Chapter One - Filthy Pirates

Although she was locked away in the captain's cabin from the piratical invasion, Corinne gripped her parasol with sweaty hands and prepared for the worst. Any second now, someone would kick open the door, shattering it in an explosion of splinters, and discover her cowering under her parasol. She pressed an ear to the door; her heart drummed in time with the rowdy chorus of the pirates' jubilations. We've lost, she thought grimly.

What could she do when they came for her? One strike to the head with the parasol would bring a pirate down, wouldn't it? Corinne assessed her arms with a grimace: not enough muscle to clobber someone and definitely no stamina to deliver more than a few solid wallops.

Where was her guard? In such situations—where the beautiful young woman is about to be kidnapped by vicious pirates—Corinne felt she required some sort of protection. Not to mention, Captain Sturn gave her no instructions other than, "Lock yourself in my cabin and shut up, Mrs. Elsworth." She could excuse his insolence in this moment of panic, but she couldn't contain her irritation at the lack of advice should a pirate break in. No guard, no self-protection—if her life was an hourglass, the last grain of sand neared the funnel.

The doorknob rattled. Corinne reeled back to the center of the room as the intruder yanked on the door. She whipped her head about, hunting for a hiding place. The pirate slammed his body against the wood but the captain's cabin remained secure. Corinne dove behind the door just as the pirate abandoned his shoulder slamming technique and bashed it in with a heel.

"Jesus," he breathed. Corinne's breath turned shallow as he stepped into the cabin; he immediately went for the desk, rummaging through drawers and shuffling maps; she praised him for the assumption that the cabin was vacant of life. Striking him over the head would be much easier.

Corinne tiptoed in her timber heels around what was left of the door. She held her breath, raising the parasol over the dingy bandana and steeled herself to clout him. Her heart beat was audible to her own ears—

And apparently to his too.

The pirate jerked his head to the side, catching her out of the corner of his eye. He frowned deeply until Corinne's paralysis unscrewed from her body and she smacked his head with the parasol. He grunted and whirled around to seize the parasol, but Corinne dodged his grasp and whacked him in the belly.

"Good God, lady!" he groaned, shying away from her ferocious beating. He clutched his abdomen while Corinne launched another attack on his head. For a brief second, Corinne felt victorious in her assault until he removed his hand from his waist and revealed a pistol.

Corinne's mouth went dry. The pirate seized the parasol, tore it from her hands, and hurled it across the cabin. With a pistol trained on her bosom, Corinne stood motionless as the filthy man pushed off the dizziness she instilled by rattling his rotten brains. Her eyes darted around the cabin; her parasol landed somewhere near the door and a compass rested in the middle of Captain Sturn's map table—both out of reach.

The pirate held out a hand. Corinne stared at it blankly.

"I don' want ye to smell it," he said. "Ye kicked me down an' now ye got to help me up, aye?"

The pistol agreed with him and Corinne desired to obey whatever command the device gave her. Distaste pooled in her mouth as she touched his hand, her delicate skin brushing the rough scars of his palm. She tugged weakly on his arm; she was alarmed when he began to snicker.

"You can do better than that, missy! I felt ye hit me wit' that umbrella—ye got more muscle than a little tug."

Resigning to her fate, Corinne used both her arms and heaved the pirate to his feet. In a flash, the pirate slung his arm around her throat and pressed the barrel of the gun between her shoulder blades. He laughed in her ear.

"Cap'n failed to mention 'e 'ad a lady in here. You're 'is wife, eh?"

"Certainly not!" Corinne sputtered.

"'is mistress, maybe?"

"How dare you? I say, unhand me and perhaps I won't kill you!"

The pistol quivered as the pirate shook with mirth. "All in good time, lady, all in good time. Seems like I got the advantage over ye so's ye just need to follow my orders and ye probably won' get hurt or dismembered or anythin', aye? Cap'n Quinn will see te it ye don' get eaten by sharks…" He paused. "If you're lucky, that is."

