CHAPTER 5 – Still Waters…
Betty grimaced slightly as she awoke to another sunny, hot day after having a highly disturbed nights sleep. An hour after she'd boarded ship the day before, Mr. Smith had taken her with him to buy some fresh fruit, vegetables and fish that were to last for the next couple of days while the rest of the men stayed in the town.
They were a luxury she had missed and it had her thinking of home even more than usual, especially her family. She wondered how here father and sister were and how big the baby had gotten since she'd been away and also whether Hartley had caused even more trouble since her flight. Shaking her head, she firmly pushed away her melancholy thoughts lest they made her more upset than usual. Arising from her bunk and, after a cursory wash, she slowly headed up onto the empty deck.
She wasn't altogether surprised to find that Captain Rossi and the rest of his men were still not aboard ship. It did, however, come as something of a shock that she felt a pang of…disappointment that the Captain had stayed ashore to partake in what was so blatantly on offer.
She frowned at the peculiar feeling the thought of him with another woman evoked but then determinedly decided she had best not dwell on what that could possibly mean and once more pushed her discontent aside.
She was just about to visit the galley to have something to eat when Mr. Smith appeared carrying a small plate of bread and fruit.
"Ah, there you are Billy," he greeted with a smile as he held out the food to her. "Get this down you and then we're going ashore. I decided to get that pork after all. It will make a nice change, do you not think?"
He looked so eager to go that Betty didn't have the heart to say no even though she really preferred to stay aboard. "Of course, Mr. Smith," she replied with a touch of reluctance as she took the plate.
The old man didn't seem to notice her reticence however and, seemingly delighted, told her he'd be back after she'd finished her breakfast. Betty watched him walk away and wondered just how long she could plausibly take to eat her food before it became blatantly obvious she really didn't want to go.
Walking to the rail, she picked up a piece of fruit and put it in her mouth as she stared out over the calm, blue ocean. She was so deep in contemplation that she failed to hear footsteps behind her and let out a distinctly feminine, high pitched shriek of surprise as a hand came down heavily on her left shoulder. Whirling around, she came face to face with Captain Rossi.
"Oh!" she gasped as she placed a hand over her quickly beating heart. "You scared me, Sir."
"So it would seem," the Captain replied, his eyes narrowing slightly as he looked her up and down, his gaze coming to rest where her palm lay on her breast.
She quickly lowered her arm, convinced that she'd given away her secret, but then his expression changed back to its usual mask of indifference and she allowed herself to breathe again.
He looked down suddenly and let out a heavy sigh before raising his penetrating gaze to her guarded one. "Billy, I have some bad news of your brother," he began, his sympathetic tone at odds with his remote countenance. "I have spent the night trying to find any information and, from what I have gathered, it appears that his name was not among the survivors. I fear that he was lost, lad."
Betty drew in a sharp breath of shock but then quickly realised that Henry's name wouldn't be there anyway. They'd used false names and she hardly thought that he would continue the façade once she was in danger, so there was hope that he could still be alive.
Captain Rossi's expression softened slightly at her reaction and she noted his look of contrition as he offered soberly, "I do not regret taking Hartley's ship, Billy, but I am sorry that you have been caught up in the middle of this and are now alone. It is down to me that you have no family and so it is down to me to ensure that you are taken care of now."
"No!" she exclaimed immediately, horrified at the idea of having stay with this man.
"Yes, lad," Rossi retorted, an air of finality in his tone. "Now finish your food then come see me. It is a fine day so we'll make a start on teaching you how to use a sword."
"But I am to go with Mr. Smith to the market," she said quickly, not quite sure how she felt about his proposal.
"Then I shall teach you when you return," he replied before turning away abruptly and walking off to his cabin.
Betty stared after him in confusion and slight panic. She didn't want him taking extra interest in her, she wanted to remain in the shadows until she found her opportunity to flee. And as to him saying that he'd spent the night trying to find out about Henry…well, she'd been so certain that he'd been out carousing with harlots that that piece of information had doubled the shock that she'd had.
And now…in spite of herself, she felt a small sliver of warmth begin to spread through her body at the knowledge that this pirate…this ruffian had shown some compassion for her. Had kept his word when he'd said he'd find out about Henry. He was indeed a contradiction to everything she'd ever heard about his kind and the only thing she was certain of anymore was that he was a complicated and perplexing man whom she couldn't help but find herself more and more intrigued by.
Captain Wilhelmina Slater moved around the deck of her ship, watching the crew with a critical eye. They all went about their duties in the quick and ordered way that came from either being taught extremely well or being terrified of the outcome if they didn't do what was expected.
On Captain Slater's ship, the latter was reason for the efficiency of the crew. Although beautiful to look at, her soul was ugly and she didn't know the meaning of mercy. Which was the sole reason Lord Hartley had called upon her to track down the bane of his existence; Captain Rossi.
She was supposed to bring him back alive which irked her somewhat. She'd much rather go for the kill but Hartley paid her well enough and she knew Rossi would get his comeuppance once she bought him in. Besides, Hartley hadn't said that she couldn't hurt him a little. The thought made her smile nastily to herself. She did so enjoy a good hunt.
"Mr. St. James," she suddenly barked loudly.
"Aye, Captain!" answered a young, dark-haired man who stood by the wheel. He was dressed quite flamboyantly, even for a pirate.
"Are we on course for Tortuga?" Wilhelmina demanded as she scanned the ocean ahead.
"Aye, Captain," he replied with a grin.
