The reminder circled through her brain as numbness began to seep into her limbs.
She weakly kicked her feet in the frigid water, her movements hampered by her water-logged skirts. She kicked harder until her head broke the surface and she sucked in a deep breath. By some miracle a piece of wood floated up beneath her hands. She clutched it tight, pushing it under her torso to help her stay afloat.
A violent storm was raging all around her with howling winds and blinding rain. Everything would be okay if she could just make it back to the ship. Lightening flashed, briefly illuminating the sky. Her head lifted, searching the horizon for the ship’s dark, looming shape, but there was nothing.
More pieces of wood floated up from the ocean floor and bobbed next to her amongst the waves. Realization tingled at the back of her skull before slipping like ice water down her spine. It settled into a well of dread in the pit of her stomach. The ship was gone. Her parents, the crew… She turned her head frantically back and forth, calling out for other survivors. The storm lashed out with lightening and crushing waves, silencing any hope.
Exhaustion set in soon after, seeping into her bones with the cold. Her eyes drifted closed and the fear began to slip away. She dreamt of warm summer days and the comforting embrace of her mother’s arms. She dreamt of her puppy, Percy, and her father’s voice demanding that she wake up. Her father became more insistent, ordering her to breathe.
She did as she was told, sucking in a painful breath of air that made her retch and cough. Sea water splashed across her hands and she took another painful breath, spurred on by the voice that was uttering encouragements. She’d never felt pain like it - a thousand tiny knives simultaneously piercing her lungs. A hand that felt burning hot, touched her cheek and then a rough blanket enveloped her.
Thank God, I made it.
The thought flashed fleetingly through her mind and she opened her eyes expecting to see her parents’ concerned faces. A stranger was there instead. A man dressed in black, looking at her with a furrowed brow and a frown.
“She’s awake,” he said to someone beyond her field of view. “Take her inside, quickly.”
She was lifted into the air with the promise of being carried to somewhere warm. Her eyes fluttered as she clung to the edge of consciousness and then there was nothing but the cold and the dark. She dreamt of ice burgs and snow and a pair of worried cerulean eyes.
The first conscious thought to cross Emma Swan’s mind was that the cold was gone. For days her world had been nothing but snow and ice, tremors and chattering teeth. Then, without warning, the inferno had arrived. It melted away the cold and lingered long after, until it burned her from the inside out. In-between bouts of consciousness she’d dreamt of that voice from before. It muttered encouragements and reassurances while someone pressed a cool hand to her forehead. She couldn’t know how many days the fever lasted, only that it was gone and her body felt drained in its absence.
She cracked an eyelid and peered out at her dimly lit room. On the wall next to her hung decorative adornments in the shape of mermaids and before her a wooden table was laid with candlesticks and the remnants of a meal. Had she made it back to the ship?
Emma rubbed the sleep out of her eyes and gave the room a proper look. Nothing about it was familiar. Wherever this place was, it wasn’t the Montgomery. Her memories returned slowly, dredged up from the murky depths of her mind. A storm, a horrible storm with waves taller than any she’d ever seen. One of those waves had crashed into their ship, sentencing it to a watery grave.
Tears stung her eyes as she struggled to sit up. Father… Mother… Everyone she’d ever known and loved had been aboard that ship bound for the New World. “It’ll be a new life, a new start for us – you’ll see!” her father had reassured her. A tear snaked down her cheek. He’d been so excited, so sure that the New World would make all of their dreams come true – they all had. They never could have imagined it would turn out like this.
Emma threw back the heavy blankets covering her, glanced down, and quickly pulled them back on. While she’d slept someone had taken it upon themselves to undress her, leaving her in nothing but a thin shift. Wrapping one of the larger blankets around herself to cover up, she looked about for her dress only to find it nowhere in sight.
As if on cue, the door to the room swung open and a young man entered. He glanced over at the bed and his footsteps faltered.
“Ah, so you’re awake,” he said with a surprised lift of his brow.
He recovered quickly and made his way to the table where he turned a chair towards her and lowered himself into it. Emma eyed him speculatively, certain that his voice was the one she’d heard before.
“How do you feel?” he asked, his brow creasing with a faint, worried frown. His eyes were cerulean, she noticed, just like in her dream.
Her tongue moved sluggishly in her mouth and tried to form a response. The most she could muster was a rough, “Alive.”
His lips lifted into a brief, amused smile and he poured her a cup of wine. “Better alive than dead. We weren’t sure you’d pull through for a while there.”
She accepted the wine he offered and used the opportunity to study him closer. He was younger than she’d expected, and handsome too. Shame he looked like such a rogue clad in all that black leather. A flicker of light drew her attention to his hand, or rather where his left hand should have been. A sharp metal hook stood gleaming in its place, looking positively lethal. She swallowed hard, nearly choking on the wine as it slid down her throat.
“Where did you find me?”
“In the sea, clinging to a scrap of hull. The hurricane got you, aye?”
She nodded as more memories came flooding back. A shouted warning. Her parents’ worried faces. Percy’s insistent barking. Her eyes squeezed shut tight and she exhaled a shuddering breath. Then she asked the question she almost dared not speak aloud-
“Was there…anyone else?”
His face softened in sympathy and he resolutely shook his head.
“I’m sorry, lass.”
She put the cup to her lips and took a healthy sip to soothe her burn of unshed tears in her throat. Perhaps it was only a nightmare. If she went back to sleep and woke up again everything would be the way it should be – she’d be back on the Montgomery with Percy excitedly licking her face while her mother fretted about her room and scolded her for sleeping in.
It was a tempting thought, but the disarming look of pity on the man’s face was enough to shake the illusion. There would be no waking up from this nightmare.
“Do you have a name, lass? Or shall we continue calling you the ‘Maid of the Sea’?” his voice was soft but there was a hint of amusement behind his words. Before her was a man who dearly loved to laugh, she was certain of it.
“Emma. Emma Swan.”
“Emma Swan.” His lips curled into a smile as he tested her name for the first time. “Well, Miss Swan, allow me to welcome you aboard the Jolly Roger. I’m her Captain, Killian Jones, though most have taken to calling me ‘Hook’.”
He held up his hook and tilted it back and forth by way of explanation. The Jolly Roger… She’d heard that name before! Recognition crept over her like a thousand tiny ants treading on her brain. The crew of the Montgomery had told her stories of a ship that could cross realms, a ship captained by one of the most dastardly villains ever to sail the seas.
“Captain Hook,” she breathed and her eyes went wide. “You’re that pirate!”
She’d thought the stories of Hook and the Jolly Roger were nothing more than sea tales made up to frighten her. She’d never imagined the man was real! And yet here he sat across from her, looking as real as any other flesh and blood creature.
“Aye, that I am,” he replied with an apologetic shrug. “You’ve heard of me I take it?”
She nodded, not sure what else to do. Would he take her hostage? Would he ransom her? Would he toss her overboard? Or try and take advantage of her? She eyed the wine in her hand with suspicion and abruptly set it aside.
Hook’s face fell and he softly cleared his throat. “Well, it seems my reputation precedes me. Rest assured, my lady, I have no intentions of hurting you.”
“So you’re going to ransom me then?” she demanded with a hard look and clutched the blanket tighter around herself.
Hook held her gaze. “To whom?”
His words struck deep, stealing away every ounce of strength and fight left in her. She crumpled then, her face scrunching up before she buried it into her hands. After a moment Hook’s chair scraped loudly against the floor and she heard the scuff of his boots against the floor.
“The Cook will bring along some food shortly,” he said from the door.
She lowered her hands from her tear lined cheeks in time to catch the brief look of regret that cut across his features. He hadn’t meant to hurt her, but the realization didn’t make her despise him any less. She’d lost everything and he’d dared to taunt her. He truly was a villain!
Furious, she wiped the tears from her cheeks, determined to confront him, but he was already gone. The door closed behind him with a soft ‘click’ and she was alone once more.
A deafening cannon shot rocked the ship, forcing her awake. Emma frantically sat up and looked about her dark room. It was late, certainly past midnight, and she was alone. With her heart racing and the blankets clutched to her chin, she strained to hear something that might tell her what was going on. Heavy footsteps ran past her door, followed by muffled shouts. She didn’t dare peek out wearing nothing but a shift.
In the day since she’d woken to find herself in this room, Hook had shown no signs of being in any great hurry to procure suitable clothing for her. He was smart enough to realize that there was little chance of her wandering about the ship and getting into trouble dressed as she was. He seemed perfectly content to keep her cooped up in this room like a caged bird and visit her whenever the mood struck. She’d never done well with boundaries, a truth he had yet to discover. If he thought he would return to find her a docile, naïve girl ripe for the plucking he was going to be sorely disappointed!
Another shot from the cannon pounded into the night air and she unconsciously clutched her blankets tighter. From the deck above she heard a muffled battle cry and worried her bottom lip between her teeth. While she wasn’t all that keen on being a pirate’s prisoner, the prospect of being thrust into the hands of an even more dastardly pirate was even less appealing. Though given the rumours she’d heard about Hook, there wasn’t a more treacherous villain around.
The fighting didn’t last long. Within the hour the ship was quiet again, the battle’s victor determined. She watched the door intently. An hour passed, then another. The sky was beginning to lighten, dawn streaming through her small window in shades of rose and gold. She’d all but given up all hope of rescue when her door suddenly opened.
It was Hook. The expectant breath she’d been holding escaped her lungs in a ‘whoosh’ and her lips drooped into a frown. She felt the most confusing mix of relief and disappointment at seeing his dark figure looming in her doorway. Half of her had hoped he was dead so that she might get off this accursed boat and return home. The other half of her was oddly relieved to see that he looked as handsome as ever and no worse for the wear.
“Morning, my lady,” he greeted cheerily as he strolled into her room.
Behind him followed two crewmen carrying a large trunk. They set it down at the foot of her bed and exited with a nod to their captain.
“I’ve brought you a present.”
He gestured to the trunk with his hook, looking positively smug as he did so. She glanced between him and the trunk with an expectant lift of her brow. The man had a flair for the dramatic and after an embellished little bow Hook slowly lifted the trunk’s lid to reveal a pile of expensive looking gowns. Forgetting herself completely, she openly gaped at the garments made of luxurious silk and satin. The hems were stitched with fine golden threads and each bodice was inlaid with gems and pearls. They were dresses meant for nobility, not a merchant’s daughter.
“I hope you’ll find something suitable to wear in the lot,” he said with a thoughtful scratch at the scruff on his chin.
The realization that the gowns were stolen struck her with the force of a slap and her mouth snapped shut. How many innocent people had died so that he could steal a trunk of fine gowns and who knew what else?
“I don’t want them,” she said, abruptly turning away.
Hook’s eyes lingered, fixing her with a sceptical look. She crossed her arms and stubbornly jutted out her chin, which only seemed to amuse him.
“And here I thought ladies enjoyed receiving beautiful gifts,” he remarked with a smirk tugging at a corner of his mouth.
“No lady enjoys receiving gifts from a pirate, especially when they’ve been stolen.”
“Well, that is unfortunate. I suppose you’ll just have to continue wearing that,” he said with a dismissive wave at her shift. “Not that I’m complaining, of course, but the crew might have one or two objections.”
Her head snapped towards him and that’s when she saw the laugh lines crinkling next to his eyes. The man was teasing her and thoroughly enjoying himself as he did it. Her expression quickly soured and she pulled the blanket more tightly around herself.
Hook chuckled, not the least bit bothered by the insult. From the door entered another two crewmen, these ones carrying trays of food. They set them down at the table and departed with a short bow to their captain. Hook seated himself at the table with a flourish and lifted the lid off of his tray to breathe in the scent of the warm food underneath.
“What are you doing?” she demanded haughtily.
“Having breakfast, love. Care to join me?”
He set the lid of his tray aside and picked up a spoon. She watched him delve into a soft boiled egg and her stomach made an audible growl. Hook pretended he didn’t hear and continued eating away, making satisfied noises with each bite.
Her fists curled angrily into the blankets in her lap and she glanced at the empty wine goblet next to her. She was tempted to throw it at his head. He had no regard for decorum, no respect for propriety whatsoever. And it didn’t help that every time they spoke she felt as if he were silently mocking her.
Stubborn and angry though she was, her hunger eventually won out. Looking positively dour-faced, she slid into the seat across from Hook with her blanket still wrapped firmly around her. He lifted the lid off her tray with his hook and set it down next to his before gesturing for her to dig in. She stared down at the soft boiled egg, fresh bread, porridge with dried raisins and currants on top, saucer of milk and cup of tea and realized that she’d never felt so grateful for a meal in all her life.
Though her hunger was strong enough that she would have dived in and eaten everything on her tray including the utensils, she forced herself to act with decorum and ate a delicate spoonful of her porridge. The world could have imploded after that first bite and she wouldn’t have noticed, so absorbed was she in the act of eating. After being starved and sick and feverish for days her body was eager to replenish what it’d lost. Without a word, Hook set his untouched bowl of porridge atop her tray and chewed contentedly on his bread.
When she was finally able to focus on something besides her insatiable hunger, she took a long sip of her tea, looked at the blue-eyed man sitting across from her and asked, “Why are you doing this?”
“Doing what, love?” he rebuffed with a lift of his brow.
“Healing me, clothing me, and now feeding me…” She made a sweeping gesture over her half-eaten breakfast and shook her head. “I don’t understand it.”
“You are a guest aboard my ship, Ms. Swan, and I’ll not have word getting around that Captain Hook doesn’t know how to treat his guests. I am nothing if not a gentleman.”
“You don’t look like any gentleman I’ve ever seen,” she muttered.
His lips curved into a wicked smile. “Appearances can be deceiving, love. I’d wager half the men you’ve seen masquerading as gentlemen were anything but.”
A rush of adrenaline fluttered through her chest and she took a well-timed sip of her tea. She never would have dared be so audacious in her old life, but circumstances had changed and she had nothing to gain by playing nice with a pirate. Whatever fate was in store for her had long since been decided by the man seated across from her and she doubted that a tête-à-tête would change that.
Hook chuckled at her comment but there was no laughter in his eyes when they met hers. There was a flicker of something akin to resignation, before he looked away and got to his feet. He made for the door then hesitated and turned back.
“We will be having a bit of a party later on to celebrate. It would be good if you could put on one of those dresses and join us. The crew have been rather concerned over your welfare and it would do their morale good to see you up and about.”
He didn’t wait for a response before leaving. The door closed softly shut behind him and Emma stared at it debating what to do. The man was unlike any she’d ever met. The suitors her parents had paraded in front of her in the city were fawning, inexperienced, and awkwardly sweet with their affections. Hook was another sort of man entirely. It was becoming increasingly clear that she would have to use all the resources at her disposal if she were going to outsmart him long enough to find her way off this ship.
Her eyes reluctantly fell on the open trunk of dresses. The gowns were stunning - far more beautiful than anything she might have worn in her old life. The urge to pull one out and try it on had her hands tickling with anticipation. She didn’t want to give Hook the satisfaction of accepting his stolen goods, but she wasn’t going to get anywhere by lounging around this cabin in nothing but an old shift.
Expelling a resigned sigh, Emma made her way to the trunk and pulled out a green silk dress. The material was soft against her skin, softer than anything she’d ever felt, and she surreptitiously brought it to her cheek.
This one will do, she thought with a hint of a smile. The good Captain would never know what’d hit him.
The breakneck pace of the hand drums rumbled through her chest, accompanied by the lively bleats of pennywhistles and the excited chatter of the crew. The men – the pirates – were celebrating their latest conquest, a merchant ship heavily laden with rum and finery from the mainland. From what she could see, there were no prisoners aboard other than her. Her stomach twisted with guilt as she glanced down at her dress and forced herself not to think of who might have died so that she could wear it.
Sucking in a deep breath for courage, she crested the last step and reached the deck where the crew was in the midst of their party. The music stuttered to a halt and suddenly all eyes were on her. The crew capitalized on their first opportunity to have a look at the water-logged, half-dead creature they’d hauled out of the icy sea and openly stared, some with their mouths hanging ajar.
Instinct told her to shrink away and run as fast as she could back to her room where it was safe. Instead she straightened her back and dipped into a curtsey that would have made her governess proud. No one moved. The deck was almost completely silent except for the rush of the wind until she heard a familiar voice.
“Gentlemen, a toast! To the good health of our guest, Lady Swan!”
A cheer rose up from the crew, followed by the unmistakeable sound of tankards and bottles being struck together. Emma’s eyes snapped up and found Hook without needing to search. He stood atop a large wooden crate, his eyes fixed on her and a flask of rum in his hand. He lifted it towards her before putting it to his lips, his eyes never leaving hers as he swallowed.
Was it possible that she’d been mistaken? Was this party meant for her? She glanced around at the crew’s faces, noticing friendly nods from a few. With a wave of Hook’s hand, the band that was arranged near the mast of the mainsail took up once more, playing an upbeat tune on their rough, handmade instruments. Her fear slowly ebbed away until the knot of tension between her shoulders began to unravel.
She’d always envisioned pirates as being a bloodthirsty morose lot, but the crew of the Jolly Roger appeared happy and carefree. No doubt the limitless supply of wine and rum being doled out did its part, but as she watched the festivities unfold she realized that Hook played a part, too. There was something captivating about the way he flung his arms around the shoulders of the men standing closest to them, almost as though they were equals. In all the years she’d travelled with her father aboard his ships, she’d never seen another captain behave in such a way.
Her curiosity got the better of her and she stared too long, long enough that he noticed and turned his head towards her. Their eyes met across the sea of celebrating pirates and for a brief moment she froze, completely forgetting how to breathe. His inviting smile, blue eyes, and wind-tousled hair were enough to make even the most conservative girl swoon. The trouble was he knew it and she refused to give him the satisfaction. The Captain of the Jolly Roger had a reputation when it came to women – as a rogue and a philanderer. They were hardly endearing qualities on top of his being a cold-blooded killer.
Sucking in a deep breath, Emma exhaled and turned her back to look out at the sea. She wasn’t the sort of girl who was naïve and foolish enough to faun after a villain like Hook. He was dangerous, ruthless and vain – everything she could never want in a man. But finding a way off this ship and back home would be almost impossible without his help. Unless of course she simply jumped overboard?
With a lift of her brow, she leaned forward and studied the dark frigid waters rushing against the side of the ship. She closed her eyes at the memory of how penetrating the numbing cold of those same waters had felt and suppressed a shiver. Jumping was definitely not an option, not if she had any hope of surviving to see another day.
“Looks a bit cold, wouldn’t you say?”
She suppressed an eye roll at the familiar teasing lilt of Hook’s voice and slowly turned towards him. He was leaning casually against the rail to her left and wearing a charming smile while his gaze unabashedly swept over her from head to toe. He looked every bit as rakish as he had the moment he’d walked into her room that first night.
Ignoring the sudden excited skip of her heart, she replied, “Then I suppose it’s a good thing that I wasn’t planning to go for a swim.”
Hook chuckled, his lips lifting into a polite smile.
“Aye, that it is.”
She watched him carefully, searching for any hint of his intentions. Would he pitch her overboard? Put her off the ship at the nearest port? Take her for himself? Her fate was entirely wrapped up in the dangerously tempting cerulean gaze of the Jolly Roger’s Captain and the knowledge didn’t sit well with her one bit. She’d hoped to find something that would give him away, something that could help her gain back the smallest bit of control. Instead he smiled and tilted his head towards her, looking intimidatingly attractive as he did so.
“You’re a vision in that gown, love,” he said, his voice rough and low.
His gaze held hers, his leer unshakeable. She felt a hot blush creep up her neck and quickly looked away, pretending to be distracted by the musicians. Although she was tempted to ignore his remark, her eyes flicked inadvertently between him and the musicians until she huffed a resigned sigh and bit out a curt, “Thank you.”
With a cheer the band picked up rhythm, their drums galloping into another reel.
“Let’s have a dance, shall we?”
Hook’s offer took her by surprise and she eyed his outstretched hand. In her mind’s eye he’d borne the hands of a killer – rough, gnarled, covered in scars and calluses – but the hand in front of her was perfectly ordinary. Her eyes flitted hesitantly between it and his blue-eyed gaze. He nodded ever so slightly, silently urging her to accept his invitation. It felt as though every eye on the ship was trained on them, the crew collectively holding their breath in wait for her response.
With an uncertain glance at the other pirates, she reluctantly laid her hand in Hook’s. His eyes twinkled playfully and he led her towards the middle of the deck where a few of the others were already dancing. With his hook at her waist and his hand around hers, he pulled her in close.
“Hold on tight” he warned before twirling her about.
The Captain was light on his feet, following the beat of the drums as he spun her about the deck. Many of the crew gathered to form a large circle around where they danced, some nodding along to the beat of the music, others clapping to keep time.
“Are you having fun yet, Lady Swan?” the Captain taunted as they passed one another.
With the next turn she was in his arms again, out of breath and sporting bright eyes and flushed cheeks from the exertion. His eyes held hers prisoner, reminding her of the power he held over her. He could make her feel invisible or like the only other person aboard whenever the mood suited him. Tonight it was the latter.
The heat of his hand on her waist practically burned through her dress, making her overtly aware of their close proximity.
“You didn’t answer my question.”
“Which question was that?” she replied while doing her best to sound indifferent. Her tone was passable if not entirely convincing.
Hook used the blunt edge of his hook to gently tilt her chin upwards until her eyes met his. They were as dark and blue as the sea and equally as dangerous. They probed her now, mirth still dancing in their depths.
“Are you having fun yet?”
She swallowed hard while searching for her voice. She managed a shaky “Yes” which seemed enough to satisfy him.
“Good,” he said with a firm smile before releasing her. “Good.”
He strode away after that, accepting a fresh dram of rum from a crewman along the way. In his absence she felt like she could breathe again. No matter how he stood, it always felt too close, too intimate. Leave it to a pirate to have no qualms about invading another’s personal space.
She was loathed to admit it, but their dance had been fun. The breakneck rhythm of the reel was a far cry from the stilted urban balls she was used to. She’d never known dancing could be like that – so engaging, so uninhibited that it almost took on a life of its own.
Unbidden, her eyes searched out Hook again. They found him standing with his arms casually crossed as he watched one of the crew juggle empty bottles of wine. One of the bottles came crashing to the ground and he threw his head back and laughed before clapping his crewman on the back. She expelled a soft sigh and found the railing once more, leaning back against its reassuring weight.
A man’s voice rasped a greeting, sounding almost as breathy as the wind. She’d anticipated that some of the crew would attempt to speak with her, but hadn’t yet decided how she would respond. With a cautious look, she took in the sight of the thin, greying man leaning against the railing next to her. He put two fingers to his head as though to tip an invisible hat and she automatically dipped into a light curtsey. The gesture seemed to please him and he smiled wide, displaying a row of blackened, decaying teeth.
She waited with her back tense, half expecting him to make an inappropriate advance or say something that would completely offend her sensibilities. Much to her surprise, he did nothing. With one leg crossed over the other and a faint smile on his lips, he listened to the musicians play through a jig while his head bobbed to the beat.
Realizing that perhaps she’d been wrong to judge him on appearances, Emma exhaled a quick breath and spoke before her courage had time to evaporate.
“Have you served aboard the Jolly Roger long?”
The crewman politely turned his head towards her. “Oh, aye, near about ten years now. Was the first crew aboard this ship, I was. Though back then she had a different name. The Jewel of the Realm they called ‘er.”
“A naval ship?”
He nodded once and shrugged at her shocked expression.
“She was in the King’s navy once but ‘asn’t been for a long time. Not since the Cap’n’s brother died.”
“How did he die?” she probed as her eyes glanced furtively at Hook. He was preoccupied with the musicians, his foot tapping along with the beat.
“Poison,” the crewman answered with a grim look. “Right nasty stuff, too.”
Emma couldn’t stop the horrified gasp that tumbled from her lips. She’d known Hook was a dastardly villain, but never had she imagined that his crimes could be so great. It took a certain kind of fiend to poison his own brother. She swallowed hard and her eyes fixed on his back where he stood at the helm. It seemed that the tales of his villainy hadn’t been exaggerated after all and she was in far more danger than she’d first realized.
“What will he do with me?” she asked quietly, the question meant for her own ears alone.
“Well, yer neck’s safe if that’s what yer worried about, milady,” Curly answered.
She looked over at him, startled. He casually pulled a long stemmed pipe from his shirt and put it to his lips, lighting it with a great pull and puff of smoke. He sucked gleefully on the pipe, his head bobbing to the music.
“How can you be sure?”
Curly barked a laugh, smoke exploding from his lungs in a great cloud. He grinned at her with his blackened teeth, eyes twinkling with humour.
“Poseidon’s beard, lass! Just whose bed do ye think you’ve been sleepin’ in?”
The night air was crisp against her skin, but she liked the way it blew her hair back, infusing each strand with the scent of freedom. Her hands gripped the wooden railing as she watched the life she’d known slip further away into the inky darkness behind them. There would be no going back after this, not after being aboard a pirate ship. People would make assumptions, rumours would begin, and before she could even touch a foot in her hometown she’d be labelled ‘damaged goods’. Going home simply wasn’t an option.
What was she to do now that her past and future were gone? Start over? Create a new name for herself in the New World, with no friends or acquaintances to vouch for her? It seemed ridiculous, impossible even. Who would take a woman seriously in a place like that? Especially one who was unescorted and had no family ties to speak of.
Emma expelled a sharp sigh and slammed her palm against the railing in frustration. It wasn’t fair – none of this was. If only she’d died alongside her family that night, at least then she wouldn’t be alone. But fate had taken her down a different path, no thanks to a certain pirate, and now she was trapped staring into the vast nothingness that was her future while clinging to the scraps of her past.
A hot tear snaked down her cheek and she flicked it away with the back of her hand. There was no use crying over it. Crying wouldn’t help her to devise a strategy. Sooner or later, willingly or not, she’d have to leave the ship and when she did she’d need a plan.
“It’s a bit cold to be out so late, love.”
The Captain’s voice sounded behind her and after a brief pause a warm leather jacket enveloped her shoulders. He took up residence next to her, his arms resting casually atop the railing. There was another factor she needed to consider as well, and he was standing right next to her. What was she going to do about Hook?
The man was a villainous pirate who plundered merchant ships and had murdered his own brother. If the tales of his brutality were true, and she had little cause to doubt that they were, it was clear she’d need to tread carefully around him. Gentleman or not, she doubted she would live long if she found herself on his bad side.
“Trouble sleeping?” he asked, his tone light. He turned to look at her and she could swear that the blue of his eyes was visible, even in the faint moonlight. She nodded in answer and suppressed a shiver.
“I dreamt of that storm, of being sucked beneath the waves. The water burned in my lungs…” She stopped to pull in a shaky breath and let it out slowly. To her surprise, Hook nodded understandingly.
“Every man aboard this ship has had his share of such dreams. It’s Nature’s way of reminding us to respect Her power.”
Emma’s mouth pressed into a frown and she clenched her hands into fists atop the railing.
“I think I have seen quite enough of Her power. I do not require reminders that keep me up at night as well.”
Hook chuckled quietly and reached into his pocket. He retrieved a flask, uncorked it with his teeth and held it out to her. Her gaze flickered between the flask and him, her eyes filled with suspicion.
“On nights like this, I have often found rum to be an excellent sleep aid. Go on, lass. Give it a try.”
Emma took the flask from him and lightly sniffed the contents. Its scent was far stronger than that of any wine she had ever tasted. Throwing caution to the wind, she put the flask to her lips and took a sip. The drink was harsh on her tongue and burned on the way down. She suppressed a cough with a finger pressed to her lips and then took another helping.
“Impressive,” Hook teased, a smile creeping across his features. “Most ladies can only handle one.”
“I am not most ladies,” she retorted sharply, and gently cleared her throat before handing the flask back to him.
“I gathered that,” he replied and took a healthy measure of rum for himself. “So tell me Ms. Swan, where were you headed in that storm?”
“To the New World. My father spent the last three years setting up a trading business in Boston. When it was ready, he returned to bring us back with him. It was going to be a new life for all of us.”
“Is that where you’d like to go, then? To Boston?”
Her breath caught and she looked over at him in surprise. “I have a choice?”
His shoulders lifted into a light shrug and he was careful to keep his eyes on the sea.
“And if you did?”
The question caught her off guard and left her mind spinning. Was this a trick? Some sort of deception for his own amusement? Was he getting her hopes up simply to bring them crashing down once he’d had his fun?
“I don’t know. I hadn’t thought I would survive long enough to arrive in Boston.”
Hook’s brows shot up in surprise. “Come lass, did you honestly believe I would make you walk the plank?”
Her mouth hung open and she felt a slight pang of guilt stir in her gut. The look in his eyes… If she didn’t know better, she’d think she’d actually wounded him. He waited for her response, his expression daring her to deny the truth.
“You are a pirate,” she retorted, straightening her spine, “and a murderer.”
His lips twisted into a bitter frown, “An unfortunate necessity, I assure you.”
“And what of your brother?” she shot back. “Was that an ‘unfortunate necessity’ too?”
He jerked suddenly as if she’d struck him and his eyes narrowed. “What the devil are you talking about?”
She stood her ground and looked him square in the eye, stubbornly jutting out her chin. “You poisoned your brother to take control of his ship.”
His eyes widened and she was pleased that her voice did not shake. “What excuse do you have for that?”
Hook regarded her carefully, his features closed off. “So, this is what you think of me,” he remarked softly.
With a sigh, he swiped a hand across his mouth and glanced up to gauge her response. When she didn’t back down, he shook his head in defeat.
“It was the king who killed my brother,” he said, taking a step back to put some distance between them. “I merely stitched up the satchel that bore his body to Davy Jones’ Locker.”
Emma opened her mouth to apologize, but his feet were already plodding down the steps. In his absence the night air grew chill and she shivered beneath his jacket. The warmth of it had evaporated along with whatever fleeting affections he might have felt towards her. It shouldn’t have bothered her, but it did. She reminded herself of what he was – a villain, a traitor, a thief and a murderer, but it didn’t ease the knot of guilt curling in the pit of her stomach.