He gave her a prod to move to the ramshackle door, but Corinne dug her heels into the deck. If pirates were outside the cabin, she wanted nothing to do with them. Horror stories from her nursery maid clambered through her memory: "Me mam knew a lass which was taken by pirates when they was pillagin' an' went missin' for a week 'til her headless body came swimmin' down the river."

"I'm not going out there," she said.

"Then a bullet will go inside you."

"I might prefer that."

He cocked the pistol. "Would ye? Painful way to go, ye know. Ever been shot before, lady? It's not a nice thing." At Corinne's silence, he eased her forward with deceptively warm, soothing words. "We'll just go meet me cap'n an' get this whole thing settled. You're in good hands wit' me—just don' walk so slow. Walk around this door here…good girl. All nice and calm and easy…"

"Please don't speak to me," she said. "With your arm like so, it's difficult to speak—"

The pirate removed the crook of his elbow from her neck and turned it into a sort of good-natured sling over her shoulders. The pressure from the pistol also disappeared and Corinne glanced over to see him dangling it in a hand.

"There ye go. I'm a good man—"

Corinne blanched as the pirate tugged her to the main deck.

But her ideas about what was happening outside the cabin…were wrong.

It was an organized mess. Pirates—varying in size, state of dress, and color—hustled from the hatch bearing crates and trunks of the Delphi's cargo. With purpose, they scuttled across the deck and to their home ship, drunk with elation and driven with duty. It galled Corinne to see so many of her husband's belongings in the hands of such fiends. But with a pistol ready to assure she stay in line, she could do nothing except watch.

Two pirates, both burly men, dropped the trunk they lugged when a young man carrying a vase stumbled backwards into them.

"Johnny, ye fool!"

Out of the trunk spilled a couple of silken gowns. Corinne tore herself from the pirate's grasp and yelped, "My dresses!"

The pirate grabbed her arm and pulled her back. "Afraid they're Cap'n Quinn's dresses now, dearie."

Corinne watched in horror as they stuffed her wedding gown unceremoniously into the confines of the trunk. The boy named Johnny hugged the vase closer into the protection of his arms and shifted away from the burly pirates. He shot a sympathetic look at Corinne before climbing onto a gangplank and crossing to the devil ship.

"Don't be ridiculous, Mr. Argyris. They look entirely too large for someone of my bosom size. Even so, I'm not partial to silk—I find it too soft for me."

The man halted at Corinne's side. His stature was unimpressive for a leader, standing only a few inches taller than Corinne, but what he lacked in height he made up for in sheer presence: his boots gleamed, his coat was cuffed with lace and tailored to fit him perfectly, and a black wig sat under a gold-trimmed tricorn hat. He surveyed the structured madness of his pillage, looking too pleased with himself. It infuriated her.

"I wouldn't expect someone like you to appreciate the delicacy and grace of something so fine as silk," Corinne remarked with a sniff. She straightened her shoulders and watched her trunk journey to the darkness of the pirate ship. It was like watching one's friend departing into the afterlife— gone and unknowing of their fate.

"You're quite right—someone like me." He rested a hand with a plethora of assorted rings on the handle of his sword and flashed a charming smile. "I'm more of a debonair-risqué-adventurer type, you see. Although I appear enchanting and suave, the interior of my soul is rough and thirsting for danger. I just wouldn't expect someone like you to understand the futility of something vain like silk."

Corinne blinked. This man proposed a challenge—a challenge based on who could demean the other person with few words. She tipped her chin up and closed her eyes to assert that he hardly deserved to be seen through her pupils.

"Barbaric, the lot of you," she said. Disappointment befell her at her lack of arguments against his inane logic. Debonair-risqué-adventurer. It didn't mean anything other than pirate and it definitely did not translate into gentleman. But she couldn't form into words the absurdity of his statement, thus grand discontent.

Suddenly, over the ship came a sound of some sort of injured boar. Members of both ships paused in their duties to look around for the offending noise and found the source to be that of the Delphi's captain.

Captain Sturn was charging down from the quarter deck with a dozen pirates at his back with loaded pistols and keen swords with a strange roar spurting from his mouth. Corinne realized he was actually forming words and such words sounded akin to "You can't take her!" and other questionable words that brought a blush to her cheeks.

