natalia wasn't buying it. Olivia shrugged and held her thumb and forefinger up close together. "Okay, maybe a little bit."

In the background, Shayne joked and held his hands far apart. "A lot bit!"

Olivia picked up a rag from nearby and threw it at Shayne. "Be nice. After all, we're supposed to be legit buccaneers now. We can't be acting all un-gentlemanly and such."

Blake watched with amusement and fondness as her favorite people joked around. She brought over some fresh biscuits, honey, and hot coffee. "I'm pretty much out of everything else, Captain, since it is late. I'll have some lunch whipped up here soon though."

"This is perfect, Blake. Thanks." Natalia smiled and dug into a biscuit.

Olivia had barely taken a sip of coffee when they heard a loud yell from above decks, "Land ho!"

All of them ran out of the galley and gathered at the railing. Olivia called up to the crow's nest, "Where?"

"There, Cap'n!" The sailor pointed directly in front of the ship in a northerly direction.

Olivia ran to the foredeck and pulled her spyglass from her belt. Sure enough, she could see the first signs of land, but there was something else just to the east. With a little adjustment, the image of the familiar Royal Navy flag came into focus. "Well, well…looks like we found Governor Spaulding."


Chapter 42

It had been a rough night, with Maria Rivera spending most of it at her mother's bedside, wiping her brow as she mumbled and moaned in her sleep. The old woman was growing weaker, and she knew somehow that seeing little Natalia had taken what reserves she'd had left and practically depleted them.

There was so much Maria didn't know about, that was what Carmen was supposed to teach the one who was to follow in her footsteps. Inez had long ago been deemed to be the chosen one, or so the elders had said, and so she had started her training at a young age. But it wasn't to be, the girl was too willful and flighty, and way too reckless for such an important role, if Maria was honest. She loved both her daughters equally, but Inez had proven to them all, time and time again, that she was not cut out to be the next Guardian.

Natalia meanwhile had always known her role, her place and what was expected of her. The girl had a natural affinity for peacekeeping and politics, which she had learned at her husband's feet, whether the man realized it or not. Sending her to the Spanish royal court had finished her political education perfectly. And despite the knowledge that she was to be part of an arranged marriage one day, Natalia had accepted her duty willingly.

Carmen seemed to have known all along, which granddaughter was meant to be the Guardian, who had the natural temperament and ability. Maria smiled softly as she glanced down at the pale woman on the mattress struggling for breath. She dipped her washcloth into the cool basin of water, wrung it out again and once more dabbed at her mother's forehead.

"Oh, Victor…what are you doing hiding there?" Carmen mumbled, deep in the throws of her fever. Maria gasped and looked around the room. Was her father's spirit here with them or was it merely a hallucination? Her eyes grew moist and she hoped that somehow he was there, at her side watching over them.

Suddenly Carmen's eyes opened wide, and she gasped, terror etched in her very features, as if seeing the Devil himself.

"Victor, tell them quickly! He's coming!"

The bright morning sunshine beat down on the bridge of The King's Vengeance as Captain Philip Spaulding stood with his spyglass trained on his father's ship; peacefully floating off the coast of the island he was sure held the mysterious and powerful treasure that had so captivated his father's mind.

For months Alan had been obsessed, before he had been appointed Governor of San Cristobel even. Since his father had first bought that blasted map from an old voodoo witch in a small Spanish village market, the old man had been almost possessed. A part of Philip wondered if the old woman had cast some sort of curse on his family that day. However, he realized that the Spaulding's were messed up before his father had even laid eyes on the odd woman.

Lowering his spyglass he waved to his navigator at the helm of the ship, signaling him to stop and drop anchor next to the other Royal Navy ship. A grim smile crossed his handsome features. It was time to go inform his father of the King's wishes.

"Captain!" Lieutenant Rick Bauer, his second-in-command, called out from beside the small dinghy that was filling up with his elite squad of swordsmen, just in case there was trouble enforcing the King's orders. "It's time."

Philip collapsed his spyglass, snapping it shut before sliding it into his belt, and turned to join his men. There was no way he was going to miss this. And he for one was going to enjoy every single moment of it.


The temptation had proven too much.

After all, Olivia was only human, and still a pirate deep in her black heart. She loved the thrill of the chase, the hunt for untold treasures, taking what she wanted, when she wanted, with a hint of danger tossed into the mix for sport. She thrived on it.

And Natalia had been just standing there, in a quiet corner on the aft deck, looking lovely and delectable as she stared out across the open ocean, lost in thought. Olivia felt her heart beat faster from just watching her. It was time to put her plan into action.

There wasn't much time however before they would need to leave the ship. They were just waiting for Reva's Torment to catch up and drop anchor. Still, she always did love a challenge. Olivia slipped behind her lover, surprising the lithe brunette as she made quick work of unbuckling Natalia's belt and popped the first few buttons on the fly of her pants.

"Olivia? What are you…oh!" Natalia squeaked and then leaned back, pleasantly trapped between her lover's warm curves and the Beacon's sturdy guard rail, smiling widely as she realized what was going on.

"If you have to ask, I must not be doing it right." Olivia nuzzled along the dark hairline, her hand sliding deeper down into the tight confines of the woman's pants and inside her lacy undergarment. Slipping through damp hair, she found her way easily into hot folds, both women gasping with pleasure. "God, you are so wet for me."

"Always." Natalia moaned softly, trying for some quiet restraint as she felt herself stretched and oh so slowly entered. Her eyes fluttered shut, very aware of just how public this could get if they were discovered by anyone. The thought turned her on even more. "Jesus…"

"Not quite, but I'll take that as a compliment," Olivia chuckled against soft skin, before sucking a tender earlobe into her hot mouth. Her thumb slowly circled Natalia's stiff clit, as her fingers slid deeper. It was time to show off some of her many skills.

"I can't keep my hands off of you," Olivia rasped into the delicate ear, thrilling as Natalia shivered in her arms. While one hand continued to gently spiral within her lover, she trailed the other hand up and cupped a full breast with the other. Soon she began thrusting in a rhythm matched by her rolling and pinching fingertips on Natalia's heavily aroused nipples. Olivia grinned evilly, as she started to flick the stiff clit with her thumb, knowing instinctively that it wouldn't be long now…

"Olivia," Natalia gasped, bucking hard against her lover. "I-I'm… I think I'm going to…"

"That's right, my love," Olivia hummed softly, holding her lover tighter as her fingers continued to swirl in and out, claiming what was hers, what would always be hers. "I've got you now, just let go."

Olivia smiled as she felt her fingers clenched intimately, her lover's body tensing as Natalia cried out softly and tumbled over the edge.

"I'm coming…"

It was cold and dark, no light able to penetrate this far down into the earth, or through the thick cave walls. Water trickled and ran along the stone walls making echoing dripping noises as fell to the stone floor. Spiders and large bugs crept along algae covered rocks going about their everyday business of hunting for food.

Suddenly a vibration started deep inside the sealed cave. It was slow at first, like a distant roll of thunder and then more regular, like the beat of jungle drums heralding something important. Startling every living creature in the dank space, the beetles and creepy crawly critters scampered fearfully away from the center of the large space.

A light began to glow, a warm golden flicker at first, like a candle flame at midnight. The glow started to illuminate a rock pedestal and all around the object that sat perched on the pedestal. In fact the glow was clearly coming from the object that sat there, growing brighter with each throbbing beat, pulsing in time with the deep vibration echoing through the cavern. It sat patiently waiting for destiny to be revealed, for it knew, beyond a shadow of a doubt, what was to occur.

They were coming.



Chapter 43

Commander Matt Reardon stood on the foredeck of The Widow Maker and shook his head sadly as he collapsed his spyglass. The third ship had arrived, effectively surrounding them in the small bay they were all anchored in, and now there were two more dinghies rowing their way towards their ship.

"Damn it, Frank, what mess have you gotten us all into now?" He muttered under his breath before tugging on the hem of his naval uniform jacket to straighten it and made his way towards the starboard rail to welcome their latest arrival to the ship.

Matt had never trusted that weasel Governor Spaulding, but Frank hadn't listened to him. They had argued about it over several tankards of ale but in the end the Commander had realized that his friend only had visions of glory for himself, of making a name and rising up the ranks. And Spaulding had offered that and more. Matt sighed and ran a hand through his short hair in frustration. Blind ambition was a dangerous mistress.

Joining his men at the rail, Matt waited to greet the officers from The King's Vengeance that were now climbing up the rope ladder that had been dropped to their dinghy. Peering over the edge, he reached out and took the hand of the Captain from the other ship.

"Ahoy, Commander." The man said, clearly recognizing his rank insignia on his uniform. As his feet hit the deck planks and he stood to his full height and smiled cautiously. "Captain Phillip Spaulding, and I'm here by the King's command."

"Commander Matthew Reardon, welcome aboard, sir." Matt snapped to attention and saluted, his men following suit around him. He knew the name; the man was that crazy Governor's son. This just kept going from bad to worse and Frank wasn't even here to help him. Figured.

"Thank you," Phillip saluted back and they all relaxed a little with the formalities out of the way.

"If you're looking for your father, sir, he has left the ship." Matt cut straight to the point. He'd had enough politics to last him a lifetime, no need to play games now. They had been following orders, whether they liked them or not, but he would not fall on his sword to protect the old man.

"Where was he headed?" Phillip glanced back at Rick, the two men exchanging a grim look. Nothing was ever easy where Alan was involved. Why would arresting him be any different?

"He took a group of our youngest, strongest hands and headed inland." Matt turned and pointed to the near shore, where they could just make out a beached dinghy that had been pulled up closer to the jungle tree line.

"When?" Phillip asked, knowing that time was going to be an issue if they hoped to stop him before he laid his hands on the Skull of Fate.

"Several hours ago. The Governor said to wait here and if he hadn't returned in two days time to send in a search party." Matt shook his head and cursed Frank one more time for leaving his crew at the mercy of that man. He watched curiously as Phillip straightened his shoulders and pulled out an envelope with the King's seal on it.

"By the order of his majesty the King, I hereby take command of this ship. I will be leaving Commander Rick Bauer on board to oversee day-to-day operations with you until we are back at the Royal Naval Base in San Cristobel where you will await further orders."

"Yes sir." Matt saluted, actually pleased with the turn of events. He had been half afraid that the Governor's son was in on the hunt for whatever was on that island.

"Rick, I need to go ashore and stop my father." Phillip said quietly to his second-in-command. His eyes darkened as he glanced back at the seemingly quiet island. "Once the others have arrived we'll form a party and head inland."

Phillip's eyes narrowed suspiciously as he glanced at the peaceful looking island. Deep in his soul he could feel something was not right, that this was sacred land and that they did not belong here. This whole misadventure was messed up. Despite the heat, a cold shiver ran down his spine.

He didn't like this.

He didn't like this at all.

On the small dinghy making its way across the short distance to The Widow Maker, Natalia sat beside Olivia, taking comfort in her warmth and solid presence. She turned from watching the men at the oars, and stared out at the island looming beside them.

She knew from the stories, that this land of her ancestors wasn't a little spit of dirt in the middle of nowhere. Skull Island was quite sizeable and forbidding, with a steep cliff dropping down, naturally protecting the deep hidden bay where the ships were anchored. She noticed a boat on the small strip of beach, hidden along the jungle tree line and knew that the Governor was probably already headed inland.

Disgusted with the man's greed, she sighed sadly, when something, a movement of sorts, caught her eye. There was something high on top of the cliff. Natalia looked up, wondering if it was the Governor and instead she saw a figure in white standing there, watching them approach.

No, it was more than that.

It was watching her.

Fear gripped her soul and she swallowed hard, but the solitary figure simply stood there. It was a woman, she could tell now, with long grey hair and white robes flowing in the breeze. She glanced around the dinghy, but no once else had seemed to notice. A breeze whispered against her skin and she heard a familiar voice, one that she couldn't quite place, tickle in her ear. Her head snapped up and she felt as if the world had spiraled down to a fine point, just her and the woman atop the cliff.

'Welcome, little one. We are waiting for you, at the appointed time, in the appointed place.'

Natalia froze, a feeling of foreboding washed over her. The mysterious woman was there a moment longer, and then she was gone, disappearing before her very eyes. Natalia blinked and tried to remember to breathe.

"Hey, are you okay?" Olivia leaned over and reached out for her hand, squeezing it tight. She looked up to see what had so captured Natalia's attention, but saw nothing. She turned back to lock eyes with her lover.

Natalia looked up into Olivia's concerned eyes and then glanced down at their entwined fingers, grateful to have the love and strength of this formidable woman at her side. Something beyond her control was changing, swirling around them, calling to her and Natalia knew it. She only prayed that she would know what to do when the time came.

Straightening her shoulders, Natalia looked back up and smiled, feeling the fear ease as Olivia pulled her closer into a much needed hug. Together, they could face anything.

"I will be."

Hector stood with his best doctors, the men all agreeing that the old woman inside would not last much longer. Nodding, he pushed the door to his mother-in-law's bedroom ajar and peered inside; wanting to make sure that his wife was okay. Content that all was still the same, he shut the door again and went to escort the men to the front door.

Maria sat at her mother's bedside, still wiping the fevered brow with a cool cloth. Other than that one terrified outburst, Carmen had said nothing more, simply falling into an exhausted, fitful sleep. Maria leaned forward as her mother's eyes suddenly fluttered open again and she looked up at the ceiling with unseeing eyes.

"Mama?" Maria ran her fingers into the sweat soaked hair and smiled down at the old woman. She smiled as her mother seemed to hear her and turned her head to try to focus on her face.

"Oh, Maria, it's you." Carmen rasped, her breath becoming more laboured every passing minute. "I've been getting so mixed up; I don't know what's real anymore. I don't have much time left, I know."

"Sshh, we'll beat this and you'll be back to your old self, as strong as ever," Maria smiled and tears started to well, not really believing it herself. She wasn't ready to lose her mother just yet.

"Don't cry child. I will always be with you here," Carmen moved her hand to weakly tap at her own heart, and then moved to her temple. "And up here."

Maria nodded at the sad truth of her mother's words and held back a sob. Carmen took her hands and held them to her chest.

"I love you so much, my girl. Hector is a challenge, but he's a good man, and he loves you and the girls with all his heart so I know you will be all right." Carmen paused to try to catch her breath. "Inez will make her way in the world, I have no fear. And Natalia has the greatest adventures ahead of her. She and that pirate of hers will be strong but they will still need your help and guidance too."

"I don't know enough, Mama." Maria whispered. There was still so much training in the old ways that Natalia needed to know, to lead her people into the next generation. Carmen just smiled and shook her head as she once more caught her breath before continuing.

"You know more than you are aware of, my sweet. I will not abandon you, or her, but she will learn and find her own way. That's what a Guardian does best…" Carmen suddenly started to cough, her eyes growing wide. Maria immediately tried to get her to sit up more, to calm her down. Soon the old woman was breathing slowly again, but it was shallow and rattling. Her eyes were a little glassier and Maria knew that this brief moment of mental clarity would be coming to an end again soon.

"The time approaches, they are waiting for me at the appointed place…" Carmen murmured softly, her eyes shifting back towards the foot of her bed. "Victor?"

"Mama…" Maria whispered, realizing something was different this time. She watched as her mother's eyes suddenly seemed to light up with joy, as her breath slowed, almost stopping. And then she gasped again, one final, awful, rattling breath, breaking Maria's heart.