She slipped his jacket from her shoulders and folded it neatly across her arms. She considered leaving it next to the helm but thought better of it and brought it with her. Her mother had always warned her that her bold tongue would someday get her into trouble. A wistful smile turned a corner of her mouth and she turned away from the Captain’s quarters towards the stairs that led to the crew quarters in the hold. Her bold tongue had certainly gotten her into trouble, but perhaps now it could get her out.
It was dark beneath the deck, the crew quarters lit by few lanterns hanging from the low ceiling. Some of the men were already snoring in their hammocks. She passed by them, her slippered feet silent atop the wooden floor. Just ahead she could hear them, the quiet murmur of chatter. They were seated around a long table, engrossed in some kind of card game. Hook wasn’t with them. He sat off to the side, a bottle of rum to his lips.
The chatter stopped as she approached and Curly tipped his head towards her.
“Evenin’, Miss Swan,” he said, putting two fingers to his forehead. The others turned to look at her and she smiled thinly before diverting her eyes to Hook. He was watching her warily, his rum still in his hands and not forgotten. Sucking in a breath for courage, she stepped towards him.
“I’m sorry,” she said sincerely, holding the folded jacket out to him.
Hook got to his feet and swaggered towards her.
“Are you so worried about hurting a pirate’s feelings, love? Trust me, you needn’t bother.”
His words had a touch of bitterness behind them and there was a cold gleam in his eye. He seemed to tower over her in the small space, his form imposing and immovable. This was the pirate she’d heard about - this was the infamous “Hook”. She swallowed down the lump of fear that’d formed in the back of her throat and met his gaze.
“I was wrong, I realize that now. I’m sorry I doubted you.”
Hook’s brows furrowed and he backed off slightly, taking the jacket from her hands. He stared at her as though he wasn’t entirely certain what to make of her. She offered him a faint, apologetic smile and dipped down into a shallow curtsey.
“Goodnight, Captain. Gentlemen,” she added with a nod to the others. No one spoke a word as she left and their silence accompanied her the entire way back to the deck.
When Hook entered his quarters the next morning, she was waiting with her hands folded atop the table in front of her. She'd chosen one of the other dresses from the trunk to wear. It was robin's egg blue and trimmed with pearls and golden thread. Even though it was the plainest of the lot, she still felt uncomfortable wearing it. Over-dressed and out of place. Hook stopped short at the sight of her and slowly closed the door behind him.
"We need to talk," she said without preamble.
"I gathered as much from that curious furrow in your brow."
He took the seat across from her and reached for the wine with a weary sigh. "Miss Swan, it is far too early in the day for conversations of a serious nature."
She waited until he’d poured himself a healthy measure and taken a sip before speaking again. He didn’t appear to be angry about the previous night, but there was no telling with a man like him. He could toss her overboard just as easily as he could keep her around and she was fairly certain neither would make the slightest bit of difference to him.
Stamping down her nerves, she straightened her shoulders and lifted her chin ever so slightly. "I would like to return your quarters to you."
Hook slowly lowered his wine and gave her a quizzical look. "Come again?"
"I have monopolized them for far too long. You are the Captain of this ship. You deserve to stay in your own quarters."
Hook took up his wine again, a slow smile spreading across his lips.
"There are worse things in life than to have a beautiful woman in my bed," he said with a wink.
“I would imagine that is only true when you are sharing it with her," she replied dryly.
"That can be arranged, love."
The salacious grin that curled his mouth made her stomach flutter. He shouldn’t have that effect on her, but whenever they were alone like this she inevitably found herself turning into a nervous, stumbling mess. Men had never been difficult for her to manage, but the Captain of the Jolly Roger was another matter entirely.
She lightly cleared her throat and poured another helping of wine into his cup. Hook seemed pleased by this and tilted the cup towards her in a silent toast before taking another sip.
"There is one more thing I wish to discuss,” she added with a nervous smile. “Last night you asked me about whether I should like to go to Boston. I have given it a great deal of thought and decided that I would. That is, if you would be so kind as to take me, of course."
The smile slipped from Hook's lips and he sat back against his chair.
"We're a fair ways from Boston, lass,” he replied, regarding her thoughtfully. “It’s a three month voyage in good weather."
"I am not in any rush,” she pressed, “I only ask that you find me quarters of my own to sleep in."
Hook’s brows rose towards his hairline in an amused sort of look. "You might have noticed, lass, but we're a little short on space aboard the Jolly Roger. Afraid there isn't any place else to put you 'sides the crew quarters and I wager you wouldn't enjoy that. I appreciate the gesture, but you'll be staying exactly where you are."
He cut off her protest with a wave of his hand. "Aye, you can and you will."
She exhaled a frustrated sigh and hid her fists beneath the edge of the table. How was it possible for one man to be so alluring and yet so impossibly infuriating nearly within the same breath?
"Will you at least consent to give me something to do?” she huffed. “I am going mad sitting in this room day after day."
"You could always swab the deck," he offered with a light-hearted chuckle.
She glanced pointedly down at her gown and then back up at him.
"Quite right, lass," he said, nodding in agreement. "How are you with letters and arithmetic?"
"I have studied them," she replied, her tone indicating her surprise. "I also know French and Latin."
"An educated little thing, aren't you?" he said with an appreciative smile. "Worry not, my lady, I know exactly where you may be of some use."
Who could have known that her hours upon hours of mind-numbingly boring lessons would someday come of use? Hook established her that same day as the Jolly Roger's resident accountant.
“It is only for today,” he told her with a stern look. “One miscalculation and you’ll be back in those quarters. I have no interest in fending off a mutiny because the crew is being cheated out of their earnings.”
“By earnings, are you referring to the stolen contraband sitting in your hull that you have collectively plundered from countless merchant ships?”
Hook raised a brow at her challenge and moved closer, just enough for the breath to catch in her throat. “Well, love, if the work goes against your austere moral code…”
“I’ll do it,” she blurted out, willing to do just about anything to be spared from another day stuck inside that cabin. “I will even do my best not to cause a mutiny amongst the crew.”
“There’s a good lass,” Hook replied with a thin smile. “And no stealing mind you.”
“That’s rich coming from a pirate,” she muttered under her breath, but he either didn’t hear or chose not to respond. He climbed up the short ladder to the deck, leaving her alone in the hull surrounded by crates and casks of rum.
Though Hook had only promised her one day of work, she soon found herself spending her waking hours inventorying every coin, necklace, jewel, and cask of rum brought aboard. Then, once word spread that she was literate, it didn’t take long for the crew to begin approaching her with caps in hand to ask for her help.
The first to ask was Thomas, one of the youngest in the crew. They'd taken him from that first merchant ship and smuggled him aboard, sparing him from sharing the fate of his ship mates loyal to the King.
"Do you think ye might help me write a letter to me mum?"
She'd blinked up at him over the top of her accounting book. His request had caught her so off guard that she simply stared at him until he turned to go wearing a defeated look. She hurriedly called him back.
"Thomas! I’m sorry, of course. Please, sit."
He heaved a grateful sigh and perched himself atop the small stool across from her. She pulled out a fresh sheet of paper and dipped her quill in the ink pot.
"Say whatever you would like me to write," she explained, "but please speak slowly as I'm afraid I'm not the quickest writer."
Thomas nodded understandingly and gave her a nervous smile.
"Dear Mum," he began. He paused there and looked up at her. "Does that sound all right?"
"It's as good a start as any," she answered with an encouraging smile.
He nodded and his shoulders visibly relaxed. He was quiet a moment, his pale features twisted in thought as he considered what to say next.
"Things are good aboard the ship,” he said finally. “I've made some friends and I'm working hard."
"She'll be happy to hear that, Thomas. Does she know you're sailing aboard the Jolly Roger now?"
The boy nervously scratched at the back of his ginger-haired head. "No, and just as kindly I'd thank ye not to tell her."
"I will only write what you tell me to," she reassured him with a soft smile. "And as for what you say in your letter, well, that's between you and your mother. I'll not repeat it to the Captain, or anyone else aboard this ship."
Thomas expelled a heavy sigh of relief, "I thank you for that, Miss Swan. Next time we reach a port I'll be sure to buy you somethin' real pretty."
"Thank you, Thomas, but that is really not necessary. Now, let's continue, shall we?"
He nodded readily and narrated the rest of his letter, careful to leave out anything that might indicate he was now pursuing a life of piracy. When he was finished, she read it back to him then sealed it and handed it across the table.
"Please come see me if you ever need to write another letter. And the crew - pass the word along to them as well would you?"
"Absolutely, Miss, thank you kindly."
He departed with a tip of his cap and then scurried out the door.
Thomas was true to his word. It wasn’t long before she was writing letters for two or three crew members a day. Her hand did not appreciate the sudden deluge of requests, but she enjoyed the work and the looks on the crew’s faces when they received their letters. She hadn’t thought she could enjoy life aboard a pirate ship, much less come to feel anything but mild distaste for a crew of thieves and ruffians, but day by day they were changing her mind.
It was around that same time that she and Hook began to have dinner together in the Captain’s quarters. It was never discussed or arranged, not in so many words, but when she returned to his quarters at the end of each day he was there waiting with food on the table. He never stayed long, just enough for them to share a short meal and perhaps a polite chat before he would make some excuse to depart and leave her to her own devices.
At first she’d practically counted down the minutes until he disappeared out the door. Only once it closed behind him did she feel as though she could breathe again. He never did anything untoward, in actual fact he had all the manners of a gentleman, but his very presence was enough to make her palms sweat and her appetite evaporate. Each night it became easier. Each night she felt her nerves less and less. They would talk about her discoveries in the hull and he would share fantastical stories of places she’d never heard of and swashbuckling adventures. When he told those stories she’d find herself leaning forward, meal forgotten, eyes transfixed on his, completely forgetting at all to be nervous.
And then one night as the door closed behind him, she let out a soft sigh and stared forlornly at their empty plates atop the table. It was then that the realization hit, all at once and without the slightest bit of warning. She missed him. Somewhere along the way she’d begun to look forward to their time spent together and to all the wonderful stories he would share with her about a world she knew nothing of. With the truth singing in her brain, her stomach began to twist. She wasn’t supposed to like him. She wasn’t supposed to be enjoying her time aboard his ship. They were en route to Boston, where a new life awaited her and this…this…infatuation was nothing more than the ridiculous notion of a lonely, homesick girl. Yes, that was it. That explained things perfectly. Because what sort of girl in their right mind enjoys being trapped aboard a pirate ship?
She resolved to tell Hook she no longer wished to dine with him. The hollow sense of regret that settled just beneath her breastbone was difficult to ignore, but she managed to convince herself that she was doing the right thing. It would make things easier in the end, once they arrived in Boston. Without any attachments to the ship and its crew, she could make a clean break and a fresh start. It was exactly what she needed.
Except that when she returned to the Captain’s quarters that night, she found him pacing back and forth, looking uncharacteristically agitated. He sent a fleeting smile her way when she opened the door, but the gesture didn't quite reach his eyes.
"Won't be long to Boston now," he said quietly.
She nodded thoughtfully. It’d been nearly two months since she’d first come aboard the Jolly Roger. It felt like a lifetime since she’d stood aboard her father’s ship, yet all the days in-between had passed in the blink of an eye. These days, her old life felt more like a distant dream than any sort of tangible memory.
"We must make a brief stop before we arrive,” Hook explained, his feet carving a careful path across the floor. “We're running low on supplies and the men could use a break."
His words sounded rehearsed and she glanced over at him in search of answers. He kept his gaze carefully averted and his hand moved distractedly across his mouth.
"The place where we are headed is an island by the name of Eshu. Are you familiar with it?"
She shook her head and took a seat at the table. Hook finally stopped pacing and braced his hand on the table. His eyes were dark and serious and she resisted the urge to shrink away.
“Eshu is a breeding ground for the most nefarious, dastardly villains who have ever walked the earth. There are countless pirates on that isle would cut out their own mother’s heart for the chance to get even with a noble.”
“But I’m not noble-” she began, but Hook cut her off with a sharp look.
“Aye, but you are not a pirate either.”
"Then I will stay aboard the ship."
Hook’s features twisted and he pushed off the table. He took a few steps away and then back, shaking his head at her suggestion. "That may not be enough."
"What do you propose?"
He looked at her, his cerulean eyes appreciating her from head to toe. A tentative smile toyed with his lips, which struck her as odd given the seriousness of the topic.
She blinked at him in stunned silence certain she hadn’t heard him correctly. When her voice could work again, she managed to squeak out a muffled sounding, "Marriage...?"
"It is the only way to be certain of your protection."
"That's absurd! I'm not marrying you!"
"Well, lass, you might not have much of a choice. Aboard this ship I can protect you, but there?"
He solemnly shook his head and hesitantly took the seat next to her. His hand slid across the table and gently covered hers.
"Would it be so bad, lass?"
She stared at him incredulously and pulled her hand away.
"You should count your lucky stars," he said, pulling back. "It's not every day a lady can say she's been given an offer of marriage by an infamous pirate."
"Lucky me," she retorted dryly and drank down what was left of the wine in his cup. The liquid warmed her empty stomach and stemmed the tide of panic just enough.
"It is unfortunate that I am not in the market for a husband."
Hook’s expression grew serious, and he stole the cup from her hand before she could refill it.
"Lass, you have been on my ship some months now. Have I ever given you cause to doubt my word?"
He waited with his eyes fixed on hers, until she mutely shook her head.
"I need you to trust me now."
He took up her hand and gently cradled it in his, his thumb skimming across the backs of her fingers. Despite the anger simmering inside of her, his touch sent a delicious shiver rushing up her arm.
"Rest assured love, I may be a pirate but I have never taken a woman who was unwilling,” he said softly, his tone low and sincere. “I will not ask anything of you unless you wish it, and once we reach Boston I will not hold you to our agreement. You will be free to marry whomever you choose."
"What is in this for you?" she wondered, lifting her eyes to his.
"Consider it a show of gratitude. I know everything that goes on aboard my ship. Your efforts with the crew have not gone unnoticed."
He raised a brow at her and she shrank back in her seat.
"You're not angry?"
"The morale of my crew is the best it's been in a good long while. What possible reason could I have to be angry?"
She was quiet for a long moment, her eyes fixed firmly on the wood grain of the table in front of her. Her choices were limited - accept Hook’s offer or take her chances with the pirates on Eshu. She had absolutely no desire to do either. Being forced to wed a pirate was the absolute last thing she would have wanted for herself, but she believed him when he said he wouldn’t take advantage of the situation. What harm could it do then, to be married to him in title only until they arrived in Boston? If it kept the crew from drawing unwanted attention from the other pirates on Eshu, and herself out of danger, was it not a sacrifice she could make?
She glanced up speculatively, her eyes meeting his.
"So," she said with as much determination as she could muster. “Marriage.”
"Aye,” he sighed with a look of relief. “Marriage."
Emma smoothed her hands over her ivory skirts and frowned at her reflection in the mirror. Everything about this day felt wrong. Her mother should be bustling about the room, a high-strung bundle of nerves as she tried to make her look perfect for her big entrance. And her father, ever reserved and calm, should be poking his head in every few moments to inquire as to what was taking so long. And Percy, her beloved Percy, should be growling and nipping at her heels and driving her mother absolutely mad with his incessant desire to chew her satin slippers.
That was always how she’d envisioned her wedding day – organized chaos with no shortage of laughter. The Captain’s quarters of the Jolly Roger were silent and empty. On the day she’d dreamt of from the time she attended her first wedding, she was alone. She amused herself with thoughts of what her mother would say if she knew her daughter was to marry a pirate – and not just any pirate – one of the most notorious villains to ever sail the high seas. She imagined her mother would have more than a few choice words to share while her father glanced at her disapprovingly over his spectacles.
The thought brought a faint smile to her lips and she studied her reflection once more. Even the dress, which was beautiful and elegant beyond measure, didn’t suit her. She fingered the heavy, jewelled brooch on her chest and let her hands slip down over the maroon sleeves of her overcoat. It was far too grand and every moment she remained in it reminded her that this day was nothing more than a well-crafted lie.
A lie she had agreed to because it offered the safety of protection, she reminded herself. Safety Hook couldn’t guarantee her without it. It fell under the guise of the Pirate’s Code, which she hadn’t known existed until Hook outlined it for her. Pirates were a disorderly, uncouth lot, but even they seemed to understand the importance of law and order. If a pirate was wed, the bond he shared with his wife was sacrosanct – any pirate who touched or harmed her did so under penalty of death.
Pirates, she’d learned, were exceedingly protective when it came to what they considered to be theirs and extenuating circumstances had placed her firmly into that category. One short ceremony, a few words exchanged, and she would belong to Captain Hook. The idea sent a small shiver jetting down her spine, not because she feared him but because every part of her was terrified that his plan would not work. Hook and the pirates on his ship she could handle, but an entire island of them?
A light cough from the door drew her up with a start and Mr. Smee bowed apologetically with his hat in hand.
“Pardon my saying so, my lady, but you look lovely,” he muttered as his fingers plucked nervously at the red wool of his hat. He had a sort of bumbling, nervous quality about him that had the odd effect of setting her at ease.
“Thank you, Mr. Smee,” she replied with a faint smile and pulled in a breath to steel her nerves. “Shall we?”
He nodded readily and quickly pulled his red hat on. With a shaky smile, he held out his arm and she took it, allowing him to lead her towards her altar. The rest of the crew had gathered on the deck, many of them with their shirts tucked in and hair combed. A few smiled and bowed their heads as Smee led her past and she found herself feeling more at ease with each step.
Two months ago these men had been little more than strangers, pirates, but there were more than a few faces she recognized staring back at her. The realization that she wasn’t alone on this journey struck her just as they reached the bottom of the stairs that led up to the quarterdeck. Her parents were gone, but in their absence the Jolly Roger’s crew had become a sort of second family to her. They were dysfunctional, crass, and horribly ill-tempered, but she felt lucky – lucky – to have been accepted by them.
The sound of a heavy boot atop the wooden stairs drew her gaze upwards. Hook navigated the stairs slowly, his eyes never leaving hers as he descended towards her. He’d donned a white shirt and cravat, with a cream-hued waistcoat and dark blue coat for the occasion. It was a marked departure from the black leather she’d grown accustomed to. His new attire made him appear softer somehow, less threatening; he almost looked like a gentleman. Were it not for the black jewel in his ear and the hook at his wrist the ruse would have been altogether quite convincing.
He stopped short just in front of her and his blue eyes, made to look ever brighter by the hue of his jacket, swept over her.
"You’re a vision," he said simply and offered a short, formal bow. He spared her from having to respond by touching her gloved hand to his lips then sliding it through his arm.
“Smile,” he urged, his voice soft in her ear as he led her up the stairs. “We mustn’t let word get out that I have to drag women to the altar.”
Her nerves disappeared behind a veil of annoyance and she straightened her shoulders. Plastering on a paper thin smile, she allowed him to lead her up the stairs to the quarterdeck. Curly was waiting for them with his back to the wheel and a small book of prayers in- hand. He glanced between them nervously and fidgeted with the weathered pages of his book, looking wholly uncertain about what to do next.
“Might I suggest asking us to join hands?” she whispered under her breath.
A blackened smile broke through Curly’s nerves and he loudly cleared his throat to draw the attention of the crew. He drew himself up to his full height and instructed that they join hands.
Emma held out her hands and glanced down expectantly. It was only then that she noticed the thoughtlessness of her suggestion and nervously bit her lip. Her eyes flitted up to Hook’s and he offered her a firm, patient smile. Clearly this sort of thing happened often enough that it no longer bothered him. Exhaling a short sigh of relief, she lightly grabbed hold of his hook and he took her other hand in his.
“Do ye want us ter ‘old ‘ands as well?” came a voice from the crew below.
“Poseidon’s beard ye damn fool! Is you the one gettin’ married?” Curly shouted back with an impatient huff.
A few of the crew chuckled and jeered their comrade and Emma felt a smile creep across her lips. One joke and all the tension of the previous moment had melted away. With one glance at the turn of Hook’s lips and she wondered if that wasn’t exactly what he’d intended.
Curly read a prayer haltingly from his book and then invited them to exchange vows. Hook surprised her by leaning his head down and whispering something into Curly’s ear. The man’s features morphed from confusion into ready approval and he took a step back.
“The Captain would like to share his own vows,” he announced with a smile.
Emma blinked wide, her gaze shifting between the two men. Her immediate panic at the realization that she had not written any such vows was quickly replaced by shock at the sincere expression in Hook’s eyes.
“I have sailed these waters for more years than I care to count,” he said, as his thumb brushed lightly across her knuckles, “and in all that time the sea has bestowed upon this ship and its crew many great treasures.”
At this the crew erupted with murmurs of agreement and praise for their Captain. He waved them off and eventually they settled down.
“As I was saying,” he began again, with an indulgent grin at his crew, “the sea has bestowed upon this ship and its Captain many great treasures, but never did I imagine it would one day deliver to me a wife.” His eyes softened and he gave her a small, secretive smile.
“If you shall have me, Miss Emma Swan, I vow before this ship’s fine crew to care for you, protect you and keep you until all the rum is gone and there are no horizons left for us to chase.”
The crew erupted into a raucous cheer and Hook turned away, his attention diverted by their exuberance. The distraction gave her a much needed moment to recover because there wasn’t any doubt in her mind that he’d meant every one of those vows. The thought of it unsettled her. This was all supposed to be a ruse. There weren’t any real feelings involved, no true promises being made.
Hook returned his gaze to her and her mouth went dry. His eyes were warm and bright and a hint of a smile clung to his lips. It wasn’t supposed to be like this. She choked out an “I shall” and then looked to Curly for support.
The old man nodded his greying head understandingly and recited a few short lines for her to repeat in which she swore her loyalty and devotion to Hook (whom Curly fondly referred to as “Our dear Captain”). Hook spared her from any further embarrassment by announcing a hasty “I shall” and then pressing his lips softly against her cheek.
With the ceremony over, the crew could hardly contain itself. They broke out almost immediately into a jovial rendition of "For he's a jolly good fellow." Hook announced that it was time to break out the rum and they cheered even louder. He pulled away after that, swept up into the welcoming arms of his crew who were ready to offer congratulations in the form of shoulder claps, handshakes and friendly embraces.
“Are you well, my lady?”
Curly was eyeing her speculatively, a worried frown pinching his brow.
She counseled her features and offered him a faint smile. “I’m fine,” she assured him. “Perhaps I only need something to eat.”
Curly smiled indulgently, but she knew from the look in his dark eyes that he did not believe her. She would have to work on perfecting how to lie more convincingly if she was to pass for a pirate’s wife when they arrived in Eshu. A pirate’s wife. The title echoed in her mind and she looked through the crowd to her new husband. He turned his head and just like that his eyes found hers. He had the uncanny ability to do that and she turned away, promptly seating herself at the table laden with various dishes.
Hook joined her shortly after and though she gave him a brief, polite smile, she kept her eyes downcast and ate quietly while the party carried on around her. Apart from periodic congratulatory words sent her way and toasts that required her to lift her glass and smile, the crew left her to her own devices. She was thankful for it as her mind was elsewhere tonight and she wouldn’t have been good company anyhow.
Within an hour the crew was drunk enough that she imagined it would have been rather easy to disappear from the festivities altogether without anyone noticing. She glanced at the door to the Captain’s cabin and considered making just such an exit. Hook apparently had other plans in mind. He took that opportunity to settle himself on the bench between her and the door. The scent of rum on him was strong and she had no doubt that he was already exceedingly drunk. His crew seemed to have no qualms about shoving drink after drink down their Captain’s throat. If they were hoping for a mutiny, they couldn’t have chosen a better occasion.
“Evening, my lady,” he greeted her with a lopsided grin. “Enjoying the party?”
“Well enough,” she replied and hurried to take a gulp of her wine. It soothed the sudden dryness in her mouth and bolstered her courage. This man was her husband now, at least in the eyes of the crew, and if they were going to keep up the charade she’d have to at least pretend to be a doting wife.
Turning to face him more fully, she rested her cheek on her fist and smiled. “But I think I might enjoy it more with the pleasure of your company.”
Hook’s brows shot up in an uncharacteristic look of surprise and his lips twitched as he leaned in closer. “Is that so?”
She nodded and searched for some way to keep him engaged. Her eyes fell to the hook sitting atop his thigh and an idea struck. Sliding her hand down his arm, she curled a finger around his hook and lifted it into view.
“Will you tell me how you got this?”
His smile faltered and his eyes fell to his hook. He pulled it back, out of her reach, and quickly downed a dram of rum.
“I’m afraid that’s a story for another day, love,” he replied, all humour gone.
“I didn’t mean-,” she started to apologize, but he waved her off and abruptly got up from the table. He toasted her with his mug of ale and then returned to the crowd of singing, drinking pirates.
She watched after him and felt a lingering sense of disappointment settle deep in her chest. There were parts of himself that he had no interest in sharing with her and it shouldn’t have mattered, shouldn’t have bothered her, but it did. She felt like a hypocrite – she’d shared nothing of herself with him and yet expected him to expose his darkest secrets. He hadn’t remained a Captain for as long as he had by trusting everyone who came along and it was clear now that she was no different. And that awareness, knowing that he didn’t trust her, bothered her more than his sincere vows, their fake marriage, or the impending trip to Eshu.
Hook didn’t return to her table, even though the party lasted into the wee hours of the morning. At one point she lost sight of him completely and after a brief look around the deck she gave up any hope of finding him. With Hook gone, she took it as her cue to leave. Exhausted and aching from head to toe, she managed to slip into the Captain's quarters without being spotted by the crew.
The door closed behind her with a soft click and she exhaled a quiet sigh. Her eyes went longingly to the bed and froze. What was he doing here? His coat rested over the back of one of the chairs at the table, but his waistcoat and cravat hadn't made it quite so far. They'd met their fate on the floor of the cabin and Hook lay sprawled out atop the bed.
Suppressing a sigh, she stooped to retrieve his clothing from the floor and he stirred, lifting his head from the pillow.
"Hello, wife," he greeted her with a boozy grin.
"Hello drunkard," she retorted. "Are you planning to stay?"
"I had forgotten how comfortable this bed is. How did I let you keep it for so long?"
The rum had made his brogue full and thick. She stared down at him with her hands on her hips and contemplated her options.
"Because you kept insisting you were a gentleman," she retorted. "I did try to return it."
"True enough, lass, true enough, but there is room enough for two." He drunkenly patted the narrow space beside him, oblivious to the exaggerated roll of her eyes.
"I will find somewhere else to sleep," she replied, too exhausted to argue.
“Ah, yes, about that…”
Hook rolled over onto his side and lazily opened one eye. “If the crew is to believe this union is legitimate, they must be given the impression it was consummated.”
He grinned up at her, his eye bleary from drink.
“You mean to tell me they don’t know this marriage is a farce? They’re supposed to think I actually wanted to marry you?” she snapped, her exhaustion and frustration coming suddenly to the surface.
Hook winced and struggled to sit up enough to rest on one elbow.
“Of course, lass. I do have a reputation to uphold. Some women even find me charming.”
Emma snorted in amusement. “That will be the day!”
“You wound me, my love,” he shot back reaching his hand towards her. Emma crossed her arms in front of her chest and kept her distance.
“You’ll survive,” she replied coolly, “pirates always do.”
It looked like there would be no helping it. Hook was right – if they were going to convince the crew their marriage was legitimate, she would have to share the bed with him. He’d probably planned it all along, the smug bastard! The knowledge burned through her until her fists clenched tight at her sides.
“Fine,” she snapped through clenched teeth, and marched behind her dressing screen. She managed to change out of her dress without too much difficulty, leaving only her shift. Even in the dim light of a single candle she felt completely exposed. She craved just a few more barriers between them, something more than a thin scrap of cloth.
With her hands fisted in the linen of her shift, she stepped out from behind the dressing screen. Hook was waiting with his hand braced behind his head. His eyes perused her with a lazy sort of ease, looking her up and down. A faint smile curved the corners of his lips.
"I think I may be dreaming," he said softly as she approached.
"I think you must be."
Gathering up the edge of her shift, she slipped into the bed next to him and turned her back. The first thought that struck her was how warm it was. She was so used to freezing beneath the sheets, shivering and wrapping them tightly around her until they warmed up enough to allow for sleep. With Hook in the bed it felt like slipping into a warm bath and her muscles relaxed into the mattress.
Hook slid his arm around her waist and pulled her against his chest. The hook, she noticed with a note of surprise, had already been removed. He said nothing, but his breath was warm against the back of her neck.
"If you try anything, you'll lose your other hand," she warned.
He chuckled sleepily against her ear and a moment later was snoring softly, lulled back to sleep by the rum and the steady motion of the boat. She waited, listening to the sound of his even breaths until her eyelids began to feel heavy. Reaching up, she pinched out the candle’s flame and plunged the room into darkness.
She would wake up tomorrow with Hook in her bed, a new title to her name, and an unknown future ahead of her. Perhaps it was simply the bone-numbing exhaustion she felt after such a long day. Or maybe it was the reassuring arm around her waist and the soothing, steady rhythm of his heart against her back. But for some strange reason, she was no longer afraid.
Emma awoke to the gentle sound of waves brushing against the hull of the ship. As a girl she’d imagined that the morning after her wedding night would be filled with soft kisses, tender glances, and no shortage of giggling. The reality was something quite different. The spot next to her was empty, the sheets cool and tangled. She sat up slowly, pushed her hair back off her face and looked around the small, sunlit cabin.
The first time she’d awoken here, the room had been strange and foreign. Now she felt a comforting pull of familiarity towards the lopsided stacks of books, the maps hanging from the walls, and the table with its rough, pitted wood. They didn’t belong to her of course, they would always be Hook’s, but the sight of them put her at ease when his abrupt absence left her with too many questions unanswered.
