"Will that be all, Mum?"
"Yes, thank you, Sarah," Carlotta said standing on her balcony and idly turning her husband's old leather tri-corner in her hands.
Only a few days ago, a pirate had entered her garden and completely turned her world upside down. Just three nights ago, she had stood in the shadows on this balcony with him, after shooting a Spanish soldier to protect that pirate. They had been watching Don Cornado and praying that no one would discover their hiding place. The pirate had stared at the commandant, a man who had been his torment for over a year, with no expression on his face. Carlotta had let her heart go out to the pirate in that moment. She had held his hand and hoped against hope that he would find comfort in her touch. The smooth, worn leather of Christopher's hat reminded her of the pirate's hands. They were calloused and rough from years at sea, strong because they had to be, and supple as old leather. In the few seconds spent holding his hand, Carlotta had felt lightning surge through her veins. She saw what a life with a man like Avery Pierce could hold.
In the past few days, Carlotta had alienated the woman she used to be and found the woman she wanted to be. For those few sweet days, she did not have to worry about proper ladylike behavior or afternoon tea with the other well to do women of Kingston. For those short days, she had lived the life of a pirate. But this morning her foray into a fantasy world had ended.
At dawn the tyrannical commandant had fallen after killing a good man, and the pirate had walked out of her life. Prescott and James had reported the crimes, leaving out a few details at Prescott's insistence, and she had spent the remainder of the day hiring a cook, a butler, and stable hands, and grappling with the realization that she had to return to her real life.
"Miss, if I may?" her maid had come to stand beside her on the balcony.
"Yes, Sarah. What is it?"
"Will your gentleman caller be coming tonight?"
"Who – Oh right. No. I don't think we'll be seeing him anymore."
"Did you have a falling out, Miss?"
Sarah sighed. "That's too bad, if you don't mind my saying so."
"I don't mind."
"I haven't seen you so happy since Mr. Laffley passed on."
Carlotta smiled. Sarah was right. The day that she had been told that Christopher was lost at sea, she had felt like her heart was ripped from her chest. She went through life always hoping that Chris would come back to her, that by some miracle he had been rescued by a passing ship or washed up on some deserted island. She had managed to move on, but she was empty inside. The only way she could feel was angry or sad, so she just stopped feeling.
These past few days had been entirely different. She had stopped dwelling in the sadness of her past. She had not been Chris Laffley's widow. She had been Carlotta Tarret. She had been alive. She had been happy.
But, that was over now.
"Where was the gentleman from?" her maid was asking.
Carlotta's eyebrows rose. "I don't actually know."
"Oh. No way to find him, then?"
"A shame, Miss. I think he might have been right for you, if it's not too forthright of me to say."
"Oh, it probably is too forthright, but I'm not sure I really care anymore."
"You miss him. Don't you?"
Carlotta stared out at the moonlit sea, wondering if Avery was at the harbor stealing a ship or if he was already gone. "Yes, I suppose I do." Her eyes drifted out to sea. She pictured the famous pirate standing on the deck of a borrowed ship, wide smile on his beautiful face, laughing at the death that he'd cheated. She wondered if, as he sailed away, he had turned back, gazed towards her house and remembered the lady who'd helped him.
"How 'bout I fix you a toddy, Mum. Little whiskey'll help you relax."
"Thank you. That would be nice," Carlotta said, hastily wiping away a tear that had unconsciously fallen. "Oh, Sarah?"
"Use rum instead."
"Ah, I knew you were a pirate at heart."
Carlotta jumped, dropped Chris' hat, and barely stifled a cry of surprise at the sudden intrusion. Squinting she peered into the darkness. "Avery?"
"Expecting someone else on your balcony in the middle of the night?"
The pirate stepped out from the shadows and Carlotta saw the moonlight dancing in his dark eyes. Pierce was wearing a brand new red shirt, brown trousers and knee high brown leather boots, all of which were probably donated to him. All traces of the brutal beatings he had endured were hidden beneath the new clothes. He was smiling as he swaggered over to her side.
"Actually, Mr. Pierce, I've sort of made it a habit to expect no one else to be on my balcony in the middle of the night."
"What's the fun in that?"
"How long have you been out here?"
"Long enough to hear that ye missed me."