Carmen's eyes fluttered shut and then she was no more.


Chapter 44

The dank walls of the cave seemed to vibrate with life beneath Alan's feet. He held out his torch in all directions to see where the disturbance was coming from as his heart raced with frantic excitement and a touch of fear. Squinting his eyes, he held his torch high. In the distance, he could make out a faint glow that curved down the passage to the right going deeper into the bowels of the cave.

"This way," he commanded. After taking a few steps, he realized he didn't hear anything behind him. Turning, he looked back at the men he had selected to come with him. One visibly shivered with fright. Another looked like he was about to pass out. Shaking his head disgustingly, he muttered, "Cowards!"

If there was any heavy, dirty work to do though, he'd need some help. Pulling his sword from his scabbard, he swung it out and pointed it at the sailor that shook in fear. "Move your feet, boy, or I'll spill your guts on them."

Frightened blue eyes looked back at Alan for a mere second, and coming to the conclusion that the governor was on the verge of madness, he nodded his head shakily and stepped forward.

Tilting his head to the side, Alan considered one of the other sailors. "And what say you?"

Before the man could respond, a low and guttural moan rolled through the dark caverns and the rumble around them intensified. Alan growled at the cowardly crew, "Move it, now!"

"But it could give way, sir," one of the men pleaded.

"Move or don't. It's no concern of mine because you'll die either way," Alan finished and sliced through the man's belly. The rest of the men watched in horror as their comrade fell to his knees and choked on his own blood before falling forward. "Anyone else wish to resist my command?"

All of them rushed forward to catch up to the first man Alan had threatened. The governor turned with an evil smirk and gladly allowed the cannon fodder in front of him to lead the way. Better to let them take the fall first.

"Well, well! Look what the cat dragged in?" Phillip laughed as Olivia was helped over the rail and Natalia followed behind her.

Olivia smirked at the tall man. "Where the hell have you been? It took you long enough to get here."

He shrugged his broad shoulders. "I was kind of hung up with chatting with the King of Spain. No biggie."

"Since you haven't tried to attack or arrest me, I take it that the King understood the gravity of the situation with your father?" Olivia asked with an inflection.

Phillip nodded slightly. "It seems the legend of the Skull is well known among the highest ranks of royalty."

Olivia glanced at Natalia and smiled. "Too bad it didn't trickle down to all of the royalty."

The brunette grinned up at Olivia and leaned into her a little, a gesture that didn't go unnoticed by Phillip. "True, but it made it all the more interesting."

There was a new level of comfort and familiarity between the two women that intrigued Phillip. He had a feeling that Olivia's interest in Natalia was more than she let on, but he was more surprised at the mutuality of it from Natalia. He leaned forward so as not to be overheard by the other men, just in case. Motioning between the two women, he whispered, "So, am I missing something here?"

The blonde captain looked over at Natalia, giving her a subtle nod to go ahead. Natalia stood a little straighter and addressed Phillip formally, "Captain Phillip Spaulding, allow me, Princess and Diplomat Natalia Rivera of the Spanish colony Roco de Dolor, introduce you to the newest member of the Spanish Royal Naval fleet, Captain Olivia Spencer."

Phillip was struck speechless and Natalia couldn't resist finishing the effect with a bright smile, "And my fiancé."

A long silence stretched between them as Phillip looked between the two women, his expression changing from varying forms of surprise and amusement. Finally, he just shook his head and laughed. "Congratulations!" Then he bowed slightly to Natalia, "To both of you."

Natalia returned the bow and he reached to shake Olivia's hand. "Damn, Spencer, who knew you'd clean up? Good for you!" He turned to the crew that milled about, trying to act like they weren't eavesdropping, and announced to rousing cheers, "This calls for a drink!"

Commander Matt Reardon opened a new bottle of whiskey for his crew, pouring a shot first for Olivia and Natalia, and then allowing Phillip, Dinah, and Shayne to partake before handing it off to one of the crew.

Cheers went up again as Phillip toasted Olivia and Natalia. The two women tossed back the shots. Natalia grimaced but took the burn in stride. She told herself that she wouldn't drink anymore after compromising herself in front of Olivia, but those days seemed like a lifetime ago. Now all she wanted to do was lose herself in the provocative pirate turned buccaneer. Looking out past the crew and ship to the island, she could feel the tug of her heritage. It was taking all she had to focus on staying in the present. But there was a powerful force speaking to her. She could feel it moving in her, speaking to her, making her head spin and her heart race.

When she was little, she got this feeling too. It tended to happen when she quieted and cleared her mind of all thought. But when she was thirteen, something different happened. She saw an image flash in her mind of an altar of bones and haunting voices begging her to save "them." She didn't want to know who the "them" was, so she never let herself go there again in her mind. She kept busy and prayed. She prayed a lot!

That moment never really was erased from her memory and for years she wondered if she had imagined it. But, now, she had no doubts that it was all real and what was worse is that she had no control over it. Gripping the railing, she fought back a wave of it washing over her.

Olivia was pointing out to the horizon at an approaching ship, telling Phillip that it was Josh and his crew coming to assist. Reva's Torment should be joining them in a few hours and then they'd be able to head inland.

Suddenly, Phillip reached past her and she turned to see Natalia, shaking as she gripped the wood viciously, her nails digging into the rail.

Frightened, Olivia took Natalia's face in her hands and tried to call to her lover, "Natalia! Natalia, talk to me. Are you okay?"

Natalia's head whipped around in Olivia's direction and her eyes opened, revealing white, ghostly eyes. Olivia jumped back in terror. "Natalia?"

Natalia spoke, but it wasn't her voice, "It is time. He is coming."

Behind her, Olivia heard a crewman mumble a prayer in Spanish, before speaking clearly in English, "She is a demon! Kill her!"

Without thinking, Olivia jerked her cutlass from her belt and aimed it at the offending man. "Touch her and you die." The crewman blanched and stepped back. Looking back at her possessed lover, Olivia spoke softly, "Tell me more."

"There's no time to spare. He is coming," the willowy voice, with its lightly accented lilt, was vaguely familiar to Olivia.

Olivia struggled to place it, but when she did, she gasped, "Carmen?"

Natalia took in a sharp, shuddering breath as her eyes fluttered closed and she collapsed into Olivia's arms. Sinking to the deck, Olivia looked up at Phillip. "Get me the doctor."

She looked back down at Natalia and brushed back the tendrils of her lover's dark hair from her sweaty face. She gently tapped her cheek. "Wake up, baby. Come on. Come back to me." Olivia desperately tried not to panic, but she had never seen anything like what had just happened. She wasn't sure if it was possible to be possessed and still live. She squeezed her eyes shut as tears threatened to spill. She rocked Natalia and whispered comforting words, begging her to wake up.

"Where the hell is the doctor?" Olivia bellowed to the people surrounding her.

As if on command, the crowd parted and a skinny, bald man settled down beside Olivia. He leaned over and listened to Natalia's breathing and her heart. "She's alive, just unconscious." He pulled his bag over and removed a jar with fermenting leaves and some clear liquid in it. He got a rag out of his bag and opened the jar, holding it away from his own face. Allowing just a little to drip on the cloth, he quickly closed the bottle.

"What is that?" Olivia asked.

The old man didn't even look up at her, but continued to work, which included moving Olivia out of the way. "Never you mind. It works."

Before Olivia could protest, he placed the rag under Natalia's nose and she jerked awake, gasping, "What happened?"

Olivia reached for her to quickly reassure her that she wasn't alone, but she still looked at the doctor. "What the hell was that?"

The doctor slid back and replaced the bottle in his bag. "Something that worked." He stood and walked away shaking his head.

Olivia leaned in closer to Natalia and pulled her into a sitting position, muttering as the man walked away, "Crazy old coot." If it had been Blake, she wouldn't have questioned it, but she didn't trust Natalia in just anyone's hands. Natalia coughed and it drew Olivia's attention back to her. "Hey, how are you feeling?"

Natalia scrunched her eyebrows and looked down at her hands. "Like I've been asleep for days."

"Do you remember anything?" Olivia helped her up as she tried to stand.

The brunette shook her head and leaned against the railing as she got her bearings. "No…nothing."

Olivia looked at Phillip and her other friends. Phillip tilted his head to them and they stepped away to give the two women some privacy. The blonde took Natalia's hands in her own and brushed a strand of hair behind her ear. "Honey, I think your abuela spoke through you."

"What?" Natalia shook her head. "No, that's impossible. That means she'd have to be…" The obvious conclusion hit Natalia hard and she pulled her hands away to cover her mouth to stifle her sobs. "No! Olivia…no!"

She pulled Natalia into her arms. "I'm so sorry, Natalia." She held the young woman like that until the tears subsided.

Natalia sniffed and leaned up to look at Olivia. "You said she spoke through me. What did she say?"

Olivia told her what happened while Natalia rested her head against Olivia's chest and listened. A few moments passed before Natalia stepped out of her lover's arms and spoke with certainty, "We have to leave for the island…right now."

The blonde shook her head. "No, we need to wait for more support. Josh and his crew will be here in an hour."

"We don't have an hour."


Chapter 45

The man shivered as the walls seemed to close in on him. The skittering of spiders and mice could be heard but not seen in the dim light projected by the torch behind him and the growing glow before him.

His fellow seamen slinked behind him, uncharacteristically cowardly for men of the royal navy. He sighed and inched forward, his feet slipping on the moss-covered stone. In all honesty, he was no better than the others. Governor Spaulding's madness had shocked all of them. None were surprised by his demand for treasure and glory, but to see young Billy crumpled in a pool of his own blood and innards had frightened them out of acting.

Being a part of the navy was a dangerous occupation; however, most expected to die gloriously in battle with banners flying. Not in some dark earthen hole that smelled like a whore's ass.

He must be going slightly mad himself as he wondered, as if looking down on himself from a distance, how anyone ever figured out what a whore's ass smelled like in order for that phrase to become common lingo.

He was jostled out of his musings when Jonesy bumped him from behind.

Alan reached around the man and shoved him in the shoulder. "Move it!"

While he couldn't tell exactly how far away they were from the source of the light ahead, the distance seemed to be interminable. It felt like they had been the same distance from it since they began. Unable to see well, he stumbled a few steps and suddenly fell forward, the hard and jagged rock of the cave digging painfully into his hands and knees.

A loud whoosh and a strangled cry from behind had him flipping over in a panic. Jonesy stood over him, gripping at his throat, frantically trying to stem the flow of blood coming from around the arrow in his neck. The injured man opened his mouth to speak but instead more blood spluttered from his lips. Falling in front of him, Jonesy stared at him unseeingly as life ebbed from his body.

He scrambled to his feet to get distance between himself and his dead comrade. A sword in his face drew his eyes up to the cold, dark embers burning in Alan Spaulding eyes. "Move."

Before he could act, a rushing, bitter wind swept over them and they looked backwards down the long corridor. A plaintive moan rumbled against the walls and the distant glow turned hazy as smoky tendrils climbed and danced along the walls.

Whatever this was, he didn't want any part of it. Having settled his mind on that, he realized he no longer felt afraid, certainly not of the cold-blooded politician holding him hostage. Turning back to face the governor and his sword, he smirked and fell forward, impaling himself on the cold steel.

Phillip and Olivia rallied the crew to ready several boats for heading inland. As back up and in order not to put everyone's life in danger, Olivia told Phillip, Dinah, and Shayne to stay back with the ships. If there was trouble, they'd know soon enough. She trusted Dinah implicitly and needed someone to stay behind that knew how to handle her crew, while Phillip had the know-how and Shayne the muscles.

However, Olivia had hoped that she could buy a little time for Josh to arrive by continuously checking and re-checking their equipment. Aside from Natalia and Dinah, he was the one person she trusted more than anyone else. She had looked out to sea for Reva's Torment for the tenth time in the last few minutes. There were plenty of men on the naval ships around them, but she needed pirates. She needed men she could trust and that faced death every day as a matter of survival and sustenance. Aside from her own crew, she knew Josh's crew were some of the most loyal men in the Caribbean.

A hand on her arm stopped her frantic pacing on the foredeck. She turned to see Natalia offering her a cup of ale. "To calm your nerves."

Olivia shook her head. "I'm fine."

"Don't even try to lie to me," Natalia argued and Olivia had the grace to at least look away. Natalia set the tankard on the barrel next to her and stepped forward, wrapping Olivia in a hug. She sighed and continued, "Besides, it seems I have some special skills. I'm sure with a little effort I could read your mind."

Olivia couldn't help but chuckle and kiss her lover's thick hair, nuzzling it a little before leaning back. "If you could read my mind, you'd be blushing right now."

"Oh yeah?" She quirked an eyebrow at the older woman. "Maybe that is a skill I want to develop."

Natalia let the light banter calm them as she gently massaged the nape of Olivia's neck, easing away the older woman's tension. She leaned her forehead against Olivia's a moment longer then reached up to place a kiss on her forehead. Softly, she drew the buccaneer back into the present, "It's time to go."

Olivia nodded slightly and straightened up, gathering herself. She knew deep her heart that Alan absolutely had to be caught and it was now what she was commissioned to do in the name of the Crown, but there was a nagging worry that she couldn't shake. She wasn't sure if it was truly fear or foreboding, but she had never felt like this before any other endeavor. Maybe it was because there was so much riding on it. Not only getting Alan, but the pressure of defending the safety of an entire country, her new lover's country, weighed down on her.

Looking back out over the ocean, she could tell that Josh was gaining ground and she wouldn't be ahead of him by much. Natalia tugged at her hand, bringing her attention back to her.

Natalia's voice was far more confident than Olivia felt right now, "You can do this, Olivia. You don't need anyone else to help you."

The blonde squeezed her lover's hand. "How do you know, Natalia? Besides, I do have help. I have you."

Natalia shrugged. "I have faith or maybe I just know my abuela wouldn't send us into danger without a good reason. She's here with us. Whatever happens today is meant to happen."

"You really believe that?" Olivia stepped closer and took Natalia's other hand.

The brunette smiled and brought their hands up between them. She lightly and reverently kissed the back of Olivia's hands. She gave Olivia a look of pure adoration and determination. "I know it."

Olivia captured Natalia's face in her hands and kissed her solidly, infusing every emotion into the connection. Barely breaking the kiss, she whispered, "I love you…so…much."

Natalia smiled tenderly and ran the tips of her fingers over Olivia's cheek before softly kissing her again. "And I, you."

Olivia pulled back and straightened up. "Let's go."

Josh collapsed his spyglass and handed it off to the officer next to him. "Damn it, Olivia, all I need is thirty more minutes! Damn stubborn woman!"

He turned to his helmsman. "Open her all the way. They're heading in already."

Calls went up as two more sails were unfurled to capture the wind and speed their time up. The hull of the ship slapped against the choppy waves as they neared the cove. This was it. Josh told himself that he had had enough of this life and this was his last adventure. He had already sent a message by courier back to Reva telling her of the news. By now, she should have received it. He could almost picture the smile on her face, and it made him more determined to hurry this along so he could return home.

The hard chop of the waves made it difficult for Josh to enter the cove without hitting another ship, but he was close enough now to see that Olivia's dinghy had made it to shore. He quickly ordered the anchor to be dropped and a boat prepared for him and some crewmen to depart. He had no time to waste.

By the time they reached the shore, Natalia almost fell out of the small boat in gratitude. Within the last thirty minutes, the waves had become increasingly volatile and erratic. It had nothing to do with the weather; there wasn't a cloud in the sky. The wind hadn't changed either. She couldn't explain it, but really didn't care to. All she could do was scramble out of the boat and help Olivia heave it further onto the shore.