The wooden floor was cool beneath her feet as she walked behind the dressing screen to change. She chose a simple maroon dress and pulled it over her head. I am married. The realization invaded her thoughts and slowed her fingers as they tightened the laces of her corset. I’m a Captain’s wife. The irony of her present situation didn’t escape her notice. There was a time when her father would have been elated to see his only daughter married to a ship’s Captain. Though not, she imagined, to the nefarious Captain of the Jolly Roger.
She quickly pinned her hair back off her face and exhaled a quiet sigh. At least the arrangement would only last until they reached Boston. The port was her escape, her gateway back to a world she knew and understood. It would be a chance to start over, but with each passing day the sense of quiet unease in the pit of her stomach worsened. Without money, or connections, or anyone to introduce her into society, what sort of life could she possibly have there?
She’d been playing this game with herself for days now, planning out every avenue of failure, predicting every worst case scenario. And just as she’d done all those other times, when the anxiety became too much she pushed all thoughts of Boston away and buried them beneath more pressing concerns – like where her newly appointed husband had disappeared off to.
She’d only just emerged from behind the dressing screen when the door to the cabin slammed open and Hook staggered in. He squinted at her as though he wasn’t entirely certain why she was standing in the middle of his cabin, and then stumbled towards the table and collapsed into the nearest chair.
“What happened? Are you alright?” she demanded as she took in his state of disarray. His pants remained on, but his shirt had come un-tucked and unbuttoned to a wholly unrespectable level and his hair was thoroughly mussed.
“Bloody, sodding, rum,” he ground out and reached for the decanter of wine.
No disaster or plague then, simply a hangover. Considering the amount of rum he drank the night before she wasn’t the least bit surprised to find him in such a state. She beat him to the wine and pulled it out of reach, offering a cup of water instead.
He glowered up at her, his eyes bloodshot and watery blue.
“It will help more than the wine,” she offered.
“Aren’t you taking your wifely duties a bit too seriously, lass?” he demanded and begrudgingly took the cup from her hand.
“Isn’t that what you wanted me to do?” she retorted with a raised brow. “Last night you were perfectly content to have me fill the role of a wife.”
The look that overcame his features was something she wished she could have saved and kept with her always. The fearsome Captain of the Jolly Roger, dumbstruck and vaguely horrified by what he might have done during the long evening hours he could no longer remember.
“Did I…? Did we…?”
“Consummate our union?” she offered, feeling far too much joy from his state of confusion than should have been appropriate.
His eyes widened and he nodded once.
“As far as the crew are concerned, we did,” she replied breezily and toyed with his cravat from the previous night. She waited a beat before adding with a sidelong glance, “The truth is another matter.”
To her surprise he looked relieved as he bowed his head into his waiting hands.
“You slept the whole night,” she offered, suddenly feeling a bit guilty for having distressed him.
He lifted his head slowly.
“I am happy for it,” he confessed with a cynical lift of his lips. “Can’t have my reputation ruined on account of a few drams of rum now, can I?”
Smee’s sudden arrival with breakfast silenced any further debate. The Jolly Roger’s first mate looked a bit green around the gills as he set two trays atop the table with a pickled egg, a bit of dried meat, a stale biscuit, and a small bowl of watery porridge on each. It was apparent from the meagre offerings that Hook’s insistence they stop at Eshu for supplies was no lie.
He dismissed Smee with an uncoordinated wave of his hand and promptly set his bowl of porridge atop her tray. She sent him an understanding look across the table and moved her egg and dried meat to his. They ate in silence, with Hook looking paler by the minute.
“What sort of symbol does one use on this ship to indicate they are…indisposed?”
He tilted his head to one side and gave her a puzzled look. “I’m sorry?”
“You know…indisposed…” She widened her eyes and glanced pointedly towards the bed.
“Love, I hardly think this is the time.”
She huffed impatiently and arched a brow.
“Something white, like a cravat. You tie it to the door,” he explained with an irritated look. “What the bloody hell does that have to do with anything?”
“You need some rest and since you have a ‘reputation to uphold’, I figured you wouldn’t mind a little ruse.” She picked up his cravat from the previous night and headed for the cabin door. Hook offered up no protest when she opened it and discretely tied the strip of white cloth to the handle before closing it again.
“If the crew thinks you are preoccupied with your new bride, I can’t imagine they’d begrudge you the time.”
She turned back to find him staring at her with a hint of admiration.
“Thank you for that, love,” he said sincerely and dragged his body towards the bed. He collapsed atop the narrow cot and expelled a heavy sigh. She smiled thinly and set another cup of water next to his bed. He caught her hand as she turned to leave and held her fast.
“Where are you going?”
“To write letters. The crew have messages they would like to send once we arrive in Eshu.”
He uttered a soft grunt and his hand slipped from her wrist. She seated herself at the table with paper, some quills and a pot of ink.
“How long till we arrive?”
Hook lifted his head and winced before promptly setting it back down. “Where’s that, love?”
“A day,” he replied with a dismissive wave of his hand, “maybe less. Probably less.”
Dread curled in her stomach and she nibbled at her bottom lip. Less than a day. They would know soon enough whether Hook’s plan was a success. They’d managed to fool the crew of the Jolly Roger, but could they fool the sea-hardened ruffians on Eshu?
She glanced over at her husband, the fearsome pirate of legend, and found him snoring softly with his hand resting overtop his stomach and his head turned towards her. He didn’t look so intimidating like this, though she imagined few men would. He would be back to his old self after a short rest, or at least she hoped he would. If the stories she’d heard from the crew were true, he would need every ounce of that fearsome reputation once they arrived on the island. There was no telling what would happen to them then.
The tavern smelled of stale alcohol, urine and unwashed bodies. The stench hit her full in the face as she stepped through the door and it was enough to make her gag. Inside was noisy and poorly lit by oil lamps. All around her pirates sat at tables and benches drinking, gambling and double dealing. Eshu was certainly living up to its reputation as the seedy underbelly of the pirate world.
She stepped further into the tavern and searched the crowd for Hook’s familiar form while her hands nervously wound a small slip of paper around her index finger. It was a note from Hook requesting she meet him here of all places. He'd of course neglected to offer any sort of explanation which had caused her mind to jump immediately to the worst case scenario.
Mr. Smee had just about collapsed into a nervous fit when she'd announced her destination, adamantly insisting that the Captain had left explicit orders for her to remain aboard. She explained to him in no uncertain terms that one way or another she would be going. He eventually conceded defeat, but only after she agreed to wear a heavy, hooded cloak to hide her features from prying eyes. If someone were looking closely enough they would know she wasn’t a pirate, but with any luck they’d be too invested in their card games and drink to notice.
“Lookin’ for someone?”
She glanced briefly at the table of men seated to her right and then back out into the crowd. Hook had to be there somewhere. Her eyes danced over a sea of crowded tables and grimy bodies but saw no sign of him.
“Damn it,” she cursed under her breath.
A large calloused hand wrapped suddenly around her wrist and held tight. “You know, for a lady you’ve got some shit manners.”
The pirate leered up at her with a blackened grin and she tried to pull her wrist from his grasp. “Let me go,” she said with as much authority as she could muster.
He barked a laugh and tugged her into his lap instead. His calloused hand caressed her shoulder while his nose brushed along the line of her jaw. “I think you and me should get better acquainted.”
“And I think you should get your hands off my wife.”
Relief flooded through her and she looked up to find Hook standing before her wearing a scowl that was dark enough to intimidate the most seasoned pirate.
“Bloody hell lass, I told you to wait on the ship.”
“I only came because you asked me to,” she protested. “You sent me a note telling me to meet you here.”
He turned his steely glare on the men seated at the table. “I sent no such note,” he said evenly.
“Fancy that,” the pirate replied with a smug look and tightened his grip on her wrist until she cried out. “We heard you got married, Hook. The boys and I figured we had to see for ourselves who this mystery woman was."
The pirate jerked on her hood, pulling it back off her face. Cool, foul smelling air swept over her features and she could feel the sudden pull of dozens of sets of eyes on her. With her golden hair and fair skin, it was all too clear she didn’t belong. Hook’s expression was blank but a quick glance at his hand revealed a tightly clenched fist.
The pirate grabbed her chin and pulled her close to inspect her in the dim light.
“Pretty,” he said with a nod of approval. “Prettier even than that girl you stole from me last time we crossed paths. You remember, don’t you?”
“Afraid not,” Hook replied with a blithe look. “I’ve stolen many a man’s wife and many a man’s girl. It’s not my fault you weren’t able to satisfy her.”
The pirate laughed loudly then reared back and struck her hard across the face. She cried out and Hook’s eyes narrowed until they were cold and hard like sapphires.
“Emma, love, go back to the ship.”
“What makes you think I’ll let her?”
“Oh, she’ll be going,” Hook said darkly. “The question is whether your hand will be joining her.”
The pirate rose to his feet and shoved her away with an irritated growl.
"Is that a challenge?"
Hook drew his sword in answer and shouted for her to go. She obeyed, pulling up her hood as she turned heel and ran. There was a commotion behind her, shouting and the scrape of steel against steel. She pushed her way through the door, fighting against the fingers that pulled at her cloak. She didn’t stop until she reached the safety of the Jolly Roger’s deck, weak and out of breath.
Most of the crew was gone so she remained above deck a while to recover and wait for Hook. He would be right behind her, she was certain of it. She waited a quarter of an hour before she began to pace impatiently back and forth. Her eyes panned the horizon, inspecting each face she could see as a sinking sense of unease churned in her belly. An hour passed and there was still no sign of him. What if he’d been- She pushed the thought from her mind and wrapped her hands around the ship’s wooden railing. Another tense hour passed and with it a horrifying realization began to unfurl in her mind – he wasn’t coming back.
She swallowed hard and suddenly found it difficult to breathe. Captain Hook was dead and it was entirely her fault.
Curly found her pacing back and forth in the Captain’s cabin, with her hair tousled about her head and her eyes wide and dark with worry.
“He’s dead, isn’t he?” she said without preamble and planted her hands firmly on her hips.
She let out an exasperated sigh and stopped storming about the room long enough to brace her hands over the back of the nearest chair. “Hook. He’s dead. That’s what you’re here to tell me, isn’t it?”
Curly’s brow furrowed and he gestured to the table. “Perhaps you best sit down, milady.”
She reluctantly obliged and settled into the chair. One look at the pirate’s sombre expression as he took the seat across from her confirmed her worst fears. The crew had been good to her, better than she ever could have expected, but how would they act now that their Captain was gone? With Hook dead they would surely put her off the ship and then she’d never make it to Boston, or home, or anywhere else for that matter.
Curly eyed her carefully and scratched at the stubble along his jaw. “The Cap’n’s not dead,” he said evenly.
“He…what?” The colour drained from her face and she was suddenly glad for the support of the chair beneath her. Hook was alive? She gaped at the aging pirate with her mouth hanging open and waited for the other shoe to drop. Curly repeated the good news and her lips pulled back into a shaky smile.
Curly seemed to blush and picked at the pitted wood of the table with his blackened fingernails. He avoided looking her in the eye as he said, “He’s been thrown into the brig. We’ll be needin’ some monies to get ‘im out.”
The pirate’s shoulders seemed to heave and he shook his head before muttering, “3000.”
“3000?!” That was nearly half their haul! “Blasted, thieving pirates!” Then, with a quick glance at Curly, she added, “No offence intended of course.”
“None taken,” he assured her with a humourless smile.
There was little chance of the crew agreeing to forfeit half their earnings to rescue their Captain, so they would simply have to find another way to retrieve him. Her eyes fell on the trunk of dresses sitting at the end of her bed and an idea began to form in her mind.
“I have a plan,” she said slowly, “but I’m going to need your help.”
Within the hour she was dressed in the most revealing dress in the trunk. Some quick seam work on her part had turned the dress even more risqué, with a low cut bust and open shoulders. Somehow she doubted that when her mother had taught her to sew, that this was how she’d envisioned her talents being put to use.
Emma inspected her reflection in the mirror, her eyes lingering overlong on the bare expanse of skin she was now showing across her chest and shoulders.
"Well?" she asked Curly, who was looking a bit perplexed.
“The make up might be a bit much, but I suppose it’ll be dark,” he said, offering her a dram of rum to calm her nerves. She glanced speculatively at her heavily rouged cheeks and lips in the polished mirror and then tossed back the rum. It was strong enough to make her eyes water and she suppressed a cough as it went down.
“Were you able to find a map?”
Curly nodded and rolled out a worn piece of parchment atop the table. It was a detailed map of the island, showing the port and the various landmarks. Curly studied it a moment and then touched his finger to a small inlet along the coast.
“There,” he said with certainty. “The inlet floods at high tide so it’s nigh impossible to escape once yer in.”
Emma studied the map carefully. By the looks of it the inlet wasn’t far, only about a kilometer or so from the port. If she left soon she could make it there and back before the tide came in.
“And the weapon?”
Curly laid a small pistol atop the table and gave her a dubious look. “You ever used one of ‘em before?”
“I haven’t,” she admitted with a shake of her head and slid the gun into the garter around her thigh. “But that’s hardly common knowledge, is it?”
“I still think I should go with ye,” he protested.
She expelled a sharp sigh and straightened. “I understand your concerns, but if something should happen to us and we don’t return this crew will need a Captain.”
Curly gave her a troubled look then reluctantly opened the cabin door.
“Keep yer head down an’ don’t waste any time,” he instructed in a low voice. “Tide’s comin’ in so you got an hour but no longer.”
She nodded and pulled in a deep breath to steel her nerves. There was no going back now.
“You best get back in one piece or the Cap’n will ‘ave my head,” Curly called after her as she picked her way down the gangplank to the dock below. She looked back just long enough to offer him a fleeting smile then strode purposefully towards town.
The brig was located in a natural cave that had been carved into the cliffside by the pounding waves. During low tide it was easily accessible via the beach, but during high tide the sandbar was impassible making escape or daring rescues utterly impossible. It was a clever jail if she’d ever seen one. Unfortunately, it also meant she only had one chance to get this right. Fail and they would be trapped on Eshu another day.
Curly had warned her there would be guards on duty and sure enough a surly-looking pirate stood outside the cave’s entrance appearing far more sober than she would have liked. She grabbed a bottle of wine out of a passed out pirate’s hands and continued towards him.
“Looking for a bit of fun?” she called out sweetly, making sure to sway her hips as she walked. The guard’s eyes flicked to her briefly, then away and back again.
“I’ve got something to get our little party started right here,” she said, shaking the bottle at him. He looked interested enough to take a brief step towards her but then hesitated.
“Come on,” she urged with a wink. “The others are so dull. You look like the sort of man who could show a girl a good time.”
“Girlie, you have no idea,” he replied and followed her to the far side of the cave’s entrance.
Before the thought could cross her mind that what she was about to do was absolutely insane, she looped her fingers around the strap of his musket and pulled hard. He stumbled forward, momentarily losing his balance, and she brought the bottle down across the back of his head. He fell atop the sand with a muffled grunt and then went still.
She waited with the neck of the bottle clenched tight in her hand, poised for another strike, but he didn’t so much as stir. Moving quickly, she relieved him of his weapons and tossed them into the sea. The last thing they needed was to be ambushed on their way out by an angry pirate with a headache.
After a quick check to ensure the guard was still out cold, she entered the mouth of the cave. It was damp and dark within and the musty air was tainted with the smell of vomit. Something dripped from the ceiling onto her naked shoulder and she stifled a surprised cry. Cringing, she wiped the cold goo off and flicked it to the floor. If Hook was still alive after this she’d never let him hear the end of it. That was, of course, if he was still alive.
Around the last corner she could see the faint glow of torchlight and a second guard sitting in front of the cell. She squinted at the darkened shadows behind the bars, but couldn’t see any sign of Hook. What if he wasn’t even inside? She nibbled at her bottom lip and retreated into the shadows. Worrying wouldn’t help her now. It wouldn’t help either of them. Taking a deep breath, she adjusted her corset until the amount of skin she was showing went beyond scandalous and tried to shake off her nerves. With a glance heavenward she sent off a brief prayer and then stepped out of the shadows.
Wine bottle still in-hand, she swayed and stumbled down the short path to where the pirate sat.
"Hey there," she called invitingly and gave her best attempt at a seductive smile.
The bald-headed pirate took one look at her and scowled. “Get lost, whore.”
“Your friend out there is having a bit of fun with my friend. He didn’t want you to feel left out,” she explained with a breathy giggle.
“That bastard,” the pirate muttered, uncrossing his thick arms.
Emma approached cautiously, making sure to wobble every few steps. The guard let out an exasperated sigh when she made a show of tripping and fell into his lap with a flirtatious giggle.
“You look like you could use a bit of fun,” she purred and pressed the bottle of wine into his hands. He took a long pull while she nibbled on his earlobe. A pleased grunt sounded in the back of his throat and he tossed the empty bottle away.
"I have a present for you under my skirts," she murmured against his neck.
“I bet you do,” he growled and adjusted her position on his lap so he could bury his face in her chest.
While he was preoccupied, she reached beneath her skirt and drew out the small pistol. She tugged suggestively on his belt while her other hand pushed the end of the gun into the underside of his chin.
"Where’s the key?"
The pirate stiffened beneath her and growled in annoyance.
“The key,” she said again, her voice cold and hard like ice. “I want it now.”
"It’s on the chain hanging from me belt ye miserable bitch,” he spat. “Get it yerself."
She pulled back and dragged the gun down his chest until it was pointed at more sensitive parts of the male anatomy.
"If I do that my finger may just slip and who knows what you’ll lose then."
The guard hissed and muttered a string of curses before ripping the key from his belt and tossing it against the far wall. It ricocheted off the rock with a loud ping and dropped into the sand. Emma expelled a tired sigh.
“That was foolish,” she admonished and cocked the gun’s trigger. Moving slowly, she pushed off the pirate’s lap and stood, keeping her gun trained on him. “Go find the key and unlock the cell.”
The pirate crossed his arms defiantly and made no move to stand. Emma rolled her eyes at his pointless display of unruliness.
"At this distance I will not miss," she cautioned him with a lift of her brow.
The pirate’s glare faltered. He looked at her speculatively, torn over whether he thought she was brave or reckless enough to actually pull the trigger. Erring on the side of self-preservation, he sauntered over to the wall and after a bit of searching found the key.
“Miserable, conniving bitch,” he grumbled as he unlocked the cell door. “Ye won’t get away with this.”
The door’s rusted iron hinges groaned loud and long as he pulled it open. Emma kept one eye on the pirate and the other on the darkened shadows beyond the cell door. Where was he? A few tense seconds passed and then Hook appeared, swaggering his way to freedom. He looked a bit dishevelled but otherwise no worse for the wear.
The Captain of the Jolly Roger grinned smugly at his captor as he relieved him of his sword.
“Alright, mate, in you go!” he announced cheerfully and shoved the pirate behind the iron bars. The door slammed home and he jostled it for good measure. It was locked tight.
“Oh and mind the rats – they’re a bit friendly.”
He turned towards her then with amusement in his eyes and a smile lifting his lips. She breathed a quiet sigh of relief and lowered her gun.
“I didn’t think you had it in you, Swan” he said simply and took her hand only to lay the key in the center of her palm. She glanced up at him with a curious lift of her brow.
“A token,” he explained with a lift of his shoulders. “Pirates collect them after each conquest. I’d say this may well count as your first.”
Emma grinned, feeling rather pleased with herself, and tucked the key into her bodice. Hook’s eyes, she noticed, lingered far longer than was appropriate. He caught her eye and smiled appreciatively before making a show of bowing and extending his arm towards the cave’s entrance.
"After you, my lady,” he said and she could hear the teasing smile behind his words.
Adrenaline was still coursing hard through her veins when they reached the beach. She took in the sight of the tide, which was no more than a few meters from the cave’s entrance, and let out another sigh of relief.
"My God, we actually did it!" she said, with a breathy laugh. She wanted nothing more than to collapse atop the sand and laugh long and hard until her lungs and stomach both ached.
“You did it, love,” Hook corrected her.
He didn’t sound all that jubilant about their victory and it took a moment for her to understand why. He caught her just as her legs gave out and slowly lowered her to the sand.
“It’s alright, lass,” he said soothingly. “You did well. You’re safe now.”
Safe? Of course she was safe. Her eyes fell to her hands and it was only then that she noticed just how badly they were trembling. She’d knocked out a pirate and held another at gunpoint and now that they were safe she was shaking like a leaf?
She stared at her hands in confusion, slowly clenching and unclenching them until Hook pressed a flask of rum into them and made her drink. He murmured quietly in her ear, soft reassuring words about how they all experienced it from time to time. His words seemed to fade before they could have any sort of calming effect. The alcohol burned going down and she coughed and spluttered. Hook rubbed her back and gently urged her to drink more.
She “woke up” after the third sip, if you could call it that, to the sight of Hook’s features hovering before her pinched with concern. Up close she could see each of the injuries that had been hidden by the cave’s shadows. Her fingertips brushed lightly over the bruise beneath his eye and then across his split bottom lip.
“I’ll be fine, lass,” he reassured her, collecting her hands in his and helping her to her feet. “I have been in far worse scrapes than this.”
“Why does that not surprise me?” she replied with a shaky smile.
“More importantly, how are you feeling?”
“Better,” she answered with some certainty and handed back his flask. Her legs still felt like they were made of jelly, but at least they were supporting her weight and her hands had finally ceased shaking.
“I’m pleased to hear it. Though I do regret not having the opportunity to carry you back to the ship in that dress.”
He quirked his brow suggestively and she bit her lip to suppress a grin. Indulging him would only make it worse. They walked side by side in companionable silence after that and it was a while before he spoke again.
"That was quite the plan you had," he said sincerely. "At the risk of sounding self-serving, you’d make a hell of a pirate."
She felt a flutter of delight warm her chest and turned her face out towards the sea to hide her blush. If only her parents could see her now; their spoilt, head strong daughter dressed like a harlot and besting sea-hardened pirates to rescue the infamous Captain Hook. Her mother would be positively apoplectic, though she imagined her father would be proud of her in his own quiet way. A disapproving look sent over his glasses, but with a hint of an amused smile on his lips.
A brisk wind blew in from the harbour and she briefly closed her eyes as it caressed her skin. This night had been terrifying and anxiety ridden but she’d never felt more alive. Opening her eyes, she glanced over at Hook and noticed his lingering gaze. There was something in his eyes she hadn’t seen before, something dark and uncertain, but he hurriedly looked away and shrugged out of his jacket.
“It’s a bit cold out to be wearing so little, love,” he admonished and settled his coat over her shoulders. Its warmth embraced her like a hug, just as it had before. She smiled up at him and pulled it more tightly around herself to keep out the wind.
“Perhaps I should get my own one of these,” she teased and toyed with the jacket’s leather sleeve.
Hook’s smile was fleeting and it didn’t quite reach his eyes. “Aye,” he answered softly then pulled ahead of her, his footsteps echoing loudly against the wooden dock of the pier.
Killian Jones stormed down the steps of his cabin and threw himself into the nearest chair. That girl would be the death of him. What in god’s name had she been thinking coming to free him like that? Had she no inkling as to the danger she’d put herself in? His heart was still pounding in his chest!
He put a flask of rum to his lips and drank deeply. It’d been a mistake to keep her on board, he realized that now. Whatever attraction he felt towards her, whatever fleeting affection he thought he harboured needed to be rooted out and smothered. His world was a savage one filled with liars and scoundrels and rapscallions. It was no life for a gentleman’s daughter and he wouldn’t sentence her to it, not for all the wealth in the world.
This fearless, naïve girl had become the crew’s guiding light on an endless dark sea, their first sight of land after months of open water. And for all that she’d given them, whether knowingly or not, the least he could offer in recompense was to spare her from this world of violence and death. She deserved far, far more and she would have it.
A sound from the stairs made him look up and he watched as she descended, still wrapped up in his jacket. Despite his best intentions his breath stalled at the sight of her. He liked the look of her in his things. He liked the look of her in his cabin and on his ship. He especially liked the look of her in that dress. He swiped a weary hand over his face and bid farewell to all his good intentions.
She stepped forward and slipped out of his jacket, laying it carefully over the back of the chair nearest to her.
“We are in trouble, aren’t we?” she asked, her voice trembling slightly.
“Aye. Pirates are a possessive lot, love. They’ll come lookin’ for me and I have no intentions of being anywhere near this port when they do.”
“But the supplies. We haven’t finished loading-”
His eyes cut to hers and she closed her mouth with a soft “Oh.”
“If we don’t leave port within the hour supplies won’t matter.”
This news seemed to sober her and she wobbled unsteadily into the nearest chair. He gave her a sympathetic look and pushed his flask of rum towards her. She waved her hand as though to defer and then thought better of it. After three sips she stopped to gasp for air and re-sealed the bottle.
“Thank you,” she said, her voice rough from the drink. “I needed that.”
“You certainly didn’t need it earlier tonight,” he commented with a lift of his brow. “May I ask just what the devil you thought you were doing?”
The flurry of expressions that crossed her features was almost comical – confusion followed by understanding, then indignation. Her brows furrowed and her lips pursed. She looked so adorable he found it difficult not to laugh.
“I was setting you free. This ship needed its Captain.”
“This ship, or you, love?” he teased simply for the pleasure of seeing her cheeks blush red. And blush they did. Her mouth hung open a moment as she struggled to find the words to respond.
“The ship,” she corrected him with a sharp edge to her tone. “And you’re welcome.”
His brows shot up at the conceited indignation of her words. “I’m welcome? You want me to thank you for setting me loose from a prison I could have easily escaped from?”
“Yes,” she maintained with a stubborn lift to her chin. “It was irresponsible to get caught in such a way. They were demanding 3000 to pay for your bail. It was highway robbery!”
“They’re pirates,” he intoned with a shallow sigh. “I suppose the responsible thing to do would have been to stand by and do nothing while that bilge rat man-handle you. You certainly didn’t seem to mind the attention.”
The thought of that bastard’s hands on her made his stomach roil. He clenched his fist tight around his bottle and soothed himself with the satisfaction that he’d had the pleasure of removing both of those hands before dispatching the gutter snipe to Hell. After which point he’d been thrown down and hog tied. He was a hell of a swordsman, but even he lacked the skill to fend of twelve attackers at once. He moved his jaw side to side, conscious of the stiffness in his right cheek. They’d gotten him good before tossing him in the brig. All because of one stubborn, foolish girl who couldn’t follow simple orders to remain aboard the ship.
“How dare you,” she spat before hitting him square in the chest with her bottle of rum. She was on her feet in a flurry, pacing furiously back and forth. “How dare you even suggest-”
She stopped and looked around as though trying to find something else to throw at him. Mercifully nothing easily moved was within reach and so she was stuck fuming in silence.
“You had no business being in that tavern,” he amended, trying to keep his voice calm. “I recall giving you strict instructions to remain aboard the ship.”
“Which I did,” she pointed out and crossed her arms in front of her chest. “Until I received a note from one of the dock hands. He said it was from you. It said to meet you at the Pig’s Ear Tavern. So I went.”
“Whatever could have possessed you to do that?”
She ceased pacing and quietly lowered herself back into her chair. Her earlier fury seemed to have simmered somewhat and she folded her hands neatly in front of her atop the table.
“Because,” she answered simply, “I owed you a debt.”
He looked at her as though she might be daft, then slowly sat back in his chair and dragged a hand though his hair in disbelief.
“Bloody hell, lass, whatever debt you believe you owe me consider it repaid. I won’t have you scampering off the ship whenever the mood strikes because of some foolish notion.”
The green hue of her eyes looked as deep as the darkest forest in the dim lantern light. They held his for a long moment and then she nodded in agreement.
“Fine, but at least allow me to patch you up first.”
His face didn’t need tending to, and neither did his bloodied knuckles, but the urge to be close to her was very real and who was he to say no when a beautiful woman wanted to fawn over him. He nodded in agreement and his eyes followed her to the desk where she gathered together a small tray of fresh water, cloths and bandages.
That outfit of hers was utterly improper. The skirt was far too short and the neckline scandalously low, showing off parts of her he’d only imagined until now. Any idiot could tell upon close inspection that she was no whore, but tonight she’d played her part well. Watching her little display while she distracted the guard had made his blood boil with envy. He ached to touch her the way that undeserving pig had seen fit to.
She returned and set her tray smartly on the table. His gaze drifted up the length of her naked arms to the curve of her collarbone and lingered on the full pout of her lips. Given the chance he’d map out every spot his eyes had just touched, ravishing her slowly until he’d extracted countless cries of pleasure from those perfect lips. She’d moan his name as he took her, with her fingers buried deep into his hair and her legs wrapped tight around his waist…
“Now, hold still,” she instructed, and he blinked, rapidly bringing his thoughts back to the present. She touched her cloth to his cheek and began to gently clean away the blood and the grime from his earlier fight.
He held still, hardly breathing for fear of ruining the moment. Her free hand went suddenly to his knee, leaning hard to help her keep her balance as the ship rocked against the pier. He closed his eyes at the warmth of her touch and knew that it would linger long after her hand was gone.
She leaned forward, close enough that he could feel the tickle of her breath against his neck. It sent a shiver running down his spine and she pulled back, a look of concern briefly furrowing her brow.
“I’m sorry. Does that hurt?”
He smiled as best he could with a swollen lip. “Not at all, love.”
“You didn’t have to fight him, you know,” she admonished gently as her cloth-covered finger probed at a cut in his brow. He felt himself relaxing at her touch, his body sinking heavily into the chair.
“Of course I did. Pirate code, lass.”
Her brows lifted in understanding and she nodded her head slowly. “And pirates are a possessive lot.”
He grinned, however much of a grin it was and she resumed tending to him. Her features pinched with concentration as she dabbed at his split lip and he couldn’t fail to notice the way her own were temptingly parted. He’d long wondered what those lips would taste like. And about how many gutless fops had sampled them before him. And whether her kiss would be as fierce and fearless as the rest of her.
