Chapter One: "Recognition"
Her mind drifted back to a day that was nearly a year ago but still etched in her memory as if it was yesterday. She feared that she would never forget the day she and her brother sought refuge on a tiny island in the Caribbean. The island was home to the prison La Cerradura, and the Spanish aristocrat that acted as its overseer. She had been a passenger on the Resolute, ship of the line for His Majesty's Navy, her brother's ship. A hurricane had blown in during the night and instead of gracefully sailing into Kingston, she and the crew were hurtled into the unforgiving seas. She awoke on a beach surrounded by the boards and sails that once constituted one of England's finest fighting vessels. To her horror, she found that she was also surrounded by the bodies of the iron men that used to operate that ship. Fortune had momentarily smiled upon her, however, for she heard her brother's voice. Prescott was soaked through and had a nasty bruise on his left cheek, but he was alive and he was helping her to her feet. Don Antonio Cornado was also on that beach. He had offered the remnant of Resolute's crew lodging until word of the wreck could reach Kingston. Don Cornado had seemed, at first, so kind. However, upon touring the prison that the Spaniard was so proud of, she had instantly changed her mind. As they approached the prison yard, she saw a man with long black hair chained to a stone column and covered with blood.
That image instantly snapped her back to the present. She knew this man. This thought startled her, seeing as he was holding a cutlass to her neck. She had never been threatened by a pirate before. She did not have the faintest idea how she was supposed to feel, but she certainly never thought she would recognize her assailant. His clothes were different, he was wearing a dark red coat and brown pants, and his hair was tied back from his angular face with a blue bandana, but his eyes . . . She had known that she would never forget his eyes. They were deep and dark, incredibly remote, and they were right in front of her.
"Listen, sugar," he began in a harsh whisper, "I wouldn't advise running or screaming, got it?"
She considered his warning for a moment. Her new estate was less than a hundred yards from the spot where they stood, but who would come to her rescue? She had only arrived yesterday. There was no butler, no stable hands, no able-bodied men at all, only her personal maid, Sarah. She pictured Sarah gathering up the poker from the fireplace and parrying with a pirate. That thought almost made her laugh out loud, in spite of herself.
"Who would answer my call?" she answered the man impudently.
His eyes narrowed. "You would have me believe that your in this big ol' house all by your lonesome?"
"I'm sure I don't care what you believe," she said. This man was threatening to kill her. She knew that she should be compliant and beg him not to hurt her, but she could not. If he had wanted to kill her, would he not have already done so? She suspected that he wanted something and was not interested in hurting her. Inwardly she cringed as she thought of the only thing a pirate could possibly want from a woman. If he was expecting the timid woman to faint so that he could have his way with her, or something to that effect, he had picked the wrong house. "Now, do you intend to go on threatening me all evening, or will you tell me what exactly it is that you want?"
The man regarded her suspiciously. Clearly, she was not reacting the way he had anticipated. She wondered how many times he had done this before. How many young women had stood behind his cutlass and eventually given in to what he wanted. She had not once considered that this man would really kill her, but she was not about to believe that his intentions were remotely pure. Since leaving La Cerradura, she had tried to find out everything she could about the man who now stood before her. Fantastic tales of his exploits were not hard to come by. He was widely regarded as a greedy madman, and quite the womanizer.
The man was staring intently. His dark eyes bored holes into her skull. She felt like he could see straight through her, if he had so desired. The odd array of pendants, and beads hanging around his neck clattered together as he cocked his head to one side. "Money," he answered finally.
He was robbing her. This, she felt, was a good sign. Money, she had in abundance and giving him gold did not require any sort of defilement. "Well, then if I have your word as a . . . a gentleman that you won't kill me, money you shall have, sir."
He raised an eyebrow, "that's it? No trouble about it?" He must have expected her to stamp her foot and indignantly refuse. What sort of women was this man used to?
"Men fight. Women are more pragmatic. I suspect that if I would have resisted then you would have killed me. So, I shall give you what you ask. Now, even if you turn out to be a rat and you go back on your word, I suppose I still should be no worse off."
"Really thought this through, have you, love?"
"Sorry to disappoint you, Mr. Pierce, but I do not care for the part of a damsel in distress," she finally did it. He may be the one holding the weapon, but she held the ace up her sleeve. She knew his name. The tables may not have turned, but the odds had evened somewhat.
His face was still devoid of expression. "I do not care what part you - ," he responded, almost reflexively. His dark eyes met hers. "How do you know my name?" His voice wavered slightly, but his expression only hardened.