Before them a steep cliff climbed towards the sky. It was tall enough that it blocked out the sun even on shore. A rough, vegetation-covered opening at the base was the entryway into the cave. Olivia instructed the two other sailors they had brought ashore with them to stay behind her and Natalia, and watch for sneak attacks.

She stepped close to the men and put a hand on each of their shoulders. "If anything happens to both of us, do not hesitate. Run away."

Both men hesitated a moment, a little more frightened than before. Usually, their captain instructed them to fight to the death, to take no prisoners. Now she was basically telling them to save themselves. For her to say that meant this task was far more dangerous than any of them first thought.

Slowly, they turned back to her and nodded resolutely. "Aye, Cap'n."

She gave their shoulders a quick squeeze. "Thank you."

Walking back over to Natalia, who was meticulously tightening the straps of her sword belt, she tilted her head towards the cave entrance as the brunette looked up. "Ready?"

Natalia sighed. "As I'll ever be."

They began the steep climb up the shore to the cave entrance. The way the island was formed the mountain side was higher and steeper than the lower shore side. For everyone entering the cave, this was a good thing. This way they didn't have to concern themselves with rising tides flooding the cave unexpectedly. Natalia's ancestors had planned well. The cave was secure and difficult to get to. In fact, it would be virtually unnoticeable to the naked eye because of the overgrowth.

A few minutes later, Olivia, Natalia, and the two sailors stood outside the entrance. Olivia took one last look at Natalia, and when she got a definitive nod from her lover, they went inside.


Chapter 46

A few steps in and the temperature dropped, hitting them like a cold, wet wall. Blinking, Olivia tried to adjust to the darkness inside the cave entrance. Looking around she could tell the floor was uneven and bumpy but they carefully made their way deeper. The sound of dripping water echoed around them but it was the throbbing hum coming from somewhere up ahead that was the most unnerving.

Olivia paused and glanced back at Natalia, who had come to a stop and was standing very still, her eyes closed with a peaceful smile slowly spreading across her face.

"Do you feel it?" Natalia said softly, reverently.

Olivia gazing down, frowning to herself as she listened closely to the sounds around them, trying to sense something, anything, else. Looking back up at her lover, she saw Natalia's eyes flicker open expectantly and then grow pensive as she silently shook her head. Disappointment churned in her stomach, her failure a bitter pill to swallow as Olivia suddenly felt that maybe she wasn't worthy to be at the petite woman's side. As if sensing her troubling thoughts, Natalia reached out and gently cupped her cheek.

"Don't worry, you will," Natalia smiled as Olivia unconsciously leaned into the caress. "It feels something like this, like a lover's touch tickling across my skin, warm and familiar yet promising so much more to come, a throbbing vibration deep inside my body." She dropped her hand and gathered Olivia's in her own, bringing them up and pressing against her chest.

Natalia's heart was beating strong and sure but Olivia didn't feel a vibration. Her gaze moved from her hands and followed the delicate column of her lover's graceful neck, over her full lips and finally found her dark eyes, staring back at her. Olivia didn't think she would be able to breathe from the intensity she saw there. While she herself might have her doubts, Natalia had the look of a true believer.

"Do you trust me?" Natalia whispered, for Olivia's ears only.

"With my life." Olivia didn't even hesitate. They stared a moment longer at each other, knowing that no matter what lay ahead they had each other's back. The men behind them started to shuffle uncomfortably, and Natalia suddenly smiled.

"Then we should go, the appointed time draws near." Natalia shifted, watching as Olivia silently turned to take one of the lanterns from the nearest seaman. Lifting it high, the Captain squinted into the depths of the cave and started forward again.

The small group continued on as quickly as possible, watching for traps and pit falls. Olivia turned a corner and stopped suddenly, Natalia bumping into her back and then holding on as she peered over her shoulder at what was ahead of them.

A dead man, lying in a pool of his own blood, murdered recently with his innards spilled out from the gash to his belly. The stench was nearly overwhelming and Natalia covered her mouth, trying not to gag.

"Alan was here." Olivia grimaced and slowly pulled her sword out from its scabbard, the scrape of metal loud in the confined space of the cave. Better safe than sorry.

To the left she could see a soft glow and the enticing hum seemed to grow louder that way, almost beckoning them. Olivia took a step to move around the corpse, not wanting to really linger there and started to follow the path when Natalia reached out, her fingers wrapping around her bicep to stop her in her tracks.

"Not that way." Natalia was staring to the right, clearly distracted by something only she could see. Olivia squinted harder, finding nothing there but cold, wet rock walls.

"What do you mean? There's only one pathway and it goes to the left." Olivia lifted the lantern higher and suddenly she noticed a shadow along the wall. She stepped closer and realized that it was a hidden entrance to another passageway. "Well, I'll be damned."

"Not if I have anything to say about it, my love." Natalia smiled up at her and the small group made their way towards the right, away from the glowing light. Olivia and the two men pushed at the rock half covering the passageway, which slid easily out of the way allowing them easier access. A blast of musty air suddenly hit them as they entered the hidden passage, the build up of dust and dirt clear indicators that no one had stepped foot in this part of the cave in a very long time.

Cobwebs hung from the walls and the thick wooden beams looming overhead, which were supporting the rocks above, keeping them from caving in. A few beams had broken over time and small rock falls littered the way ahead. Pushing some of the cobwebs out of the way with the tip of her sword, Olivia shivered and wiped at her forehead with her arm, trying desperately to not think about how big the spiders had to have been that made them.

"How about we stop for a small break?" Natalia noticed her lover's nervousness, pulling a small water canteen from her belt as she ran a soothing hand along Olivia's back, handing it to her. Together they sat down on a boulder, Natalia taking a quick sip of water after Olivia, watching her closely, trying to gauge what the problem was.

"I'll scout ahead, Cap'n." the larger of the two men accompanying them stepped forward, eager to see what was around the corner.

"Not too far, Scotty, I want to keep the group together." Olivia warned, as Natalia handed the water to the other man. They had been making good time through the cave but she was very aware that Governor Spaulding was somewhere ahead of them, inching closer to the Skull as every second passed. They didn't need any trouble slowing them down even more.

"Aye, Captain." The larger seaman stopped as he glanced around the next curve in the passageway. "Oh, my God." He stepped backwards, turning very pale as he looked back at his shipmates.

"What is it?" Natalia eyes grew dark with worry as she stood, protecting Olivia from whatever awaited them with her slight form. It obviously wasn't good, as the man quickly hurried back towards them.

"Spiders!" Scotty hissed, horror in his eyes.

Olivia pinched the bridge of her nose, her sword falling from her hand and clattering to the cave floor, dread washing over her.

"It had to be spiders…"

Josh's dinghy made good time across the small bay, his men rowing hard so it didn't take that long for them to hit the shore, despite the choppy waves. Olivia's boat from The Devil's Beacon was already there, pulled up onto the small beach and tied to a tree for safe keeping. Behind him, coming across from The King's Vengeance was a third boat, with Philip Spaulding on route to Josh's location. He didn't' trust Alan Spaulding as far as he could throw him, but of all of them, his son deserved to join the hunt. Quickly ordering his men to tie their boat up as well he turned and watched the other boat approach, anxious to hear what the plan of attack was.

Suddenly there was a loud rumble and the ground shook beneath his feet. A flock of birds burst out of the surrounding forests, screaming with fright as they flew up into the sky. Josh looked back up at the cliff, rocks tumbling and falling to the beach and crossed himself.

"Hurry up, Philip," Josh murmured under his breath, itching to follow Olivia and Natalia into the caves. "I have a bad feeling about this…"

It was an amazing sight really and if someone had told her the tale while sitting in the comfort of Reva's tavern, leaning on the bar and having a glass of ale with Natalia nuzzling at her ear, Olivia would have truly appreciated it. But here and now, standing in the bowels of a cave intent on stopping a mad man, it seemed almost like an insurmountable obstacle. Olivia stood with Natalia grasping her hand and together they looked ahead of them.

There were spiders everywhere, millions of them. There were large, furry ones the size of her hand or bigger and the teeny tiniest ones scurrying along and everything in between. It was like the floor and walls moved, undulating and flowing with the creatures as they crawled and moved in time to the vibrating hum that was still just audible in the distance.

"Natalia, I don't know if I can do this…" Olivia said, clutching her sword tighter, embarrassed at admitting her weakness, her fear. So much for the Terror of San Cristobel, some big protector she turned out to be.

"Hey, we'll do it together," Natalia cupped Olivia's cheek and squeezed her lover's hand to get her attention away from the wriggling walls. Their eyes locked and Olivia lost herself in the love and faith she saw radiating there. "You and me against the world, remember?"

A rumbling sound started and the ground suddenly shook under their feet. Olivia pulled Natalia to one side, dropping down to the ground and against a wall. Stretching out over her, she pressed against her, protecting the petite body with her larger one. The other two men ran further back and ducked for cover as the wooden beam above them cracked and snapped apart, causing an avalanche of rocks to tumble to the cave floor. Soon the dust settled and the rumbling stopped and there was silence once more.

"Are you okay?" Olivia finally lifted her head and ran her hands along Natalia's sweet curves, making sure she wasn't injured.

"I'm good, how about you?" Natalia wiped dust off of herself and from Olivia's shoulders as they both struggled to their feet once more.

"I'm okay, a little scraped up but that's all. I think we've lost our escape route." Olivia pointed to the landslide of rubble and rocks separating them from where she had last seen their crew mates.

"Captain? We're safe on this side, are you and Lady Rivera okay?" Scotty's voice called out from the other side of the rock pile, a small gap at the top of the rubble.

"We're fine." The Captain yelled back. "Get back to the beach and let the others know we're still going forward. There's nothing you can do from over there."

"Aye, Captain." The large man said reluctantly. He clearly didn't like leaving them on their own, but there was nothing he could do about it. They could just make out the sound of the two men moving away, headed to safety. Olivia sighed and turned to look at Natalia, knowing that there was only one direction they could head in whether she liked it or not.

"Well, there's no turning back now. We'll have to go through the spiders…" Olivia straightened her shoulders, preparing for the worst. Natalia nodded grimly, looking over her lover's shoulder. A sudden smile appeared at what she saw.

"Olivia, look!" Natalia pointed into the small cavern ahead. Turning Olivia saw that the space had almost emptied of spiders. Maybe there was a God after all. Natalia squeezed her hand and grinned up at her in relief. "The earthquake must have startled them."

"Quickly before they come back," Olivia smiled and scooped up the one remaining lantern, which had been dented in the rock slide but was still burning. Running quickly through the cave they easily made their way to the narrowing passage on the far side.

"She wants us to stay on board our ships? What kind of plan is that? Is Olivia crazy?" Josh said in disbelief. Philip nodded in agreement.

"I wasn't too thrilled about it either." Philip grumbled. "I think we should follow her in, just in case. My father can be rather…resilient."

"Yeah, like a cockroach." Josh mumbled under his breath. "Or more dangerous, like a cornered rat."

"Exactly," Philip just laughed, slapping Josh on the shoulder. "And to think, you've only just met him." They gathered their men and started up the slope to the cave entrance and to whatever awaited them inside.

Olivia cursed as the lantern flickered and then died, its supply of kerosene drained, sending them into darkness. It must have sprung a leak from the rock slide. She felt Natalia's hand grip her own, and she sighed, taking comfort in the touch.

"Do you see that?" Natalia's soft voice filled the darkness and Olivia shook her head, before realizing that the other woman couldn't see her. Opening her mouth to say as much, she noticed a sliver of light, to their right, off of the pathway they were taking.

"I think I do," Olivia said as they cautious made their way to the light. If the lantern hadn't faded out they would have missed it completely. Inching their way forward they heard the pulsing sound grow louder until finally they stepped out into a huge cavern, stretching out wide before them.

"It's amazing…" Natalia said in wonder by her side, both of them taking it all in.

Along the walls of the cavern were small pockets, each one filled to overflowing with the skulls of long dead followers or ancient believers. On the ground around them were the bleached bones of more dead, skeletons and weapons scattered everywhere. It was as if an army or a hoard of interlopers had fought an epic battle, or were overwhelmed by an unknown force, destroying them where they stood.

At the center of this graveyard of bones was a stone pedestal on which sat something shiny, something through which shone a beam of sunlight falling from a small hole up at the top of the cavern. It was a solid piece of crystal, masterfully carved so that it reflected and almost pulsed with light. There was no doubt of what was, as it waited patiently for a new Guardian to come and claim it, to seal their destiny.

It was the Skull of Fate.

Olivia stiffened as a movement on the far side of the cavern suddenly caught her attention, Natalia's gaze soon followed. A lone man stood, battered and dusty, puffing quietly on a cigar, smiling at the two women as they finally noticed him. Alan Spaulding flicked the ash from his smoke and lifted his bloodied sword in greeting.

"Well, it took you long enough to get here."


Chapter 47

Josh stood outside the entrance to the cave and waited as the rest of the men made their way up the steep hillside. It was well hidden and if he didn't know that it was there, he was sure that he never would have even noticed the mouth of the cave. He glanced down to see how far Phillip and their men were from joining him when he heard sounds from inside the cave. He pulled his sword out just as two dusty men came shuffling and stumbling out into the daylight.

"Cap'n Lewis, sir!" The larger man said with relief, as he continued to support his shipmate, helping him to stand as the other man's leg was injured, a bleeding gash still oozing on one side. "I'm so glad to see you."

Josh squinted and recognized the sailor as one of Olivia's most trusted young hands, one of the lucky few that the woman personally took under her wing and trained in hand-to-hand combat as well as groomed to lead amongst her crew.

"What happened? Where are the others?" Josh's gut churned with worry as the sailor's face grew grim. He glanced to his right as Phillip finally appeared at his side, wanting to hear the update as he caught his breath.

"There was a rock slide and we were separated. The Captain and Lady Rivera survived on the other side of the rock pile and sent us out to tell you they were okay and that they were continuing with the mission." Scotty paused and glanced over at the other crewman who had been inside. "That's not all, sir…"

"Speak up, man." Phillip said with a little more bite to his tone than he meant. He was sure his father was up to no good and he wanted to get the man captured and put an end to this madness before it was too late. "What else did you see?"

Scotty swallowed hard and met Phillip's steady stare.

"There's a dead body in there too, I fear it will be one of many yet to be discovered. Captain Spencer was sure that the Governor was behind the murder." Scotty shifted uncomfortably as Captain Spaulding cursed under his breath and then glanced over at Josh a moment, who nodded for him to continue. "On our way out, it looked like all the pathways leading deeper into the cave had been damaged in from the earthquake. I don't think there's a way for us to go back without digging our way through several feet of fallen rock."

Josh sighed as Phillip swore again. The girls were alone and trapped with a crazy Alan Spaulding, who was clearly more than ready to kill for the hidden treasure deep inside. And there was nothing they could do about it.

This day was just going from bad to worse.

Olivia and Natalia stood stock still, watching as Alan puffed slowly on his stub of a cigar at the far end of the cavern. At the center of the huge space sat the Skull of Fate, perched on its pedestal, almost the same distance away from each of them, its possession still up for grabs.

"I see you survived the earthquake, just like the cockroach you are." Olivia spat the words out. Alan just laughed at her and shook his head.