"Good," she said, her gaze taking in her men once more. "I need a lie down. Bring me a man." Her eyes rested on a young, well muscled blond who was checking a cannon. "That one." She pointed her chosen quarry out then turned to go before calling back over her shoulder, "And get one for yourself too."
"Aye, Captain!" her second in command responded enthusiastically.
He turned back to peruse the deck then smiled as he went off to do his mistresses bidding.
Captain Rossi entered his cabin then turned and shut the door behind him. It was true that he'd spent most of the night before trying to garner news about Billy's brother, but he'd also had his own errand to run.
He paused briefly to think about the young lad and felt a pang of remorse over his apparent loss. It surprised him slightly. He thought his days of feeling anything other than satisfaction at the sinking of a Hartley vessel were over. It seemed he was wrong, albeit for a few, fleeting seconds anyway.
With a tut of annoyance, he sat down at his desk then leaned back and reached into his waistband to pull out a letter he had secreted there. Staring down at the elegant writing that announced it was meant for him, his mood lifted and he smiled briefly before quickly turning it over and breaking the seal so that he may peruse its contents.
He read the letter twice before placing it down on the table in front of him then sat back in his chair. Raising a hand, he absently smoothed his goatee down as he contemplated the news he had received.
What felt like merely a few minutes later, a knock sounded on his door and Mr. Smith entered carrying a plate of food and a goblet of wine. The Captain frowned slightly as he realised he'd been deep in thought for far longer than he'd imagined.
"You are back from the market then?" he remarked unnecessarily as he picked up the letter and folded it before laying it to one side.
"Yes, my Lord," Mr. Smith replied as he placed the Captain's lunch down in front of him. "Billy and I had a most productive time ashore. We found some very good pork for dinner this evening. Just like old times."
Rossi gave a heavy sigh. "It's Captain now, Mr. Smith, please remember that in future. I am not that man anymore, nor do I wish to be."
Mr. Smith looked taken aback at the harsh tone his master had taken with him but nodded in understanding. "Aye, Captain," he acknowledged meekly as he turned to go.
"And tell Billy that once I've eaten I'll be up on deck to teach him the sword," Rossi added, trying to ignore yet another spurt of guilt that had flared within him for talking to his faithful servant that way. What was wrong with him today?
He watched the old man nod briefly and leave then set about eating his lunch. He was hungrier than he realised and had soon finished. Pushing his empty plate aside, he picked up the letter and placed it carefully into a drawer in his desk. Standing up, he grabbed a sabre from a rack on the aft wall and headed out on deck.
Betty watched anxiously as the Captain walked towards with a purposeful stride. She'd been dreading this encounter ever since he'd suggested it, especially as she had no inclination whatsoever of learning to brandish a sword.
"Sir, I do not…" she began, only to stop abruptly when she felt the cold steel pressed into her unwilling hand.
"Here lad, let's get started," Rossi ordered, either not hearing or ignoring her protest. "Now, first you need to get your balance and acquaint yourself with the weight of the sword."
Betty watched him bend his knees and bounce slightly as he held the sword out in front of him. Knowing there was no way to deter him, she awkwardly attempted to assume the same position.
Much to her surprise, and not a small amount of chagrin, Captain Rossi unexpectedly grinned. Her breath caught as he suddenly appeared ten years younger, perhaps nearer to his true age than she'd realised. A low chuckle followed, the sound seemingly reaching out to encase her in its unexpected warmth. Betty valiantly swallowed past the sudden lump that had formed in her throat. She wasn't a woman who was likely to swoon by any means, but she definitely detected a faint tremor in her legs as she found she could do nothing but simply stare at the man in front of her, open-mouthed.
"No, lad, not like that," the pirate said as he walked over and stood behind her. "Like this."
Betty bit her lip to hold in the little yelp of shock as she felt his hands come to rest on her shoulders, firmly but gently, manoeuvring her into the correct position. She felt a blush creep up her cheeks as he then took a hold of her hand that held the sword and lifted it higher before taking a step back to survey her posture.
"Better. Can you feel the balance now?"
She didn't trust herself to speak and merely nodded her assent. Seemingly satisfied, the Captain gave her a hearty slap on the back that immediately broke her pose and gave her cause to catch her breath for an entirely different reason as the slight sting of the contact subsided.
"Good. Now I'll show you some simple moves."
Betty obediently did as she was shown and told for the next hour or so, until he finally announced that they would practice again the next day. Although relieved to see him walk away, there was still the trepidation of going through it all again tomorrow. In truth, it had been by turns interesting and tormenting as she'd found she actually enjoyed learning to fence, but the way he'd insisted on correcting her posture and aligning her arm to where it should be had proved to be very trying for her heart.
Never had a man touched her so and it worried her that even though it was impersonal, she was still quite badly affected by it.
She needed to escape. Now. But Tortuga scared her even more than the feelings she'd apparently begun to develop for the Captain.
Desperately looking around the ship, she headed for the portside and grabbed the rail, taking deep breaths to steady herself. How had this happened? When had her aversion to this pirate, this…this brute begun to change into something else? To realising that he wasn't quite the man she thought he was?
To liking him even?
Her eyes widened at that thought and she shook her head violently in a mute attempt to refute her traitorous feelings.
She didn't like him. She wouldn't like him. She couldn't like him.
With a little groan, she sighed despairingly and shut her eyes against the truth.
Somewhere deep, deep down, she knew that she did.END CHAPTER 5