As Sturn approached Quinn from behind, a couple of pirates managed to seize the man's arms and haul him from their captain. For a moment, Quinn watched the progression of his crew unloading the Delphi's cargo, completely ignoring the pained and irate noises emerging from Sturn. Corinne wondered if perhaps he was impervious to such awful sounds, but he eventually turned around.

"Oh, you must be the lovely captain," said Quinn, as though he only just realized Sturn was there. "Sturn, is it?"

Sturn said something else that was unintelligible. Corinne grimaced, wondering if any negotiation was possible while one of the negotiators was unable to form a real perceptible connection. Quinn didn't seem to be too bothered by it—in fact, he seemed rather pleased his opponent was this livid. But Corinne did feel flattered that he was this upset about losing her; perhaps she hadn't accredited him enough honor.

"You cannot take my ship," said Sturn, finally discovering consonants.

Corinne's lips turned down violently. "What?"

Captain Quinn glanced at her out of the corner of his eye; a wave of sickness rolled through her. A slick smile curled the corners of his mouth up as his gaze returned to Sturn. A glint from the jewels on his fingers flashed in Corinne's eyes as his fingers danced on the hilt of the sword.

"Worry not, Captain Sturn, put that terrible idea out of your mind. It hadn't even crossed my mind to take away your…lovely ship. She's charming, isn't she, Mr. Argyris?"

Argyris grunted. Corinne had the impression that by ship standards the Delphi had none of the charm of its namesake and certainly lacked a sense of mystique…Well, if a pirate seemed to think she was deplorable, Corinne felt embarrassed to be traveling with her. Sturn, however, heard none of the sarcasm that trickled from Quinn's tongue.

"You can't have her—"

Quinn's grin widened. "Why do you so adamantly believe I would take her, Sturn? I don't have the funds to manage a fleet and she is much too delicate for someone like me. No, no…" He paused for effect. "But if you're so inclined to fight me for her, I will do you a trade."

Sturn swallowed. "Trade…?"

Corinne's lower eyelids stiffened. "What do you mean by a trade?"

"A trade, miss, is a something in the business world where we exchange one thing for another," explained Quinn. "You might be more familiar with the exchange of goods for currency like gold or silver. It's rather complex, the idea, I suppose. Within time, you too can learn what it means to be a trader."

"I know what a trade is," she said, scowling. "And I am not a miss, thank you."

"Married, are you?" A light appeared in Quinn's eye, like a spark of an idea. Corinne had never seen an idea grow in one's mind's eye, believing it to be more of a metaphor, but somehow she had just seen the germination of a plan.

Corinne backed up, stepping on the man Argyris's heel. "And what sort of trade might you take for a ship? You've already taken almost all of my husband's belongings, what more could you possibly want?"

Sturn looked to Quinn for the answer too, the anger having exuded away to be replaced by morbid curiosity.

"Why," said Quinn, looking at Corinne pointedly, "a human trade, of course."

Argyris didn't move backwards as Corinne stepped back closer into him. Sturn appeared significantly relieved, slumping his shoulders and letting out a hot breath. But a numb feeling stumbled through Corinne's core and suddenly the sweltering Caribbean sun failed to heat her cold skin. A human trade… Her eyes darted from the bow to the stern, searching for someone worth enough money to trade. Anyone…anyone else would do…

"A ransom?" someone finally said. Corinne's gaze swiveled to a ferrety sort of bespectacled fellow who stood just behind the pirates detaining Sturn. He was staring at Quinn in a way that suggested he was largely confused at the concept of ransom. The pirate captain raised his eyebrow, annoyed that someone might ruin the drama of his moment.

"Yes, doctor, ransom," he said. "Thank you for the technical term as we were all wholly unaware of the meaning of a human trade." He returned his attention to Sturn, back with his cheerful smile, but suddenly missing a certain air of his earlier joviality. "The doctor is correct, however. I will be taking the married woman or I'll take your ship and do what I please with her."