"Those Royal Navy boys sure know how to save a man. Excellent training, and not a lot upstairs," Alan tapped his forehead and smirked. "It makes them so much easier to manipulate. Not to worry though, I'll write letters to their mothers about how they died as heroes, serving their country, blah, blah, blah, all the usual mumbo jumbo." Alan waved his hand and took a long drag on his cigar, nonchalantly stepping towards the Skull.

"You can't win this Governor," Olivia called out to him across the wide space of the huge cavern tightening the grip on her sword. "Natalia and her people are the rightful caretakers of this treasure." Beside her she heard the scrape of metal dragging against leather as Natalia slowly pulled her sword from its scabbard now too, more than ready to fight for the Skull. Olivia grinned; she wouldn't want anyone else at her side for this battle.

"Then what's a dirty pirate like you doing here, eh?" Alan laughed, chomping down on his cigar and taking a few more cautious steps deeper into the cavern. "I'm sure you have the purest of intentions. Sleep with the wench, bamboozle her family and then snatch the treasure away for yourself. Sound's like an excellent scam, especially for the conniving Terror of San Cristobel to pull off, if you ask me." Alan's mocking laughter echoed off the stone walls.

Olivia flushed with anger, her hand tightening on her sword, looking forward now more than ever to teaching the old man a much needed lesson. Her anger was short lived though, as she felt Natalia stiffen beside her, Olivia's heart sinking with each passing moment as her inner insecurities washed over her.

Did Natalia really believe his lies?

The Captain sighed, knowing that it could easily have been the truth, not all that long ago. Except for the fact that she had changed, and it was all because of the little spitfire standing next to her. She only prayed that Natalia realized it as well.

Olivia had to know for sure, even though she was terrified of what she would find, almost sure she would find doubt lingering in her lover's eyes at the governor's twisted view of their situation. Finally gathering her courage, she swallowed hard and turned to accept her fate.

Indignant anger sparkled in the darkest eyes she had ever seen, Natalia's jaw clenched tightly as she silently fumed at the man. She glanced down as Natalia slowly reached out and took her hand, squeezing it tight, reassuring her with the simple touch. A rush of relief and love almost overcame Olivia, and with it came a renewed sense of purpose.

"I think you've got that a little mixed up. Olivia belongs at my side, and has pledged her sword to my father to serve our nation, wanting nothing in return," Natalia glanced over at Olivia, her eyes softening as their gaze met and locked. "Except maybe my love, which I will gladly give to her. You however, are the interloper here, Governor Spaulding." Natalia growled, turning her attention back to the old man. "You are the pirate thief here today."

Alan snorted and rolled his eyes, taking another step closer to the Skull as he maneuvered around a small boulder. He paused, a shadow to his right catching his attention as something over there seemed to move. He shook it off, most likely another rat or spider, his imagination was just playing tricks on him.

"All right, so be it then. To the victor go the spoils." Alan glanced back as the two women also made a tentative move forward, picking a path between the skeletons and weapons scattered around them. The place gave him the creeps and he couldn't wait to get the treasure and get the hell out. It reeked of death and not just because of the loss of all his men. Those boys were all meaningless, mere tools to help him find and acquire what would rightfully be his very shortly.

The Skull of Fate glowed in the middle of the space, refracting the light falling on it from a hole high above them. Splashes of light and tiny rainbows twinkled around the cavern while the Skull continued to hum and vibrate, almost pulsing with energy.

Olivia had taken the lead, stepping over yet another skull. Looking up to see just where the Governor was, she thought she felt something move against her leg and glanced down to find nothing there, just more bleached bones. Everyone suddenly froze, as a hot wind seemed to come from nowhere, washing over them like a wave, followed by a eerie wailing moan filling the air.

"Oh, my God…" Natalia gasped, her eyes growing round with fright. "Olivia, look!"

The floor around them began to pulse and undulate in time with the hum coming from the Skull of Fate. Everything seemed to quiver and dance as if filled with some unearthly life.

"That's not good." Olivia said grimly, moving to stand closer to her lover, not quite believing what was happening.

All around them, the bones of the dead started to shift and move, the skeletal remains of untold warriors reconnecting and knitting together again. Knees were bending and shoulders rolling, jawbones snapping and clacking. The cavern was filled with noise and movement. The tiny bones of long dead hands scrambled along the dirt of the stone floor, blindly grasping for knives, swords and shields, anything that could be used as a weapon.

"Oh, I'd say God has nothin' to do with this, my friends!" Alan's crazy laugh could just be made out over the rattle of bones and the whoosh of hot air still blowing against their skin.

This was not good, at all.

Josh scrambled a little higher up the mountainside, Phillip on his heels. Hitting a small plateau he sat on the ground and pulled a canteen of water from his side, offering it to the blonde man when he sank down beside him.

"I don't know if this was such a good idea." Phillip panted before swallowing down some cool water. Splitting the men up into teams to scour the mountainside for other entrances was a sound plan, but a part of him didn't like the idea of not being as strong a force if they got into trouble of some sort.

"Think about it. There wouldn't just be one way in or out of someplace as special as this cavern seems to be. The old people would have had an escape route or something. Somewhere that fresh air could get in. We just have to find something like that and work our way inside from there…" Josh's voice faded as he felt a hot blast of air flow over him and the stench of something rotting. "Do you smell that?"

Phillip scrunched his nose and nodded. Something around there was dead all right. Josh stood and tried to tell where the hot air was coming from. He saw a dark crack in the rocks, not too far above them. And other wave of hot air belched over them, and he was sure it was from the general area of the rock fissure.

"Come on, I think we've found something." Josh smiled and tugged Phillip to his feet. Maybe all was not lost after all.

"Natalia, look out!" Olivia gasped, swinging wildly with her sword. Things had rapidly gone from bad to worse and they desperately needed find higher ground so that they could defend their position better. Ducking quickly, Natalia spun and sliced into the skeleton lunging at her from the right, the spine snapping in two with the skull flying away, leaving what was left to crash into a pile of bones at their feet.

It hadn't taken long for the skeleton warriors to start attacking, once they had finally assembled and struggled to their feet. Behind them, Olivia could make out the tell-tale sounds of swordplay, telling her that Alan was having just as much trouble as they were, as she thanked God, or whoever, for that small mercy.

Olivia backed up onto a small ramp that lead towards the pedestal with the Skull, Natalia jumping up right after her, and together they swung at the ever approaching skeletons. The Captain noticed that they were particularly interested in her lover, almost reaching past Natalia to get to her. If it wasn't for the girl practically plastering herself to her backside, Natalia would be ignored by the damned things.

Olivia's eyes widened. Of course, why didn't she realize it before?

"Natalia!" Olivia swung decapitating another warrior, its sword and shield dropping to the rock floor with a loud clatter, another warrior stepping forward, relentless in its attack. "The skeletons aren't attacking you."

"What?" Natalia frowned and shoved two skeletons way, noticing for the first time that they were not actually swinging at her with their swords, rather they were grasping at her, as if to pull her from Olivia's side.

Olivia spun and kicked up at the head of the latest warrior, sending its head flying across the cavern, her sword swinging low to crash through the legs of another one approaching from the left.

"They're ignoring you. I think they're trying to protect you." Olivia panted, trying to quickly catch some air before battling again. Natalia lowered her sword and sure enough not one warrior approached her, rather they tried to get past her to find Olivia. "I think they somehow know you're the rightful Guardian."

A yelp of pain filled the air.

They both whirled to find Alan standing there stunned and bleeding, clutching at his shoulder to stem the flow, his sword arm hanging limp and all but useless at his side, while a nasty, hulking skeleton fell to the floor, decapitated. Neither of them had realized that he had advanced so swiftly towards the Skull.

"Quick, we don't have much time. Leave me and claim the Skull." Olivia said as yet another skeleton lunged at her. Natalia hesitated for a moment, torn between her obligations and worry for her lover. Olivia grunted as a shield smashed into her hip and then she slashed through the middle of the attacker. "Go now!" She growled.

Natalia didn't waste a second more, and dashed up the ramp, skeletons shifting and moving out of the way as she approached, like the sea parting for Moses. She grinned with new found confidence and quickly found her way to the pedestal and the glowing Skull of Fate.

Her destiny was about to be fulfilled.

She reached out just as Alan scrambled up on the other side of the pedestal, a crazed look of determination on his face as he lunged towards his prize.

"It's mine!" He howled with glee, his moment of triumph imminent. All his dreams were about to come true. Before Natalia could react, Alan froze; confusion, disbelief and finally outright fear flashed across his features. He fell to his knees, mere feet from the Skull. His hand blindly reached out to grasp at the stone pedestal, knowing that it would be as close as he would ever get to his prize. He fell forward, a sword sticking out of his back, blood foaming from his mouth and then he was no more.

Governor Alan Spaulding was dead.

Natalia blinked in shock as several of the skeleton warriors behind the Governor's body pumped their boney fists in the air in victory, before she saw their attention turn ominously to the other invader in their midst - Olivia.

"Oh, God!" Natalia gasped. There was no time to lose. She stepped closer to the pedestal, the light and energy dancing in the depths of the ancient crystal, swirling and drawing her to it. Calmness flowed through her and everything slowed down, seeming as if it all was aligned as it should be, like she suddenly felt right in her own skin.

Natalia reached out with trembling fingers and touched the relic, its smooth surface warm to the touch and seemed to welcome her, whispering to her very soul. The hum in the cavern grew louder, rumbling deep in her chest, a vibrating pulse in her mind. For a moment she thought she heard her grandmother's voice, singing to her like when she was a child, and she felt at peace.

Carefully she wrapped both her hands around the Skull of Fate and lifted it off the small pillow it had been resting on, lifting it before her and staring deep into its eye sockets. It was as if a thousand voices spoke at once in her mind, loud and soft, all their dreams and fears and hate and joy, refracting through it and into her, shaking her to her very depths.

With tears in her eyes, Natalia turned to find her lover, needing to share this with Olivia.

The Terror of San Cristobel meanwhile was fighting for her very life. Natalia had never seen anything so beautiful and terrifying. It was like a dance with the Devil was unfolding before her, as Olivia spun and kicked, swirling her sword around her, the clashing and singing of metal filling the air as the skeleton horde continued to descend upon her.

"Stop!" Natalia's voice rang out into the cavern, echoing loudly, amplified by the natural acoustics of the cavern. Every skeleton warrior froze immediately at her words. Olivia took a few more moments to realize the battle had come to a halt and slashed a few more warriors down into piles of bones. "Olivia, love. Stop."

Olivia finally lowered her sword at Natalia's calm voice and glanced around her. She had been sliced up a little but nothing too bad. Up on the pedestal bathed in a bright beam of sunlight from above, stood Natalia, the Skull of Fate raised in her hand, where it rightfully belonged now. It was as if an aura of power surrounded her and it stunned her a moment, the beauty of it. Olivia couldn't help but take a step closer, however the skeletons surrounding her, once again came to life, shifting to strike her down again. Clearly she was not allowed to approach the Guardian.

"Warriors, stop!" Natalia commanded again. She frowned and realized that she would have to go to her lover, the only way to save Olivia from being attacked again if she dared to move. Carefully she took a few steps and reached out for Olivia's hand, the Skull of Fate securely tucked to her body, as she pulled her up to her, retreating once more to the pedestal. They stood together in the beam of light from above, just catching their breath and taking each other in. They knew that their world had just changed significantly. Natalia glanced down at the Skull cradled in her arm and then back up into the steady green eyes before her.

"If I could, I would choose to spend the rest of my days with you, floating away from one adventure to the next." Natalia smiled shyly, losing herself in Olivia. "I love you with all my heart and soul, but this is my destiny now." Natalia cupped her lover's cheek, her heart clenching as Olivia nuzzled into the caress and gently nodded. "And while I want you at my side, you didn't know what you were signing up for, and I wouldn't blame you for stepping away from this all before it's too late. I know where my future lays now, as Guardian and spiritual leader for my generation, for my people. This is your decision to make now, your journey to accept or to walk away from."

Natalia stared up at Olivia, fear and trepidation and hope all grasping at her heart, not exactly sure which direction the pirate would take after everything they had been through. Olivia's gaze softened and she smiled, moving impossibly closer.

"I choose you, Natalia." Olivia said clearly, dipping her head a little closer. "My life without you isn't worth living."

Natalia smiled then too, her dimples flashing as she slid her hand along Olivia's strong jaw line and up into her thick hair, pulling her down towards her. Their lips met, sealing their fate, locking their destiny together.

From the crystal skull clutched in Natalia's right hand, a blue-white light seemed emanate, crackling along her arm starting to spiral along their bodies. Her mouth opened and Olivia deepened their kiss, the energy swelling and growing between them, swallowing them up and wrapping itself around them.

Their pasts flashed before them in never ending waves and then there were flowing hints of things to come, of crazy adventures on the high seas, sagas of great joy and great sorrow, and at the end they knew that they would stand together again one day in this very spot. Together they would welcome at the next appointed time in this hallowed Cavern of Souls, the burial ground of the Guardians of the Skull, and pass this on to the next chosen one, to the next Guardian of the Souls and Keeper of the Skull of Fate.

Olivia shifted suddenly, as if sensing something, like a change in the flow of energy, a cold spot in the searing heat filling her body and soul. Forcing her eyes open, she saw a dead man standing, staring back at her.

Alan Spaulding's eyes blazed with a crazed fury, his sword was raised and poised, ready to run Natalia through and steal the Skull of Fate for himself. The foul stench of his breath hit them first as he growled into the still air.

"It's mine."


Chapter 48

The dancing rainbows of light moving in the cave, among the restless souls and in between and through Olivia and Natalia, glinted off Alan's razor sharp blade as he brought it down viciously towards Natalia's back.

Without thought or fear, Olivia spun Natalia away from her. For a few eternal seconds, silence filled the cavernous space. Alan's cold and deathly hallow face leaned forward forcing the sword in up to the hilt. With a cruel sneer, he jerked and twisted the blade.

The searing pain that had been strangely absent suddenly ripped through Olivia's body. Her knees gave way and her world tipped and twirled as the blood gushed from the gaping wound in her stomach.

"Nooooooo!!!!!" Natalia screamed and her baleful cries bounced off the stone walls with ferocity.

Alan yanked the blade from Olivia's gut and turned on Natalia. The bloody blade was inches from Natalia's face, and she fought the primal rage building inside as her lover's life blood dripped from the steel to the floor of the cave. Out of the corner of her eye, she could see Olivia writhing in pain. Every instinct compelled her to go to her injured mate, but the crazed, empty stare in Alan's shadowed eyes warned her that to do so would mean her own life and the future of her people.

Alan, feeling confident in his victory, edged forward slightly and smirked at the brunette. His grey dead eyes glanced down at the crystal skull. He knew he could physically take it, but there was something far more satisfying about having the enemy give up the prize.

His rank, cold breath turned Natalia's stomach as he leaned in closer, "Your filthy little pirate girlfriend can't save you now. Give me the skull or join her."

Closing her eyes, she followed her natural inclination to pray for guidance as she had done for most of her life. When she did, the shimmering, mystical light in the cavern that seemed to exist solely in, around, and because of the Skull of Fate, whirled and pulsed to a rhythm that no one could hear but her.

Without even opening her eyes, a slow smile crept over her face. She wasn't even aware that she had refused Alan's demand until she opened her eyes and saw the flash of his blade as he pulled it back ready to strike with deadly precision. Looking down at Olivia, a strange mix of anger and sadness filled her as Olivia's lifeless green eyes looked back at her. Gripping the skull in her hands, she held it out towards Alan and began chanting in an unknown and ancient language.

