Jack grimaced as he appraised his reflection in the tiny mirror propped against the candelabra. He looked like he hadn't slept in eons. After dabbing a bit more kohl around his eyes, he wiped his fingers on a cloth and reclined in his chair. Perhaps a nap was in order, he thought as his eyes drifted closed, a short respite from the rest of the world…
The cabin door flew open with an alarming crash. Jack's eyes opened wide, and he jerked upright, nearly toppling from the chair. He was reaching for his pistol when he realized the intruder was none other than Elizabeth. Her eyes were screwed shut, face contorted, and she was jerking about in something akin to Saint Vitus' dance.
Jack was instantly at her side, trying to subdue her and discern the reason for this unsettling fit. "Calm down, love, it's all right," he soothed, finally managing to catch hold of her wrists. He guided her to the chair he'd only recently vacated and eased her into it, keeping a firm hold on her. "Now, then, tell me what's wrong."
Elizabeth seemed to have regained her composure somewhat, and she stretched an arm around to rub at a spot near the small of her back. "Something stung me!" she cried plaintively.
Jack had to fight the impulse to roll his eyes. He'd been acquainted with many women who were prone to histrionics, but this was ridiculous. "Let me see," he urged, gently brushing her hand aside and lifting the hem of her shirt.
"Here." Elizabeth rose to her feet in one fluid motion and, crossing her arms, began tugging her shirt over her head.
Jack took a quick step back, stumbling and slamming his elbow painfully against the wall. His eyes were huge as he stared at her, rubbing his sore arm. "Elizabeth –" he began hoarsely.
"Don't worry," she assured him. "I won't turn around."
Don't worry? They were alone in his cabin, she was half naked, and she was telling him not to worry?If the situation were any more absurd, he might have been tempted to laugh. As it was, he was severely tempted to do a half dozen other things that the fair Miss Swann would undoubtedly object to.
"Do you see it?" Elizabeth asked, startling him.
Jack forced himself to move toward her, unconsciously clasping his hands behind his back. He knelt behind her, head bent as he examined her skin. There was a small, raised mark to the right of her spine that looked to be nothing more than a day-old mosquito bite. Jack's eyebrows lifted. This tiny bump was the cause of her paroxysm? If she hadn't specifically told him where to look, he might have missed it. "I see it."
As Jack raised his head, his gaze fell upon Elizabeth's image in the mirror he'd left on the table. From his vantage point, he had an unobstructed view of her breasts, and a glorious view it was. His mouth went dry, and he had to place both palms flat on the floor to steady himself. They were exquisite, and he'd seen enough in his day to make a fair judgment. Smaller than he'd imagined, but no less perfect; smooth ivory skin graced with delicate roseate nipples. Jack shook his head miserably, wondering how he would ever sleep again with that image seared into his brain.
"What is it?" Elizabeth asked worriedly.
"Nothing to fret over, love," Jack reassured her. "I may have a balm that will alleviate some of the irritation."
"Oh, good," Elizabeth breathed. "Would you mind putting it on for me, Jack? It's such a dreadful itch."
Jack's head snapped up, eyes narrowed. There was that peculiar inflection again, that provocative tone that from any other woman would have foreshadowed seduction. He stood slowly, his gaze riveted to the mirror.
"Please, Jack. I simply can't bear it."
As Elizabeth whispered her plea, Jack straightened to his full height, staring at her reflection. Her chin was angled toward the ceiling, eyes half closed, and she…was she smiling? Oh, yes, she was smiling, a grin of pure satisfaction that surely came with the knowledge that she had put one over on the indomitable Jack Sparrow. True, she had once used those same feminine wiles to lure him to his death, but then, at least, the end had justified the means. Now, it seemed, there was no reason other than to see how far she could goad him, how much she could bewitch him with her charms until he was left salivating like some lovesick whelp.
He had the ideal tactic with which to test his hypothesis literally at his fingertips. Not averting his gaze from the mirror, Jack stretched his left hand toward a drawer in his desk. His fingers passed over the ointment he had spoken of and came to rest on a small jug of olive oil he used to fuel his lamps. As he began to massage the oil into her skin, Elizabeth's smile deepened to one of unmistakable pleasure.
"How's that?" Jack asked.
"It feels much better now," Elizabeth sighed.
So, it was true; she was toying with him. Jack cleared his throat, the wheels in his mind rapidly turning as he tried to surmise the best way to punish Elizabeth for her little scheme. She obviously hadn't noticed the mirror, didn't realize that he'd caught on to her plot. Well, best to fight fire with fire, he always thought.