Corinne wasn't convinced that "her"referred to the ship.

Sturn's eyes rolled to Corinne and back to the pirate. "And if I say no?"

"I hope you won't, but if you insist on keeping the woman, I will be forced to burn your ship down and I will take the woman anyway. The choice is really yours—"

"His choice!" Corinne wrenched her arm from Argyris's grasp with a gasp of vexation as Quinn lazily turned his gaze to her as if to say, "Hmmm?"

"How could this possibly be his choice? I am the subject of the matter—!"

"Actually, I believe the ship is the subject of the matter," Quinn amended.

"I don't bloody care!" she squeaked. The pirate took hold of her finger with a fist, twisting it in an awkward direction and curling pain through her hand. He led her by the finger back to Argyris and gave him hold of her.

Captain Sturn eyed Quinn's shining boots to the finely crafted hat on his head. He was calculating the possibility of Quinn actually setting fire to the Delphi and forever destroying his merchant sailing career. Corinne grimaced in Argyris's hold, and it seemed the longer it took Sturn to determine the quality of Quinn's character, the more pain she was forced to endure.

"The woman is a spitfire sent from the devil himself," Sturn said finally. His beady eyes flicked to Corinne. "Her husband'll be furious, but he's weak." He smiled suddenly. "He'll pay the ransom for her, he will, no question. Besides, you'd get more profit from her and I wouldn't have to listen to her shrieks anymore. I swear the woman reaches pitches higher than seagulls."

Captain Quinn slapped the man on the back, nodding his head. "Of course, of course. Argyris, escort the lady across the way and settle her into her new cabin, won't you?"

"Er—which cabin is that, sir?"

"The doctor's."

Just as an explosion of "What?" launched itself from the doctor's mouth, the enraged paralysis lifted on Corinne's body. She elbowed the man Argyris in the ribs, backhanded his jaw, and found herself doing a most uncivilized act: she seized Captain Quinn by the golden lapels of his coat and yanked his nose to hers.

"I am not something to be traded," she hissed.

Quinn's eyes were quite wide, though Corinne doubted the emotion coursing through his veins was fear. Men do not fear women, she thought. They are only flabbergasted by female stupidity. Around them, pirates cocked their guns but exchanged conflicted glances.

"Argyris!" Quinn yelped.

Corinne tightened her grip only because she wasn't quite sure what else to do. "You will leave me on this ship, do you understand, Captain? It is very important I see my husband, and any detours will not be tolerated. Do I make myself clear?"

"Quite clear," whispered Quinn. His nose touched hers and his eyelids fell as though comfort had seeped into him. "But before you let me go, you should know that all you have accomplished with this cute act is that not only have you infuriated me, I am now extremely infatuated with your bosom. Know that the next time you embarrass me, I will make sure I release humiliation on you tenfold. Now, do I make myself clear?"

Corinne's attention strayed to the bespectacled pirate who stood off to the side with his arms crossed over his wiry frame. He was watching her and Quinn with malice, though she couldn't decipher where his resentment struck.

"I…understand," she murmured.

"Then maybe you ought to unhand me."

Corinne allowed, though with a curled lip, Argyris to grab her arm and tear her from Captain Quinn. Quinn grinned at the men surrounding.

"She cannot resist the masculinity of my nature!" he announced.

The pirates bellowed with laughter. Fire licked Corinne's reddened cheeks as humiliation transfigured the blood in her veins to magma. The piratical glee and leering eyes coiled her fingers into a fist, but what made her teeth grind was Captain Quinn himself. His proud smirk tore into her flesh worse than any set of claws.

Argyris, who was biting back a smile, pulled Corinne from the group. She dug her heels into the deck, glowering at Quinn fiercely and ripping the pirate's head off behind her eyes. A scream of frustration entangled her tongue, but she found she couldn't make a sound in her fury and embarrassment. Somehow Quinn had taken away her voice.

"Go!" said Quinn to her. "Go, little birdie, and settle into your nest! I promise to tuck you in if you wait for me—"

Another chorus of laughter echoed across the group.