“That ensemble is quiet something,” he said to distract himself from the growing desire to grab her and assuage his curiosity.
Her mouth quirked upwards into a reluctant half-smile. “Well, it achieved its purpose.”
“Aye, so I saw.”
“Careful, Captain. That almost sounds like jealousy.” She pulled back to grin teasingly down at him but something in his gaze must have given him away because her smile faltered as quickly as it had come and she turned away.
“Well, that seems to be about all I can do,” she said, careful to keep her gaze averted. She kept her hands busy packing up her small tray but he saw how they fumbled and shook.
She started at the sound of her name and froze, her hands clenched tight to the handles of the tray.
“What you did for me tonight… No one has ever done anything like that for me before. I won’t soon forget it.”
He wasn’t sure why he told her. He was still angry with her for doing it. He would have shaken her till her teeth rattled if he thought it would do him any good. But he’d never been violent with women before and didn’t see any point in starting now. She’d dressed up like a whore and played the part, risked her life and virtue, all so that she could free him from the brig. Half the men on his crew wouldn’t have had the courage to do that, much less accomplish it flawlessly. She was a hell of a pirate and she didn’t even know it.
He swallowed down the other confessions of his heart and resisted the urge to sweep her up into his arms. It would only cause problems once they reached Boston. A life awaited her there, an honest life with a good home and a good husband and a nice family. She would want for nothing. It was a great deal more than a pirate could ever offer, certainly one as notorious as he. Her life would be in danger at every port, during every raid and every capture. She deserved more than an existence filled with uncertainty, violence and sin, and that was something he could never provide so long as she remained at his side.
“So we’re even then,” she said, turning slowly to face him again. “A life for a life.”
He smiled and used the edge of his hook to push one of her stray curls back over her shoulder. “Aye, that we are.”
She lowered her eyes to his lips and he suppressed the urge to lick them.
“Your lip,” she said softly, reaching out to touch it. “It’s really quite swollen.” Her fingertips touched lightly against his lips and he kissed them ever so softly.
She swallowed hard and lowered her hand to her side. He could feel himself leaning in and was helpless to stop it. He was a pirate. Plunder was in his nature, whether it was for treasure or the taste of a sweet girl’s lips. His fingertips skimmed down the side of her neck and his thumb brushed the satin-soft skin of her cheek.
Her chest rose and fell in uneven breaths and her gaze darted nervously between his eyes and his mouth. If she didn’t want this she would have pulled away by now. She would have told him “No” in no uncertain terms, wouldn’t she? She licked her lips in anticipation and he was left to wonder, was it possible she wanted him too?
He touched his forehead to hers and the curved edge of his hook nudged her chin upwards until her mouth was within reach.
“Captain!” The door to his cabin was wrenched open and Mr. Smee’s frantic voice called down to them. “Captain?”
“Yes, Mister Smee,” he replied, holding his mouth mere inches from hers.
Her eyes flickered over his shoulder to the stairs and back again and the breath caught audibly in her throat. Was she ashamed to be seen with him this way? Did it offend her genteel sensibilities to kiss a lowly pirate? He held her gaze, searching for an answer to his questions.
“Captain, Sir, we’re ready to set sail. Awaiting your orders.”
He made a frustrated noise in the back of his throat and turned his head towards the stairs. “Tell the bos’n to weigh anchor and advise him we’ll be heading due south.”
The door to his cabin slammed shut and for a moment they stood as though frozen in time, neither wanting to be the first to move. With a self-deprecating smile, he stepped back and put some space between them.
Taking a long sip of his rum, he tossed the empty bottle atop the table and headed for the stairs. It would take more than a bottle to cool the blood coursing through his veins or forget just how badly he wanted her.
The sound of his name on her lips shot down his spine, rooting his feet to the floor. He turned to find her standing next to the table wearing an uncertain look. She fidgeted with her hands in front of her and nervously cleared her throat.
“Please be careful.”
The look of genuine concern in her gaze made his heart bloom inside his chest. Resisting her would be more difficult that he’d ever imagined it could be. He was certain his brother would have a thing or two to say about his current predicament. He could picture it perfectly: a hearty laugh, a shake of his head and a solid arm around his shoulders. He placed a boot firmly on the first rung of the stairs before turning back.
“Aye, lass,” he reassured her, “I’ll do my best.”
The smile she bestowed upon him would keep him going for hours, which was exactly the type of endurance he was going to need if they were to make it out of this with their heads and their ship in-tact.
The morning sun was bright and warm against her skin and ahead of her was a vast, empty horizon. For days now they’d been travelling without a single glimpse of ship or shore. Most would have been unnerved by that endless stretch of blue sea, but she could only feel overwhelming relief.
The knot of anxiety that had tied itself tight in the center of her chest finally unwound and with it her shoulders fell. They hadn’t been followed. The pirates of Eshu had either not been able to catch them or decided they weren’t worth the trouble and for that she would be forever grateful.
For the time being the Jolly Roger slid atop the waves at an unhurried pace towards her final destination - Boston. With good weather they would be there in a little under three weeks. And when that day came, she would say goodbye to this ship and its crew and start over again with nothing but her father’s reputation to fall back on.
She curled her fingers over the smooth, worn wood of the railing and gripped it tight. There was a comforting familiarity about it, one that had grown steadily over time and completely without her knowledge. But there it was just the same, the surety of belonging, of being someplace one was absolutely meant to be. In a matter of months, this ship and its crew had begun to feel like home and that was a dangerous place to be when staring down the tail end of a journey. Those weeks would pass in the blink of an eye and what then? Would she stand on the docks at the Boston pier and watch the Jolly Roger’s silhouette until it disappeared over the horizon? Would she be strong enough to leave behind forever the men aboard this ship? Men she’d come to care for?
Her eyes lifted instinctually to where Hook stood at the helm discussing the ship’s course with the sailing master. He’d kept himself busy over the past several days, discussing plans with Curly and the crew, checking on their supplies, plotting alternate routes to Boston in case they should encounter more trouble. He was being clever about it, but he was most certainly avoiding her.
She’d thought herself paranoid at first and perhaps a bit foolish, but when he took his dinner with the crew for the first time in months she knew then she wasn’t wrong. Were the man’s affections so fickle that one moment he could draw her in close and the next move about the ship like a ghost, avoiding her at every pass?
While his rejection certainly stung, what bothered her most was the sudden sense of loneliness she felt. She’d come to look forward to their evenings spent together in his cabin. Over dinner he would tell her epic tales of his adventures on the high seas, regaling her with accounts of peoples and places she would never see with her own eyes. He would flirt and tease until her heart fluttered and her cheeks ached from suppressing her smiles. And his eyes had a way of looking at her across that table lit by lantern light, piercing and honest and fathomlessly blue. She missed spending time with him, but even more than that, she realized, she missed him.
Pulling up the edge of her skirts, she navigated the narrow set of stairs to the quarter deck. Hook turned as she approached, fixing her with a polite smile that didn’t quite reach his eyes.
“Morning, my lady. What brings you to this part of the ship?”
“You’ve been avoiding me.”
The sailing master awkwardly cleared his throat and announced that he would be in the navigation room plotting their course for the next day should anyone need him. With the departure of the crewman, they were alone for the first time since the night the ship had departed Eshu. Hook turned his attention to the ship’s wheel, pretending to be overly interested in steering a precise course despite the fact they were in open water.
“As you might recall, things have been rather busy since we left the island,” he said in a patronizing sort of tone. “If you’re bored, perhaps you could go down into the hold and inventory our latest acquisition of supplies.”
“I already have,” she replied coolly and delighted in seeing the nervous swallow that moved the muscles of his throat. “You would know that had you spoken a single word to me in the last three days.”
“Come, lass, with the end of our arrangement I was certain you’d be delighted to no longer be forced to play the part of a Captain’s wife.” His tone had a spuriously casual air to it that when paired with his blithe smile sent her temper rising.
“The end of our-?”
Realization dawned and her hands curled into fists within the folds of her skirt. Yes, of course. The entire ruse had been designed to protect her while the ship was docked in Eshu. With the island behind them, there was no rational reason for them to continue the charade of being husband and wife. She supposed she should have commended him on his gallantry. A less scrupulous man would have taken advantage of the situation, but not Hook. The coward.
Something had given her away, perhaps a flicker of disappointment in her eyes or the downwards turn of her mouth.
“Is everything all right?” he asked with a polite lift of his brow.
“Most certainly,” she assured him with a forced smile. “It’s only that I find myself rather surprised. You see, I heard so many tales of your, shall we say, conquests, that I’m at a loss to explain how the thought of a kiss could be enough to scare you off.”
He was careful to control his features, but she didn’t miss the sudden widening of his eyes or the way his tongue darted across his bottom lip. He took hold of her arm and drew her towards him, close enough that she could see the flecks of golden brown that dotted his cerulean gaze. She lifted her chin in silent challenge, bringing her mouth within a hairsbreadth of his.
He had two choices – kiss her and prove he was no coward, or hold tight to whatever sense of propriety was keeping him away and admit that she was right. The tumultuous look in his eyes told her more clearly than words ever could of the war he was fighting within himself.
“Killian,” she pleaded softly and his eyes closed at the sound. “Talk to me.”
He jerked his head back and turned his gaze up to the crow’s nest where the lookout was pointing to the starboard horizon.
“SAIL HO ON THE STARBOARD SIDE!” he called down again and Hook’s hand fell from her arm. Grabbing hold of his telescope, he put it up to his eye and panned across the eastern horizon.
“Damn,” he muttered quietly and lowered it to his side.
“Who is it?” she asked, feeling her anxiety rise anew. Was it possible that the pirates from Eshu had caught up with them after all? Hooks expression was grim.
“It’s the damn King’s Navy.”
He didn’t need to tell her what that meant. The King’s Navy had a policy when it came to pirates – no quarter was given. The king saw them as a disease that needed to be rooted out and exterminated. At one time she’d agreed and given such policies her whole-hearted support, but things were different now.
“We can outrun them,” she offered. “You said yourself that this ship is the fastest in all the realms.”
“We can try,” he demurred and rubbed his hand distractedly over his mouth.
Mr. Smee came bounding up the stairs just then, out of breath and brimming with nervous energy. “What are your orders, Captain?”
Hook stepped forward and lowered his voice, so that the others couldn’t overhear. “Load the cannons. We haven’t enough gunpowder for a lengthy battle, so every shot must count.”
Smee nodded readily and hurried down the narrow steps. It was suicide to fight a vessel in the King’s Navy. They sailed about the seas with forty guns in their arsenal. The Jolly Roger had only half that and barely enough gun powder to make any sort of dent in a naval vessel’s defenses. She couldn’t imagine any scenario where they emerged from this encounter whole and alive. They would lose crew or the ship itself and the very thought of it made her stomach sink towards her feet.
There had to be another way. Her mind turned over the possibilities until eventually one stuck.
“Do you trust me?” she asked, turning to Hook. He held her gaze a long moment then gave a solemn nod.
She didn’t have time to dwell on how the knowledge that Hook trusted her with his ship made her feel. It was something she could mull over later when they had they had the luxury of time and safety.
“Follow me,” she instructed and headed down the stairs towards the Captain’s cabin with single-minded determination. Hook followed without question, but once they were inside he crossed his arms in front of his chest and gave her a curious look.
“You’ll need to change into the clothes you wore when we married,” she instructed. “You still have them, don’t you?”
Hook gave an uncertain nod and headed for the trunk where he kept his clothes. Meanwhile, she opened the trunk of dresses he’d gifted her on her second day aboard and pulled out a dark blue gown made of silk. It was the richest and most extravagant of them all. She’d had no intentions of ever wearing it, but if they were going to fool officers of the King’s Navy she was going to have to play her part.
Throwing the dress over her arm, she headed behind the dressing screen to change. By the time she emerged again, Hook was waiting for her at the table. He was resplendent in a white shirt and cream hued vest. His cravat dangled loosely from his fingers and he held it out to her.
“I can’t tie it one-handed,” he explained with a sheepish lift of his lips. She took it from him and looped it around his neck before tying it neatly at his throat.
“If we weren’t in mortal peril I’d tell you that you look a vision in that gown.”
She smiled and straightened the knot at his neck. “What does us being in mortal peril have to do with anything?”
He chuckled softly and she pulled back, avoiding the piercing gaze of those damned blue eyes.
“I hope you have a plan in that head of yours, love,” he said, his tone serious.
“When the ship nears they’ll demand to board. When they do, I’ll tell them that this ship is part of my father’s fleet and they are escorting us to Boston where he awaits.”
“A young girl unaccompanied on a ship of sailors? They’ll never believe that one,” he chided.
“I’m not unaccompanied, I’m with my husband,” she corrected him with a confident grin.
Hook nodded and a secretive smile crept across his mouth, “Aye, that you are.”
“And being that I’m a gentleman’s daughter, they’ll have no reason to suspect us of any wrong doing. This will work. And if it does, we’ll be on our way with no lives lost and our ship in one piece.”
Hook smiled, more earnestly this time. “Wait here,” he instructed and stole off towards a shelf where he kept a variety of knick knacks. He returned a short while later holding something in his hand.
“The ruse will be more convincing with a ring,” he explained as he slipped the band onto her finger.
The metal was warm from his hand and she looked down at the small golden heart surrounded by two hands and topped with a crown. A claddagh ring, symbolizing love, loyalty and friendship. She found it difficult to lift her eyes to his, equally terrified of what she might see in them and what she might not.
“You just have these lying around?” she managed with a teasing laugh.
His hand took up hers, thumb grazing overtop of her knuckles and the metal of her ring. “It never hurts to be prepared.”
The silence lasted for a heartbeat, then two, and at last he dropped her hand from his. She hid her feelings behind a confident smile and turned for the stairs.
“Let’s go fool the King’s Navy, shall we?”
Hook fell in step behind her, a faint smile lingering about his lips. “If this works, the crew may just demand to make you Captain,” he teased.
“In that case, I’m sure I’ll find myself in need of a talented first mate.”
They were still smiling when they emerged onto the deck. The crew were milling about looking anxious and she could hardly blame them. Curly took one look at their attire and gave them a broad, blackened grin.
“So you’s a plan, do ye?” he asked, sidling over to them.
“I hope so,” she replied. “Please instruct the crew to remain on their best behaviour. We’re meant to be one of my father’s fleet en route to Boston.”
“Aye, I’ll do just that,” he vowed with a tip of his fingers to his forehead and set off to speak with the others.
“Smee,” Hook called out, “raise the white flag.” The Jolly Roger’s First Mate did as he was told and began barking orders to the crew.
“There’s just one more thing,” she added and ran her hand down the length of his arm. When her fingers reached the cool metal of his hook she grabbed hold and twisted until it came free.
“The hook is a bit of a give away,” she explained as she slipped it into her pocket.
“Not to worry, love,” he reassured her with a wink, “I always have a spare.”
He disappeared into his cabin and emerged a few short minutes later wearing a pair of black leather gloves and a false hand.
“You’re just full of surprises,” she remarked as he returned to her side.
They watched as the naval vessel advanced on their position and braced for whatever would come next.
“Now comes the fun part,” Hook promised with his mouth bent to her ear. “Are you sure you’re ready for this?”
She couldn’t help the smile that curled her lips. “I’ve never been more ready for anything in my life.”
The Captain of the Exeter was a tall, slender gentleman with a ramrod straight back and a neatly pressed uniform. Emma forced a wide, welcoming smile and leaned her head onto Killian’s shoulder. His arm slid around her waist, offering support and reassurance.
“I am Captain Archibald Williamson of His Majesty’s Royal Navy. Who is Captain of his vessel?”
Killian stepped forward, offering a formal bow. “Captain Jones at your service. And may I introduce my lovely wife?”
She dipped into a curtsey deep and graceful enough that it would have pleased her governess greatly, a rare feat indeed.
Captain Williamson nodded his head at her, seemingly bored and irritated by the formalities that went along with genteel introductions.
“How might we be of service to His Majesty’s navy?” Killian was careful to keep his tone light but she could see the hand clenched tight behind his back. He was worried and how could he not be, when with a single word this man could destroy them all.
“We’ve heard reports of pirates in the area,” Williamson drawled. His eyes looked probingly about the deck, going from this crewman to that. All were absorbed with their duties in a desperate effort to appear as respectable, honest sailors, and not the boatload of pirates that they were.
“You wouldn’t happen to know anything about that, would you?”
“Pirates! Darling, oh how dreadful!” She rushed forward and clutched at Killian’s arm, gazing up at him with what she hoped was a convincingly anxious expression.
“Not to worry, love,” he said with a reassuring smile and turned his attention back to the Captain. “I am troubled to hear such reports, but I assure you we have not come across any ruffians.”
Williamson tilted his head back, a thin smile ghosting across his lips.
“Where is it you are headed?”
“To Boston.” Williamson’s sharp gaze turned on her and she faltered, momentarily forgetting what she’d planned to say. His brow arched expectantly and she dipped into a quick curtsey. “We’re hoping to reunite with the rest of my father’s ships in the harbour.”
“Your father is a merchant?”
The muscles of Hook’s arm were rigid beneath her hand. It was a wonder he was able to keep the features of his face looking so calm and open. She dragged her fingers lightly down the inside edge of his sleeve in a reassuring gesture. It will be all right, she tried to tell him through touch alone. Trust me. His eyes remained fixed on Williamson but his shoulders relaxed, if only slightly.
“Yes,” she answered, forcing a smile. “He has a successful trading business in Boston. Perhaps you’ve heard of him? Jonathan Swan?”
Williamson gave a firm shake of his head. “No, I have not.”
“The business is still new,” she offered with an apologetic shrug. “One day he hopes to be the largest importer of fine goods in the colonies.”
Williamson smiled indulgently but it was not a pleasant look. His was a face that rarely smiled and the inexperience of his muscles showed in the way they strained into a grimace. His shrewd eyes made another invasive sweep of the ship. Anxious to get him off the deck, Emma gestured towards the Captain’s quarters.
“My dear Captain, you must be long overdue for a rest. Will you consider joining us for tea? Our cook is one of the best we’ve found.”
Williamson inclined his head at the offer. “That is most kind. Thank you, madam.”
She tipped her head politely and ignored the piercing gaze Hook was drilling into the side of her face. She knew he wanted this man off his ship as soon as possible, but she’d been aboard her father’s ships enough times to know how such meetings went. Any merchant sailor with half a brain made every accommodation to a captain of the King’s Navy because without their support you could be tied up at port for weeks while the port authority “searched” for your documents.
She turned for the Captain’s cabin and heard the familiar scrape of Hook’s leather boots against the wooden planks of the deck as he followed. Her body froze, slippers rooted to the floorboards while her mind worked frantically to catch up. The click of a pistol’s hammer being cocked rang out as loudly as a gunshot and she turned slowly, hardly daring to breathe. Williamson had his arm extended straight, pistol pointing dangerously at the back of Killian’s head.
The crew were frozen, some with their hands already on the handles of their swords. A thousand words struggled to emerge at once from her throat and came out sounding like a strangled cry.
“Perhaps now you will tell me the truth, madam. I haven’t been a Captain in His Majesty’s Navy for nearly 20-years without developing a talent for sniffing out liars.”
“What truth?” she protested once she was able to find her words. “What truth do you wish to know?”
“All of it,” he insisted, pressing the end of his gun more firmly against Killian’s head. The Jolly Roger’s captain winced and slowly raised his arms in surrender.
“It’s all right, love,” he reassured her, sounding remarkably calm under the circumstances. “Tell him what he wants to know.”
“Why are you so far off course?” Williamson demanded.
“We were caught up in a hurricane. It was a terrible storm!”
“What is the name of this vessel?”
“Why, The Montgomery of course. I would show you our papers, but they were destroyed in the flooding caused by the storm.”
“How very convenient,” he retorted, his sharp features drawing into a dark frown. He didn’t appear even remotely convinced.
“I swear it is the truth,” she tried again, glad for the convincing break in her voice. “Please, anything else you wish to know I’ll tell you but please, I beg of you, let my husband go.”
Tears sprang to her eyes that were not entirely disingenuous and Williamson rolled his eyes. Men didn’t do well with women’s tears, a lesson she’d learned some time ago when a gentleman’s son had reduced her to tears over an ill-timed dance with another young lady. And just as that young man had jumped into action, requesting another dance with her just as soon as she was able, Williamson would acquiesce to her now.
He lowered his gun to his side with a resigned sigh and the silence that followed was palpable. The crew waited, muscles tense and poised to fight at the first sign from their Captain. But Hook would not give them the signal. Instead he kept his hands in the air, not daring to lower them. Even without the immediate threat of death, it was clear to everyone that he remained very much Williamson’s prisoner.
“I think I’ll have that tea you offered,” he said, moving unhurriedly to re-holster his pistol and straighten his vest. “Shall we?”
She swallowed down the lump in her throat and nodded, taking a brief moment to lock eyes with Hook before turning for the cabin door. She navigated the narrow stairs with both men trailing close behind, all the while thinking that perhaps this hadn’t been the best idea after all.
Williamson was a great deal more talkative once he had a plate of food and a glass of wine in his belly. They’d managed to avoid any dangerous topics of conversation. She spent most of the time speaking at length about her father’s shipping business and their plans for settlement in Boston. Williamson listened, appearing polite if not a little bored.
She pressed on, prattling about this and that like the worst chatterboxes she’d ever encountered back home. If he was bored, he wasn’t thinking about shooting Killian or anyone else on the ship and that was exactly why she continued to talk at length about topics that couldn’t possibly interest anyone. Hook, for his part, remained remarkably quiet and allowed her free reign to do most of the talking. Given the circumstances, she could hardly blame him.
“How did you lose your hand?”
The question came on so suddenly that at first she couldn’t comprehend its context. She glanced down at her hands in confusion and then back up at Williamson who was eyeing Killian with renewed interest. His brows lifted and he exhaled a quiet sigh of defeat.
“Over a woman,” he replied, keeping his eyes on his glove covered hands. “Nearly lost my mind over her, too. I dare say we’re all a bit irrational in our youth when it comes to love.”
Williamson grunted noncommittally. “Was it a duel?”
“Aye. I lost and he took my hand for touching his wife. Now that I have one of my own, I can’t say that I blame him all that much.”
She could feel Williamson’s gaze on her, penetrating, suspicious, but she kept her eyes on Killian wondering just how much of that story was true. The muscles in his cheek twitched as he clenched his jaw tight. His eyes darted to hers, lingered and then looked away. So, it was true then. Questions of who this woman was and how they’d met flooded her mind, but were hastily silenced when Williamson abruptly pushed back his chair and rose to his feet.
“I believe I shall take my leave now,” he stated, offering her a brief bow. Bewildered and apprehensive over his sudden change in attitude, they led him back onto the deck where several barrels of rum and wine were waiting.
“Please consider this a token of our gratitude,” Killian explained, gesturing to the barrels. “We cannot thank the King’s Navy enough for their diligence in protecting these seas.”
Williamson made a sound somewhere between a snort and a sigh and gestured for his men to retrieve the barrels. They came in pairs, each selecting a barrel and carrying it carefully across the plank to their deck. Williamson watched them shrewdly a moment before turning his gaze back on the two of them.
“My crew thanks you for your gratitude,” he said dryly before turning once more to fix Killian with a long, probing look.
“I must admit, I have always been curious as to how the infamous Captain Hook lost his hand,” he explained. “There are many stories, but I dare say the truth is a great deal more satisfying.”
Killian sucked in a sharp breath and manoeuvred with a small step to position his body in front of hers, shielding her from any possible harm.
“Whatever you plan to do to me, leave her out of it,” he demanded. “She knew nothing of who I was before.”
“Who you are, you mean,” Williamson corrected him with a lift of his brow. “Once a pirate, always a pirate, I say. Someday you’ll swing, Hook, but it won’t be today.”
“You’re…letting us go?” she ventured, bravely stepping forward. Killian held his arm out to keep her from going any further and shook his head in warning.
“I once owed a debt to a sailor who went by the name of Liam Jones. He died before I could repay him for it, but perhaps now I have.”
“This man, Liam Jones, was he…?”
“My brother,” Killian answered, his voice tight as he lowered his arm.
To her surprise, Williamson looked slightly less annoyed than he had before. “He was a good man, your brother,” he said with a shake of his head. “He’d be ashamed to see what you’ve become.”
She turned towards him, but Killian would not look her way. He kept his eyes on Williamson, waiting to see what he would do next.
“For your sake, I hope we do not cross paths again,” he warned.
“You’ve been more than fair,” Killian admitted and then bid him farewell with a formal bow.
Before he turned to leave, Williamson cast a long look in her direction. “I don’t pretend to know under what circumstances you came to be aboard this ship, madam, but should you wish to be escorted to the colonies under the protection of the King’s Navy, I would be most obliged to assist. I cannot in good conscience leave you in the hands of this crew and its nefarious captain.”
All eyes were on her now as she stood open-mouthed, hardly comprehending what Williamson was telling her. Not so long ago she would have jumped at the chance to be off this ship and under the watchful guard of the King’s Navy. She could picture it in her mind, stepping carefully across that plank, having a quiet room of her own and guaranteed safe passage to the New World. There may even be other women aboard, passengers like her or wives of the senior officers.
She knew she’d hesitated too long when she saw Killian stir out of the corner of her eye. He crossed his arms and leaned back against the mast, looking every inch the carefree pirate she’d met when she’d first arrived. He kept his eyes fixed on the ship across the way, refusing to take any part in her decision.
Perhaps this was what he wanted. With her gone, he could continue with his piracy just as he had before. There would be no trip to Boston to stand in his way, and no silly girls either. Try as he might to appear wholly unaffected by her impending choice, the twitching of the muscles in his jaw gave him away and she felt a weight lift from her chest.
“I thank you kindly, Captain, but I believe I shall stay,” she replied, feeling confident in her decision.
Williamson stared her down, searching for signs of any coercion. Hook bowed his head, though whether it was in relief or defeat she couldn’t be certain. What she was certain of, what she knew beyond any shadow of a doubt, was that when the opportunity had presented itself she couldn’t bear the thought of leaving him. Not yet. Not today. She needed more time! The few weeks they had left hardly seemed enough, but they would have to be.
“As you wish,” Williamson said sounding somewhat mystified by her choice. He turned with a haughty flourish and strode across the plank to his own ship. With his departure, the crew breathed a unanimous sigh of relief and she quietly made her way over to Hook. His eyes were slow to settle on her, but eventually they did and she was surprised to see the coldness in them.
“You should have gone with him,” he said to her, his voice like gravel.
She opened her mouth to respond, but he didn’t give her the chance. Stepping out of reach, he headed for his cabin with quick strides and disappeared down the steps. She made to follow but the crew stepped into her path, eager to offer thanks and congratulations. She accepted both graciously and momentarily basked in the successful completion of her plan, but even that was not enough to keep her eyes from drifting to the door of Hook’s cabin. Successful though it might have been, she wondered now just how much it had cost him.
He was deep into his second flask of rum by the time she descended the stairs to his quarters.
“Is it too much to ask for a little privacy on my own ship?” he demanded tersely.
Her feet hesitated once they reached the bottom, as though she were considering retreating altogether. Her stubbornness won out, however, and she made her way to the dressing screen instead.
“You may recall I haven’t anywhere else to go.” With a haughty look sent his way, she slipped behind the screen to change out of the dazzling blue gown she’d worn to greet The Exeter.
He watched from the corner of his eye as she disappeared out of sight and took a long pull from his flask. Why the devil had she stayed? Freedom was offered to her on a silver platter and yet she’d chosen – chosen! – to remain aboard the Jolly Roger.
He was trying his damndest to ignore the parts of him that were elated by her choice. The parts that wanted nothing more than to pull her into his arms and make her his wife in more than just name. Trying and failing. The knowledge that she’d chosen to remain with him made him feel something he hadn’t been prepared to feel, and it meant trouble.
The predicament he now found himself in was entirely his own making, of course. God help him, hadn't he done everything in his power to win her affections? He’d dined with her, danced with her, flirted and teased. He’d even bloody married her! There was no twisting of logic that allowed him to emerge from this with his hands clean. Fact of the matter was he – with all his good intentions – was more dangerous to her than any pirate on Eshu might have been.
Emma Swan – orphan though she was – was still a gentleman’s daughter. She had a life waiting for her in Boston, a future that was now at stake because he’d failed to consider that she might actually choose to stay. If he took that chance from her, along with her good name, there would be nothing redeemable left within him and he could not live with that on his conscience as well.
“I’m sorry for inviting him aboard.”
He looked up as she emerged from behind the dressing screen, robed in one of the plainer gowns in the lot. Even when attempting to dress simply, she couldn’t help but look resplendent.
“My ship and crew are still in one piece,” he replied while forcing his eyes away from the spot where she was tying the last of the laces on her corset. “There’s nothing to be sorry for.”
Her lips lifted in a faint smile and she took a seat at the table. She fidgeted with her hands a moment before lifting her eyes to his.
“I want you to know… I think the Captain was wrong about your brother.”
He admired her attempt to console him, even when she hadn’t a clue what she spoke of. Williamson had not uttered a single word of a lie. Liam who never broke a rule, Liam who never slept in, Liam who never let alcohol touch his lips, would be ashamed to see him now. After so many years of careful tutelage and guidance, he’d honoured his brother’s memory by becoming a bloody pirate. He was a disgrace and everyone but her seemed to know it.
He expelled a short, emphatic sigh and tossed his empty flask of rum atop the table.
“My brother was a stubborn ass who obeyed every rule and command he was given. It was how he lived and it was how he died,” he explained with a tedious look. “In short, he would have disowned me long ago.”
“I don’t believe that’s true,” she offered. “He was your brother, he-”
“And what would you know of it?” he snapped, feeling his patience wearing thin. There were few topics that could draw his ire more easily than reminiscing over the numerous ways he’d failed his brother’s memory.