"Are your shoulders still sore?" Jack queried solicitously, sliding his hands up toward her neck.
"Ahhh," Elizabeth groaned before she could stop herself. "Ah…yes, I'm fine now," she replied, tearing herself away from those extraordinary hands and hastily pulling her shirt on. "Thank you," she tossed over her shoulder as she headed for the door.
In three quick strides, Jack was suddenly in front of her, latching the door and leaning against it with a feral grin. "Where do you think you're going?"
Elizabeth straightened her shoulders and took a deep breath. "I need some air."
Jack flung one of his arms wide, his gaze sweeping the room before coming to rest upon her face once more. "Not enough air in here for you, darling?"
"Well, I – " Elizabeth paused, cocking her head to one side. Jack was watching her intently, an odd expression on his face. Frowning, Elizabeth shook her head and attempted to brush past him. "I'll see you in a bit for dinner."
"Oh, no, no, no," Jack tsked, propping an arm against the door to prevent her escape. "You didn't think you were going to leave that easily, did you?"
"What – what do you mean?" Elizabeth stammered.
"I think you know what I mean," Jack said quietly, his eyes never leaving her face.
Elizabeth swallowed, inwardly cursing herself for her nervousness. "I can assure you, I don't," she lied.
"Oh?" Jack quirked an eyebrow. "You mean to tell me all the teasing and taunting you've been doing in the past couple of days was purely accidental?"
Elizabeth's eyes widened. "Teasing and – " She forced what she hoped was a lighthearted laugh. "Jack, you must be mad."
"Mad?" Jack repeated, dark eyes glittering as he stepped toward her. He tipped his head to one side, considering. "Perhaps. But if I am, it's entirely your fault for treating me like some sort of lovelorn chattel."
Elizabeth's eyes darted from side to side, searching for a way to outmaneuver him. For all that she had consciously tried to bring this man to his knees, she had never once stopped to consider what he would do if he ever discovered her ruse. "I didn't mean to – " she began feebly.
"Of course you did," Jack interrupted smoothly. "The cat's out of the bag, as it were." He moved closer still, jerking his head in the direction of the desk. "Unfortunately for you, you didn't notice the mirror I left there." He smiled slowly, a truly wicked smile that both frightened and fascinated her. "I saw your reflection, Lizzie." Elizabeth blushed, and Jack's grin became even more fiendish, if that were possible. "Oh, yes, I saw everything," he breathed. "And," he concluded, his black eyes raking her from head to toe, "I'm happy to say I was struck neither blind nor dead by my transgression."
Elizabeth licked her lips nervously. "Well," she began, then stopped.
"Well?" Jack echoed sharply, the word ricocheting back at her like a bullet. "Don't tell me you weren't aware of how your behavior was affecting me. I've neither the patience nor the inclination to indulge dishonesty."
Elizabeth sucked in a breath, her temper flaring. "I don't believe a pirate is in any position tosermonize about dishonesty."
Jack's eyes flashed dangerously. "And are you not a pirate as well, darling? I believe you've spent a considerable amount of time trying to prove yourself worthy of that title."
Elizabeth raised her chin stubbornly. "Of course I am, but I certainly don't find gratification in deceiving others."
"Don't you?" Jack crossed his arms, his penetrating gaze making her distinctly uncomfortable. "Seems to me that's all you've been doing of late."
"Jack, I – " Elizabeth's cheeks grew red as she recognized the truth in his words. "I'm sorry."
Jack was amused. "My, my, was that an apology?" He tapped his chin thoughtfully with his forefinger. "You know, I seem to recall a young lady bearing an uncanny resemblance to you chaining me to this very ship as a remarkably large and horrific sea beast was bearing down upon it." He raised his palms heavenward, eyebrows arched inquisitively. "Sound familiar?" Without waiting for an answer, he scratched his head and frowned in mock concentration. "Now, if memory serves – and forgive me if I can't call to mind the exact verbiage, as a sense of impending doom can significantly hinder one's ability to recollect such trivial things – but I believe this feisty young woman proclaimed – rather fiercely, I might add - 'I'm not sorry.'"
Jack chuckled darkly. "I believe in this instance, you merely regret getting caught." He crossed the remaining distance between them, trapping Elizabeth against the wall. "And once the cat has caught the mouse, what then?"