"Flattered are you?" Carlotta crossed her arms and turned away from Pierce. "I don't suppose you miss any of the women that walk through your life," Carlotta said. She lowered her head, suddenly very self conscious.
Avery stepped closer to her. "I'm here, aren't I?" his breath tickled the back of her neck.
Carlotta turned and raised her face so that she was looking into to the pirate's eyes. He placed his hands on her cheeks and kissed her. Carlotta closed her eyes and let her hand wander up the pirate's back and entangle itself in his long hair. Her heart was hammering so hard that Avery could probably feel it pounding against his own chest. Maybe Carlotta should of expected this or maybe Avery Pierce only knew one way to kiss, but she was still surprised when she felt the pirate's tongue slip inside of her mouth.
"What was that for?" Carlotta asked, after the kiss had ended, all too soon.
"That was to thank you."
"Thank me? For what? You were the one who saved my life today."
The pirate let his hands fall to Carlotta's shoulders. He closed his eyes momentarily. When they re-opened, she felt like she could see into the man's soul. "What were the words to that prayer?" he said, softly.
Carlotta held the pirate's stare, unwavering. "Courage Captain, do not stumble, though thy path be dark as night. There is a star to guide you. Let the road be dark and dreary and its end far out of sight. Face it bravely, strong or weary. Trust in God, and do the right."
"I would have never made it through prison without those words," Pierce's voice was low, so that Carlotta had to strain to hear him. How hard it must be for him to admit that to her. "You saved me, Carlotta."
"Well, I couldn't let the indomitable Captain Pierce go out that way, now could I?"
Avery smiled. "You're a rare woman, my dear."
Carlotta swallowed. Something had changed in Avery's eyes. "You have to go, don't you?"
"Will I ever see you again, Avery?"
The Cheshire grin reappeared on the pirate's face. "Of course," he said swinging one leg over the side of the balcony.
"Wait," Carlotta said suddenly. She picked up the leather hat and walked over to the pirate. "I noticed you didn't have one of these," she said placing it on his head. "No captain should be without one."
The pirate stole one last kiss and dropped out of sight.
---The Next Morning---
Carlotta was just finishing her first decent breakfast in days, when Sarah showed her brother into the dining room. In the light of what he'd done for her the past few days, Prescott looked somehow different. He had been the overprotective big brother ever since her mother died, more so when their father died, and even more so yet after her husband died. Some days she had resented him, some days she knew she never would have made it without him, but these past three days … Prescott had once told her that he would do anything to protect his family. Never again in her life would she doubt that promise.
"Good morning, Prescott."
"Morning, Lottie," he said, kissing her cheek, before taking a seat across the table.
"So, how did it go at Admiralty?" Carlotta asked tentatively. "What did you tell them?"
He shrugged. "I told Admiral Neale the truth, that Cornado lost control of the pirate and then threatened your life and that I had to kill him."
Carlotta raised an eyebrow. "Geoffrey went along with that?"
"I simply explained things to him and he saw it my way," Prescott smirked conspiratorially.
"He put in for a transfer, though. Port Royal, I think. The governor there believes that Geoffrey walks on water, so I'm sure he'll do well."
Carlotta laughed. "What did Admiral Neale say about Avery?"
"Oh, he has men all over the island searching for Captain Pierce. Won't find him, though. He's long gone."
"How can you be sure?"
"His things are gone from the fort."
"He could've taken those back anytime. Doesn't mean he's gone."
"That's not all that's missing."
A loud laugh escaped Carlotta's lips before she could do anything to prevent it.
"I'm glad you find it so amusing," her brother said, faking a hurt expression.
"I can't believe he stole your ship!" Carlotta exclaimed.
"You know what else I can't believe? I cannot believe that my brother helped a pirate escape."
Prescott's eyes suddenly were very serious. "I didn't," he said. "I helped a man my little sister cared for."
Carlotta sighed, and let her eyes drop. "Pres, I can't believe he's gone."
Her brother reached across the table and took hold of Carlotta's hand. "He'll be back."
Well, sadly this story has drawn to a close, but as you can tell by that open ending, I may not be quite ready to leave these characters behind. I'm working up ideas for a sequel, and I'd love to know if anyone's interested. Also, thank you so very much for everyone who's read this and left me feedback along the way. I really appreciate knowing that so many of you enjoyed reading this, so THANK YOU! ---Ariana/Holliday1081