The skull began to glow ever brighter the more Natalia chanted. The skeletons of the souls remaining in the cave joined in the chorus, and the louder the chant became the brighter the skull glowed white hot. Natalia stared into the brightness of the light as she fell deeper and deeper into its trance. In the light, she saw her and Olivia standing on the veranda of a mansion, looking out over the ocean surrounding her homeland. Olivia held a small child in her arms with dark curly hair and bright, mischievous green eyes.

The chant grew in strength. Fearfully, Alan glanced around at the skeletons as they chanted and stomped incessantly to the powerful and commanding sound of Natalia's voice. The light that had been suffusing the skull began to coalesce and spin around the skull, then further out in ever widening circles, encompassing Natalia. The light began to take shape and become more solid as Natalia got lost in the chant, the proof of her state of being in the whites of her eyes as they rolled back in her head. The light form began to twirl in tight circles beginning at the top of Natalia's head and moving down her body as the noise from the chanting and stomping became unbearably loud.

Alan growled at her attempt to slow him down. This was his chance. He had to take it while she was incapable of responding fast enough. The Skull of Fate was his, and he'd be damned if anyone or anything, even death, would get in his way.

At the moment he lunged forward to grab the skull, Natalia bellowed out the ancient command of her ancestors in a voice not her own, "Dak!"

The light that had brightly illuminated the cave went out.

Silence and darkness filled the space.

Even in his dead state, Alan felt a sense of dread. He was about to open his rancid mouth to speak when a blaze of pure power and light flared out from the skull.

There, in the brightness of the light, Alan could see what the darkness had hidden. Every corpse, every skeleton had risen and surrounded him. Before he could scream or react, two of the dead set upon him and grabbed his arms to restrain him.

In shock and surprise, he watched as Olivia's body twitched and moved, slowly curling in and pushing up into a standing position. The lustrous green eyes were clouded over with the call of death, and her usually expressive face showed no emotion.

Panic set in and he jerked at the skeletal hands gripping him tightly. Then he just smiled as he realized something. "You can't kill me, bitch. I'm already dead."

Olivia tilted her head a little and smirked with a ghastly smile. She came within inches of his face, her voice a low, inhuman growl, "Humans can't, but the dead can."

Alan barely had time for the terror of Olivia's words to sink in when she stepped back and swung her sword. His severed head spun wildly in the air and came down with a sickening thud on the stone.

"Ka Da!" Natalia shouted.

The possessed skeletons crumpled to the cave floor as did Olivia's body. Fighting a severe rush of lightheadedness, Natalia wavered on her feet but she didn't faint. Looking around, she took in the scene.

The image of Olivia's bloody body moved her into action. "Oh God, no!" She scrambled over to Olivia. Pushing the blonde hair away from the woman's face, she gingerly tried to pull Olivia's head into her lap.

"Olivia…Olivia, please, don't do this. You can't give up. You never give up…on your crew, on yourself…or on me. Don't leave me, not now." When Olivia didn't stir and there was no sign of breath, Natalia pulled to her in desperation, screaming, "Don't you dare leave me, Olivia Spencer! You're not going to die, not on my watch!"

Natalia closed her eyes and began to pray, focusing her mind in earnest for a miracle. A few moments passed and a soft warm breeze over her skin startled Natalia from her ministrations over her lover. Opening her eyes, a glowing form began to take shape on the side opposite from her, hovering over Olivia's body.

As the shape became more defined, Natalia tilted her head as if doing so would make the features more recognizable. She gasped as a familiar face smiled back at her, "Abuela."

"Chica," the older woman's rich voice, strong now that she had moved on, was warm like a fresh brew of coffee.

Natalia smiled through her tears in spite of the situation, feeling calmed by her abuela's presence.

"Give me your hand, child," her grandmother commanded gently.

Natalia reached out and felt her hand taken in a surprisingly strong grip. Her elder placed her hand over Olivia's wound. She grimaced at the sticky feel of the blood that was already beginning to cool. The wrinkled hand of her grandmother was placed over hers and leaned forward to look into Natalia's eyes.

"Repeat everything I say, exactly as I say it."

A feeling shifted inside Natalia and she felt the weight of the moment. She nodded, and when her grandmother closed her eyes, she followed suit. The low, almost undecipherable, words were chanted in a simple rhythm that Natalia followed easily.

The light from the skull again began to dance but this time in a soothing, happy movement. It pulsed with life and not the dread of doom. She felt the heat grow in the touch of her abuela, through her, and into Olivia's wound. It infused the torn flesh and beneath Natalia's hand, she sensed the growing, binding, and tightening of flesh. She didn't dare open her eyes for fear of breaking the spell. It took all of her strength to continue the chant, even as she felt Olivia's stomach move again with her first breath, brought back from the brink.

Through fresh tears of happiness, she finished the last words her abuela spoke before daring to open her eyes. She looked first at her grandmother, who smiled warmly at her and then motioned with her head towards Olivia. Natalia glanced down and laughed through her tears as Olivia licked her lips and opened her eyes.

Confusion crossed Olivia's face as she reached up and felt where the wound should have been. "What the hell?"

Natalia laughed softly. "Not hell. Something else entirely." She turned to look to her grandmother for a further explanation, but they were utterly alone in the cave.


Chapter 49

Olivia blinked slowly, once, then twice and then turned to follow Natalia's glance, taking in the confusion that crossed her lover's face. She could certainly relate. Natalia smiled softly then and turned her attention back to her once more.

"Are you okay? God, I thought I'd lost you." Natalia whispered, her eyes starting to tear up as her fingers stretched out under the sliced material of Olivia's blood-stained white shirt. The flesh was warm and firm over the tight abs, the muscles twitching beneath her fingers as she dragged them over the perfectly smooth skin. She could feel nothing that would indicate there had been a fatal stabbing. Olivia's hands came down to cover her hands, stilling their motion.

"Hey, you're tickling me." Olivia smiled and sat up a little more, their gaze locking. She tucked a dark strand of hair behind Natalia's ear, the brunette turning towards the soft caress. "Ssh, now. I'm right here and I'm not going anywhere."

Natalia bit her lower lip and nodded, her eyes shimmering with unshed tears. With no warning she threw herself into Olivia's arms, holding her close and breathing her in, needing to feel the life force pulsing deep within her lover. Olivia dropped soft kisses into the dark hair and held her tight, slowly rocking as Natalia wept, safe in her arms.

"Jeez, will you two get a room already?" Josh's familiar voice seemed to come from nowhere and everywhere all at once. The two women broke apart and laughed, wiping away tears as they looked around for their friend.

"Late to the party, like usual, Lewis?" Olivia chuckled, as Natalia shifted and helped her to her feet. She swayed, a little dizzy, but soon found her balance. "Where are you?"

"Look up, waaaaay up," Josh's disembodied voice seemed far enough away. The two women shadowed their eyes from the light and looked up to the ceiling of the cavern and saw two silhouettes moving against the brightness.

Outside, on the mountain side, sat Josh and Phillip. They had scrambled higher into the rough rocks and discovered the source of the hot air. It was coming from a deep fissure in the rocks, and as they grew closer, it had not only spewed out hot air, but a powdery dust and eerie noises. And as they had finally been able to look down the hole, they could just make out Olivia and Natalia snuggling together in the small pool of light pour in from the fissure.

"Are you two all right?" Phillip called down, worried that his father was causing all sorts of dangerous problems before he could arrest him.

Olivia glanced down at Natalia, who was tucked next to her, still idly running a hand along her stomach, as if needing the reassurance that there was no gaping hole there any longer. Other than a few scratches, the brunette looked none the worse for wear.

"We're fine. We're better than fine, actually." Olivia grinned and then tilted her head back up to shout to the men above, her tone growing serious again. "Alan…didn't make it, Phillip."

Phillip sat upright, shifting away from the rock fissure and digested the news. He glanced out over the bay and across the ocean towards the horizon, towards his future, trying to imagine his life without his father's machinations and schemes, without his unending criticisms and the blind grasping for power. He ran a hand through his short blonde hair and sighed sadly at the loss of his father, at the same time relief washing through him, feeling as if a huge weight had been lifted. Nothing would be the same again, and he couldn't help thinking that maybe that was a good thing.

"Hang tight," Josh called back down, keeping a careful eye on Phillip, wanting to give the man some time to process his father's death. Turning his attention back to the size of the hole, Josh thought the fissure looked too small to get anyone in or out, but maybe with brute force and a sharp pick axe it could be chiseled wider. "Step to the side, ladies. I'm just gonna see if there is any way to loosen some rocks and open this a bit further. Maybe we can pull you both out this way."

The women quickly moved away from beneath the opening, more than a little concerned about falling rocks. Picking their way around fallen bones and dropped weapons, they paused and listened to the scratching and grunting coming from above as Josh worked away.

"I have a feeling we'll need to figure out how to get out of this place ourselves." Olivia said quietly to Natalia who shifted, pulling slightly away from the captain's side. The Skull of Fate glowed softly in the crook of her arm.

"Oh, hey! I think I might be able to help with that," Natalia smiled as she instinctively seemed to know what to do, flashing her dimples and warming Olivia's heart with her excitement. It was going to be fun figuring out her new abilities.

Stretching out her hand, Natalia held out the Skull and focused her thoughts and energy to the task at hand. Slowly she turned around in a circle, the carved crystal suddenly glowed brighter as she aimed towards the far side of the cavern, where none of them had entered from originally. Squinting into the shadows there, Olivia could just make out what looked to be the mouth of another passageway.

"Well, I'll be..." Olivia grinned and quickly made her way towards it. "Wait there, I'll just check to see if it's safe. The passageway might have been damaged in the earlier earth tremor."

"I knew the Ancient Ones wouldn't let us down." Natalia said, pleased that she'd been able to actually use the power of the Skull herself with a little concentration. Watching Olivia make her way, she wondered if there was an instruction manual for it hidden some where, maybe in her grandmother's home.

Thoughts of her grandmother brought a tingling in Natalia's hand and the Skull grew very warm. Out of the corner of her eye, she saw the twinkling of lights and seemed to sense the presence of someone very familiar.

"Natalia, love."

Natalia's eyes widened as she heard her grandmother's voice, like a whisper tickling at her ear, but she was sure that no one was there. Olivia was still making her way towards the passageway, focusing on her footing and completely oblivious to what was going on.

"Abuela?" Natalia whispered, desperately wishing it were true, that somehow her grandmother was with her.

"There is much to learn yet, a lifetime's worth and more."

Natalia nodded, her tears filling with tears again as she cuddled the crystal skull to her body, wishing it was her grandmother she could hold close. The Skull of Fate vibrated softly, pulsing like a heartbeat.

"Go to your mother, she will guide you. My home is yours now; make your way to my library. That is where you should start." A soft twinkling could just be made out in the darkness to Natalia's right and she focused on it, listening carefully to every word said.

"The appointed time has come and gone. You are the new Guardian, having proven yourself both in battle and with your deeds. The Ancients are pleased," the twinkling formed once again into the glowing ghostly image of Carmen, who smiled kindly at her. "And I am so proud of you, mija."

Natalia nodded, smiling sadly. There was so much she didn't know, it was almost overwhelming. This new power came with great responsibility. What if she screwed it all up?

"Abuela," Natalia whispered, tears flowing down her flushed cheeks. "I'm afraid."

"I know, child. And so you should be," Carmen smiled knowingly, years of experience having taught her the hard way that this would be an arduous journey for the girl. At the same time she knew Natalia was on a different path, learning in her own way and on her own schedule. Carmen glanced over Natalia's shoulder, her smile growing wider as she saw Olivia, testing the safety of the passageway, looking for loose rocks or other dangers. "But you are not alone. You have a strong partner at your side, one who has proven today that she will risk everything, even her very life, for your safety. Together, you will be unstoppable, my child."

Natalia wiped at her eyes, blinking at the wavering image of her grandmother, slowly starting to lighten. She prayed she was right.

"Now, you must leave the Skull of Fate here. You will return to it many times in the future but know that it is not the source of your power. Your strength is within you now; you must learn how to use it. You will have many teachers along the way, but know that I am with you always." Carmen began to fade away, twinkling motes of dust starting to take her place.

"I love you, little one."

"I love you, too." Natalia whispered into the darkness. In her arms the Skull of Fate grew cold, the glow fading to nothing. Stepping carefully back to the pedestal, Natalia carefully positioned the crystal skull back into place. The light from above hit it full force, sending sparkles of light and rainbows around the cavern again. Natalia sighed with contentment, knowing that it was back where it belonged.

"What are you doing?" Olivia asked, making her way once again towards her. "Aren't we taking that with us?"

"I don't need it; the power is within me now." Natalia said confidently, not exactly feeling that so much inside, but willing to trust that her grandmother was right. She smiled as Olivia frowned, clearly puzzled by the new development, but didn't say anything, simply trusting her judgment. "It's safer here and besides we'll be back."

"We will?" Olivia said, not looking forward to another visit any time soon, as a small spider scrambled over the toe of her boot.

Natalia grinned and nodded, slipping her arms around Olivia's waist, pulling her close, both of them holding on to the other, taking comfort in the other's presence as their foreheads gently touched. Olivia soon dipped her head to gently claim soft lips as they got lost in each other once again.

"I can't leave you two alone for a minute, can I?" Josh's voice boomed down from above, followed by good natured laughter as they pulled apart and looked up at him. "The fissure is pretty solid. There's no way to pull you out through here without some serious work."

"No worries, Josh," Olivia called up, smiling widely. "Natalia found us another way out of here. There was some cool fresh air blowing down this third passageway and nothing looked too damaged to me, so I think we'll be able to follow that route out."

"Ok, we'll wait here, in case you get stuck," Josh said. "We can always widen the fissure if need be."

"Come on, sweetheart," Olivia murmured, looking into Natalia's dark eyes, thrilling at the love and trust found there, for her alone.

"Let's go home."

The Devil's Beacon cut through the choppy water, making its way steadily back to Roca de Dolor. It hadn't taken long to find their way out of the cave, exiting out into the late afternoon sunshine on the far side of the mountain. Eventually everyone had met back at the dinghies pulled ashore on the small beach and then headed to The Devil's Beacon for a small celebration.

Blake had planned ahead, preparing a delicious feast for the returning crew, which was devoured as the whole adventure was retold. Olivia glanced at Natalia and smiled softly as she deftly glossed over her return from the dead portion, simply saying that they had battled against the skeleton army and that he didn't survive.

Phillip had merely nodded and took another deep swallow from his tankard of ale, knowing that Alan had brought it upon himself. This venture had been cursed from the beginning it seemed to him now. Somehow though, it had seemed fitting to him to leave his father buried there in the mountain cavern with his much coveted treasure.

Acting in her official role as diplomat for her father the Governor, Natalia had pronounced that the Skull of Fate had merely been an old, primitively carved, stone skull of no significance or value other than as a religious relic to the people of her homeland. Everyone had applauded as she claimed it and the tiny Island of the Skull on behalf of her nation and stating that it would now be under Roca de Dolor's protection.

That had been several hours ago, and there was still some rowdy drinking and celebrating happening on deck, but Natalia had none of that on her mind now. She was only focused on one thing at the moment, her mind and body moving as one, concentrating intently on the very important task at hand.