“You never met my brother, lass, so best stick to opinionating on topics you have some knowledge about.”
Her brows rose fractionally and he felt a shot of guilt punch him directly in the centre of his chest. Here she was doing her best to comfort him and he was doing everything in his power to make her realize that he neither wanted nor needed her help. It was for the best. Perhaps now she would see him for the sort of man he truly was, a scoundrel unworthy of her pity or affection.
“You seem rather surly for someone who just avoided a charge of piracy,” she remarked offhandedly.
“I’m positively elated.”
She breathed out a short sigh and shook her head in defeat. “Have I…done something wrong?”
God, this was torture. Yes, you beautiful fool. You’ve done everything wrong. But how could he make her see it? How could he make her understand that whatever good she thought she saw in him needed to be forgotten?
“You should have left with the Exeter,” he said, his gaze and words direct.
She sat up straighter in the chair and locked eyes with him across the table, “So you’ve said.”
There she was - that stubborn girl he’d first dragged aboard his ship, the girl who'd refused to succumb to the impressive force of a hurricane. If she’d weathered that storm odds were good she could handle anything he was able to throw at her. But he would try anyhow, because what else could he do when her future was so wholly at stake?
“And yet here you are,” he replied with an elaborate wave of his arm. “Sitting in my quarters like a princess waiting to be delivered to a ball.”
Her brow furrowed and she held his gaze until he wavered and looked away.
“I wasn’t aware I had so severely outstayed my welcome.”
“Well, I am a man of my word,” he replied with a condescending bow of his head. “It seems I am obliged to deliver you to Boston after all.”
“Thank you for reminding me that my presence aboard your ship is an obligation and nothing more. The ocean itself could not equal the depths of your selflessness.”
There was a dangerous edge to her words which he callously chose to ignore. He rolled his eyes and got to his feet, determined to find more rum. He’d need another bottle if he was going to continue to go toe to toe with her while knowingly giving up all chances of future happiness.
He could feel her eyes burning into his back, following him across the room to the shelf where he kept his rum.
“You do not need to be blind drunk to have a conversation with me,” she said, and the hurt in her voice was audible. He closed his eyes against the waver underlying her words and focused on the task at hand. Make her hate you. Make her want to leave.
“Something tells me the conversation we’re about to have will be far from civil, love.”
His fingers danced over the necks of the bottles sticking out towards him, almost as though he were playing a piano. He pulled one out at random, checked the label, and pushed it back in.
“It doesn’t have to be.”
With an exasperated sigh he snatched a bottle at random from the shelf and ripped out the cork with his teeth.
“This,” he said, turning back towards her, “is a pirate ship, not a passenger ship. The hold is filled with stolen cargo, the cannons are loaded with shot and powder, and there is an abundance of rum - less now that we had to hand over almost all of it in a King's ransom, but that’s beside the point. Fact of the matter is, this ship is the last place in the world a gentleman’s daughter – like yourself – should be. And in the private cabin of a ship’s Captain is the last place you should find yourself alone.”
He took a long pull from his bottle, eager to wash the taste of those words from his mouth. The liquid burned all the way down. It scorched his throat and filled his lungs with the heavy aroma of spiced rum, but it wasn’t enough to ease the ache in the centre of his chest, the gnawing pain of regret that hollowed him out just beneath his breastbone.
“Is that a threat?”
Her words were soft, but had an underlying strength to them. She wasn’t afraid of him. She’d never feared him and that was entirely the problem.
“Perhaps,” he countered, boldly raising a brow and dragging his tongue across the remnants of rum clinging to his bottom lip. He re-corked what was left of the bottle and slipped it into his jacket pocket.
“What is it you’re trying to prove, exactly?”
“I don’t know what you mean,” he replied with a blithe smile.
“One word about your brother from that pompous windbag and you decide that he must be right? Who gives a damn what he thinks! You’re Captain of your own ship, with the loyalty and respect of your crew. Do you know how long it took Williamson to get to where you are? Do you not think he’s over there on The Exeter burning with envy?”
It was clear that she truly believed every word she said. She thought he was someone worthy of respect, someone whose life and accomplishments were enviable. Hers were the words of an infatuated girl who chose to see only the good in those they cared for. He’d never been more aware of her youth than now, when it was so painfully clear that she’d become blind to the worst of him. And therein lay the danger. So long as she saw him as someone redeemable, someone worthy and impressive, the danger of her remaining aboard would not abate.
“I’m almost certain he’s drunk on my rum,” he retorted, casually dismissing her words of encouragement. He perched himself at the edge of the table, leaning against it with his arms crossed in front of his chest.
She pushed her chair back, got to her feet, and made her way silently over to him. He did his best to look unaffected, but it was nearly impossible when she could appear so utterly beautiful and hopeful while still angry with him.
“You’re better than this,” she leveled at him, her voice no longer wavering.
“Am I? Fine words from someone so wholly enamored by the mystique of my ‘reputation’.” He leaned in towards her and eyed her lips. “What was it you said earlier? How could someone with my reputation be scared off by the thought of a kiss?”
Her cheeks flushed and her throat moved as she swallowed, “That’s not-I didn’t mean-”
She was tripping over her words, trying to explain what she’d meant and failing horribly. He took advantage and edged closer, his fingers playfully toying with the ends of her corset laces. He grabbed hold of one and gently pulled, watching carefully as the bow became smaller and then fell apart altogether.
“So you weren’t implying that because I’m a pirate I should simply take what I want?”
His eyes lifted to hers, the look in them equal parts teasing and dark. Hers went wide and the muscles of her throat contracted once more.
“Why are you doing this?”
He chuckled low in his throat and pulled away. “I’m simply living up to my reputation – villainous pirate and rake of all rakes.”
She stubbornly shook her head while her hands balled into tight fists at her sides, “You’re wrong.”
Frustration overwhelmed him and he grabbed her shoulder, gripping it tight enough to bruise her fair skin. “Bloody hell woman, are you listening to what I’m telling you?”
He pushed hard and her back met the wooden post next to the table. Her eyes went wide and her mouth closed with an audible snap. ‘Good,’ he thought. ‘Be frightened of me. Hate me. You’ll thank me for it in the end.’
“This hand and my hook are soaked in innocent blood,” he reminded her. “I did not gain my reputation by flitting about the ocean and negotiating with every ship I happened to cross paths with. I am a pirate, Emma, a thief and a killer, and I always shall be.”
His breaths were coming hard and fast now, his chest heaving. His eyes drifted down to her lips and he was filled with a longing stronger than any he’d ever known. He’d never fought the urge to kiss a woman so fiercely in all his life. It was all he could do to pull back instead of lean forward, to tear his eyes away instead of crush his mouth to hers.
He loosened his grip on her arm and she ripped it from his grasp. The fear in her eyes was quickly been replaced by annoyance and fire.
“Once a pirate, always a pirate, right?” she challenged, repeating Williamson’s words back to him.
She made a sound of disgust and looked away, no longer able to meet his gaze. He could only hope that he was finally getting through to her. When her eyes returned to his a moment later, her gaze was sharp and direct.
“I’m wondering at which point you think I was under the illusion that this was anything but a pirate ship. Since the day I awoke in your cabin I’ve known exactly who and what you are. You cannot scare me away with reminders of your violent past now.”
“Past…" He chuckled at the word and waved his finger at her. "See, that’s where you’re mistaken. I may have been a bit preoccupied as of late, but I have not changed my ways.”
“Perhaps you’re right,” she said and slipped her hand into her pocket. “How foolish of me to have thought, even for a moment, that there was more depth to your character than that.”
Her hand emerged then, holding the gleaming metal of his hook. She tossed it atop the table where it landed in front of him with a pronounced clang. He stared at it, finding himself simultaneously filled with relief and disgust by the sight of the appendage that had lent him his infamous moniker.
“In the interest of forgoing all pretenses, I think it would be best if I slept in the hold for the remainder of our journey. Good night, Captain.”
She offered him a discourteous curtsey and then quickly climbed the stairs of his cabin. The coldness of her farewell filled him with a looming sense of dread. He reminded himself that this was exactly what needed to happen, but that didn’t make it any easier to stomach watching her go.
Things would be different between them now – strained, tumultuous, and exhausting. A part of him desperately wanted to go back and erase the last hour, but what was done was done. Like all right paths, this one would be difficult to travel.
Something was wrong. She knew it by the sudden sharp turn of the ship and the deep pitch that made the ink well slide towards her across the desk. She caught the bottle and sealed it before it could spill on the floor and turned her eyes towards the hatch overhead.
The thump of fast-paced footfalls sounded and then quickly faded. She waited with breath bated, half-expecting the hatch door to be torn open and for Hook’s face to appear at the opening. But it remained closed, and in time her eyes returned to the accounting log book in front of her. With a quiet sigh, she picked up another pouch of coins, weighed it and then set out counting the pieces inside. She was nothing if not thorough. The work was tedious, but it granted her the solitude she desired and time enough to think.
In the days since their last encounter, when she’d vowed to put an end to all pretenses and stay for the remainder of her journey in the ship’s hold, she’d neither seen nor heard from him. They might as well have been two ships, passing one another in the night. She told herself it was for the best. In the end it would make things easier once they arrived in Boston. She could disembark at port, free from any lingering attachments, and start her new life with a clean slate. It all seemed so very logical and well-intentioned. The truth of the matter, however, was something else entirely.
There was nothing logical about the sting of regret that burned in her chest, for ever having suggested Boston in the first place. And there was certainly nothing logical about the way she dreamt of him. How in the long hours before dawn she could vividly feel the weight of his arm wrapped protectively around her, and the soft tickle of his warm breath against the back of her neck. She dreamt of his eyes filled with laughter and mirth as they studied her across a table laden with forgotten plates of food. And his lips, she dreamt of those, too. Lips that had come so close to claiming hers, lips she longed to taste. In her dreams she’d kissed him countless times, each one more passionate and uncontrolled than the last. She hadn’t slept well since her first night in the hold, and it had nothing at all to do with the hardwood floor or thin blanket that barely kept out the chill.
The ship came to a sudden, shuddering halt and this time she set down her quill. Something was definitely awry. Had they run aground against some coral? Or maybe become beached on a sand dune? Anything was possible in these waters, or so Curly had told her with a blackened grin and cackling laugh. She wished she could be so carefree about such things, but her heart was pounding fiercely inside her chest. Determined to find out what was going on above, she climbed the ladder to the hatch door and pushed it open. Or rather, she tried to. Despite her best efforts the door simply would not budge.
Confused, she tried once more unsuccessfully before retreating down the ladder to the floor. Had he locked her down here? She stared up at the closed hatch in muted disbelief until anger began to swell up inside of her. She’d never imagined he was capable of such deceit. Was this his effort to dispel any lingering affections she might have for him? By barricading her in the hold of his ship?
A screech of protest escaped her throat and she stamped her slippered foot against the floor as any good lady would do. If he thought he’d seen her temper before, it was nothing compared to what he’d encounter once she got free of this hold.
“God damned bloody pirate,” she cursed under her breath. She picked up the pouch of money closest to her and threw it at the wall, feeling no satisfaction whatsoever in the limp way it slapped against the wood and then slid to the floor.
She took to pacing and her fingers rubbed distractedly over the claddagh ring still on her finger. The temptation to pull it off and throw it into the darkest corner of the hold was very real, but she couldn’t bring herself to do it. It was a token of their victory, a reminder of what they could accomplish when they worked together. She now had two tokens to her name, a key and his ring, and both she’d earned by protecting him. And still he had the audacity to barricade her in the hold of his damned ship!
The door to the hold suddenly opened and her feet stopped in their tracks. Amidst shouts from above to ‘heave ho’, a cargo net was lowered to the floor containing casks of what looked to be wine or rum. Two members of the crew followed it down the ladder, younger lads named Richie and Sam. They tipped their hats to her just as casual as you please and then set about unloading the casks from the netting.
Finding any sort of words difficult, she opted for action and climbed the ladder to the hatch door. Behind her were cautious shouts about how she shouldn’t go up there but she ignored them and pulled herself up onto the sun filled deck. She closed her eyes against the sudden brightness and gave them a moment to adjust before opening them to the chaos ahead.
The Jolly Roger was lashed alongside another ship, a merchant vessel by the looks of it. While a good number of the crew were now aboard the other ship holding its passengers at knife point, the rest were busy unloading the contents of the hull and bringing them aboard. Hook stood aboard the opposite deck with his thumb hooked casually into his belt and oversaw their work.
Her heart clenched tight at the sight of him. How many days had it been since they’d last exchanged a word, or even a passing glance? Her lungs fought for air against the rigid boning of her corset as she struggled to focus on her earlier anger and the entire reason she’d come up here.
The wavering voice of the other ship’s captain carried across the water to her ears. “At least leave enough for us to make landfall. We’ll starve at sea if you take all that we have!”
Hook barked a bitter laugh that she hadn’t heard from him before. The sound of it sent a chill down her spine.
“Well, I’ll not have it be said that Captain Hook isn’t generous. How about it then – one barrel of wine and one barrel of gruel!”
The crew rolled aside one barrel of each from their haul and continued taking the rest with them, transferring the entire contents of the merchant ship’s hold to their own. The captain of the vessel stared aghast at the measly offering.
“That’s barely enough to survive a week! How can we be expected to live on so little?” he protested.
“The way I see it, that’s your problem, not mine,” Hook replied with a callous shrug of his shoulders.
Is this what he hadn’t wanted her to see? She couldn’t fathom why it mattered when he seemed more determined than ever to remind her that he was nothing but a pirate. For a while she’d allowed herself to forget what he was amidst fabulous tales and dances and long nights spent talking over candlelight. It was easier that way. When she forgot she didn’t have to feel guilty about the stolen dresses she wore or the pillaged food in her belly. But here, in this moment, she could no longer be blind to the man that he was, especially not when he was so determined to show her.
He governed his own actions, but she couldn’t help feel at least partially responsible for his absence of mercy. He was doing this to prove a point, specifically to her. Well, he’d done just that and now an innocent ship was doomed to suffer because of it. She’d be damned if she was going to let that happen.
Thomas was amongst the crew unloading the haul from the merchant ship. He made his way quickly past her, but wasn’t quick enough to evade her grip of her hand on his sleeve.
“Thomas, I need a favour.” She spoke in low tones, and kept her eyes on the other ship. “Consider it repayment for the letters I’ve written for you.”
He glanced hurriedly at Hook, who had his back turned to them both, and then gave her a quick nod.
“I need you to find a way to leave some food behind on that ship. Take all the rum and wine that you want, I’ll even slip an extra ration into your share, but we can’t leave those people to starve on the open sea.”
“The Captain, he’ll-”
“The Captain will never know. Swear to me that you can do this.”
He mulled it over a moment, looking thoroughly divided in his loyalties. He owed her, that much was clear, and the enticement of extra rations certainly helped smooth any lingering questions, but the fact remained that the punishment for insubordination was 50 lashes, which might as well have meant certain death.
“All right,” he muttered under his breath. “I’ll do it. It don’t sit right with us neither, leavin’ those people with nothin’.”
“Thank you, Thomas,” she said and released his arm. He hurried to the other ship and slipped down into the hold, ostensibly to convince a few others to leave a couple more barrels behind.
It took an hour for the transfer to be complete and she waited on the deck for the entirety of it. There were more than a few eyes on the other ship that glanced her way and she wondered how she must look to them. What did they imagine was her role was in all of this? Did they think her a pirate too? Or perhaps a prisoner like themselves? In truth, she was neither – not wholly a pirate and not wholly a prisoner.
The crew trickled back to the Jolly Roger looking somewhat less jovial than she’d seen them before. Thomas was one of the last to return aboard. He gave her a quick glance and a nod, letting her know that it had been done. Hook followed, sauntering back onto the deck of the Jolly Roger looking pleased. He ordered the bowsun to weigh anchor and it was in that moment their eyes met.
Her heart seemed to stop dead in her chest. What would he do now that she was there? He was captain and entirely within his rights to simply lock her in the hold until their arrival in Boston. He held her gaze as though inviting her to disapprove or flinch, anything to suggest that she was offended by what he was. She stubbornly lifted her chin, refusing to betray even the slightest hint of trepidation.
His brows lifted in amusement and a cocky grin curled one corner of his mouth. He ventured closer, his thumb still annoyingly hooked into his belt and he flicked a loose curl over her shoulder with his hook.
“Enjoy the show, love?”
His tongue ran boldly across his bottom lip, daring her to react. Her fingers tingled with anticipation but she resisted the urge to slap him by clenching her hands in the folds of her dress. Instead she gave him a look which said everything she was incapable of expressing - frustration, anger, but most of all disappointment that he was willing to go so far just to prove to her that there was nothing redeemable left within him.
“You’re pathetic,” she whispered so that the others wouldn’t overhear. “And I feel sorry for you.”
“You feel sorry for me?” he scoffed. “Whatever for?”
“Because you’re so determined to prove me wrong, you haven’t even stopped to notice your crew. They’re not happy, Captain.”
“My crew will do as they’re told,” he retorted sharply and moved a threatening half-step closer. She swallowed hard and held his gaze, determined not to be swayed by his sudden change in demeanor.
“Yes, but for how long?”
His brows drew together in a scowl and he took a step back while swiping his hand across his mouth. Her words had struck him, she could see it in the way his eyes suddenly cast about the deck. She’d been around her father’s ships enough to know that mutiny was every captain’s greatest fear. Even the best captains could only push their crews so far before a new leader was chosen and the old disposed of. Hook was one of the most notorious captains of the age and no doubt pirates the world over were clamoring to serve under him, but even he was not invincible to changing tides.
He made no move to stop her as she turned heel and headed for the hold. If those were to be her last words to him she would eventually regret them, but at the moment she felt emboldened by the knowledge that she’d finally reached him. Even pirates had a code they followed. He’d had one too, once upon a time, but had lost it along the way. Perhaps he would find it again once she was gone and he was no longer driven by his asinine desire to prove himself a villain. Or maybe he never would again. In either case it was no longer her concern. She was determined to wash her hands of him entirely and keep her attentions firmly focused on the future, where countless opportunities that awaited her.
Boston was days away now instead of weeks, but for her the end couldn’t come soon enough. Between pirates, the King’s Navy, and Hook’s determination to rob every ship that crossed their path, she couldn’t even begin to imagine what hurdle she might face next.
From the Jolly Roger’s stern the view of the setting sun was breathtaking. The sky turned soft shades of lavender and rose as the sun slipped lower on the horizon. And as the light faded she felt a quiet sense of loss fill her. Another day gone, another day closer to ‘home’, and still they had not spoken.
The sharp wind made the sails crack overhead and she wrapped her arms around herself to keep out the chill. On a night like this not so long ago, he’d draped his jacket over her shoulders and admonished her for being out in the cold. She could remember every detail of that night, right down to the casual way he’d rested his arms atop the ship’s rail and how the moonlight had reflected in his eyes.
That was the night he’d asked her where she wanted to go. She'd never expected him to ask. She'd never expected to live long enough to see her new home. And yet, here she was alive and well and closer to the New World than she’d ever thought possible. It hadn't escaped her notice that it would have been far easier for Hook to dump her at a random seaport and continue on his way. But despite the danger and inconvenience of it all, the Jolly Roger had doggedly pursued its course towards the New World because Hook had promised to take her there.
He’d proven himself to be a man of his word, a man of honour, which made it all the more difficult to reconcile the scene she’d encountered three days earlier. It kept running through her mind, relentless in its playback. If she closed her eyes she could hear his cold laugh and see the callous shrug of his shoulders over the fate of the merchant ship’s crew and passengers. Their lives, their suffering, had meant nothing to him. Without her intervention they would have been left to starve on the open sea, and for what? To prove a point? To make her see the levels of depravity he was capable of reaching? How could a man show himself to be gallant and noble one day and equally cold and heartless the next?
Captain Hook was an enigma she was no closer to figuring out than on the day she arrived. Emma expelled a sharp sigh of defeat and shook her head. The motion brought on a sudden queasiness which made the dark waves swirl before her eyes. Placing a cool hand to her forehead, she pulled in a deep breath of sea air. She’d clearly spent far too much time below deck in recent days. In an effort to avoid unnecessary confrontations with Hook, she’d spent countless hours in the hold inventorying their newest acquisitions. The very thought of counting out all those goods, especially while knowing exactly where they came from, was enough to sour her mood entirely. But little could be done to return them now, and besides, she desperately needed something to occupy her mind in the long days before their arrival in Boston.
A pod of whales slipped in and out of the waters alongside the ship with effortless grace and she watched them a moment to distract herself from the building pressure in her head. This particular pod had been travelling alongside them for almost a full day now. She couldn’t help but wonder if they imagined the Jolly Roger was one of their own. One of the whales surfaced below where she stood and released a heavy breath of sea water from its spout before slipping quietly beneath the surface.
It was easy to envy their freedom. They always seemed to know exactly where they were headed and where they ought to be. Unfortunately things were rarely as straightforward on land. There was no end to the questions of where and when or why and how. She’d asked herself any number of just such questions since boarding the Jolly Roger and would likely ask herself countless more after departing. If this journey had shown her anything, it was that nothing in life was certain. There was always something to surprise you or to make you question everything you thought you knew. She was so very tired of asking questions. For once, just once, it would be nice to have an answer.
She closed her eyes against the sight of the churning waves below and gripped the ship’s rail tighter. Her mind went over everything she’d eaten in the past day wondering if any of it could be the source for her sudden dizziness. It was the same basic meals she’d eaten the entire voyage – gruel for breakfast with a few nuts tossed on top, wine, ale, dried meat, fish, potatoes, eggs, all good foods. Determined to push through it, she straightened her shoulders and wiped away the cool sweat that had collected along her brow.
“Won’t be long to shore now.”
She started at the suddenness of his voice beside her, but kept her eyes on the ocean ahead. They’d done their best to avoid each other for days and now suddenly he wished to speak? Why must everything be on his terms?
“Is there any particular reason you came up here?” she wondered aloud and wrapped her arms around her midsection to keep steady. Of all the moments he could have chosen to speak with her in the last days, he had to choose this one where she could hardly stand up straight without wobbling.
Hook stepped up next to her and exhaled softly before speaking. He kept his eyes on the choppy waters while his thumb idly turned the large ring around his index finger.
“I thought you would wish to have an update on our progress. Weather permitting, we’ll arrive in Boston within three days.”
Three days? Was that all? She’d known they were close, but hadn’t realized just how soon she’d be leaving the Jolly Roger for good. Her stomach dropped and churned like the rough waters below, broken and anxious. She lightly cleared her throat and offered him a thin smile.
“That’s excellent news, thank you,” she managed with only a slight waver in her tone.
She’d thought herself sufficiently convincing, but Hook’s brow furrowed and he gripped her arm, turning her towards him.
“Is everything all right, lass?”
She flinched at his touch and he pulled his hand away, looking wounded and apologetic. Gracing her with his presence and acting like a model of civility weren’t enough on their own to steer her towards forgiving him. If he thought he could persuade her to forget about what he’d done with a look of concern and a flash of his dashing smile he was destined for disappointment.
“Everything’s fine,” she protested with a weak wave of her hand.
“You look pale,” he pressed, studying her more closely. “How do you feel?”
She took a step backwards, away from his probing gaze, and stumbled, just barely catching herself on the railing. “I told you, I’m fine.”
“You don’t look fine.” He advanced on her, his gaze unwavering and serious. “As Captain it’s my duty to monitor the health of all those aboard my ship.”
There was a ring of truth to his words and it stung more than she would have liked. They’d been friends once and she’d thought they might have been headed down the path towards becoming something more, but at every turn he reminded her of where she stood. Even now, even as his eyes looked at her with concern, he insisted on reminding her that he was merely following his duties as a Captain. She was no different from any other member of his crew. No more important, no more special. The realization hollowed her out like a dull spoon digging at her insides.
“I guess it’s fortunate then that you’ll be rid of me soon enough,” she replied with as much haughty indifference as she could muster. She turned her face away and into soothing wind. Her body was rebelling against her and growing weaker by the minute.
“Emma, look at me,” Hook urged, stepping in close.
The sound of her given name on his lips sent a shiver rushing down her spine. With only a word he was able to put a sizeable crack in her defences. She’d never met a man more dangerous to her virtue than the one standing before her now, gazing worriedly down at her.
He took firm hold of her arm and steadied her with his hook at her opposite shoulder.
“You’re getting paler by the minute, lass,” he chided. “Tell me what ails you.”
“I’ll be fine,” she insisted, and weakly pushed her hands against his chest. Black spots crept into her peripheral vision until they obscured it completely. They pulsed and grew until it was nearly impossible to see anything but his piercing blue eyes and how they anxiously searched her face.
Hook’s voice sounded far away. She had every intention of telling him that all she needed was a few moments rest, but the world disappeared out from under her. In the blink of an eye she was falling through a vast, bottomless pit, her body weightless and free.
From somewhere far away someone was calling her name. She turned towards the sound, reached for it, but her hands clawed at empty air. She had the fleeting thought that if she were to land face-first atop the deck it would be really quite embarrassing.
Instead a strong pair of arms wrapped around her midsection and lifted her up. She was still weightless but no longer falling, her body now being carried to some new location. The touch of leather against her cheek was warm and reassuring, and then a pillow appeared beneath her head. It was soft and cool and she immediately curled into it.
“Emma, love, wake up.”
Hook’s stern order was followed by the light slap of his fingers against her cheek. He slapped her again, just enough to drag her out of the dark pool of unconsciousness that beckoned her. With her brow furrowed in annoyance she cracked her eyes and glared at him.
“What do you want?”
“Here, drink this.”
He put his arm behind her head and held a cup to her lips that tickled her nose with the scent of something sharp and citrus-like. The moment it touched her lips she realized what it was. She reared back and turned her face away, wincing as the lemon juice coated her tongue.
“You must finish it,” Hook insisted, putting the cup to her lips once more. “It’ll make you feel better.”
She reluctantly obeyed, managing to choke down the rest of what was left in the cup.
“You could have at least watered it down a bit,” she groused as he pulled the cup away. “That tasted absolutely horrid.”
“I know. I’ve had to drink it once or twice myself on long voyages, but it does work.”
“What are you talking about?” Her head was still swimming, but the lemon juice had wakened her senses enough for her to follow what he was saying. She felt the dark pool of unconsciousness slipping further and further away, taking with it all promises of a blissful dreamless sleep.
“You’ve heard of scurvy haven’t you?” he inquired with a quirk of his brow.
“Of course I have, it’s-”
She’d been about to tell him that it was ridiculous to even suggest she’d been afflicted but stopped short. Her eyes stared unseeingly at the cup still in his hand as she mentally calculated the amount of fruit she’d eaten on their voyage. There hadn’t been any to speak of on the Montgomery, and after their spoonful of dried berries atop their morning porridge had run out she hadn’t had anything since.
“We add lemon juice to the rum to keep the scurvy at bay, but once we lost our stores to the King’s Navy there wasn’t much that could be done.”
“But I don’t drink rum,” she maintained with a quizzical look.
“That’s another problem we shall need to rectify,” he said with a teasing smile that crinkled the corners of his eyes.
“I don’t understand…” she protested wearily. “If the navy took all the rum where did you acquire the lemon juice?”
Hook’s smile faded and he averted his eyes to set the cup down on the table next to her head.
“You should rest,” he explained, dismissing her question entirely. “I will return to check on you in a short while. If you feel inclined to have any more lemon juice, help yourself to whatever’s in the pitcher on the table.”
He rose to his feet and headed for the door. It took a moment longer than it would have if she were feeling herself, but the truth was inescapable. Once she realized it, it seemed the most obvious thing in the world.
“Of course,” she whispered, “The merchant ship.”
Hook’s feet came to a halt at the bottom of the stairs and he waited for her to speak, or perhaps simply to hear her reaction. Her eyes darted to the pitcher of juice sitting atop the table and she hugged her knees into her chest.
“Where else would you have found a supply of fresh juice this far out to sea?” she said and felt her stomach do a flip. He kept his face turned away, his hand loosely gripping the stair rail.
“Why did you let me think…”
He turned his melancholy gaze towards her and his hand dropped from the rail. “That I was a pirate?” he offered with a dismissive shrug of his shoulders. “It’s what I am, love.”
“You pillaged that ship to safeguard your crew,” she determined with a confused furrow of her brow, “and you let me hate you for it. Why?”
With a finger he scratched nervously at the back of his head.
“Perhaps I thought it’d be easier,” he offered with a flat smile. “If you hated me you wouldn’t have any second thoughts about departing when the time came.”
“You want rid of me that badly?”
Hook took a careful step closer and then another. The lamplight caught the light in his eyes, making them look as stormy as the seas.
“I want you to have everything you desire,” he corrected her, his tone low and serious. “I want you to have the life that was meant for you, Emma. The life you deserve.”
The breath caught audibly in her throat and he held her gaze prisoner a moment longer before turning away. She struggled to find the words to respond and came up empty.
Which life was she meant to have? The one where she was an orphan? The one where she needed to start all over again in a new place with absolutely no one to introduce her to society? The one where she would leave behind a man she cared for to pursue some mysterious notion of a ‘better life’? Or the life where she forgot all notions of society and gentry and predestination and followed her heart?
The plea was out of her mouth before she even realized what it was she wanted. She wanted to feel his arms around her, and the touch of his lips against hers. She wanted to hear his laugh and see the light-hearted mirth in his eyes when he told her another of his grand stories. Beyond that she wasn’t certain of anything, but in this moment she could think of nothing she wanted more than his reassuring presence at her side.
His boots halted on the stairs a second time and he bowed his head. It was a long moment before he spoke. His fingers tightened around the stair rail until his knuckles stood out white against his skin but he would not turn his head towards her.
“Sleep well,” he muttered, his voice sounding strained.