"My brother is a post captain in the Royal Navy. He's told me many stories about pirates," she lied. Well, she partly lied. Her brother had told her of the exploits of many of the pirates in the area. Usually he told her about the pirates that he had captured, brought to Kingston and were awaiting execution. She felt Captain Pierce could go without knowing that bit of information. She also decided not to mention the fact that she had seen him in prison. If he realized that she knew that he was an escaped convict, then he might assume that she would be only too eager to send him back from whence he came. Then what would stop him from killing her?
"Ah, and what has he told you about me, I wonder?" a sinister smile played about his face and revealed several golden teeth. Why did he need money from her? He could just sell off bits of his mouth and finance a trip all the way around the world.
"My brother tells me that you are either the very best or the very worst pirate to ever sail. He hasn't made up his mind yet, nor have I," she said defiantly.
Pierce extended his arm ever so slightly so that she felt the pressure of his cutlass pressing against the skin on her neck. "There are a great many men in my line of work that would take offense at that kind of remark, missy," he snarled.
"And there are a great many women who would take offense when there is a sword at their throat," she replied, "I have already agreed to meet your demands. I do not think it is too much to ask that you lower your blade."
This could be her defining moment. It also could be her last moment. If she had pushed the pirate too far, then she was as good as dead, but for some reason she just could not believe that Pierce would kill her. The stories said that he had once sacked Port au Prince without bloodshed. Why would he do that? Surely it would have been easier to run through the streets, bold as brass, killing anything and anyone that got in his way. If nothing else, that course of action was more characteristic of pirates. Of course, there was always the possibility that the stories were not true, maybe he had killed in Port au Prince, in which case she could be goading a violent criminal for absolutely no reason.
He appeared to consider her statement. Seconds passed that seemed like hours. Finally he nodded and re-sheathed his sword. As he did so, the light reflected off of something dark and shiny on his shoulder. His body stiffened for an instant. It could only be blood.
She squared her jaw, trying to hide the emotion that was welling up inside of her. The very first time she had laid eyes on the infamous pirate captain, he had been covered in his own blood.
Don Antonio Cornado had been generous enough to extend his hospitality to the few survivors of the Resolute's shipwreck. The man had seemed pleasant enough, for a Spaniard, and he had provided shelter from the storm. He was a middle aged aristocrat who had left Spain years ago to explore the West Indies. Like her own father, he had fallen in love with one of the natives, and never returned to Europe. Instead, he served his King and country by running La Cerradura, the prison from which, Spain claimed, no one had ever escaped. She was drawn in by the commandant's sad tale, his wife had died of the fever three years ago. Cornado had smiled wistfully as he spoke of her, and a genial sparkle had colored his gray eyes. It was not until he offered to give her and her brother a tour of his grounds that she learned what kind of a man he truly was.
He had shown them beautiful gardens and his own modest sugar plantation. He had taken them for a ride down by the shore and showed them a small cave that the islanders said was haunted. All in all, the tour was an entertaining break in the monotony of waiting for someone from Kingston to come looking for them. However, on the way back to Cornado's home, he decided to take a detour and show the siblings the prison. He began to talk excitedly about his latest "acquisition," a man that he thought her brother would be very interested to see behind bars.
Cornado led the pair to a large iron gate that opened onto the prison yard. She remembered the way that her stomach turned as she peered at the man Cornado was so proud of capturing. The man had wavy black hair that hung down to his shoulders. He was wearing a shirt that had doubtless been white, but was now tattered and stained through with blood. The man's hands and feet were shackled to a large stone column in the center of the yard. Tiny rivulets of blood streamed down his wrists and ankles. He was curled up tightly in the meager patch of shade that the column afforded and, in spite of the uncommon heat, he appeared to be shivering. A few yards away, presumably just out of the man's reach, stood a bucket filled with water.
Her eyes had widened considerably upon taking in the sight of the wretched man, and she feared she might be sick from looking at his numerous injuries. "Who is that?" she had managed to ask.
"That, Senora, es un pirata. A pirate" Cornado had answered boastfully, a malicious grin appearing on his face. She felt a chill run up and down her spine. The glint in the Spaniard's gray eyes was no longer inviting, instead his entire countenance betrayed the hate he felt towards the brigand chained in his yard.
"A pirate, you say?" her brother spoke up, sounding interested, "which one have you captured, pray tell?"
"His name is Avery Pierce, Capitán Tarret," the commandant responded, "I suspect that you have heard of this man?"
Her brother cleared his throat, "um, yes, I have," he replied, regarding Pierce quizzically. Her brother's eyes met hers briefly. Though he did not say a word, his eyes betrayed that he was every bit as disgusted with this display as she. She had seen her brother bring a great many pirates to justice in Kingston, but his eyes never held such an eerie glow as the commandant's. Her brother had always remained rigidly calm during trials and executions. He had once said he did not care for the way a spectacle was made of a man's death. A sense of duty propelled him to appear at the hangings, and his satisfaction was merely professional.