Good breeding escaped Corinne and all she desired to do was steal Argyris's gun from his waistband and empty the bullets into the hollowness of Quinn's heart. The curl of his grin twisted her sanity, forcing her thoughts to turn gruesome and sadistic. Yet she felt this man deserved nothing less.

But Argyris's grip on her arm made such a dream impossible.

He forced her to hop on a gangplank that stretched between the two giant ships. Shame colored her face again as he jumped on behind and took her waist in his hands.

"All right," said Argyris. "Start walkin'. Slowly, though, like yer gettin' married."

Corinne lifted her foot and looked down to ascertain it landed on the plank. Her stomach churned as her vision swept passed her feet, down to the choppy waters so many feet down. She felt her knees wobble.

"Don't look down, darling," said Argyris.

"T-t-t-too late," she hissed.

Though somewhere she heard laughter, it didn't register that it might be directed at her disabling fear.

"Come on, honey, just keep steppin' and I won't let ye fall."

"Yes you will." Her voice came out as a whisper, as though anything louder would tip the plank sideways. "I hit you with my parasol."

"Aye, and it didn't hurt a bit. Gave me a bit of humor, ye did, nothing I'm going to kill ye over. If ye keep walkin' I promise the other side's a whole lot better than this one."

Corinne frowned, eyes locked on the water. "How on earth could that possibly be true?" Her numb toes wiggled to regain their senses, yet she remained stock-still with Argyris's hands on her waist and completely incapable of moving forward.

Argyris snorted. "It's a merchant ship. Now, start movin' or I'm tossin' ye over me shoulder and haulin' ye across, aye? Easy does it. See? It ain't so bad, is it?"

"Humiliating," she murmured. "To have some man's hands on me—my husband would be absolutely furious. He'd be outraged by such a scandalous act and he'd defend my honor, you know. He's an excellent swordsman and could fight all of you pirates single-handedly."

"Doubt it. There's a difference between men like us and men like him."

Corinne gingerly set her foot down, one after the other, keeping an eye on the dark waters below.

"That you're all murderers?" She meant it to be a biting remark, but Argyris only laughed.

"Exactly, love, exactly! Bet that husband of yers never sliced open a man's stomach to see his guts all pouring out, 'as 'e?" The pirate startled Corinne by shoving his hands under her arms—quite close to touching her breasts—and hauled her over the side of his home ship. She stumbled over the rail, landing hard on her knees.

She snarled. "I'll kill Quinn."

"Right, right." Argyris snorted. "While yer at it, why don' ye point a pistol at yer own head an' pull the trigger?"

About to retort, Corinne was forced to choke on her own words as a hand grabbed her hair. She screamed at her burning scalp; she was forced to stand with her beck bent at an awkward angle while a foreign hand groped down her chest.

"Who's this?" a voice oozed into Corinne's ear.

Someone else snickered. "Whose is this?"

Corinne looked down her nose to see Argyris square his shoulders. She clawed at the hand in her hair, much more concerned about the pain rather than the fingers that roved over her bosoms. Yet it was to no avail—the pirate's grip was murderous.

"Let go of 'er," Argyris snarled. "She ain't yers or anybody's—"

Her assailant yanked her backwards; Corinne stumbled over her own feet and fully expected a crash on her bottom. Instead, a collection of hands grabbed her arms as new fingers explored the contours of her body. She shrieked, writhing and twisting in the iron hold.

"Stop—stop—stop—" she cried. Thunderous laughter rang in her ears.

She saw the filthy bandana of her first attacker and the lividness of Argyris's face. Argyris aimed a pistol at her offender's chest.

"No one is to touch 'er," said Argyris.

The other pirate laughed. "Aye, aye, an' I bet yer her protector, ain't ye? Bet ye want 'er all to yerself, don't ye? Bet ye want to bury deep inside 'er and keep 'er from all of us, eh? Bet ye want a break from pleasurin' yerself, don't ye? Eh, Argyris, ain't that it?"