He dragged his boots up the remaining stairs towards the deck and her heart sank when the cabin door closed shut behind him. Hot tears welled up in her eyes and she wiped them furiously away. Well, it seemed the heavens had finally seen fit to give her an answer. She realized now that there was only one thing worse than an abundance of choice, and that was the absence of one. Hook had made his, and now she had no choice but to live with hers.
A white hot fork of lightning descended out of the dark to kiss the ocean’s surface, flickering with a brilliant glow that illuminated the night sky. The storm that had destroyed the Montgomery had started just like this, an unassuming flash of lightening in the distance. Thunder lumbered towards them across the vast ocean surface and sent fear trickling like cool water down her spine. She told herself she was being irrational, childish even, but the very next flash made her insides give an anxious twist.
She sought out Curly for some morsel of reassurance. He’d always given it to her straight. Curly’s complete inability to sugar coat circumstances was one of the things she admired most about the elderly sailor. He’d become more than another sailor on the Jolly Roger’s crew. She considered him to be a friend, someone she’d willingly trust with her life, which was why she was so eager to find him now. If anyone could set her fears over the coming storm to ease, it was him.
She found him bent over near the rigging of one of the sails as he secured a length of rope. He straightened up just as she approached and smiled, though it quickly faded once he saw the anxious look in her eyes.
“What’s a matter, lass?”
“A storm...,” she explained haltingly and her eyes darted to the flickering expanse of cloud that was still far out to sea. Curly’s gaze followed and he nodded his head with a quiet grunt.
“Oy! Higgins! Ye damn’d lazy lout!” he shouted, turning his face up towards the suspiciously silent crow’s nest.
A long minute passed before a groggy and decidedly hung over looking crewman appeared at the edge of the basket placed high atop the main sail.
“Aye, sir. What can I do ye for?” he called down.
“Ye can open yer damn eyes and take a gander at th’ horizon!”
The barrelman did as he was told and his head visibly jerked at the sight of the threatening clouds heading towards them.
“Storm’s a comin’!” he shouted down with renewed urgency.
Curly heaved an emphatic sigh and gave a playful roll of his eyes, “Now ‘e tells us.”
Emma nibbled at her bottom lip while her hands twisted nervously in front of her. “Will we-?”
“All’ll be well. Just a bit o’ rain. Nothin’ this ol’ gal can’t handle,” he reassured her and gave the ship’s rail an affectionate pat. “We’ll need to get ‘er sorted ‘fore she hits, though. Best get yerself safe in the hold.”
When the storm sank the Montgomery she’d been doing just that - hiding away in the hold and praying for the best. The waves had tossed their ship around like a toy, until it was rendered apart with a deafening explosion of water, wood and metal. She couldn’t go through that again – the long hours of feeling useless and helpless and completely ignorant of her fate.
“I want to help,” she pleaded as the wind gave a sudden gust, blowing her loose hair about her face. “What can I do?”
Curly looked as if he were going to tell her to climb into the hold as he’d instructed, but seemed to have a last-second change of heart. He pointed instead to the grates in the deck that allowed fresh air into the lower levels.
“We’ll need to be battenin’ them hatches. Think ye can manage?”
She nodded and Curly brought her to a pile of canvas sheets that were approximately the size of each hatch.
“You’ll need ta nail ‘em,” he instructed and laid the stack across her arms before heading off to assign tasks to the rest of the crew. Careful to keep out of the way of the others, she set to work securing a sheet of canvas overtop each hatch.
At some point while she worked, Hook had appeared on deck. She heard his voice over the howl of the wind, shouting orders to get up to windward. The sails snapped loudly overhead but she kept pace, determined to have every hatch covered before he could order her below deck. She wouldn’t stand about and be useless if she could help it.
Though the storm was still a ways off the waves were already beginning to spill over the rails and splash down into the hold, destroying her carefully counted and organized inventory. The mere thought of having to re-organize and re-count all those goods was enough to urge her feet forward, moving her from one hatch to the next.
She was nearly through when the rain finally hit. It came down in sudden, angry sheets, pelting the ship and its crew with sharp, icy pellets that struck like needles against the skin. Two more, she thought, and stubbornly pressed on. Two more hatches and the hold would be secure and she could go below deck knowing she’d done all she could. Her hammer drove home another nail, the clang of metal against metal barely audible above the roar of storm.
Lightening flashed overhead, piercing the air with a deafening crack of thunder. The crew was running about all around her, lowering the sails and tying them off, or tossing buckets of water overboard. Hook was at the helm, gritting his teeth as he steered the Jolly Roger out of the worst of the storm. He wasn’t the sort of man who was accustomed to defeat. Even as water poured over the side rails, the thought of him at the wheel was reassuring. Whatever it took he would get them out of this alive, she was certain of it. That was the magic of this ship, the power that made it greater than all the others. With Hook guiding them, how could they possibly fail?
She clutched the last of her nails tight in her fist and crawled across the deck to the final hatch. She put the first nail against a flapping corner of canvas and drove it home with three certain strikes. She’d only just started on the second when a hand took hold of her arm and hauled her to her feet.
“What the Devil are you doing?” Hook demanded, his eyes blazing like twin firebrands.
“Battening the hatches!” she shouted back over the howling wind.
His head jerked back and he looked around the deck, seeing the work she’d nearly completed. The ship pitched suddenly, hit by a strong wave, and he pulled her closer.
“It’s not safe,” he said, putting his mouth closer to her ear. “You need to get below deck!”
“Let me finish this,” she pleaded. “I want to help!”
“What if a rogue wave hits and you go overboard?” he challenged, playing upon her worst fears.
“Then I guess you’ll no longer be obligated to go to Boston.”
His jaw clenched tight and he gave her a look that indicated far better than words ever could just how wrong her words had been. He appeared to be searching for the words, the ones that would convince her to listen to him, but an urgent call from Smee sent them diving for the deck.
She didn’t understand what had happened at first, but the line of rigging that instantly zipped over their heads with its heavy pulley still attached made things suddenly, alarmingly clear. Hook’s arms remained wrapped tight around her; when Smee had shouted his warning he’d grabbed hold of her and fallen backwards, cushioning the fall with his own body. He was gazing up at her now, with a line of worry etched across his brow.
“Are you all right?”
His fingers went to the matted tendrils of hair clinging to her cheeks and pushed a few strands off her face before he thought better of it and let his hand fall away. She glanced down sheepishly at her own hands, which were still gripping his shirt, and felt a wave of embarrassment wash over her. She nodded wordlessly to answer his question and became suddenly aware of just how closely their bodies were pressed together.
“Why did you do that?” she asked softly, surprised by the genuine look of relief that lingered in his gaze.
“Would you have preferred I let a bit of rigging knock your head clean off?”
“No, it’s just…” she hesitated, not sure how to express what it was she wanted to say. “Thank you,” she finished lamely and scrambled off of him.
“It was my pleasure,” Hook teased with a little bow once he'd righted himself. “Now, I trust there is no more argument about the dangers of you remaining on deck?” He gave her a look that indicated the topic was no longer up for discussion and Curly promptly appeared at her side to relieve her of the last of the nails.
“Best be goin’ now,” he hollered over the wind with a nod at the door to Hook’s quarters. “Cap’n’s orders!”
She reluctantly agreed to go just as a deafening crack of thunder split the air. The ship uttered a deep groan and crack and then pitched hard on its side, sending her feet sliding out from under her. Her hands clawed at the water-logged wood of the deck boards in search of purchase, but found none. She careened hard into something solid and unforgiving. Pain shot through her ribs, momentarily stealing her breath away.
While she was still trying to regain her breath, the ship righted itself with a violent force unlike any she’d felt before. It sent her surging forward across the deck as splinters of wood embedded into her palms. Her eyes instinctually searched for him, seeking out that momentary glimpse of hope. So long as he was well, all would be fine. As long as we he was safe, they would survive this storm.
When she couldn’t see him amongst the crew pulling themselves up off the deck, she pushed to her feet and ran towards the ship’s wheel. There were several more men groaning on the deck there, but none of them were Hook.
“Where is he?” she whispered as her eyes darted frantically about the ship.
With panic tightening her throat like a vice, she ran to the starboard side and peered over the rail. The waters below were dark and violent, their frothy foam curling along the sides of the ship. He was there. She could feel it down to the very marrow of her bones. He was there, in the water, and he was running out of time.
“Quickly!” she shouted to the men behind her. “The Captain’s gone overboard!”
The call travelled about the deck and within seconds she was accompanied at the rail by a good handful of the crew.
“The Cap’n’s gone over?” Mr. Smee looked warily at the churning waters below and shook his head. “Our dear Captain was a good man, and an honourable pirate. He-,”
“He’s not dead yet,” she snapped and Smee promptly shut his mouth. “But he will be if we don’t help him.”
The crew eyed the water warily. However great their loyalty to Hook, their sense of self-preservation was stronger.
“It’d be suicide to go in there,” one of them commented with a cluck of his tongue.
“Philip, hand me a length of rope,” she shouted to the nearest crewman.
Smee stood between her and Philip, adamantly shaking his head in disapproval. “Miss Swan, you don’t mean-”
“I do and I will, with or without your help,” she countered while her hands went to work removing the heavy outer layers of her dress. “If you help us, the Captain and I will have a much better chance of survival. What will it be?”
Her beautiful silk gown dropped to the wooden planks of the deck, leaving her in her shift and undergarments. She crossed her arms and stared expectantly at the men who could no longer think of a reason to refuse to help. Two of them helped wrap the rope around her waist while another searched the waters for signs of the Captain. A flash of lightning cut through the sky and one of the crew pointed at the waters just off the starboard side.
“There!” he shouted excitedly, “There in the water. I saw something!”
“We’ll only have one chance at this,” Emma explained as her eyes remained fixed on the spot where Hook was to be found. “I’ll pull on the rope twice when I’ve found him, understand?”
“And if you don’t find him?” Smee hazarded with a grave look.
The crew helped her up onto the railing and then she was overboard, her body sailing towards the frigid waters. Once she broke the surface, the icy burn that engulfed her was immediate. A thousand tiny knives pierced her skin, stealing her breath away as she tried to adapt to the frigid cold of the ocean waters.
She fought her way to the surface and sucked in a short, ragged breath. The rope around her waist tightened suddenly, almost painfully so, and she realized she didn’t have long before it started to pull her through the water next to the ship – and further away from Hook.
She kicked her feet, aware of the numbing cold that was slowly seeping into her bones. Stay alive, she told herself. You must stay alive long enough to find him. Keep kicking. Keep breathing. Find him! You will not die here after coming so far. Your life will not end like this, but his might if you don’t hurry!
She kept her inner monologue going to distract herself from the pain of the freezing water and of the rope tightening around her waist. As her hands propelled her through the frigid, dark sea, she pictured the warmth of her bed, or Hook’s bed, rather, and desperately wanted to be in it surrounded by cozy blankets. It was tempting to close her eyes and just let go, to embrace the peace that hung on the periphery of her consciousness. But then she would be dead and so would Hook, and she had no intention of letting that happen if she could help it.
After what felt like an age of swimming, she finally reached the spot they’d last seen a glimmer of him. It’d seemed far closer from the safety of the ship’s deck. Pulling in a deep breath, she dove beneath the waves and was greeted by a blackness darker and deeper than any she could remember seeing before. It was terrifying, this empty void that contained a thousand dangers she could not begin to comprehend.
Where are you? She cast her head about this way and that, desperate to see any sign of him. Lightening flashed, momentarily illuminating the waters below. There – a glimmer of something! His hook! The light had reflected off his hook for just a moment, but it was enough. She dove deeper into the ocean’s fury, determined not to lose sight of him.
Her lungs were burning for air by the time her fingers brushed the cool metal of his appendage. Grabbing hold of it as tightly as she dared, she tugged the rope at her waist twice and began to kick for the surface.
The assistance of the crew made the journey back blessedly short. Her head broke the surface just as her lungs gave up the last of their air and she sucked in a deep, throaty breath, coughing and spitting out a vile mouthful of sea water. Hook’s skin was already cold and white like the belly of a fish, but even so, she did her best to keep his head above the water.
Stay alive, she pleaded with him as they neared the ship. You must stay alive!
The wind bit sharply against her skin as the crew dragged them up the side of the ship and onto the reassuringly solid deck. She would have laughed with relief if she’d had the strength to spare. Instead she collapsed atop the deck, shivering convulsively with Hook’s still form at her side. The crew stared down, their expressions grave.
She turned her head wearily to take in the sight of his eerily still form and felt anger and frustration well up inside of her. This was NOT how their story was meant to end – with tragedy and no word of a good-bye? He was supposed to deliver her safely to Boston, and she to stare wistfully after the Jolly Roger and wonder if she’d made the right choice.
Too stubborn to give up and too annoyed to pay much attention to the fact that she was shaking violently from the cold, she dragged herself up onto her hands and knees and stared down at the face of the Jolly Roger’s captain.
“Wake up, Captain!” she shouted down at him and slapped his face with enough force to leave a mark. “Don’t you dare die on me!”
When he didn’t respond she swore under her breath and did what she’d once seen the men of her father’s crew do when a crewman had fallen overboard. She put her mouth over his and blew, breathing life-giving air back into his lungs. She blew once, twice, and then sat back.
“Come on!” she shouted and slammed her palm angrily against his chest when he didn’t stir. “Breathe!”
She bent her head to his lips a second time, considering for the moment that for all intents and purposes this was their first kiss. If she’d had her choice, it would have happened under far more romantic circumstances. Sopping wet and frantic atop the deck while the crew looked on in grim silence was far from ideal.
“Killian, please, please, wake up,” she pleaded and grabbed hold of the lapels on his jacket. She pulled his lifeless form towards her and then pushed him back against the deck, determined to force the water out of his lungs if she had to.
When that didn’t work she bent her mouth to his again, aware that if he didn’t wake this time, if he didn’t start to breathe on his own soon, then he was well and truly gone and there wasn’t a thing she could do about it.
With a glance heavenward, she made a silent prayer and then sent life-giving air into his oxygen starved lungs. She sent two breaths and then a third, hoping with every fibre of her being that he would open his eyes and clutch her to him. Instead she sat back and stared down at the unmoving form of the most infamous pirate to ever rule the high seas. She felt suddenly numb, her body no longer shivering in the howling wind. It wasn’t supposed to happen this way. Her hand unclenched slowly, releasing the wrinkled linen of his shirt. She was the clumsy one. She was the one who should have fallen overboard, not him!
His body was still beneath her hands, his chest cold and hard like marble. Her eyes followed a droplet of sea water as it cut a narrow path down his cheek towards his chin. She wiped it away, the numbed flesh of her thumb scraping across the shadow of stubble along his jaw. In a few moments she would have to find the strength to rise to her feet and leave him, but the very thought of moving from that spot felt like an insurmountable task. She may as well have been standing at the base of a sheer rock cliff and staring hopelessly at the distant top.
Hot tears spilt down her cheeks and she swallowed the sob that was pressing at the back of her throat.
“What am I supposed to do now?”
Her whispered plea was barely audible above the scream of the wind, but its effect was instantaneous. Beneath her hands Hook’s body jerked suddenly, bowing upwards and then turning away from her. His shoulders heaved and she heard the sound of him vomiting sea water onto the deck. He collapsed onto his back, exhausted and out of breath, and stared blankly up at the sky.
“You…you…!”She gaped at him as fresh tears spilled down her cheeks. “You’re alive?”
The realization seemed to hit her all at once and her face split into a wide grin. Without a single care for propriety, she flung her arms around his neck and made a sound of relief that was torn between a laugh and a sob. The crew huddling around them grinned at one another and clapped, sending cheers into the night despite the storm still raging all around them.
“Who gave you permission to do that?” she scolded when at last she pulled away.
His brows rose and he glanced towards the sound of her voice. She watched the reassuring sight of his chest rising and falling as it replenished the oxygen his body had lost. He seemed surprised by her reaction and his lips twitched ever so slightly.
“What’s that?” he managed, but it was little more than a whisper.
“Die,” she answered, her voice breaking as a fresh slew of tears filled her eyes.
“You can’t…get rid of me…that…easily,” he teased between breaths and then wearily closed his eyes.
She wiped the tears from her cheeks and laughed in spite of her annoyance. The well of relief within her was positively overflowing, flooding her with emotions she hadn’t been prepared to feel all at once.
“Take him to his quarters,” she instructed gently to the crew hovering around them. “The Captain needs rest.”
Curly and Smee stepped forward, pulling Hook up and wrapping his arms around their shoulders.
“Yer like a cat wi’ nine lives, ye lucky bastard,” Curly chided gruffly.
“Good to have you back, Cap’n,” Smee chimed in with a genial smile.
They led him carefully across the deck to his quarters. Once he was out of sight, she readied herself to stand but wasn’t entirely certain her legs would support her. Just then a hand appeared at her side. She glanced up and locked eyes with Thomas, who gave her a reassuring nod. She put her hand in his and he pulled her to her feet.
“Thank you,” she said sincerely, and was relieved to find that her legs held strong.
“’Tis us who should be thankin’ you, Miss,” Thomas corrected her with a glance around at the faces hovering close by. “That there was the most impressive bit o’ bravery I’ve seen in a good long while. You brought our Cap’n back to us. We won’t be soon forgettin’.”
The faces around her nodded in agreement and if she weren’t so cold she felt certain her cheeks would have flushed red with embarrassment. Her motives had been entirely selfish, but ultimately the crew had regained their Captain and she her…
She glanced towards the door to his cabin, not entirely sure how to classify what they were. It was clear to everyone aboard that she felt more than a fleeting something towards their Captain, but she was no closer to defining exactly what that feeling was. What she did know, the one fact that was utterly undeniable, was that the sight of his eyes opening had sent forth the greatest surge of relief she’d ever felt in her young life. Even now, with the crew singing her praises, she couldn’t think of anything but being down in that cabin with him.
“I should go check on the Captain,” she said, excusing herself from the group with an apologetic glance at the door to his cabin.
Curly and Smee met her on the way and the former offered her a wink and a reassuring pat on the shoulder.
“‘E’ll be all right, lass,” Curly promised with a knowing look. “Sure ‘e’d appreciate a bit o’ company tho’.”
She thanked him sincerely and headed with some apprehension for the cabin door, having no idea what she’d find once she was down there.
Author's Note: My dear readers, you are the most incredibly patient people. I sincerely apologize for making you wait for this chapter - it was originally significantly longer and had to be split up. As a result, the next chapter is just about done (just tinkering with word choices and such now), and will likely be posted within the next couple of days. I'm eager to hear your thoughts on this latest addition. Much of the promised soul-searching for these two will happen next chapter and the one to follow. Nothing like a bit of a life or death scare to get priorities in order. I hope you'll stay tuned!
The storm continued to rage, pitching the Jolly Roger from side to side with each wave that crashed against its hull. The ship creaked ominously, its bolts and joists groaning in protest against the pressure of the wind and the waves. His fastidiously clean cabin was now littered with maps, books and broken glass and the pungent aroma of rum hung on the air.
He leaned heavily against the wooden post in the centre of his cabin and lamented the loss of so many good bottles. Granted they were all stolen, but that was beside the point. The crash of another heavy wave against the hull left him struggling for balance and the ship shuddering in its wake. He patted the post and muttered a pleased ‘good girl’. This storm may be wicked, but his ship and crew had survived far worse. And he was thankful to have one less thing to worry about, given the circumstances.
He could still taste the sea in his mouth and his lungs and eyes burned from the salt water. Had he the strength to move, he would have long since rummaged for a bottle of rum to soothe the tremors that shook his hand. The only reason he was alive was because Emma had risked her own life to save him. He’d only just begun to process what that meant, and was nowhere close to knowing what he planned to do about it.
The door to his cabin opened from above and Emma descended the stairs one at a time, her hands gripping the stair rail tightly to keep her balance. Someone had thrown a crewman’s blanket over her shoulders, but it did precious little good when the rest of her was sopping wet from the rain and the sea. What he could see of her shift clung to her like a sheer second skin, and her hair hung in loose, dripping curls about her shoulders.
He lingered against the post and focused on remaining upright. Every muscle in his body trembled with exhaustion and those that didn’t spasmed with shivers. He hadn’t wanted her to see him like this, but there was no helping it now. Once she reached the bottom of the stairs, she pulled the blanket tightly around her shoulders and made her way to him. Even in the dim lantern light he could see that she was shaking, though he couldn’t be certain whether it was from emotion or the cold.
He barely managed that single word, forcing it past the rawness in his throat left by the sea water. Her body collided with his, sending him back against the post. She held him tight without saying a single word. The touch of her wet hair against his cheek was a welcome reminder that he’d courted death and lived to sail another day. He held her close and breathed her in, certain he could detect the lingering scent of the soap she liked to bathe with beneath the brine of the sea.
“I’m sorry,” she gasped just as suddenly and pulled back. Her eyes swept his features with anxiety swimming in their depths. “I just… Are you all right?”
“I’ll survive,” he replied with an attempt at a smile that wound up looking more like a grimace. “Though I could do with a bit of rum.”
“Or an entire bottle?” she retorted with a lift of her brow. “I’ll see if any survived.”
She returned a moment later with a bottle in hand and pulled the cork out with her teeth. His hand shook so badly as he took the bottle from her that he could scarcely get it to his mouth without spilling any on the floor. The rum coated his throat and embraced him with all the warmth of a hug from an old friend. Even if the rest of him was frozen to the core, at the very least there was now a small fire burning in the pit of his stomach that grew warmer with each sip.
“May I?” she asked and he passed the bottle to her.
“I thought we agreed your debt to me had already been paid.” He was glad to hear that his voice sounded stronger now that his throat was no longer raw.
She averted her gaze and tucked one of the many loose curls hanging about her face behind her ear. “I hadn’t forgotten,” she replied softly.
He took a step towards her and took hold of her arm, urging her to turn his way, “Then tell me why.”
She did turn to look at him then and stared with her mouth ajar. “You really don’t know? You can’t imagine any possible reason why I might want to save your life?”
“If something should happen to me my men will deliver you safely to Boston, you have my word on that. You needn’t worry about finding safe passage.”
A quiet sigh escaped from between her lips and her eyes fluttered closed, “I have never doubted that. I went in after you because I knew…”
Her eyes opened and appeared to glisten in the lantern light, as if holding unshed tears. “I knew I wouldn’t survive the loss of someone else I cared about to those unforgiving waters.”
“Emma…” He reached out to take her hand but she jerked it away and took a step back.
“I can’t lose you too, Killian!”
Her words struck him with the force of a slap. He wanted nothing more than to sweep her into his arms and promise she would never have to worry about losing him again. If he were less of a man he might have. This was the closest he’d come to being tempted to forget all notions of honour and do exactly as he pleased.
She certainly wasn’t making it easy on him, especially not with the way her eyes probed his for answers he wasn’t in the right state of mind to give. She’d seen her fair share of danger during her time on the Jolly Roger, but that didn’t even come close to the true dangers a life at sea offered. That thought hung in the back of his mind, acting as a great impenetrable wall between what he wanted and what he knew he needed to do.
“That’s all you have to say?” she pressed, her voice barely above a whisper. Her hands went to his chest, lightly pushing until his back met the wooden post once more. “I tell you I care for you, I risk my life to save you, and you can’t even muster a ‘thank you’?”
His hand slipped beneath the rough wool of the crewman’s blanket to rest on the small of her back. He urged her closer until she was near enough that he could close his eyes and rest his forehead against hers. Her warm breath tickled the skin of his neck, a pleasant reminder that her lips were but a tilt of the chin away from his.
Nothing would be the same after today. He’d had many close calls as Hook, but none quite so close as this. Staring death in the face had a funny way of forcing a man to re-evaluate his perspective on things and decide what was truly important. Waking up to the sight of her tear-stained face beaming down at him in pure, joyous relief had solidified that what he wanted more than anything was for her to be at his side until he drew his final breath on this earth.
He’d lived for far too long without love. If he spoke now, that life and that love could be his. All it would take was the right combination of words and to give up any and all semblance of honour, a small price to pay for what could be a lifetime of happiness. But he would always wonder if she might have been better off in the world she’d grown up in and known all her life. He would always wonder if she regretted her choice.
Failing to find the words he needed, he did what felt natural instead. He tilted his head ever so slightly to the side and was pleased to feel that she followed in kind. Their lips lightly brushed one another and the breath hitched in her throat. He kissed her slowly, his lips pressed almost hesitantly against hers. They were softer than anything he’d imagined, their pliant warmth the most welcoming reminder he was alive. At her faint gasp he prepared to pull away and apologize, but then he felt the touch of her hand on the exposed skin of his chest. Her fingers slid lightly across his flesh, leaving a trail of goose bumps in their wake. Suddenly fisting her hands around the damp remains of his shirt, she inhaled sharply and rolled up onto the balls of her feet.
Where his mind had only moments earlier been buzzing it now went silent silent. Her soft mouth pressed eagerly to his was the only thing that existed, the only thing that still mattered. Her warmth surged through him and gave new life to the sluggish blood in his veins. He pulled in a shaky breath and then her arms were slipping around his neck. There was nothing timid about her kiss; her touch was passionate and hungry, and the soft moans that sounded in her throat made his heart quicken and his breaths come short.
He’d only intended to give her a brief kiss in a selfish demonstration of gratitude for what she’d done for him, but he hadn’t been prepared for her to respond so enthusiastically. He struggled to find a reason to stop, some logical excuse for why they shouldn’t do this. It became increasingly more difficult to think rationally, especially while her lips teased the side of his neck and the warmth of her body was separated from his naked chest by nothing more than a thin bit of cloth.
It’d been far easier when he hadn’t known what it was like to kiss her. It’d been far easier, too, to dismiss his lurid imagination when it plied him with thoughts of the passion he might find contained within that courageous blonde head. It would be far less simple now (had it ever been?). His thoughts were already disjointed and becoming quickly more so as her fingers boldly tugged at his dark hair and her teeth dragged across his bottom lip. Lord help him, his soul was damned.
She pulled away just as suddenly as she’d kissed him. Her fingers went to her lips as if in shock and she swallowed before lifting her eyes to his. At the very least, if all else failed, he could be consoled by the fact that she looked nearly as wrecked as he felt.
“Love, that was…” He blew out a soft sigh, finding himself suddenly at a loss for words.
“An interesting way of saying thank you,” she suggested and dropped her fingertips away from her reddened lips. “Might I…ask a favour?”
“Anything,” he answered with an indulgent smile, a part of him hoping she was already ready for another.
“Promise me you’ll take care of yourself, even after I’m gone. I need you to promise to take care of yourself. I don’t think I could bear it if I knew you were dead.”
Her words sobered him instantly. When I’m gone… That was the plan, wasn’t it? In a few short days’ time she would be gone from this life and he would never see her again. The visions his mind had conjured up of them sailing the seas together quickly vanished, to be tucked away and reminisced over on some lonely drunken night months down the road.
“The death of a lowly pirate would trouble you so much?” he asked, his tone cautious.
Why did she insist on making this so difficult? Couldn’t she see how impossible this was for him? Couldn’t she tell that he was using every ounce of self control to stop himself from telling her exactly how he felt – honour and good intentions be damned? His jaw clenched tight against any confessions of the heart, but the indulgent brush of his fingertips across her temple was feather light.
“Not to worry, love,” he told her with a weary smile. “If there’s one thing I excel at, it’s surviving.”
Her eyes darted back and forth between his, perhaps searching for some deception. Finding none, she inched closer and lifted her chin in challenge, “Swear to it.”
“I am a man of my word.”
He was a man of his word, just as he was a man of honour. He’d lived by a gentleman’s code since he was old enough to understand the importance of such things and he could count on one hand the rare few times he’d wavered in his beliefs. The first was when he’d cheated his brother, Liam, at a game of cards just to see the look on his face when he realized he’d lost. The second was when he took a mother from her child. He’d justified it then with reasons of passionate love and his dangerous occupation, but he’d always known leaving without the boy had been the wrong choice. Tonight would most certainly be another addition to the list.
Honour dictated that he deliver her untouched to Boston so that she could settle there with her good name untarnished, but Davy Jones himself couldn’t have kept her from him in that moment. So he ignored the churning pit of guilt at the base of his stomach and the tiny voice in the back of his mind warning him that this would only lead to heartache, and lowered his mouth to hers to seal his promise with a kiss.
Without another word he pulled her against him. His mouth was on hers before she could utter a single syllable, working boldly and with expert precision to drive her up onto her tip toes. His lips tasted of the sweet remnants of the rum they’d drunk earlier and the lingering salt of the sea. Her body arched against his solid frame as her hands clutched tight at the damp material of his shirt. How many nights had she dreamt of the bruising heat of his mouth against hers? Or the warm possessiveness of his touch? Or the soft look in his eyes as they swept over her?
When he finally tilted his head down and pulled away, she found herself left breathless and speechless perched on two legs that felt as if they were made of jelly. She swallowed hard and tried to find her voice as her head swam with the exuberant knowledge that his passion seemed to equal her own (if that kiss was any measure to judge by). Was it possible that she wasn’t alone in her affections? Could he care for her the way she did him?
Thoughts about how this was completely irrational forced their way to the forefront of her thoughts. In a matter of days they would arrive in Boston and what then? He hadn’t once suggested that he wanted her to remain aboard. To a man with a reputation like his, who’d had many countless conquests, what meaning could a kiss possibly have? Surely it was only a gesture of gratitude. Or maybe she’d caught him in an unguarded moment – a brush with death could do that do a man, make him vulnerable enough to do things he never would have before. As badly as she wanted this kiss to mean for him what it did to her, she was smart enough to see the truth for what it was.
With a shy smile, she pulled back. He followed as if drawn by some invisible force, his lips seeking hers out. He breathed her name, sounding positively broken as he did so, and for a moment she let her worries be silenced. She’d wanted this for so long that it hardly seemed fair to let thoughts of what ifs and maybes intrude to ruin it. But intrude they did and with a soft whine of protest she pulled away again.