"What has he done, Don Antonio, to be displayed in this manner?" she asked. Maybe he had killed a guard or defiled the aristocrat's daughter. Then, at least, this punishment would not seem unjustified. Cruel, but not unjustified.
"He's a pirate," the Spaniard stated matter-of-factly.
"How long has he been like this?" she pressed.
Cornado hesitated, "two weeks."
"Of course not, Senora, it has rained at least twice," the commandant chuckled.
"Well, Don Antonio, I thank you for the tour of your grounds. Most impressive indeed, but I fear that if my sister and I are to be ready for dinner, then we should return to our rooms," Captain Tarret interjected. He must have seen the look in her eye. She was outraged and apparently the emotion showed in her face.
The Spaniard nodded and saw the pair to their rooms. If he was aware of her disgust, he did not let it show. He smiled pleasantly and spoke about the dinner menu.
She could not think of eating. The image of Avery Pierce burned in her consciousness. Every time that she blinked, she saw all of that blood. She shook her head to try to abate the churning in her stomach. How could Cornado be proud of that display? "That man is a monster, Prescott!" she declared as soon as Cornado was out of earshot.
Her brother sighed audibly. Taking off his uniform jacket and hat, he crossed the room and stood in front of the window that overlooked the prison yard. He shook his head, "Pierce is a pirate."
"No man deserves to be tortured like that! Pirate or not."
"What exactly do you want me to say?" Prescott questioned, spreading his hands in a manner that indicated that he felt this situation was beyond his control. "Avery Pierce is a pirate. No doubt, he has looted Spanish ships and settlements, as well as English ones. He chose his life, and he got caught. If I would have captured him, he would be swinging from a rope in the square, you know."
"Would you have had your men beat him senseless first?" she demanded, putting her hands on her hips.
"Of course not," he turned to face her. His blue eyes were sympathetic. He was not as imperturbable as he pretended to be. He understood her, and generally agreed with her, even when she lashed out at the worst times. In the past, he had confessed that he was impressed with her bravery. He would not allow himself to speak out the way that she did. He was too much the proper Englishman.
Since she was only half English, she did not have the same sense of modesty. Prescott's mother had died in childbirth. Overcome with grief, their father sailed on the first ship from London, and decided to raise his sons in the West Indies. About three years later, he met her mother, a native of Jamaica, and married her. She had her mother's spirit, which did not hold propriety in high regard. Despite Prescott's good sense to keep quiet in front of the commandant, somewhere inside, he knew that what Cornado was doing was wrong.
He was four years older than she, but without his uniform he looked so much younger, less jaded. Prescott had been a post captain for six years. He had fought for the crown since he was thirteen. He had seen men die for that crown, including their younger brother, Findley, who had died in his arms. In spite of all he had seen, Prescott still appeared shaken by the Spaniard's callousness.
"Isn't there anything we can do?" she asked, joining her brother at the window.
He did not answer, his eyes were focused on the man in civilian attire that had entered the prison yard with Cornado. The man was kneeling beside Pierce and trying to explain something to the commandant.
She felt a pang in her chest, as she realized that the pirate was probably dead. Don Antonio threw his arms up in frustration and called two guards over to the stone column. The guards removed the shackles, picked Pierce up off of the ground, and unceremoniously carried him into a building just south of the yard.
"Is he dead?" she asked.
"I doubt it," Prescott replied shortly.
She regarded her brother curiously. He would continue as soon as he sorted out his thoughts. His blue eyes had narrowed. He was staring intently at Cornado, who remained in the prison yard. Cornado's focus was on the blood-stained column in the center of the yard. "I don't think he wants Pierce to die," he finished finally.
She pictured Pierce's beaten body huddled in the shadow of the stone pillar, "what do you mean?" If Cornado did not want to kill Pierce, then what in the world did he want to happen to the pirate?
"Did you see his eyes when he was showing us what he had 'acquired?'"
She shuddered, "Yes."
"He did not capture Pierce in the name of justice. He hates the man. It has to be personal. I think that man down there is a doctor, not an undertaker. I don't think Cornado wants Pierce to die, yet."
"Do you mean that he's going to patch him up just to do this all over again?" she was appalled. Nothing could warrant such treatment. What had Pierce done?
Prescott did not answer right away. He rubbed his eyes, before meeting her gaze, "It would seem so."
Well, I've been scouring the library looking for a decent historical romance, involving pirates. I haven't been able to find one (If you know of any, I'm open to suggestions) So, I decided to write one. I'd love to know how you think I'm doing, so please leave me a review before you move on!