Corinne blinked when suddenly, Argyris's fist flew. The other pirate reeled backwards, clutching the blood spurting from his nose and grunting in pain. The wounded man roared; without warning, he charged at Argyris and caught him around the middle. The two men went down, clobbering each other with blows.

A shot rang out.

Corinne was released—her knees slammed to the deck. She yanked her loosened dress back up over her breasts as the group of pirates scattered. The battle between the two other pirates continued, unaware of a pair of boots booming across the deck. Corinne shrank; the man stepped past her. He was taller than any man she'd ever seen: a great brute that walked with immense power. He drew his pistol again and pointed it skyward.

Bang.

Argyris rolled off the other pirate; he panted, his lip bleeding down his chin. The hulking man sheathed the pistol in the waistband of his trousers.

"Problem?" he said, voice deeper than Corinne expected.

The other pirate coughed up a glob of red. "Nope," he grunted.

Argyris furrowed his brows; his gaze darted up to the man above, to Corinne, and back up. He touched his bleeding lip and finally, he growled, "No."

The brute grabbed both men by the lapels. They groaned at the force of their shirts under their chins, forcing them to stand.

"Then I suggest you attend to your duties," said the man.

Argyris helped Corinne to her feet, skirting the brute with his head bowed. Corinne, eyes stinging with humiliated tears, followed him blindly across the deck. She refused to meet the sight of any of the men who had just touched her in places familiar to no one other than her husband. How—how could anyone be so callous? So animalistic and cruel? Never, never in her entire life had something like this happen to her. The defiant spirit inside her wished to scream at all of them, but her shame smothered her voice.

Argyris cupped her elbow in order to assist her down the ladder below decks; she pulled it away and descended without his help.

"My apologies," he murmured.

They sank into the darkness of the hold. Argyris led her to a tiny cabin and opened the door for her.

"'ere." He paused, as if another word were caught on his tongue.

Corinne ducked inside, arms crossed over her chest and a frown burrowed into her features. Immediately, she turned her back on Argyris.

"Would you please inform your captain that by the time someone comes to fetch me, I will have slit my throat?"

She heard him sigh.

"Ye don't have to do that, love. What happened was a bit of…lack o' discretion. I can guarantee Cap'n Quinn won't let that sort of thing happen again. Did any of 'em hurt ye?"

Corinne sniffed. "They pinched me…in certain places."

Argyris made a sound like a snort, and she whirled on him.

"Do you find it humorous? Assault on a woman? They touched me in places their eyes shouldn't even graze! Are you laughing, Mr. Argyris? Is such brutality a jest to you? Do you perhaps think that what they did was appropriate?" Corinne jabbed her finger into his chest with a rigid nail. Argyris wrapped his filthy, tanned hand around hers and squeezed until Corinne's fingers began to writhe.

"It ain't funny, yer right. But I can't take it back, can I? Listen, love, if yer going to be on a pirate ship, this is the sort of thing ye ought to expect. I reckon this'll be a one time thing since the captain don't like 'is men to mix wit' 'is prisoners, but ye can't go all nonsensical every time someone touches ye in places that ain't exactly appropriate."

Corinne wrenched her hand from him. "Well it matters not since I am going to kill myself anyway. Tell your captain that I apologize for leaving a body behind."

Argyris rolled his eyes. "Right, right. I will tell 'im. But ye better be dead by the time someone comes to fetch ye otherwise the captain'll think I'm a right liar, aye? An' try to be clean, won't ye? The poor doctor will probably be the one to clean up yer mess if 'e wants his cabin back." He turned to leave, but he paused first. "I'll be back to check on ye later."

He left, closing the door behind him. Corinne stood in the darkness for the cabin lacked a torch or candle.

She felt around for the cot with shaking hands; her fingers swept upon a wool blanket. The blanket's fibers were prickly and caught on the tips of her nails. She lowered herself down to the cot. Oh, God.

--

Cyril Argyris stood against the closed door of Henry's cabin, twiddling his thumbs. He felt awkward waiting for his captain to look up from the letter he was composing, but remained silent.

After several minutes, Henry finally set down his pen.