"Natalia, please," The Terror of San Cristobel writhed on the large feather mattress in their quarters, wet and more than ready for her lover to take her, over and over again.

Natalia would not to be rushed though. She needed to inspect her handiwork, make sure that it was truly a miracle, and that Olivia was completely healed. Each needed the reassurance of the other's touch and to celebrate that they were both still very much alive.

Stroking her tongue along salty hollows and firm flesh, the lithe brunette kissed and licked her way across toned abs. Finally slipping lower, she found a very sensitive navel, swirling and dipping in before sucking along the tender flesh. Beneath her, Olivia twitched and bucked, rolling her hips, her body silently begging for more. Looking up over the swell of her lover's belly, Natalia grinned against the soft skin as Olivia watched her every move, intense and intimate.

"Please…" Olivia gasped, her needy plea soft and kitten-like as she surrendered herself to her lover, trusting her completely.

It hit Natalia hard and low, her body reacting to the love and faith found in her lover's voice. Her eyes darkening to almost black, Natalia shifted down the tempting curves of her partner, the tickle of coarse hair against her tender cheek. Her hand slipped lower, finding silky inner thighs, smiling as Olivia parted them eagerly, dipping her head to nuzzle and explore her lover more thoroughly, intimately.

Swirling her tongue and finding her stiff clit, Natalia sucked it in, humming softly with contentment as Olivia's breath hitched and she jerked up against her, needing more. Moving slowly, she trailed her fingers along a smooth inner thigh and then higher, a low moan of pleasure drawn from deep within Olivia's throat as she was stretched and filled. Soon they both began to move, Olivia desperately trying to keep up to Natalia's stroking fingers, riding the rhythmic thrusts, penetrating deep and sure.

"Oh, God." Olivia gasped, one hand digging into the dark waves of her lover's hair the other grasping at the bed sheets, desperately trying to stay grounded to something. All she knew was Natalia, buried deep within her, taking and claiming her as her own. There would be no stopping as she bucked against her lover, effortlessly bringing her to the edge.

Natalia flicked the needy clit with the tip of her tongue, swirling deep inside her lover. She was close and she knew it, Olivia's lean muscles pulling taut, gripping her fingers harder, and pulling her deeper still. Finally Olivia's back stiffened and she arched against her, clinging to her for strength as the wave of emotion overwhelmed her and she cried out into the night.

Riding out the waves of aftershocks, Natalia grinned and eventually moved from her lover's heat, enjoying the twitchy muscles as she traced along her lover's spent form.

"Hmm, well, you certainly seem to be fit and in fine form." Natalia teased, dropping soft butterfly kisses along Olivia's strong jaw line as the Captain tried to catch her breath.

"You can do an in-depth inspection anytime, sweetheart." Olivia said weakly, pulling her closer, their lips meeting gently. Her hands tangled into the dark hair as she curled against her lover, pressing her nose into the curve of her neck, held safe until she could get her bearings again. Snuffling into the dark waves, she sighed, happy.

Natalia smiled, her dimples growing deep as her heart nearly burst at the simple sound, so content and perfect.

"I love you, so much." Natalia murmured, stroking through Olivia's thick hair, soothing her with the slow movement. Tears pricked at her eyes as she remembered the look on Olivia's face as she was run through by Alan's blade, shivering at the memory. "I can't believe I almost lost you today…"

Olivia shifted so she could see Natalia's eyes, staring intently at her lover before placing a single finger over her full lips, to stop her from saying one word more.

"But you didn't. I'm right here, with you, alone together." Olivia ran the pad of her fingertip along the tender lower lip, desperately wanting to kiss it, but knowing they needed to talk about this. "I don't know what mojo you've got, or how it all happened, and I don't really want to. All I know is that I'm here for as long as you want me by your side," Olivia's lips quirked up into a half grin. "And even if you do try to get rid of me someday or, heaven forbid, something…bad happens, I might just stick around just to torment you anyway." She moved her finger and softly tapped the tip of her lover's nose, Natalia smiling softly, flashing her dimples, melting her heart even more. "I love you too much to ever leave you."

Natalia's eyes filled with tears, happy ones this time, and she leaned forward to claim Olivia's lips once more, quickly getting lost once in the seductive touch of her body, thrilling at the tiny quivers and rippling muscles pressing against her. Olivia brought her leg up and around Natalia's hip, pulling her closer, their bodies entwining together as she rolled the lithe brunette to her back, settling easily on top of her.

Their lips met, again and again, Natalia opening hers to allow their tongues to dance together as the kiss deepened. Breaking for much needed air, Olivia nibbled her way to her earlobe, sucking and nipping as Natalia began to squirm beneath her. Smiling mischievously, Olivia slipped her fingers down through the moist heat pooling between her lover's legs. Moving to claim her lips once more, Natalia moaned into the kiss, enjoying the feel of Olivia's hand sliding along her overheated skin, as she quickly began to lose her concentration.

"Olivia," Natalia whimpered, her lover tormenting her by nibbling and biting down the smooth column of her throat, before moving to her full breasts, squeezing and pulling. Finding a stiffening nipple, Olivia flicked it with the tip of her tongue for a moment bringing it to a hard tip, then pulling back from her breast. The captain playfully teased the sensitive flesh, lightly blowing on the damp nub, then watching fascinated as her lover's stomach twitched in response.

"Olivia!" Natalia growled, unable to take much more, her body on fire. She could just make out a soft chuckle as her lover's hand slid lower. Olivia continued to suck at her breasts as she tickled along her partner's body, finding her slick and ready. She raised an eyebrow when Natalia rolled her hips, clearly wanting, needing her touch and starting to get impatient with her.

Olivia took the hint and parted the sensitive flesh, slowly sliding home, filling her lover completely and taking what was already hers. Sinking deeper into the wet folds, she lazily circled her stiff clit, teasing with quick, faint flicks of her thumb before starting to build a steady rhythm.

Natalia rocked against the strong hand, meeting her thrust for thrust, unable to get enough of her as Olivia increased their tempo, taking her closer with each stroke. Desperately wanting release, every muscle in her body twitched in anticipation, wanting, needing, and almost demanding Olivia to make love to her. Arching into her strong embrace, Natalia stared into confident green eyes, her world narrowing to a fine point and then with a final thrust, her body seemed to explode from within.

Olivia held her tight as pleasure rippled and pulsed through her tiny body, her presence calming her senses, whispering sweet nothings until she had collapsed, spent. When Natalia's eyes finally blinked open, she noticed they had shifted and were tangled together in a heap, arms and legs everywhere, as if trying to be as close as humanly possible to each other while snuggling beneath the sheets.

Natalia smiled sleepily, as she realized that she had never felt as safe in her entire life as she did at this very moment, resting in the embrace of the Terror of San Cristobel's arms.

"I love you, Natalia." Olivia whispered into dark waves of hair, her heart impossibly full and trying not to cry. Some big tough pirate she had turned out to be. This little spitfire had stepped up, ignored all her bluster and claimed her as her own, for better or worse. Olivia didn't really care though. All that mattered to her now was the woman in her arms. Shifting slightly, Natalia looked deeply into her eyes; her smile could light the sky.

"I love you too." Natalia leaned forward, her kiss sweet and sure. For the longest time they just lay together, breathing each other in, until finally Natalia began to nod off. She'd had a big day, all considered.

"Now, you rest for a bit," Olivia murmured against soft lips, stealing a final kiss before her lover settled in her arms again. "I'll watch over you while you sleep and then in a bit we'll rustle up some snacks from the galley. Gotta keep the Guardian's strength up, now don't we?"

Natalia snorted softly, her eyes drooping as Olivia threaded her fingers through her long hair, massaging her head slightly as she went. She drifted to sleep, safe and well loved, secure in the knowledge that Olivia would be there to take care of her.


Chapter 50

The Devil's Beacon and the other ships made it into Roca de Dolor with a little daylight to spare. Olivia, Josh, and Phillip helped the crew unload Olivia's ship and prepare it for a long absence from the rich waters of the Caribbean. Lookouts at the lighthouse had heralded the former pirate and Governor Rivera's daughter return to the island safely. Crowds had packed the modest dock to cheer their return and the news that the dirty Governor Spaulding met his demise in an undisclosed location of a small, unoccupied island far to the north. Meanwhile, Natalia endured the wet kisses and tight hugs of her tearful mother before being swept away to the mansion.

Hector watched with happiness and relief as his daughter was ushered off. Turning, he shook Olivia's hand, thanking her for protecting his little girl. Olivia shook her head and said, through the tears as she remembered her close call with death in the cave, "No, Governor, she protected me. I wouldn't be here if it wasn't for her."

A warm smile crept over his tanned faced, secretive and knowing. "I certainly hope so. Please, excuse me, I need to visit with Natalia."

Olivia nodded. "Of course."

She turned to pick up a box of supplies that needed to be moved off deck when Hector Rivera called back to her, "And, Olivia?"

She straightened back up and looked at him. "Yes?"

"I hope you will join the family tonight for dinner." Hector smiled and continued, "We have much to discuss."

"I'd be honored, sir." She smiled as he laughed.

"Please, Olivia, call me Hector."

She nodded in acknowledgement and watched for a moment as he turned toward the path back to the mansion, offering his arm to a young woman with long, dark hair. Olivia hadn't noticed her before, but she didn't miss the cutting glare she received from the cool, brown eyes. They were eyes like Natalia's in color but not spirit. Whoever the dark-haired woman was, she was nothing like Natalia.

"Where do you want these, Olivia?" She turned to find Josh barely holding onto two crates that completely filled his muscled arms.

She tilted her head over to a section of boxes and crates off to the side. "Over there with the food will be fine. Let's get all of that out first. Blake should be back soon with some of the kitchen help to get that to the mansion right away. We don't want it to spoil."

Olivia's eyes scanned over the ship. Most of the boxed supplies were off the ship, but there was still some work to be done on the sails to stow them away. She shaded her eyes from the now setting sun and saw Dinah and Shayne working in tandem to unlatch the sails from their constraints. She smiled, happy for her long-time friend. The night before Dinah had informed her that she and Shayne were going back to San Cristobel to settle down permanently. Dinah bristled though at Olivia joking with her about it meaning little Dinah's and Shayne's running around one day. But Olivia didn't miss the shy smile of her friend either. The pair was good together and she wished nothing but the best for them.

Sighing, she picked up a crate and carried it over to the spot where Phillip was standing. She set it on top of another set with a huff and the tall blonde man turned in surprise. "Hey, Olivia!"

She tapped the top of the box. "I think there are only a few more to get off the ship for you."

He nodded as one of his men came over to take some of the supplies to his ship. They had agreed that there was little need for all of her ship's contents to be unloaded at Roca de Dolor. Since he was heading back home, minus his father, to assume governorship, Olivia thought he could use the supplies more.

"I think I'm almost set," he said and smiled kindly at her.

"I'm sure Beth will be happy to have you home on a more permanent basis," Olivia added with a knowing smirk.

He laughed. "Yeah, I think this seafaring life was wearing thin on her. Besides, I have more than just her to go back for now."

Olivia frowned, confused, but before she could ask about it, he continued, "She's pregnant."

Without thinking, she gave him a hug. "That's wonderful, Phillip! Congratulations!"

He pulled back, smiling and blushing a little at the display. "Thank you. Too bad Alan messed everything up. I think he'd have liked being a grandfather."

Olivia wanted to say something but wasn't sure what. The moment stalled in awkward silence until a crash sounded on the ship, followed by a string of expletives that made most of the sailors blush. The two ran up the ramp to find Josh flat on his butt, holding his bare foot and sucking on his big toe. A crate of what was once rum was broken and running all over the dark wood of the deck.

Olivia arched an eyebrow. "Ummm…"

"Don't laugh, Spencer!" Josh glared up at his friend. He turned his glare to Phillip as the tall man fought back a giggle and Olivia soon lost control as well. "Nice! Thanks a lot! I could lose my toe, you know."

Olivia reached out her hand to him. "Oh, come on, you big baby. Get up!"

He slipped his boot back on and huffed a little before standing to his feet, albeit a little gingerly, without Olivia's assistance. "Eh, some friend you are! Laughing at my pain."

She rolled her eyes and crossed her arms. "Oh please, we both know you just did it so that you could get some doctoring from Reva when you get back to San Cristobel."

Olivia and Phillip smirked knowingly at each other and nudged each other with their elbows as they egged Josh on a little more. Josh shrugged and limped pathetically down the ramp as the two friends followed, not wanting to give them the satisfaction. "So?"

Olivia laughed as they reached the dock. "Seriously, though, when are you heading back?"

"First light, probably." Josh shrugged again and looked down.

"You're serious about this, aren't you? She's really the one," Olivia said softly, understanding the feeling all too well.

"Sometimes you just know." He looked at his two friends as they nodded. All three knew what it meant to have that one true love. There was no doubting it when you finally had the chance to experience it for yourself.

Phillip clapped his hands and rubbed them together to break the emotional tension. "Well! I say we go out and tie one on to celebrate our last night of freedom."

Olivia bit her lip and stepped back, smiling. "You two go right on ahead. I, um, have a date with a princess." She wiggled her eyebrows.

Josh couldn't let it go. He had to get a dig in before the three parted ways. "Just remember us nobody's when you're King, okay?"

"Bite me, Lewis!"

"Bend over, Spencer!"

Phillip watched as she walked up the torch-lit path toward the mansion. He gave Josh a light punch on the arm. "Come on, let's see if you left one bottle of rum unbroken."

He swatted at the spider webs and mosquitoes around him barely keeping up with the young blonde in front of him. Over the last few days, Frank Cooper had been held in the dungeon of the mansion awaiting a formal trial in Spain. The young girl who had enticed Frank weeks ago in the kitchen had been visiting him regularly. He had learned that she had lived on the island all her life and knew the grounds around the mansion very well – well enough to have slipped past the guards as a youth and help herself to some expensive jewelry. Selena was also well aware of the celebration that took place when ships carrying loved ones arrived back in port. She had been right - it was the perfect time to make a run for it.

Now, Frank, still fighting the urge to rub his sore ass from Natalia's gunshot, followed the young woman through the dense jungle leading to the more isolated side of the island and a place where they could steal away in the darkness. A friend of hers, a swindler named Ramon, would be waiting for them in an alley ready to sneak them onto a cargo ship bound for San Juan.

It wasn't ideal by Frank's standards. Only a short time ago, he was positioned to marry a beautiful woman – a veritable princess of this realm – and inherit a life of wealth and leisure. But, no thanks to the corrupt Governor Spaulding leaving him dangling in the wind and the loose lips of his seaman Raphael Rivera, Frank had found himself arrested and charged with treason against the Crown. Hector Rivera made sure to include in the proceedings that, in Frank's view, were dicey anyway, that Frank didn't help matters by attacking Olivia and his daughter.

He felt the anger rush back as he remembered the arrogance on Hector's face. How dare he question Frank's loyalty! If anything Frank was trying to save the Crown from destruction at the hand of filthy pirates like Olivia Spencer and yet, he was being punished for it.

As he and Selena snuck into a dank corner of the ship's hold, he felt a renewed dedication to cleaning up the Spanish colonies of its pirate infestation. No longer in a position to use his military power to his advantage though, Frank knew he'd have to take a more subtle approach. His thoughts on how where to start were suddenly interrupted when he heard a noise behind him.

Turning, he leered at the gorgeous sight of Selena's naked breasts as she lowered her threadbare dress to the dirty floor of the ship. As he moved forward, the lusty and hungry look in Selena's eyes beckoning him, he decided that he would think more on his plans for revenge tomorrow.