“We…we should stop,” she pleaded breathlessly. She closed her eyes and furrowed her brow, struggling to focus.
“Aye,” he agreed with a nod and let his hand fall away from where it had cupped the back of her head.
“You need to get some rest,” she urged with a glance at the bed. She needed to distract him before he had a chance to comment on the kiss and ruin the moment completely. Just for tonight she wanted to live in a world where anything was possible, and that included a happily ever after ending for a merchant’s daughter and a pirate.
He glanced over his shoulder at the small cot that served as his bed and nodded in agreement, “I think you may be right about that, love.”
“You can’t stay in this wet shirt,” she admonished with a glance at the soaked material. “You’ll catch a death of cold if you do.”
“We wouldn’t want that,” he replied, with a teasing look. “Not after you went to all that trouble to bring me back.”
He tugged listlessly at his shirt, trying to pull it loose from his pants with little success.
“May I?” she asked and took hold of the material of his shirt at the waist. She gave it a firm tug, but the wet leather of his pants clung to his body like a second skin, trapping the ends of his shirt entirely. There was no removing it without at the very least loosening his pants.
“Has anyone ever told you that leather is completely nonsensical attire for a ship’s Captain?” she muttered and dropped her hands away in frustration.
“They’re comfortable,” he replied, flashing a shameless grin. “Besides, the leather makes me look dashing, wouldn’t you say?”
Emma rolled her eyes and her hands went to the laces of his pants. If she’d paused to think about it fear might have stopped the movements of her fingers. Instead she threaded them through the laces, loosening them bit by bit.
Hook swallowed audibly, his head hovering just above hers. He’d gone very still but for the hook that twitched next to his thigh. With a twist of her fingers, the last of the laces on his pants came loose and she was able to pull the hem of his shirt free.
“There!” she cheered triumphantly, and lifted the remains of his shirt upwards and over his head. It slapped wetly against the closest chair and she took a moment to straighten it out so that it could dry.
She turned back to find a shirtless pirate watching her with eyes that were dark and wanting. A nervous smile pulled at her lips and an inadvertent shiver cascaded across his chest. It reminded her of how her horse’s rump used to shudder when it was trying to rid itself of an irksome fly. Her fingers itched to run across the bare skin of his chest and feel the whispering tickle of the dark hair against her palms.
Realizing she was staring, her eyes hastily darted away. “I should-,” she began to say, but that was as far as her offer to retrieve a dry shirt for him went. Despite her best efforts to walk around him, the gentle grip of his hand around the top of her arm stopped her.
“I wanted to thank you,” he said softly, inching closer. He dipped his head in search of her eyes and in time they lifted to meet his. “What you did today…”
His hand released her arm and skimmed down its length until his fingers found hers and gave them a gentle squeeze. Her eyes darted uncertainly between the spot where their hands were joined and the earnest expression in his fathomless blue eyes. She was terrified by the sudden tenderness in his look and touch. He was different than the man who’d pulled her aboard those many weeks ago. And a part of her feared, more than anything, that the very moment she opened herself up to the thought of being with him, the very day she let herself accept that vision for her future, he would change his mind and rip it all away. So while any normal girl would have swooned at the sight of those blue eyes gazing down at her so intently and done or said whatever it was he wanted, she gently pulled her hand away and exhaled an airy sigh.
“It was nothing. Though perhaps next time you feel like going for a swim you’ll wait until after the storm has passed?”
The expressions on his face changed more quickly than he was able to hide them. She saw the momentary flash of confusion that cut across his features before his brow furrowed and he swiped his hand across his mouth.
“I shall take it under advisement.”
A heavy wave gave the ship a sudden, violent jolt that shook them apart. Hook caught her and held her close, managing to grab the back of the nearest chair to keep them both from toppling over.
“Well you may excel at surviving, Captain, but you won’t survive the cold you’re going to have if you don’t get into bed,” she admonished, thankful for the momentary respite to catch her breath and collect her thoughts. With her best attempt at a stern look, she pushed him towards the cot. He went without argument and sat on the edge of the bed to remove his boots and pants.
“Would you be able to find a dry shirt for me in that trunk?” he asked with a nod at the wooden trunk pushed up against the far wall. She went to it and was surprised upon opening it to find two piles of neatly folded garments. She pulled out the cream coloured jacket he’d worn the day of their nuptials and set it aside. Beneath it was a black linen shirt, similar to the one she’d peeled off of him moments earlier. Returning the naval jacket to its place, she touched the polished brass buttons with a small smile and closed the lid of the trunk.
“Thank you, my lady,” Hook said as he took the shirt from her. With his arm outstretched she noticed a flash of colour on his forearm she hadn’t seen before. She studied the design, noting its shape, and the word scrawled in fine script across its centre– Milah. She felt his gaze on her and quickly lifted her eyes to his with a bright smile.
“I best change as well. Promise not to peek!”
“On my honour as a gentleman,” he vowed with a bow of his head.
She shook her head. “No good. I’ve known too many gentlemen.”
His brows raised in amusement, “What of swearing on my honour as a pirate? Would that be enough to satisfy the lady?”
Careful of the broken glass that still littered the floor, she manoeuvred behind the dressing screen to change. The kiss had distracted her for a while, but as she peeled the damp material from her body the cold returned with a vengeance, making goose bumps erupt up her arms and down her legs. She emerged with her arms folded across her chest and headed in the direction of the table in search of a stiff drink to warm her belly.
With a glance at the bed she found Hook, who had managed to remove his boots and pants and was now curled up on his side beneath the sheet. He opened his eyes as she drew near to the table and studied her a moment before throwing the covers back.
“You’re just as cold as I am, love. And I promise to behave.”
She wanted nothing more than to jump blindly into that bed with him, cuddle up to his side, and forget that a world existed outside this cabin. But she knew her heart and she knew she’d never recover if she allowed herself to go to him now without ever knowing the truth.
“Tell me you don’t feel the same as I do for you and I’ll leave this ship when we get to Boston and never see you again.”
The words spilled out of her in a sudden rush and she gasped to stop herself from saying anything more. There it was - the question that’d been hanging over both of their heads for weeks now. Her heart hammered inside her chest in the silence, so loud she was certain he could hear it. How many seconds had passed? How many minutes? The silence stretched and though she had never felt more nervous in her life, she couldn’t bear to look away for fear of missing even the smallest of clues.
Hook was quiet for a long while, his eyes staring fixedly at the floor. “I can’t tell you what you want to hear,” he said finally, his tone hard. “I can’t, Emma.”
She took in the sight of his tense shoulders and clenched jaw and understood immediately that he was lying. There was no doubt in her mind, but she couldn’t force him to admit something he wasn’t ready to admit. So instead of joining him, she exhaled a quiet sigh and took a step backwards.
“You should get some rest,” she said and noted the wide-eyed shock in his eyes when they lifted to hers. “The storm seems to have calmed a bit now. I’ll have the crew help me safely to the cargo hold.”
He rolled up out of the cot and stuttered forward, his feet taking a few urgent steps towards her before halting in their tracks.
“I can’t be responsible for ruining your life,” he implored, his eyes begging her for understanding.
“That storm ruined my life,” she corrected him. “You offered me the chance at a new one.”
“Emma, please,” he urged, taking her once more by the hand. “Let’s discuss it in the morning.”
He nodded and gently pulled her towards his cot. She followed, just as eager as he was to be beneath the soothing warmth of sheets. She crawled in next to him and as he set the covers down their bodies gave a simultaneous exhale of relief. Finally, warmth!
With his arm at her waist he pulled her back against his chest. She could feel the last, lingering tremors that shivered down his arms and snuggled in closer, hoping to warm him faster. She didn’t like having reminders of what’d happened or how close she’d come to losing him.
“How do you feel?” she asked quietly. Suddenly speaking in normal tones no longer felt appropriate. She heard him smile and then felt the light kiss he pressed against the back of her head.
She gave a soft 'hmmm' of agreement and let her eyes drift closed, safe and secure in the arms of the man she loved even if just for the night.
Author's Note: The wait was unusually long for this chapter and I do apologize. Thank you for your kind words of encouragement and patience :) I hope you enjoyed the new chapter. I look forward to hearing your thoughts! And many many thanks to burntbrokensoul.tumblr.com for the beautiful banner. I'm such a lucky author to have such wonderful readers. Until next time!
The waves brushed the ship’s hull in an easy rhythm that mimicked her soft, even breaths. They’d passed the last quarter hour like this, bodies curled into one another beneath the warmth of the blanket, both awake but neither willing to be the first to rouse.
Morning sunlight streamed through the narrow windows of the cabin, making her hair shine like strands of polished gold. He longed for two hands to hold her, one to bury deep in the silk-soft tresses that splayed across his pillow, and another to curl round her waist and hold her close. He settled for a delicate brush of his lips against the shell of her ear, so light it could almost be accidental, and a subtle inhale so he might commit to memory the essence of her.
She stirred and he took the opportunity to cup her hand in his. His fingers absently caressed hers while she feigned sleep and his mind lingered on the past. When Liam died he’d done all he could to forget. Anger drove him to get up each morning, but the hours were long and empty without Liam’s brotherly taunts and so he filled the void with drink. Milah had pulled him out of that darkness with an understanding ear and a wan smile that spoke of a shared loneliness. With each smile, each meeting, she scooped out a little more of the cynicism that’d filled his heart and replaced it with hope. Hope for a shared future, hope for love.
He often wondered how different his life might have turned out had he not walked into that tavern the night they met. He would have wound up dead in an alley no doubt, the unwitting victim of a drunken duel gone wrong. Or maybe he would have continued on exactly as he had before, without purpose or destination.
Milah had returned him to the life he’d lost when Liam died, and in exchange he’d done precious little to honour her memory since her death. He’d vowed revenge against her husband, of course, but along his path of vengeance he’d forgotten how to live. He’d lost sight of the man he’d been when he was with her, a man worthy of her affection, a good man, a man with honour. He’d lost sight of that for far longer than he cared to admit, until Fate delivered to him a second woman his heart could love beyond all reason.
He hadn’t thought it possible to care for anyone with the depth of feeling he had Milah, but here he was, countless days and hours later, faced with another chance at happiness and another choice. The last time he’d been faced with such a decision, he’d jumped into it with reckless abandon, selfishly wanting everything he thought he deserved. He’d wanted the future he’d envisioned with Milah so badly that he hadn’t cared who got in the way or who was hurt in the process. That was, until the day her husband appeared aboard his ship. He thought he would protect her. He thought he would die for her. But in the end, he wasn’t given the chance to do anything but watch helplessly while she died in his arms six feet above the cot they lay in now.
An unwelcome image flashed through his mind of Emma’s body in his arms, her dress stained a deep blood red. A violent shiver jetted down his spine and he shut his eyes to focus on something else - the smell of her warm skin, the softness of her hair against his cheek. First Liam, then Milah… How many more people he loved would he lose aboard this ship?
He tightened his arm protectively around her waist and she finally stirred, shifting a quarter turn so her face was in profile. She lay there quietly in his arms, her eyes studying the tattoo that coloured his forearm. He waited for the inevitable barrage of questions, but there was only silence. Somehow the fact that she hadn’t thought to ask anything unsettled him more than any one question about Milah ever could have.
“Are you not curious about her?” he wondered, his tone soft.
Her thumb grazed the spot where Milah’s name had been permanently inked into his skin. “I thought…it might be hard for you to talk about her,” she said in time. She turned slowly in his arms, her eyes seeking his. “Do you want me to ask about her?”
He started to shake his head ‘No’ but stopped himself. “I haven’t spoken about her in a very long time,” he explained, old pain audible beneath his words.
“She must have been very special to you.”
He swallowed hard to relax the tight muscles of his throat and nodded, “Her name was Milah.”
It was strange to hear her name spoken aloud. It’d been so long since he dared, and even those rare few times he’d been alone and at the bottom of a very deep bottle of rum. He hadn’t spoken her name to another living soul since the day he’d lost her forever. He took a deep breath and let it out slowly, feeling the tension release from his shoulders as he exhaled.
“I’m so sorry you lost her. How did she-?” Emma’s mouth closed against the word, but it hung on the air anyhow like an ominous cloud.
He scrubbed his hand through his hair and let out a quiet sigh. “She died because I wasn’t careful. I was young and arrogant and thought I could have it all. Her husband made certain I would never forget the consequences of my actions.”
He glanced pointedly at the brace that held his hook in place. Beneath it was a smooth stump and emptiness where his left hand had once been. Milah’s husband had taken his hand, the standard penalty for theft, right after he’d killed her in front of his eyes. He’d been helpless to save her and carried a daily reminder of that powerlessness with him and would for all his days.
Emma’s hand caressed the soft leather of the straps, but otherwise gave it little mind. The hook didn’t seem to frighten her as it did some women. Or maybe it was simply that for the moment she had more important concerns on her mind.
“Her husband?” she inquired with a lift of her brow.
“Oh yes, it was a truly scandalous affair.”
She tensed beneath him and he winced inwardly. It was one thing to be a philanderer, but quite another to be a home wrecker. She turned fully to face him and her brows furrowed, forming a small crease between them.
“You can’t blame yourself for her death, Killian.”
“It was my fault, love. One way or another, it most certainly was. I should have known better. I should have fought harder to protect…”
His words fell away and he looked impatiently towards the ceiling, finding himself frustratingly unable to say what needed to be said.
She sat up slowly, her eyes darting back and forth as she stared blankly at the sheet tucked round her body. “That’s it, isn’t it? You believe that if I stay here I might die like Milah, like your brother.”
“It’s not a question of if, lass, but when,” he warned, his voice like gravel.
His heart rammed against his ribcage as he struggled to find the right words, the ones that would make her understand, preferably without her hating him in the process. The way she was looking at him made it nearly impossible to focus on stringing syllables together. Her features were so open and vulnerable, so willing to see the best in him. He knew without a shadow of doubt that he could sail a hundred realms and never find another like her. She was his true love, his soul’s mate, and yet he was doing his damndest to find the strength to give her up, possibly forever.
“You have to go to Boston, Emma.”
Her brow creased the way it did when she was annoyed by something he said. With the purse of her lips he could tell that an argument was brewing, any number of logical perfectly sound reasons why his concern was unnecessary. Cupping her face gently with his hand, he tenderly stroked her cheek with his thumb until her lips twitched upwards into a reluctant smile.
He leaned in closer, until he could feel the warmth of her breath tickle his skin, and ghosted his lips across hers. The kiss they’d shared last night had been impulsive and reckless, but it was explained away easily enough by shock from his brush with death. This was different. There would be no other explanations to fall back on if he kissed her now. It was dangerous territory he was flirting with, but he needed this moment to hold on to once she was gone.
With his fingers slowly sinking deep into her hair, he drew closer until his lips met hers with a touch that was soft and tender and filled with a lifetime of promises he wished he could keep. Her hand slid up the naked skin of his chest and hooked around the back of his neck. The movement of her mouth against his was unhurried and sensual, an inviting glimpse of lazy mornings spent in bed with their bodies entwined.
“Give me a year,” he pleaded when he finally pulled away. “Spend one year in Boston and I’ll promise you a lifetime together.”
“I already know where I’m meant to be,” she protested, and leaned surreptitiously closer in search of another kiss. “A year in Boston won’t change that.”
“What’s one year when looking at a lifetime together?” he countered and looked away from the tempting sight of her lips.
“Wasted time.” She frowned and pushed the covers off and slid out of the narrow cot.
“A lot can change in a year,” he pressed, shifting until his feet hung over the edge of the bed. The cool morning air licked at the bare skin of his calves and he suppressed the urge to pull the blanket back over his legs. “You may get to Boston and realize how much you miss your old life. You may realize, finally I might add, just how treacherous a life at sea is. You may even-,”
“If you are going to suggest that I may soon find myself in love with some pampered fop I would strongly encourage you to keep silent,” she warned.
He obediently closed his mouth and lifted his hand in a show of defeat.
“This life is all I’ve ever known, Emma. There were no other options for me, and I certainly didn’t have a comfortable life waiting for me elsewhere. I will live and die by the sea - that is my destiny, but it doesn’t have to be yours.”
She exhaled an impatient sigh and turned on him with her arms crossed in front of her chest. “And what if it was my destiny to be shipwrecked in that storm and survive long enough in those waters for you find me. What if it was my destiny to be pulled aboard this ship? To meet you?”
“And what if it wasn’t?” he answered solemnly. “A year is not too much to ask to be certain that this life is truly what you want.”
That I am truly what you want.
His words may have sounded self-assured, but inwardly he felt something akin to panic. A year may as well be an eternity. He was well aware that a woman as beautiful and intelligent as her would have no shortage of interested suitors. A year could find her courted, wed and with child. A year could remove any and all affections she felt for him. He well knew that a year could change everything, but if they were truly meant to be together a year was little more than a minor hurdle, an inconvenience that would rid him of all doubt and reservation. It meant he would be able to love her with his whole heart, the way she deserved. But that didn’t make the decision to part from her any less painful in the meantime.
She took a tentative step towards him until their bodies were nearly touching. The breath caught audibly in his throat as he gazed up at her, all the while resisting the urge to reach out and pull her those last precious inches closer. Her gaze was piercing, her eyes studying his as if she were trying to see into the very depths of his soul. After a moment she nodded to herself, as if in understanding, and exhaled a quiet sigh of disappointment.
“I’m sorry that you find it so difficult to believe that you are worthy of being loved. I don’t need a year to know what’s in my heart, but perhaps you do.”
He felt sick and overwhelmed, as if he were drowning all over again. Every word she’d spoken was the truth, he couldn’t deny it anymore than he could change the stubborn part of him that’d already decided this was the only way he could be at peace with her choice. His fingers ghosted down the length of her arm, following it to her hand. He took it in his and squeezed it gently before he dared lift his eyes to hers.
“I’m sorry, lass.”
Her features softened and her hand caressed the side of his face with a tender touch.
“I’ll go to Boston then, if that is what you wish.”
He felt his body exhale in relief, but his heart was no less heavy with her acquiescence. Feeling suddenly weary, he leaned his cheek against the warm caress of her palm and closed his eyes. His throat felt suddenly dry, and he swallowed painfully before forcing the words past his lips, “That is what I wish.”
The warmth of her hand fell away and the cold air rushed rudely in. He opened his eyes to find her heading for the table, hand outstretched towards the bottle of rum they’d rescued the previous night. She took hold of it and hesitated before bringing it to her lips. He rose slowly, feeling weary to the very marrow of his bones. He stepped in close behind her and lightly touched his hand to the small of her back.
“Might I trouble you for a sip, love?”
“That depends,” she challenged, turning slowly to face him.
He lifted a brow curiously and she licked the sweetness of the rum from her lips.
“Do you love me?”
He started, mouth hanging slightly ajar and she rushed to fill the silence, waving her hand as if casually dismissing the question altogether.
“I realized just a moment ago, you see, that this is all moot if you don’t love me. I could love you with ever fiber of my being, but it doesn’t matter in the least if those feelings aren’t returned.”
It felt as if the wind had been kicked out of him by a very large, very angry horse. He reminded his lungs to draw breath and felt his chest rise as they filled. He stared at her in silence, realizing for the first time that he’d never once told her how he felt. He’d been too scared of those feelings at first, and then later too worried about how those feelings might affect her choice. And never once had it crossed his mind that for all his humming and hawing, he’d given her no assurances whatsoever that his love for her was far more consuming and genuine than she likely even dared hope.
He laughed in spite of himself, a questionable choice of reaction given the instant effect it had on her countenance. He rushed forward and cupped her face with his hand, taking a brief moment to memorize the colour of her eyes in the morning light.
“Lass, I have loved you from the very beginning, since that first night when I sat by your bedside and pleaded with you to live. I will never love another in all my days the way I love you.”
He paused and waited for some sort of reaction from her, some affirmation that she’d understood his words to be true. In time her lips twitched with the hint of a smile and then he felt the warm trickle of a tear cut across the back of his hand. He pulled her fiercely to him then and she went willingly, her body curling around his as his mouth possessed hers.
He was pleased to find that the lingering sweetness of the rum clung to her tongue, and with a soft grunt he hitched her leg up around his waist. Their bodies collided with the table, sending the rum bottle crashing to the floor with the rest. They paid it little mind, hardly reacting to the splash of cool liquid across their bare feet.
His mouth carved a bold path down her throat to the tops of her breasts, which were barely concealed by her thin shift. Her fingers tunneled possessively into his hair, directing his mouth back up to hers. A wanton moan sounded in the back of his throat, revealing the pitiful depths to which he’d sunk. She would surely be the death of him if their year apart didn’t kill him first.
“Satisfied, love?” he asked, out of breath and with a drunken grin on his face. Her leg was still hitched scandalously over his hip and there wasn’t nearly enough cloth between them to hide exactly how his body was reacting to the situation at hand.
“No,” she replied, eyes bright as she captured a few more stolen kisses. “We’ve only just begun.”
She grinned and slid her hands back around his neck as her lips found his, their touch warm and soft and full of promise.
She watched from the deck of the Jolly Roger as the early morning mist curled over the surface of the water. The horizon glowed pink but the sun had not yet risen to burn away the night. She stared long and hard at that distant, glowing line and willed it to stay forever frozen just as it was. Its rise would mark her departure from this ship and everyone she cared about, the only real family she had left. Leaving them…leaving him…would be the hardest decision she’d ever had to make.
The heavy warmth of a leather coat came to rest atop her shoulders and she smiled, knowing without needing to look exactly who’d put it there. He came to stand next to her, his eyes following her gaze to the horizon line.
“Couldn’t sleep?” he said with an understanding look.
She shook her head and they stood in silence, listening to the sound of the calm harbour waves licking at the hull. In time he put his arm around her shoulder, drawing her close into his warmth. She went with a heavy exhale and rested her head against his chest, trying with all her might to memorize everything she could about him. From the soft musk of his skin, to the scrape of his linen shirt against her cheek, to the soft tickle of the hair on his chest beneath her fingers, and most especially the feeling of his arm wrapped securely around her, protecting her from the world and all its ills.
“I will miss you,” she whispered painfully and tilted her head upwards in search of a kiss.
He glanced down longingly, his cerulean eyes committing her features to memory, “And I you, lass.”
He bowed his head then and pressed his lips to hers, their gentle warmth a far cry from the lustful embraces they’d shared the previous night. Her cheeks flushed at the memory on his mouth possessing hers while his hand had explored parts of her no man had before. They hadn’t gone so far as to consummate their union, a decision which continued to frustrate and disappoint her. But Killian had stubbornly maintained that should she decide to remain in Boston he wanted her to have every option available to her, including an advantageous marriage if she so chose and he would not be swayed otherwise.
Even though his decision irked her, she respected his choice and in the end their night together had still been just as wonderful as she’d hoped it might be. She’d lost count of the number of dreams she’d had about being close to him, about the touch of his hand on her skin and the warmth of his breath tickling her between kisses. She realized now, with a hint of embarrassment, just how naïve her earlier fantasies had been. The man she’d imagined making love to was too similar to the lovers in the many scandalous stories she’d read at school.
Killian was nothing at all like how she’d imagined he would be. He was far more tender, attentive and passionate than her imagination had ever given him credit for. Waiting a year to have all of him felt like the worst sort of punishment, but it would be worth it in the end – of that much she was absolutely certain. Besides, arduous though it may be, a year apart would give her time to learn what she could (discreetly, of course!) about all the ways in which she might please him. This thought helped lessen her trepidation somewhat. After all, a man as experienced as he was in matters of love and passion deserved to be satisfied when the time for them to finally unite came.
Killian, at present, was doing his utmost to distract her from any and all worries. His lips mercilessly explored the side of her neck in teasing nips that sent a familiar rush of heat surging through her limbs. She closed her eyes and gasped softly, wishing for all the world that they could go below deck and continue what they’d started only hours ago. Instead she curled her fingers into the loose material of his shirt and held tight. She wanted always to remember the feeling of being kissed by him.
As the world started to rouse around them, he pulled back and smiled down at her until the skin crinkled at the sides of his eyes. They were truly beautiful those eyes– endlessly deep, impossibly blue, and brimming with emotion. The breath caught in her throat at the sight of them and she swallowed down the tears that threatened to surface. Gods, she would miss every part of him but most especially those eyes.
A shouted order from a nearby ship shattered the silence of their shared moment and he took a step back to give them both some air. The sunrise had begun to burn the mist from the water’s surface and all around them looming shapes began to emerge from the dark – ships anchored in the harbour awaiting their turn to disembark. Seeing the ships and the shadows of the town just beyond made her stomach clench tight and hot tears spring to her eyes. She turned her back on the sight of Boston harbour and focused instead on the retreating figure of the man she loved, listening as the last of the mist deadened the sound of his fading footfall and then swallowed it whole.
Based on how those back home had spoken of the New World she’d imagined the cities would be small and sparsely populated, but nothing could have been further from the truth. Boston harbour was filled with countless ships, many of them waiting to dock and unload or take on new cargo, and the pier was bustling with people. It took a mere half-day for the Jolly Roger to be given clearance to dock and she’d spent the scant hours leading up to her departure saying good-bye to the crew who’d become her second family.
“Well, I’d best be off,” she announced with every ounce of false bravado she could muster. Her eyes panned the faces of the crew in search of the one pair of eyes she longed to see again. Hook was nowhere to be found. She hid her disappointment behind a thin smile and waved goodbye to the rest, wondering if the kiss they’d shared earlier had been his final farewell.
Curly extended a gnarled hand to help her up onto the gangplank and managed to whisper with gentle reassurance, “The Cap’n means well, lass, but good-byes are hard for ‘im ya reckon? Don’ hold it against ‘im.”
She braved a smile and gave his hand a gentle squeeze before making her way slowly down the gangplank to the dock. It was only once she was there, nearly surrounded by bodies, that she caught sight of a familiar dark head coming towards her through the crowd. Hook face appeared now and then through the crush of bodies and she kept rising up onto her tip toes in the hopes of catching another glimpse. And then all of a sudden he was in front of her, looking down at her with those impossibly blue eyes and wearing an odd sort of smile.
“I hope I’m not late,” he teased with a rueful lift of his brow. He was wearing a heavy cloak she hadn’t seen him in before, one with a deep hood to hide his features and enough extra cloth to keep his hook hidden amongst its folds.
“A Captain is never late, everyone else is early. Or so my father used to say.” He smiled warmly at her joke and she gave a little shrug. “I’ve only just disembarked.”
She thought she saw him flinch as he glanced over her shoulder at the Jolly Roger, but it could have been from the brightness of the mid-day sun.
“I wanted to give you something,” he said, holding out a sealed letter to her. “I believe it may help ease the transition.”
She took it from him, studying the seal with interest. “What is it?”
“A letter stating that you are a distant relative of the Governor and his most valued guest.”
“How did you get this?” she gasped, holding it close to her chest.
The letter was everything. It would allow her to make a fresh start without any remnants of her past holding her back. It would give her the freedom to mingle with others in polite society, to create a social network and even find a well-established gentleman to marry if she so chose. She couldn’t even begin to fathom what such a letter had cost him.
He casually hooked his thumb into his belt and straightened his shoulders. “Consider it a parting gift from the crew and myself. You’ve certainly helped us out of enough scrapes to have earned it. Which reminds me,” he added and palmed a small, heavy bag into her hand. He stepped in close and put his mouth to her ear. “Your share of the earnings. Keep it close at hand and out of sight. There are pick-pockets crawling all over these docks.”
Using his broad form as a shield, she discreetly tucked the small bag into her bodice and out of sight. Hook nodded, satisfied, and stepped back.
“I believe you’ll find there’s an inn just down that way called the Bertram with a room paid in full in your name. I’ve told the innkeeper to expect you shortly. It’s only for the month, but it should be enough time for you to get your bearings.”
Words failed her, so she simply stared at him with her mouth hanging ajar. How was she to respond when faced with such selfless generosity? There wasn’t a single word she could say which would convey the depth of her gratitude. Not only had he saved her life, but he’d just single-handedly ensured she would have a seamless transition into her new one.
“Killian, I don’t know what to say…”
“A ‘thank you’ will suffice, lass,” he reassured her with a fond look. Somehow she doubted the way she wished to thank him would be appropriate amongst the hundreds of prying eyes on the pier. Even a kiss would be enough to thoroughly sully her reputation before she’d even stepped foot into town.
“Will you stay in port long?” The thought of him leaving filled her with such dread she was certain she’d never be able to move a single foot from her current spot.
“A half day at most. We have some supplies to unload and some crew to bring aboard. After that…” He trailed off and glanced out at the open waters, the only home he’d ever truly known. He didn’t belong here in this static place, amongst these gentlemen and merchant sailors. He belonged out there, amongst the seas where no day was ever the same as the one before. It was a hard truth to accept, but a truth nonetheless.
“On to the next adventure?” she offered with a sad smile. “Please thank the crew for me. I believe I will be forever in their debt.”
“Not a single man aboard will hold you to it, Swan,” he assured her with a teasing lift of his lips.
“Even so, I mean it just the same. If there’s ever anything I can do…” She shook her head and looked away, blinking furiously against the tears that pricked at her eyes. This wasn’t how she’d wanted to part from him, while red-faced and crying like some blubbering fool.
His finger hooked gently beneath her chin, turning her head back to face him. A rogue tear escaped, slipping down the side of her cheek and he brushed it lightly away with his thumb.
“I’m afraid that letter will do you no good if I kiss you now in front of all of these witnesses,” he said softly, just loud enough for her to hear.
He was right, of course and so she closed her eyes instead and released a shuddering breath. In the entirety of her life she’d never wanted anything more than she wanted to kiss him now. Instead she felt his hand take up hers and his lips, soft and warm as they were, press against her knuckles.
“Farewell, Miss Swan,” he whispered affectionately, his eyes piercing in their intensity.
“Goodbye, Captain,” she managed to say around the sizeable lump in her throat.