"Oh, Cyril, there you are. So good of you to wait for me. Come, have a seat,"

Argyris approached the desk. "Captain," he greeted.

Henry grinned. "How is our guest? Is she pleased with her cabin?"

"She promises she'll be dead by the time someone goes down to fetch her."

Henry's grin fell slightly, but not because of any concern for his prisoner. Instead, it was replaced by a curious glint in his eye. He eased into the back of his chair and surveyed Argyris with an interested look. "Is that so? Well, that is a shame, isn't it? Suppose we should find Ackley to deliver a eulogy and final prayers for her?"

Argyris imagined the giant man saying a few nice words about a pretentious little toff who desired to mount all their heads on the masts of their own ship. He'd seen Ackley provide final words for fallen crewmembers and actually bring tears to pirate eyes, but Argyris imagined a funeral for the girl would turn into nothing more than an excuse to drink and get bawdy. Henry seemed to agree.

"Perhaps not," said Henry. "Listen; if she's not dead would you go fetch her? I reckon she'll be tired of sitting in the dark and debating whether or not she can kill herself. Though I don't know how she'll smother herself with a blanket."

Argyris pulled a face. "Me?"

"Yes, you." Henry pulled off the black wig from his flattened hair and ruffled it with inky hands. Argyris hid his grin at the specks of black in the captain's light brown hair. Henry pulled his hand down to his desk, frowned, and became conscious of the ink on his skin.

"Hen—Captain, you realize this girl ain't going to be the most cooperative, don't ye? I think it'd be safe to assume she'll try and gut us in our sleep."

Henry grinned. "Since when are people held against their will ever cooperative, Cyril? I've dealt with prisoners before, you know."

"But not since ye became captain. And as a forewarning, ye should probably remind the crew that we don't touch the prisoners anymore like we did under Bugaroch. I'd wager Ackley told ye about what happened earlier?"

Suddenly, Henry's face darkened. He nodded. "Aye, he told me. Though I can't really punish anyone since I didn't know we'd be taking aboard a woman." He sighed. "I'll be honest, mate, sometimes it feels like I'm trying to herd sixty-four sharks. What am I suppose to do when a particular pretty fish swims by and I order them to let it go? At some point they'll lose control, string me up by the arbor vitae, and devour the fish anyway." He screwed on the top of the inkwell and set aside the letter he'd been working on. "Maybe I wasn't ready to take on a prisoner."

Argyris shrugged. "Probably not, but ye know how to deal with 'em. Though I can't remember dealing with a toff like 'er; can you? She uses a whole bunch of words I don't know and she's married."

"Not as fun when they're married," Henry agreed. "More knowledgeable about certain things. Less afraid of them."

"Maybe. Maybe she craves a little excitement. Who knows what she'll do if she thinks this could be the only real adventure she ever gets, eh? It'd be nice to be around to see what sort of crazy things she do. Perchance she'll seek out one o' us to satisfy any sort of curiosity tha' 'twas never satisfied 'er wedding night."

"Think she has a kid?" said Henry.

Argyris shrugged. "I dunno. Didn't mention one."

Henry grinned again. "Aye, but how often does your wife mention her kids?"

Argyris blushed and stood abruptly. "I'll be fetchin' the toff."

Henry sighed and let his shoulders droop as Argyris slammed the door behind him. The idea of kidnapping excited and terrified him. Mrs. Elsworth was pretty enough—small waist, blue eyes, straight little nose. But there was nothing about her that particularly drew his interest, other than the fact she was a woman and had a spitfire sort of temper. Or perhaps she wasn't so much a spitfire than a frightened woman without self defense. In his experience, women had the tendency to dissolve into hysterics when events began to tumble downhill. Perhaps in other company, Mrs. Elsworth was a quiet girl with a subdued disposition.

The excitement of kidnapping stemmed from the idea that he was taking something worth as much as gold but significantly more difficult to control. Gold could be stored, locked away, forgotten; but a human being could escape and devise a plan to kill you. He smiled. Oh, yes, much more fun than gold.

--

A/N: Thanks for reading! Let me know what you think, yes?