Natalia took a moment to look around at the opulence of the mansion's grand ballroom. While a lot of people saw the extravagant palace as a symbol of opulence and Spanish royalty, to Natalia, it was simply home. At one time, she had dreaded a life tied to the ways and means of power that she had been born into and dreaded more a life that wasn't hers to live with a man that she didn't even know, much less loved. Tonight, though, as she looked out over the sparkling lights twinkling in the crystal chandelier, she felt the warmth and welcome of coming home. She was loved by her family and countrymen for who she was and who she would become. One day, she'd rule this land. It was terrifying and exhilarating all at once, but as she felt familiar and warm fingers slide between her own, she smiled, sighing a little at the sheer wonder of the moment.

Turning, she found the bright, mischievous green eyes of her lover watching her. Olivia looked regal and stunning in her new, royal garb – a sleek, white military suit with royal navy and maroon piping and gold accents. Her personal sword was sheathed and hanging at her side, instead of the military issued one. Natalia's heart raced at the image Olivia cut. Dashing wasn't a good enough word for it.

She took a deep breath and tried to calm down. "You look…"

Olivia smirked a little, realizing full well the effect she was having on the beautiful woman at her side. "As do you, my lady."

Taking a moment to admire her dark-haired lover, Olivia noticed way the shimmering, blue silk of Natalia's dress hugged her ample curves and showcased her cleavage. Natalia blushed beautifully and smiled up at Olivia.

Olivia held out her arm for Natalia to take. "Shall we?"

The two women descended the curving staircase to the ballroom floor. Immediately, Maria and Hector Rivera approached the duo.

Maria leaned in and kissed her daughter's cheek. "My baby, you look beautiful!" She turned to Olivia and smiled. "And you, Captain Spencer, are quite a sight!"

Olivia laughed, charmed all over again by Natalia's mother. "I'm not sure if that's a good or bad thing."

The older woman slipped in between Natalia and Olivia and smoothly wrapped her arm around Olivia's. She giggled a little and looked up at the beautiful buccaneer. "My dear, if I wasn't so old and already very much in love with that old crab there," as she gestured to Hector, who was now at Natalia's side to escort her, "you'd have to fight me off."

Olivia's eyes bugged out a little at Maria's blatant and open admiration, effectively silencing the younger woman.

The welcome home dinner was jovial and lighthearted. A small group of dignitaries from neighboring islands and some from Spain were visiting. The fare was reminiscent of the island it inhabited – lots of dishes that were light and buttery and thoroughly made use of the plants, fruits, and seafood common to the region. Every dish except dessert contained some form of seafood. While the food was sumptuous to say the least, Olivia would be only too happy to not see another shrimp for a long time.

She sipped her wine, a fine vintage shipped in from Spain, and listened to Natalia speaking fluently with an ambassador from one of the French colonies to the north. She marveled at the ease with which Natalia engaged the guest and realized that being a diplomatic liaison was a perfect fit for the young woman's personality and style. Olivia couldn't help but feel a little turned on too as the French cadence rolled effortlessly off Natalia's tongue. Of course, it didn't help matters that such observations made Olivia think about Natalia's tongue and its other talents. She took a long swallow of the rich wine and shifted in her seat.

With effort, she pulled her attention away from Natalia and surveyed the room as they waited for the evening coffee to be served to close out the meal. A band was setting up on the veranda outside in preparation for more celebration and dancing.

At a nearby table, the young woman that Olivia had seen earlier in the day with Hector was staring at her - the dark cold eyes making Olivia uneasy. Instinctively, she put her hand on Natalia's leg under the table making her lover break her conversation and turn to her.

"Yes, Olivia?" Natalia smiled at her sweetly and placed her hand over the one on her leg.

Worried green eyes looked at her and leaned over to whisper, "That girl at the table to the left. I don't think she likes me very much."

Natalia sighed in response and pulled back. "It's not you that she hates so much. It's me."

Olivia was taken back. She couldn't imagine anyone hating her kind-hearted lover. "You? But why?"

The brunette looked at her sadly. "That's my sister, Inez. We've never gotten along. She's older and always did as she pleased and how she pleased."

A look of understanding crossed Olivia's face. Traditionally, older siblings had preference for positions of authority and power in royal families, but that wasn't the case with the Rivera's. "I take it she's not too happy with the current state of things."

Natalia smirked a little. "No, probably not. I can't worry about that though. The Skull of Fate doesn't lie. I was chosen for this and so were you. Inez doesn't have a say in that."

Olivia nodded in agreement and squeezed her hand under the table. She was surprised when Natalia leaned over and placed a soft kiss on her cheek. She didn't expect such open displays of affection in the current company, but she was thrilled that Natalia looked unconcerned, even flirtatious. When she looked back up in the direction of Inez and saw daggers practically shooting from the woman's dark eyes, Olivia subtly winked and blew a kiss in her direction. In a huff, Inez stood from the table and stormed off.

"What did you do?" Natalia laughed.

Olivia shrugged. "Improving domestic relations."

Both women laughed as a wine glass was tapped lightly. They turned to look at Hector and Maria as they stood before their guests. Hector tucked Maria to his side as he held his wine glass before him. "My beautiful wife and I welcome all of you to our humble celebration. Not only are we celebrating the return of…both of our beloved daughters." Hector hesitated when he noticed Inez missing but quickly recovered and continued, "One daughter in particular though are we especially happy about her return. For not only is she safe and sound, but she brings a new future of hope to our people – Captain Olivia Spencer."

The small crowd cheered and toasted the two women. As Olivia and Natalia took a sip of their wine, Hector continued as the crowd quieted down, "Maria and I are also proud to invite all of you back here in two weeks time, on the night of the full moon, to celebrate the joining of Natalia and Olivia in marriage."

Both Olivia and Natalia spewed the wine in their mouths at the same time. Coughing, they turned to Natalia's parents. Maria smiled sweetly as she mumbled to Hector over her shoulder. "I told you we should have warned them."

"Two weeks!" Olivia exclaimed to her amused lover as they got ready for bed. "Seriously, Natalia? This isn't funny!" It was impossible for Olivia to stay upset. She couldn't help but let a little smile come through in spite of her shock.

Natalia crossed her arms petulantly, more out of amusement and desire to egg on her freaked out fiancé, than to actually show any upset. "I thought you wanted to marry me."

The blonde was across the room in an instant and was cupping Natalia's face. She shook her head. "No, that's not what I mean. I do want to marry you…very, very much. I was just caught off guard. I thought we'd have more time."

Natalia softened and smiled up at her, letting her hands rest gently on Olivia's hips as their bodies swayed closer together. "We're as good as married as it is. What happened in the cave simply solidifies what our hearts and bodies already know. The wedding is simply a formal ceremony. That's all."

"You're right," Olivia sighed and nodded. "I'm sorry I got a little crazy there."

The brunette smirked and stretched up to kiss Olivia softly, searchingly. "I think I better get used to it. Eternity is a long time."

"Eternity, huh? I think I could get used to this for eternity." Olivia's eyes fluttered shut at the teasing feel of Natalia's lips against her own. She felt the tingle race down her spine and urge her forward as she deepened the kiss. A soft moan was Natalia's response and she instinctively wrapped her fingers in the long dark hair so she could hold the younger woman closer, allowing her tongue the freedom to explore. Olivia still marveled at the power of their kisses, the way the electricity arced between them and seemed to ignite every inch of her body so that all that was left of her was a massive, aching desire to be as close as possible to the woman in her arms.

Natalia wasn't much better off. Olivia had a way of touching and kissing her that made her melt but also made her feel strong and beautiful, completely powerful and capable. The way Olivia loved her gave her strength and a sense of place, a knowing that went beyond anything physical. The way she felt in Olivia's arms was surreal…spiritual. She had never known anything like this before and it left her open and yearning for her lover.

Digging her nails into Olivia's hips, she urged the older woman forward and their lips lost contact. Natalia panted as she nipped along Olivia's jaw and savagely dove down onto her exposed neck, making Olivia groan with need.

Natalia placed rough kisses and bites all over Olivia's neck, shoulder, and clavicle. The feel of Olivia's fingers clenching and tightening in her hair, gripping and releasing with each of Natalia's loving nips, propelled her onward seeking more contact. She quickly moved her hands under the loose nightshirt and reached around to grip Olivia's naked ass, pulling the blonde impossibly closer. She let her hands knead and her nails dig into the soft flesh so she could relish in the sounds Olivia made. Somewhere in the back of her mind, an image popped into her head and it made her body throb with desire. Now she had to know what it was like. As she gripped one of Olivia's cheeks in her hand, she slipped the middle finger of her other hand down and teased the small puckered opening. Olivia jerked in response, at first pulling away from the touch then seeking it out with a moan of appreciation.

Olivia broke the kiss they'd been lost in and let her head drop to Natalia's shoulder. She was breathless and aching. "Dear God…Natalia."

Natalia pulled back a little so Olivia would have to look up at her, but she didn't stop the movement of her finger. The tiny pulses of Olivia's opening were starting a sympathetic response in Natalia's body. She had a need for Olivia's touch that she couldn't even explain, at least not adequately.

She looked into the dazed green eyes, turned emerald with desire, and tried to convey what she needed and wanted, "Take me to bed. Make me yours. Show me what it means to belong to you completely."

Stirring to action as if from a dream, Olivia answered the call of her future wife with a hungry kiss, deep and seeking. She quickly stripped both of them of clothes. She needed the feel of Natalia's warm, soft skin against her own.

Guiding Natalia back to the bed, she pushed her back gently and settled on top of her smaller frame, arms and legs tangling effortlessly together, as they resumed kissing. Olivia took the initiative and covered Natalia's tantalizing skin in kisses. The soft sighs and whispered touches of Natalia's fingers across her hip were driving her crazy.

She lazily nuzzled and kissed up Natalia's neck before whispering hotly in her ear, "I want to be inside of you."

"Then we have a problem," Natalia moaned as Olivia dipped her hot tongue into her ear before pulling back to look at her lover in confusion. She stopped Olivia's question with a finger to her lips. "Because I want to be inside of you too."

Green eyes stared back at her, obviously thinking it through, but also amused and definitely aroused. A sexy smirk crossed her lips. "I have an idea if you're feeling adventurous."

Natalia laughed a little. "What would our life together be like without adventure?"

Olivia took the comment as agreement and rolled off her lover. She propped up on one hand and crooked a finger at Natalia, beckoning her closer. "Sit up."

Natalia imitated Olivia's position and got as close to her as possible.

"Now, bend your leg like this," Olivia commanded gently, propping her foot on the side of her leg that was stretched out on the bed. The position opened her up to Natalia without being awkward or uncomfortable. She watched as Natalia mimicked her, and she couldn't stop the need to lick her lips in anticipation. She reached forward and ran her fingers along the inside of Natalia's thighs, until she reached the tangled and damp curls.

Effortlessly, she moved between Natalia's wet folds and lightly caressed the swollen lips.

Natalia's dark eyes fluttered closed at the sensation, drowning for a moment in the marvelous feel of Olivia's fingers. She had to open them again though to see the look of wonder on Olivia's expressive face.

She brushed over Olivia's full and now trembling lips, before leaning over to kiss them. "You're so beautiful, Olivia. So very beautiful."

"Touch me…please," Olivia begged.

Natalia scooted closer and angled her hand down between them. The first touch took her breath away. Olivia was incredibly wet and open.

"Please," Olivia begged again.

Easily, Natalia slid inside her lover, feeling the walls tighten around her. A groan of satisfaction bubbled up as Olivia matched her with the movement of her hand, and suddenly they were inside of each other at the same time. All they could do was watch each other in amazement as their bodies found a mutual rhythm.

They rested their foreheads against each other, panting as they picked up the pace.

"More," Natalia demanded breathlessly.

Soon they were stretching and filling each other and precariously close to orgasm. Natalia broke one of their many kisses. "Not yet. I don't want to come yet."

Olivia slowed her movement and slid her fingers out, gently caressing the now aching and swollen folds of her lover but careful not to send her over the edge. She kissed Natalia's shoulder, tasting the salt of her sweat and breathing in the smell of sex in the air. It was intoxicating. Everything about her gorgeous lover was intoxicating, and they were bonded for all eternity. They'd never be apart. The wonder of it all was overwhelming. She sat up further, placing kisses over Natalia's side and hip. She turned so she was in a more comfortable position, swinging her legs around and putting them up by Natalia's head. From here, she could easily kiss and nibble the other woman's thighs, hips, and stomach, and occasionally breath in her essence.

Slowly, she worked her way toward Natalia's center and eventually took the leg that Natalia had bent before and placed it over her head. She moved forward and teased Natalia's folds with her tongue, parting her more and more as she went.

At the other end of the bed, Natalia moaned at the feel of Olivia's tongue. Her aching and somewhat sore center reveling in the tender, soothing touch. When Olivia flicked over her clit though, Natalia sucked in a sharp breath as desire rocked through her anew. Instantly, her hands and mouth sought out the counterparts of her lover. She spread the strong thighs causing them to roll from their sides. She found herself on her back and Olivia hovering above, open to her in all of her amazing glory.

Quickly, they began to move together again, picking up where they had left off earlier. When Olivia dipped her tongue inside of Natalia, the younger woman reciprocated. The intimacy of it was too much for both of them as they tried to get closer and deeper, holding on tight until both of them exploded in an exhausted heap.

Natalia woke with a groan. Her neck was stiff and her body exhausted. She felt like she'd tried to swim laps around the Caribbean at record speed. Rubbing her eyes, she forced herself to focus. She jumped back with a start as two elegant and very feminine feet stared back at her, but what was more traumatic was looking beyond the feet to see her mother standing in her bedroom with her mouth open.

Visions of the night before came back to her, and her eyes suddenly rounded with shock as she noticed just how naked she was and also the nuzzling Olivia was doing against her thigh. With a slap to Olivia's bare thigh, the other woman woke in fright. Seeing Maria Rivera across the room panic set in. She immediately began to search for clothes, but before anyone could do anything, Maria quickly squeaked out "excuse me" and left the room.

For a few seconds, Olivia and Natalia simply sat there, naked, letting it all sink in. Eventually, Olivia snickered, "I think we traumatized her!"

"Her? What about me? My mother just caught me in bed, naked, with my female lover!" Natalia covered her face in embarrassment.

The feeling was fleeting though because Olivia pulled her hands away and corrected her, "Not lover…fiancé, and there was absolutely nothing wrong with you being naked in bed with me."

"I know. It's still embarrassing though. She's my mother!" Natalia grimaced and climbed out of bed.

"Yes, true," Olivia agreed and got out of bed as well. Walking over to Natalia, she lifted her head and finished her thought, "But she's also a mother who needs to learn how to knock. Her little girl is all grown up now."

Natalia leaned into Olivia's embrace, smirking a little. "And you love that I'm all grown up, don't you?"

Olivia wiggled her eyebrows, playfully. "Ohhhhh, yeah! All grown up in all the right places, and quite adventurous I might add. I like that very, very much."

"There's more where that came from, sailor," Natalia quipped and gave her fiancé a lingering kiss.

Olivia pulled back. "I, uhhh…would love to continue this, but I think our absence will be suspicious."

Natalia sighed and stepped back. "Unfortunate, but true." She tossed some clothes on a chair to Olivia and went in search of one of her more casual dresses.

When Natalia and Olivia made it downstairs, they found Natalia's parents on the veranda having breakfast. They shared a glance at the feel of tension in the air, and Olivia gave the younger woman a squeeze of reassurance to her hand. Olivia found it hard to believe that her future in-laws, after their warm remarks last night, were going to have a problem with what happened this morning. Sure, it was embarrassing for all concerned, but it wasn't anything any other couple wouldn't be doing. Sighing, she braced herself for the impact and walked up to the table with Natalia close by her side.

Rodrigo was bent over, speaking quietly to Hector, but stood as the two women approached. He bowed slightly. "Buenos días, señorita y capitán."

Natalia smiled kindly at the elderly man. "Buenos días, Rodrigo."

Realizing his daughter had entered, Hector stood and greeted her and Olivia. Feeling a little off kilter from the friendly greeting, Olivia glanced at Maria, who was trying hard not to look her in the eye. She could have sworn she saw a slight blush on the older woman's face.

Hector guided the two women to sit and join them for breakfast. He sat as well and looked over at his wife, searchingly. Maria spoke up, "We need to talk to you two."

Oh, boy, here we go, Olivia mused to herself and pinched the bridge of her nose. She must have been wrong after all. Natalia noticed the gesture and reached under the table for her other hand. The touch immediately comforted Olivia.

Hector drew their attention back to him as he picked up where his wife had left off, "We have a small problem. Well, not small, really. There's nothing we can do about it now that it's over."

Olivia shifted in her seat uncomfortably, readying to come to Natalia's defense. She wished Hector would just get to it already.

"Frank Cooper escaped last night," he finished.

"That's what I came to tell you this morning," Maria mumbled to the pair and blushed a little more as she looked up at her husband, who cleared his throat nervously.

"Try knocking next time, Mother," Natalia grumbled.

Maria rolled her eyes. "I did, but it seems you were pretty…um, tired." The older woman grimaced at her own word choice.

Olivia sighed at the awkwardness. "Can we worry about what's really important, please? Do we have any idea where Frank Cooper is now? I could get some of my men together and we could get a search crew out within the hour."

The older man stood and shook his head. "No, he's gone. I sent some officers out as soon as we noticed his absence, and they canvassed the town. He was spotted on the docks in the early morning hours. I'm sure he's on a ship and long gone by now."

Olivia leaned back her chair. "He'll be back. Of that, I'm sure."

"We'll deal with that when the time comes. Perhaps we can send out notice for the Royal Navy to be on high alert," Natalia said and looked at her determinedly.

"Already taken care of," Hector stated.

Natalia nodded in appreciation. "Good." She then turned to her mother and smiled, continuing, "Besides, we have more important things to worry about now. It seems we have a surprise wedding to plan."

Maria waved her hand in the air. "There's a reason for the immediacy, mija. I'll explain all of it to you."

"This is where I exit," Hector joked and swallowed the last of his coffee before excusing himself.

"I think I might join you," Olivia said and tried to stand up. A strong hand pulled her back down and she looked at Natalia in surprise.

"Oh, no you don't!"

Maria chuckled at the interaction of her daughter and soon-to-be daughter-in-law. She crooked her finger at Hector. "Not so fast. You forgot something."

Hector quickly came back over and gave her a tender kiss. "I'll see you later, my darling."

He bowed to the women and left quickly in search of Rodrigo to see if he had any more news from his contacts in town on Frank Cooper.

Natalia watched the exchange between her parents and suddenly realized something. She leaned over to Olivia and whispered quietly to her, "I hope we're like that after thirty years."

Olivia tilted her head a little and regarded the beautiful woman next to her. Every day, Natalia amazed her a little more. She was in constant awe of her. When she had first seen Natalia aboard her ship, she knew there was something different about her. Having a sword fight with a socialite will do that to a pirate. It kind of made Natalia pretty unforgettable. Olivia could admit it now, but she fell in love with Natalia at that moment, and she knew instantly that would never change. "I guarantee we will be."

She had an incredibly strong urge to kiss Natalia, but she was interrupted from her musing by Maria. "So, where should I start?"

Natalia took a deep breath as she picked up her coffee cup and then leaned back in her chair. "Why only two weeks, Mom? Oh, and thanks for the warning."

"Forgive me, mija. Your father and I just wanted to hurry things along. You can be a bit slow in making decisions from time to time, and there really isn't time to waste in this instance." Her mother sighed and slowly stirred some honey into her tea.

"What's the rush?" Olivia asked and squeezed her lover's hand as she glanced at the younger woman. "It's not like I'm going anywhere. I'm even putting my ship in dry dock for a while."

"Oh," Maria said in surprise and sat forward in her chair. "Perhaps you should wait on that, Olivia."

Olivia and Natalia exchanged a look then Natalia asked her mother, "Why?"

The older woman regarded both of them, hesitating, then leaned forward further in her chair as if she was about to impart a deep secret. "The new Guardian, that's you, Natalia, has to be joined with her mate upon consummating the relationship before the next full moon."

Olivia shrugged. "Okay. That's no big deal then. Why the secrecy?"

Maria reached for Olivia's other hand and took it in her own. "This is an old ritual of our people, Olivia. Only once we were sure the Guardian had a Protector could we allow the completion of the joining." She watched the faces of the younger women, waiting for awareness to sink in. When it didn't come, she sighed and cleared her throat. "You've obviously been joined physically, but this is a whole new level of bonding between mates. It's spiritual. We have to return to the cave and bond you through ritual in the light of the full moon."

Natalia finally spoke up, as it all began to sink in, "Wait, you said 'we'?"

Her mother nodded. "Yes, you, Olivia, me…and your abuela." Natalia gave her mother a look of understanding – a body wasn't necessary for a spiritual bonding. Her grandmother was already in the spiritual world and she'd be present for the bonding ceremony.

"What about the party that Hector's all gung-ho about?" Olivia inquired.

Maria smiled a little and chuckled at the beautiful ex-pirate. "That's purely symbolic and merely a good excuse to throw a party."

"Then by all means, let's celebrate!" Olivia laughed at Maria's infectious happiness. She saw so much of Natalia in her and couldn't help but be charmed by it.

"Wonderful! Rodrigo's gentleman friend loves to decorate. I can't wait to see what he comes up with!" The older woman stood as quickly as her creaking bones would allow. "If you two will excuse me, I better go find him and get started. We don't have a lot of time to pull this together."

They watched Maria disappear into the house. Out of the corner of her eye, Natalia could see the wistful look on Olivia's face.

Olivia could sense her lover's stare. She wanted to say something, but she hesitated speaking because she was choked up on the emotions of her thoughts. "I love your family," she finally said softly.

"And they love you, Olivia," Natalia said gently as she looked down and watched her thumb brush across the soft skin on the back of Olivia's hand. "What about your family? You've never mentioned them."

Olivia turned tear-filled eyes to the beautiful woman at her side. For a moment she simply relished the solid feel of Natalia's hand in hers before speaking, "That's a long, sad story. I do want to tell you about it, but not right now. This is a happy time, and I want to keep it that way."

Natalia nodded. "Okay." Sighing, she stood from the chair and straightened out her sheer dress with her free hand.

The blonde stood as well and similarly brushed off her dark pants and white blouse. She reached her hand out to Natalia, who took it without question. "Come with me to talk to the crew? I need to make sure they are aware of the change of plans. Then we can take a long walk on the beach, just the two of us."

Natalia smiled and Olivia's heart flipped a little at the flash of dimples. "No girl in her right mind would refuse that invitation."

"I only want one girl to accept, and she already has." Olivia pulled Natalia in close so she could wrap her arm around her.

Natalia leaned in and slipped an arm around her fiancé's waist too. "Oh, sweet talker! Keep that up and we'll never get down to the beach."


Two Weeks Later

The silvery light of the moon shone down through the opening in the cave, striking the crystal Skull of Fate at exactly the right angle to cause colorful, refracted light to dance off the walls of the cave. The small, clear beads of Natalia's dress caught the light and made her look like she was glowing.

She stood in front of the Skull and her mother stood on the other side of the stone pedestal it rested on. The older woman wore a robe that had been passed down through the generations – the brilliant and rich blue and gold shimmering in the rainbow colors of the reflected moonlight. Ideally, the ceremony would be conducted between grandmothers and granddaughters since the gift of Guardianship skips generations; however, any female in the Guardianship lineage could conduct a joining ceremony within the family. Maria proudly but nervously waited to take her turn in the timeless ritual.

For a week straight, Maria poured over manuscripts and journals in her mother's personal library, attempting to decipher the delicate script her mother wrote in and trying to learn all the nuances of the ceremony. She practiced it endlessly because she wanted it to be perfect. It's not every day that a mother had the honor of conducting her daughter's marriage ceremony, especially one of such significance to their people.

The older woman took a deep breath and looked at her daughter. She had never been as proud as she was at this moment. Natalia was absolutely gorgeous in the sheer, beaded white gown that tapered and swayed loosely just below her knees. Her dark, naturally curly hair was pulled back from her face with some soft tendrils framing her face, giving her a warm and youthful look. Both women were in bare feet in order to be as connected to the earthly world as possible for the ceremony.

A nervous clearing of the throat made them both aware of Olivia's presence across the cave. She stood in the archway of the tunnel that led back to the beach. Olivia, per custom, had not been allowed to see Natalia for twenty-four hours prior to the wedding so Natalia and her mother could prepare for tonight. Both women were amazed at the other and it showed in the tender gazes that passed between them.

The uniform Olivia wore was similar to the one she'd had on at dinner the night of their wedding announcement, but this one seemed more elaborate and her lover shimmered with light as if a halo hovered around her. Her honey-blonde hair was left to fall naturally around her face and with the humidity and wind of the islands, it left her with a slightly disheveled and sensual appearance. Natalia had the urge to run her fingers through the golden locks and pull Olivia into a seeking kiss.

That would have to wait though. Maria began the ceremony by calling Olivia forward. The former-pirate made her way, also on bare feet, across the cave to stand before Natalia, the Skull, and the Rivera matriarch.

"Are you nervous?" Olivia asked and gave Natalia a shaky smile.

Natalia shook her head and swallowed, quickly answering, "No. Are you?"

Olivia started to shake her head in the negative but then smiled and nodded. "Yes. I'm terrified."

Stepping forward, Natalia took Olivia's strong hands in her own. "Yeah, me too. But we'll figure it out…together."

Olivia nodded to her and they both looked to Maria as the older woman cleared her throat to get their attention. "Are we ready?"

Tugging slightly on Olivia's hands, Natalia smiled brightly at her soon-to-be wife. "You bet."

"Absolutely," Olivia agreed, smiling back.

"Very well. Olivia and Natalia, place one set of your bounds hands on the Skull," Maria instructed, "And hold your other set of hands together. Do not break the hold, whatever you do."

Olivia and Natalia did as they were told and placed their hands on top of the surprisingly warm crystal Skull. Maria then placed her own hands on top of theirs and lifted her face to the opening in the roof of the cave, allowing the light of the moon to shine down on her, along her body and through the Skull to Olivia and Natalia.

She began the ritual prayer, "Oh, Spirits of the Unseen World and Guardians of Light, hear our prayer and shine Your blessings upon us. Your child, Guardian of the Skull and Keeper of our people, Natalia Rivera, comes in humble thanksgiving to join her One True Mate and Protector of the Realm, Olivia Spencer, in love and life."

As Maria spoke the prayer, the Skull began to glow as it had done only two weeks ago when Olivia and Natalia and fought to defeat Alan Spaulding. A gentle, radiating warmth flowed up from the Skull and penetrated the skin of each woman and slowly traveled up their arms and through their bodies. Olivia could feel it passing back and forth between them, like an electric current. The more Maria spoke, the faster the current moved, until it was flowing openly and smoothly making them feel as one.

Natalia closed her eyes as the sensations began to overwhelm her. Behind her closed lids, she sensed movement. Concentrating on it, her mind leaped forward, or perhaps it was backwards, and she saw a young girl on the beach picking up seashells and smiling. A distant female voice called, "Olivia, dinner's ready!" The images morphed through time and space, settling occasionally into static scenes showing Olivia as she grew up. Natalia's heart broke as she watched Olivia collapse in front of a grave and cry.

Closing her eyes as well, Olivia gasped as she caught visions of a small dark-haired girl spinning and dancing on the large ballroom floor of the mansion, followed by regal and elaborate cotillions, and smiling at being chastised for dirtying a nice dress. She smiled proudly at the images of a young woman studying the moves of the soldiers practicing in the fields and the amused look of Hector as she begged to learn sword fighting.

"Natalia," Maria addressed her daughter, causing both women to join her again in the present, "With full knowledge of your beloved, do you willingly choose Olivia Spencer as your mate for the rest of your life and beyond?"

"I do," she whispered through tears of happiness.

"And Olivia," Maria looked at her, "With full knowledge of your beloved, do you willingly choose Natalia Rivera as your mate for the rest of your life and beyond?"

Olivia looked from the matriarch to the woman in front of her, the one that would be her future…her eternity. There was no hesitation. "I do."

"By the authority of our ancestors, I bless your union and pronounce you married."

As Natalia reached up to draw her beloved into their first marital kiss, they shared images of their future that made them shiver with delight and a touch of fear. Never though did those images ever show them apart.

Ten years later

With her keen eye for detail, Natalia examined the document before her again. There was something nagging her about the way the proclamation from Spain was worded. She tapped her finger against her bottom lip and examined it from every angle. Finally, it occurred to her. Picking up her pen from the ink well, she scribbled a note at the bottom. She blew on the ink to speed the drying, rolled it up, dropped a dollop of wax on the edge, and then sealed it with her family's insignia ring.

Standing from her desk, she turned to the young page that had been waiting patiently for her to finish reviewing the document. "Okay, Raul, I think that should do it. Make sure you take it directly to Captain Rivera's ship for transport to Admiral Spaulding. God knows we don't want to keep the British waiting!"

The young boy gave a curt nod of understanding before dashing off for the docks. Natalia stretched her tired back and walked around the desk. She wasn't halfway across the suite when she heard the contagious laughter drift in through the open doors of their balcony.

Stepping outside, she saw the two most beautiful sights in the world – Olivia and their daughter giggling and laughing.

"You two are having way too much fun out here," Natalia chided playfully. Both of them turned to look at her before breaking into matching smiles.

"Should we tell her, Emma?" Olivia wondered aloud.

Emma giggled and shook her head, the sun-kissed dark hair cascading around the young girl's face reminding Natalia so much of her wife. "I think we should keep it a secret."

"I don't think I like the sound of that, and if your Momma knows what's good for her, she'll fess up." Natalia tried to sound stern, but it fell on deaf ears as the two others began to giggle all the more.

Olivia smiled at Natalia as the younger woman took a seat at the table a few feet away. "You're not very intimidating, you know."

"Oh yeah? Tell that to that jackass British Duke that wants to take islands away from us. He won't be laughing when he gets my response to his offer." The brunette leaned back in her chair and watched as Olivia picked up their daughter and placed her on her hip. An image came unbidden to her mind from years ago as she and Olivia battled Alan Spaulding in the cave. A sense of purpose and peace came over her. Where she and Olivia were at this moment was exactly where they were meant to be.

Olivia turned to her and smiled. A moment of understanding passed between them as their eyes caught. She smiled softly at Natalia. Ten years of trials and tests were reflected in their intuitive understanding of the other. For now though, however briefly the moment may last, all was right with the world.

The End

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