Bodies and carriages passed close by on either side, simultaneously pushing them together and driving them apart. His fingers moved purposefully, slowly pulling the wedding ring from her finger. She felt its loss deeply and couldn’t hide the wounded look that cut across her features. He had every right to take it back, of course, but some part of her had hoped that he wouldn’t. To her surprise though, he simply turned the ring around and replaced it on her finger. The crown now faced outward, indicating to the world that she was in search of love once more.
“This is where we should part,” he instructed, keeping his eyes averted.
“Not yet, please.”
His gaze snapped back at that and a pained look cut across his features. This was hard for him too, she realized, and edged her hand towards his ever so carefully, its movement unseen amongst the press of bodies all around them. Her index finger hooked reassuringly around his little finger and squeezed it tight.
With a tilt of her head she gestured towards the town, determined to find someplace where they could be alone. He sent a reluctant glance back at his ship but then dutifully followed, having as little desire as she to part ways without one last kiss.
“Your reputation will be destroyed beyond repair if we are caught,” he whispered hoarsely into her ear.
“Then let’s assure we are not caught,” she replied boldly.
She turned quickly, leading him down the first alley they came upon and then another. There were still too many onlookers, too many probing gazes. There was a stable not far along and she slipped through the open door. He followed a few discreet seconds later, ducking quickly out of sight.
The space inside was dimly lit and smelled sweetly of fresh hay. Luckily for them, the pens had recently been cleaned. She waited for him in the center of the stable, where sunlight streamed in through the roof.
"I shall never forget you," she vowed as he drew near, her expression earnest and forthright.
He captured her face between his hands and brought his mouth to hers in a kiss that was meant to say all the words he no longer could. Not in years had he felt this alive, this free. If he didn’t know better he’d swear she was some siren, plucked from the depths of the ocean to steal his heart. At this rate he was ready and willing to sacrifice it up to her. He’d offer her anything if it meant that they would have another minute, another hour, another day together.
She kissed him until the air evaporated from her lungs and her fingers went numb from clutching the lapels of his jacket. Her world was spinning on its axis and he was the only solid thing keeping her grounded. His hands slid up her back, drawing her against him, and her body melted against his. He groaned soft and low his mouth opened against hers as her fingers curled into his hair.
She kissed him in a way that felt wild and foreign and so far removed from the reserved girl she’d once been. She kissed him until she had nothing left to give, having poured it all out for him to do with as he pleased. When the time came to part his mouth brushed across her cheek, the stubble above his lip scraping her skin ever so lightly. He placed another kiss at her temple and she opened her eyes at the sound of his uneven breaths.
“I should go,” he said in time and took a reluctant half-step backward.
“I wish you wouldn’t.” Her confession was so soft, so honest, it surprised even her.
“Farewell, Emma.” His voice was barely above a whisper and his thumb grazed across the wedding ring on her finger before falling away.
“Don’t forget about me,” she challenged with a light sniffle and a shaky exhale. “Promise you’ll return to me.”
His finger ghosted along the edge of her jaw in one last indulgent touch.
“Lass, all the rum in the world couldn’t make me forget you. I will return in a year’s time, you have my word. Only death itself could keep me away.”
He took a step away from her, and then another. By the time he reached the door she’d managed to find the strength to say, “Fair winds for your journey, Captain.”
With a longing glance back, he slipped out the door leaving her alone. She felt suddenly overwhelmed by panic at the knowledge that she may never see him again. The urge to run after him was acute and real, as were the tears running freely down her cheeks. The bastard couldn’t have made it any more difficult for her to leave if he’d tried.
Her arms slipped weakly around her stomach and she bent over, certain she’d never felt pain like this before. After a while, when she’d cried every tear she was able and doggedly dragged herself to her feet, she wiped the last of the tears from her cheeks and headed for the door with her head held high. Her new life awaited her just beyond. 365 days was all that stood between her and ‘happily ever after’ and she had no intention of putting them to waste.
The rain was warm against his skin and struck the vibrant foliage just beyond the window with a relaxing pitter-patter. If he closed his eyes he could imagine himself aboard the Jolly Roger, with the rush of the waves in his ears and the deck rocking gently beneath his feet. It was a tempting vision, but sadly one that was far from the truth.
He breathed in the rich scent of rain soaked earth and knew there was little hope he would feel the ocean move beneath his feet again. The judge was due to arrive in a fortnight and the rest would sort itself out as it usually did in these situations. There was little precedent for the law to give mercy to a pirate, especially one who bore a name as infamous as “Hook”.
With nothing but time on his hands, he’d had countless long hours to consider the choices that’d brought him here. There were choices he would never regret, and others he wished he could strike from his memory altogether. Still, he found himself ruminating over one particular event more than the rest – the curious series of events that’d led him to where he sat now, in the bowels of a prison on the island of Port Royal.
Three nights earlier…
The tavern was dark and overcrowded but he managed to square himself away at one of the only unoccupied tables. A glass bottomed tankard filled with watered down ale was promptly set in front of him by the barmaid. She gave a flirtatious wink over her shoulder as she made her way to the next table. He knew she’d be back, but he wasn’t in the mood for company tonight. He longed to be holed up alone in his cabin, three-quarters deep into a bottle of rum. But he’d endured enough concerned glances and furrowed brows from the crew in recent weeks, and so was determined to at least make a cursory appearance before slinking back to the ship.
The crew lingered close at hand, their cries and hoots with each round of dice carried in peaks and lulls over the din of the tavern’s occupants. He watched them from his table, amused by their antics. It was a foolish man or a blind drunk who was fool enough to challenge any of them to a round of die. They were a well-taught lot, having mastered almost every trick and cheat there was. And he would know, given he was their tutor. Still, he kept a few of the better tricks to himself because he wouldn’t have it said that Captain Hook had lost in a game of dice to one of his crew. A man had his pride, if nothing else.
It was that ‘else’ he was presently lacking. A certain blonde-haired distraction who held his heart and half his good sense several hundred leagues away. His thumb grazed the cover of the leather bound book that sat in front of him atop the table. It was only slightly larger than his hand and certainly small enough to be tucked discretely into a pocket when it suited him. Ignoring the cacophony of noise around him, he cracked the cover and placed a single mark inside. The book was full of similarly marked pages, featuring rows and columns of neatly laid out ticks that measured out the days since he’d left Boston’s shores behind.
The early marks were less neat. The rum had taken its toll on his penmanship. The first week had passed in a drunken blur. The crew had given him space, but looked visibly relieved when he finally saw fit to extricate himself from his quarters and begin barking orders again.
He’d found other methods to cope, primarily engrossing himself in his duties and seeking out ships and ports to conquer. They’d managed to successfully board three on the journey down to Kingston with minimal opposition, though they’d primarily been slave ships with little by way of gold. He made a point of cutting the chains below deck before departing. At the very least it gave the unfortunate souls being shipped as cargo a fighting chance. Having been bound in service himself once before, it wasn’t a fate he would wish on any man.
135 more nights like this one were his penance still due to be paid. The news should have lightened his spirits, but it only emphasized the ache left by her absence. He thumbed through the book’s pages, frowning at the countless unfinished letters contained within. He’d considered writing to her countless times, as evidenced by the dozens of pages with the words “My dearest Emma,” scrawled across the top. His letters never went much further than that. There was always a moment where he stopped to consider what exactly he should say only to find his mind blank.
What words could he possibly write that would lessen the sting of their separation? And if he went the other route, admitting the truth, how would that make things any better? It seemed that in either case he would disappoint her, and it was this thought that time and again froze his pen and kept the pages of his notebook blank.
There was, of course, much he wished to tell her - about the ship, the crew, the things he’d seen, and how he longed to be with her again. There had been a particular sunset on the voyage to Kingston that’d bled across the sky in the strangest hue of honeyed amber. He’d stared at it from behind the wheel and pictured her at the bow of his ship. The image was so clear, right down to the way her hair blew behind her in the ocean breeze. The sight of her made his heart clench tight in his chest and the breath stall in his lungs. He’d very nearly turned around right then. Only a will of iron and a bottle of rum had stopped him.
He’d known leaving her would be difficult, perhaps the most difficult choice he’d ever made, but he hadn’t been prepared for just how often and how urgent the need to return to her side would be. 135 days might as well have been an eternity from where he sat.
“So, we meet again.”
He lifted his eyes from the notebook to the figure standing next to his table. The gaze staring back at him was cold and grey and unfortunately one he recognized. Captain Archibald Williamson of His Majesty’s Royal Navy did nothing for a moment, and then pulled out the stool on the opposite side and invited himself to sit. Of all the places he’d imagined he might run into the good Captain again, at a seedy tavern in the heart of Kingston was not one of them.
“You seem surprised to see me,” Williamson said, looking amused as he sampled a sip of ale from his mug.
He was dressed as a commoner, Hook noted, garbed in a shabby shirt and dark, woven jacket. A change of clothes could only do so much to disguise his obvious naval training. Any idiot with half a brain would read the truth of his identity in the way he carried himself. His shoulders were pulled back and his spine was ramrod straight. Even his nose was lifted ever so primly into the air. The tell-tale posture of a naval officer had taken him years to shake completely. It’s difficult to convince your body to move one way after years spent forcing it into another. He almost sympathized with the Captain. Once the others caught on, he wouldn’t make it out of the tavern alive.
When Hook was done with his visual inspection of Williamson, he closed up his notebook and tucked it into his jacket pocket.
“I wouldn’t have pictured you to be the sort to frequent these types of establishments,” he commented offhandedly. Williamson studied him in silence a moment, his gaze unflinching as a cold smile touched his lips.
“Tell me, how is your wife?”
“Not here,” he replied, his tone carefully neutral.
Williamson eyed him carefully, trying to read into his words. Had she left him? Had he killed her at sea? Was she elsewhere in the bar and he was simply being evasive? After a long moment, he took a cautious sip of his ale and grimaced at the taste. Another clue to his identity for the sharp sighted.
“Well, that is fortuitous. I don’t relish the thought of dragging her into this. She seemed a woman of good breeding. Quite pretty, too.”
“If you have a point, might I suggest you get to it?”
“I told you I’d be back for you someday didn’t I, Hook? Well, let’s just say your time has run out.”
“This bar is full of my crew. If you think you’ll take me without a fight…”
“That’s exactly what I think,” Williamson interjected with a satisfied look. “I have fifty men waiting outside, ready to barge in at my signal. I count two dozen of your crew here, no more. You may try to fight your way out if you wish, but there will be lives lost. As a ship’s Captain I certainly wouldn’t want that guilt on my conscience.”
“You’re suggesting if I come with you quietly, you’ll leave my crew unharmed?”
Williamson nodded and Killian stared pensively at his oblivious crew. Williamson made a tempting offer, but he didn’t know enough about the man to decipher whether or not he was bluffing. He had to imagine a man like that would make for a horrendous liar, and he hadn’t yet seen any indicators to suggest circumstances weren’t exactly as he stated. It would be absolute mayhem if the navy attacked this place. He could slip away, he knew he could, but how many others would die in his absence? And what sort of captain left his crew to fend for themselves? The pirate in him was shouting to fight, consequences be damned, but the captain in him wasn’t willing to play the odds when he didn’t have all the information he needed in order to play to win.
“You seem a man of your word,” he began cautiously. The naval captain leaned forward in his seat, the eagerness in his expression difficult to mistake. He was practically drooling at the thought of putting him in shackles.
“I do have one caveat to this arrangement you’ve proposed.”
Williamson nodded for him to go on.
“My crew is to remain unharmed. They will not be arrested. They will not be pursued. They will not be hunted down by you, your men, or anyone else. They will be permitted to return to the Jolly Roger unfettered and without issue.”
With each demand he watched the captain’s expression falter and darken. He could practically see his mind working, weighing out his options.
“You know I cannot promise that,” he said in time.
“You’re an intelligent man, Archie. Tell me, what do you think would happen to a naval officer who found himself alone and unguarded in a tavern full of pirates?”
William’s face went dark and he leaned in closer, his voice little more than a rasping whisper, “Are you threatening an officer of the King’s Navy?”
Hook sat back in his seat wearing an expression so full of smug victory it was sure to infuriate the good captain. Williamson was smart enough to remain quiet. He fumed in silence and took a hasty sip of his ale while glancing discretely over his shoulder at the bar’s numerous patrons. All of them looked surely, all of them were armed, and absolutely all of them were well on their way to being blind drunk. The odds were not in his favour.
“All right,” he said through clenched teeth and set his tankard atop the table. “I swear on my honour that all will be as you said.”
They departed separately not long after. Williamson first, doing his best to look discrete and unhurried as he exited. Hook stopped in at his crew’s table and watched the play a minute or two before making an excuse about heading back to the ship. With cries of disappointment they tried to entice him into staying for a single round of cards, but he knew what would happen if he tarried any longer than Williamson deemed acceptable. He rebuffed them with promises that he would play several rounds with them the following night and that seemed enough to satisfy them. They waved him off as he retreated, already engrossed by their next round of cards.
Once he was outside, the cooler air enveloped him and began to dry the sheen of sweat that’d collected on his skin in the dank humidity of the tavern. Williamson was standing a little ways off from the tavern, looking impatient. His brows rose a little in surprise when he saw him emerge from the tavern alone, and then a satisfied smile pulled at his lips. The guards were on him in seconds, grabbing hold of each arm and leading him away to the island’s only jail.
And that was how he found himself seated atop a damp rock in a dank jail cell awaiting the inevitable. It certainly wasn’t the end he’d envisioned for himself, but then life rarely played out exactly to plan. And now, with his notebook held stiffly in his hand, he stared out at the view beyond his window and wondered how he was ever going to explain this to Emma.
There was something unsettling about the world she now found herself in. She was clothed in a new dress of pale blue silk, with delicate lace trim at the bodice and cuffs, and a corset so tight and stiff that she found it difficult to breathe. Her white gloved hands held a lukewarm cup of tea as her eyes panned the crowd at the Madison tea room, Boston’s premiere tea house.
This life was simple and beguiling in its uncomplicated ease. There was no fear of death, no worry over where her next meal would come from. She slept in a warm, sturdy bed each night, a bed that did not rock back and forth and creak with the push and pull of the waves. And she didn’t for a moment worry about troublesome matters like scurvy or the King’s Navy. This was the life Hook had wanted for her, the tranquil world of a gentleman’s daughter where not a thing was worth worrying over if it didn’t involve making an advantageous marriage and bearing strong, healthy sons.
Returning to this life had felt very much like slipping on an old glove. It was worn and familiar, but try as she might she couldn’t get it to fit. She’d outgrown it, and everything it entailed. This life was a fantasy. It boasted of a world that didn’t exist and never had. She realized that now, more clearly than ever before.
This life was empty of promise and purpose. She would give almost anything to replace the weak tea in her fine china cup with a splash of rum. Or to have the breeze stirring against her skin to be that of the fresh air sweeping off the ocean’s waves and not the stagnant, heavily perfumed musk stirred by the flick of her fan. Or to sleep as soundly as she had when lulled by the gentle rocking of the Jolly Roger and the secure warmth of Hook’s arms around her.
Half a year had passed since she’d last seen him. An eternity for someone in love, and yet, in the whirlwind that followed her arrival in Boston it was as though hardly any time at all had passed. All she’d wanted to do at first was sit alone in her room, with its perfect view of the harbour (damn him!), and stare out at the ships until his returned. But that would have been dishonest to them both. He’d sacrificed just as much as she had to bring her to this place, to give her the chance to live the life that’d originally been destined for her. It would have been an insult to that sacrifice had she not at the very least made her best effort to adjust, to fit in, and make herself at home in this New World.
And that’s exactly what she’d done: bought dresses, accepted social invitations, attended Sunday mass, made acquaintances, and later, friends. In the months since her arrival she’d made every inroad possible towards establishing a life in Boston, but not a day passed when she didn’t wake up and stare out at the harbour, hoping against all hope to see his ship there.
Amidst teas and socials and friendly games of cards, thoughts of him were ever-present. She wondered what he was doing, how he was faring, and where he’d gone after leaving her here. Oftentimes when she would hear some tantalizing gossip, she’d imagine his cocked eyebrow or lips curled upwards in amusement and secretly laugh.
On the good days she pictured him soaking in the warmth of the sun on some tropical beach with a bottle of rum in hand and a hold full of loot. On the bad, she made herself sick imagining the Jolly Roger dashed to pieces against a rocky shoreline, or a noose around his neck. There was nearly half a year more to wait and she wasn’t entirely certain her nerves could handle it.
Mercifully, Boston offered some measure of distractions, primary of those being a brother and sister duo belonging to one James Edward Elliot. Nathan and Shannon Elliot had made the journey across the ocean at the behest of their merchant father a year before her family had set out on their doomed voyage. Their friendship was the one true connection she’d made in this place, and the only one she would miss when she left. Shannon, in particular, had become a close friend, almost like a sister. It’d been so long since she’d had a female friend that she didn’t at all mind being called upon to go to the dress makers or attend high tea, or people watch at a ball. That’s what they were preoccupied with now, people watching in the tea room while absorbing the latest gossip over lukewarm cups of tea.
At present, the Madison Tea Room was abuzz with news of an engagement. There were few points of gossip people enjoyed more in this town than speculating on who would be marrying who.
“I heard he has 20,000 pounds a year! Just imagine it…” Shannon sighed and fluttered her fan to stir a gentle breeze against her pale cheek. “Why, you could have a dozen carriages with that sort of money!”
Nathan smiled and dipped his head to Emma’s ear, “It’s just as well he has 20,000 a year. The man looks like a toad.”
She snapped her fan shut, rapping it lightly against his arm in mock reprieve.
“How dare you imply Miss Hanley is only after his money. They could have a passionate love affair, or perhaps even a hidden tryst that’s gone on for months in secret. What say you to that?”
Nathan’s shoulders lifted into a dismissive shrug, “I’d say you’re far too beautiful to be so silly.”
Shannon’s eyes cut to her brother while Emma blushed and turned her face away. Her wrist flicked in a light rhythm, blowing some much needed air across her overheated skin.
She’d first met Shannon in one of the many dress shops along the main thoroughfare, and Nathan was summarily introduced on her first visit to the tea room. They were wealthy, aristocratic, and beautiful. They were exactly the sort of people her parents would have hoped she’d make acquaintances with after their arrival in Boston. They were also the sort of people Hook had imagined she would align herself with while searching for the vestiges of her old life.
The thought of him made her smile slip and the movement of her hand falter. Her fingers went to the wedding band on her right hand, hidden beneath her gloves. It was a habit she’d developed after his departure. Whenever she thought of him, her fingers would wander to the ring he’d given her. It was the only thing she had of his, the only proof that her experiences with him had ever truly happened at all. They felt so distant now, almost like another lifetime ago. But with a touch of his ring it brought her back to the deck of his ship and reignited her hope for a reunion.
“Would you ladies care for some more tea?”
Nathan’s polite offer brought her soundly back to the present and she flashed a warm smile.
“Yes, that would be lovely, Nathan. Thank you,” Shannon said, waving him off with a smile and flick of her fan. When he was out of earshot, she lowered her voice and held her fan discretely over her lips.
“I dare say, I believe my brother had developed a fondness for you, Emma.”
Her heart went immediately to her throat and her eyes darted to the other side of the room where Nathan was accepting two freshly poured cups of tea from one of the tea room’s many butlers. As if sensing her gaze, he turned slightly and smiled her way. Blood rushed to her cheeks and she did her best to look natural as she returned his smile.
“Surely you jest,” she said from behind her teeth, her mouth still stretched into a smile.
Shannon shrugged and her green eyes twinkled with amusement and delight. Linking her arm through Emma's, she directed her a few paces away from the rest of the crowd.
“Come now, would it be so bad having me as a sister? I already feel as if we’re family.”
Emma felt as if she were drowning, the room suddenly filling up to consume her whole. Refusing an offer of marriage would destroy her friendship with Shannon and her brother, and most likely hurt her reputation as well. And as kind as Nathan was, she wasn’t all that certain he would consent to wait six months longer to marry her if the idea was already in his head.
Her stomach churned hard and she pulled in a breath to soothe her nerves. With another breath and a hard swallow she managed to compose herself enough to appear flattered and polite.
“You know I already consider you the sister I never had,” Emma replied smoothly, hoping it would be enough to satisfy her. Shannon was as sharp-witted as she was beautiful and rarely missed subtext when it was offered. Her brow lifted fractionally but there was no hint of malice behind her smile when she turned them both to face her brother who’d returned with their tea.
Now frustratingly, overtly, aware of every interaction she had with him Emma accepted the saucer and teacup from Nathan with a shy smile and immediately took a sip.
“I’ve just heard the most interesting news,” Nathan bragged with a playful lift of his brow. “Would you ladies care to hear it?”
He bounced lightly on the balls of his feet with his hands clasped politely behind his back. He was clearly eager to share whatever it was he’d heard, well-aware of course of their mutual love of gossip. His green eyes drifted to hers and he smiled a little more genuinely.
“What about you, Emma? Would you care to hear my news?”
“You know we would,” Shannon replied with a roll of her eyes. “Go on, tell us before the suspense kills our interest dead!”
Nathan teased them by taking an extra long sip of his tea and looking about the room.
“A ship from the King’s Navy has just arrived in port,” he said in time with a mischievous lift of his brow, “and they plan to stay for the next week.”
Shannon gasped with excitement and grabbed hold of Emma’s hand. It was rare the navy ventured into Boston port, and rarer still when the men aboard disembarked for any length of time. What Shannon adored above anything else was new faces and new sources of entertainment and gossip. It didn’t hurt, of course, that there could be an eligible bachelor or two aboard whom her father might approve of.
“Are they already in town?” she demanded, struggling to control her excitement.
“Not yet, but the crew will disembark before sunset. I dare say the next few weeks should be rather interesting.”
He glanced at Emma to ascertain her feelings on the matter and she gave her best attempt at an enthusiastic smile. In truth, it felt like a lead weight had settled into the pit of her stomach. What happened if the ship belonged to Captain Williamson? Would he expose her to everyone? She glanced hastily at Shannon’s beaming smile and gave her hand a gentle squeeze.
Shannon was her dearest friend in every way but one. She’d never spoken a word to her of Hook, or the perilous journey that’d brought her to the New World. There were times when it seemed almost ludicrous that she hadn’t told her, but she’d long since come to understand Shannon’s unwavering feelings of anger and resentment towards the pirates who made her father’s job dangerous and even life-threatening. She had some idea of how Shannon might respond if she told her that the man who held her heart was a pirate. And not just any pirate, but Captain Hook himself.
“Do you happen to know which naval ship it is?” she asked Nathan while making every effort to sound only casually interested.
He shook his head and sighed. “I didn’t catch that bit, but what does it matter? One is the same as the other, are they not?”
“I suppose,” she conceded with a patient smile.
“Emma, we absolutely must go shopping for new dresses. There isn’t a moment to lose! Could you picture it? Me, the wife of some noble naval captain?”
“I’m certain you’d make a lovely captain’s wife,” Emma assured her, allowing Shannon to lead her towards the door. Nathan stayed behind, determined to learn all he could about their new arrivals.
After a moment of reflection she added a bit more quietly, “Myself, I’d be afraid a captain would be too reserved for my liking.” She pictured Captain Williamson in her mind and couldn’t imagine any woman being overeager to be his wife.
“It takes quite a lot of courage and fortitude to be a captain,” Shannon reminded her with a scornful look. “I find it hard to believe anyone would have a harsh thing to say about a man like that.”
Realizing she was up against a wall, Emma nodded in agreement and waved away her earlier comment, “Of course, you’re right.”
The moment they were outside the tea room, the docks came into view and her eyes went to the large naval ship looming in the harbour. The sight of it made her gut churn again, this time in full force, and her feet drew to an unsteady halt.
“What is it?” Shannon asked, pulling her abruptly into the shade. “Are you unwell?”
Emma leapt at the suggestion and hastily put a hand to her stomach. “Yes…I….I’m sorry. I think it’s best if I return to the inn to today. Can we meet tomorrow to see the dressmaker instead?”
Shannon’s face was awash in concern as she took hold of her arm and led her slowly in the direction of the inn.
“Yes, of course it’s all right! Shall I call for the doctor?”
Emma shook her head and braved a smile, “No, I’m fine. Please don’t trouble yourself. I just need a little rest.”
Shannon studied her carefully, the anxiety in her eyes announcing loud and clear that she was far from convinced by Emma’s assurances. She hesitated at the door to the inn, her brow furrowed with concern.
“You’re certain you’ll be all right?”
Shannon was truly a good friend. They had fun together, with the parties and gossip, but when it truly mattered Shannon was always there to look out for her. In another world she would have made a perfect sister-in-law, but there was little hope in this world of her ever loving Nathan the way a wife should. Pushing that thought aside, she pulled Shannon into a brief hug and braved another smile.
“I promise I’ll be fine. I just need to lay down a while. I’ll see you tomorrow?”
Whatever her reservations, Shannon relented and took a step back, “Until tomorrow then.”
Emma didn’t wait for Shannon to make it more than a building or two down the street before she made her way inside and hurried up the stairs. Alone and in the safety of her room she let her emotions finally rise to the surface. Anxious tears glistened in her eyes and she hastily unlaced her corset so she could catch her breath.
With any luck the large ugly ship overwhelming the harbour had never heard of a certain captain of the King’s navy who went by the name of Archibald Williamson. She’d be even luckier still if that ship brought news that Hook was alive and well and continuing to frustrate the navy at every pass. She stood at the window, her chest heaving with each breath as she eyed the flags flapping at the top of the ship’s mast. If there was ever a time for luck to be on her side, it was now.
It was then that her eyes fell to the writing desk and saw the letter sitting atop it. It wasn’t often she received mail, unless it was an invitation to a social event. She picked up the letter and studied the roughly scrawled letters of her name. So, not a social invitation then. Flipping it over, she studied the glob of black wax holding the letter shut. It lacked any sort of insignia or stamp, leaving her completely clueless as to who it could be from. Popping it open with the tip of her letter opener, she unfolded the single sheet of paper and read the contents within. It was one line, hastily scrawled and smudged, as if it’d been written in a great hurry.
Come to Port Royal, it said. Urgent. H in grave danger.
Author's Note: Thank you a million times over to my lovely, loyal, and ever-patient readers. Your reviews have kept me going and kept me writing at a time when I wasn't sure I still could. Never underestimate the incredible power your words of support can have on a writer. It's because of you that this chapter was written and because of you this story will have an ending. Much love to all of you, and I hope you enjoyed the newest chapter. xoxo
Shannon was on her third turn about the room, her face a mask of unease. She flicked her fan open to stir a breeze against her skin and then quickly snapped it shut again.
“I am so unbelievably torn, Emma.”
She gestured with a heavy sigh between the two patterned fabrics laid out on display. Emma rallied every spare ounce of energy not already occupied with worrying about Hook to appear interested in her friend’s dilemma. Shannon was determined to have a new gown made to honour the event of the king’s navy finally coming ashore. There would inevitably be any number of teas, balls and socials to attend in short order and she would not be caught arriving in some tired old dress. Emma envied her; envied her freedom, her family, and her single-minded focus on nothing more complicated than finding a husband her father would approve of.
In the short time she’d been in Boston, Shannon had offered her a glimpse of what her life could be – a life of society and class. With a man like Nathan at her side she was certain that in time she could be content, maybe even happy with such a life. She’d been lying if she couldn’t admit that once or twice her mind had imagined a future without Hook in it. But the arrival of the note had reminded her of where her heart’s loyalty still rested and its gaze and it was not on Boston’s shores or Nathan’s fair visage.
While Shannon pulled out a third sample of fabric and held it up to scrutinize it against the other two, she found herself consumed to the point of panic with thoughts about whether Killian was still alive. Had he taken ill somewhere along the coast with one of those raging tropical fevers? Or had he been gravely injured in a duel? Or was he perhaps imprisoned in a cell somewhere, awaiting a trial that would surely spell his demise?
There were a thousand things that could be wrong and her mind had jumped to every single worst possible conclusion. He might be clinging to life in the hopes of seeing her one last time. He might be waiting his last days in the gaol before being hanged for piracy. Her heart screamed at her that she should already be aboard a ship bound for Port Royal and on her way to him. But instead she was seated in the alarmingly calm, sunny dressing room at Hillsborough Dressmakers with a cup of luke warm tea held between her trembling hands.
She pulled in a long slow breath and exhaled, attempting to will her mind into a calmer state. The realization that this frivolous, girlish moment might be one of her last with Shannon hadn’t escaped her notice. It was the sole reason she remained rooted to her seat despite the impulse to run to the nearest ship bound for Jamaica and hop aboard it. A familiar ache of loneliness settled in her chest as she watched her friend turn about and fret over silly bits of cloth. Once she left for Port Royal there were few assurances that she would ever see Boston’s shores again, or the people she’d come to care for here.
“All right, out with it.”
Shannon slapped her fan into the palm of her hand and Emma’s head snapped up in surprise.
The red-headed socialite crossed her arms in front of her chest and fixed Emma with the most penetratingly direct look she’d ever given her, “You haven’t been yourself all morning. What has got you looking like a scared rabbit?”
Emma felt the breath trickle out of her lungs, leaving her in stunned silence. Shannon had been good to her, like a sister even, and she deserved an explanation. No, she deserved more than that - she deserved the truth. Emma took a steadying breath, swallowed hard, and considered her words carefully.
“You’re right,” she conceded and looked up into Shannon’s concerned green eyes. “Last night I…I received some troubling news.”
Shannon settled down atop the chaise next to her, her maroon-coloured silk skirt billowing out around her.
“What is it? What’s happened?”
“Last night I received a letter informing me…”
Emma paused to swallow down the tremor of emotion underlying her words. She struggled to hold back tears while searching for the words to explain. Shannon leaned forward to take up her hand and one long, dark amber curl tumbled over her shoulder. With her throat tight with emotion, Emma squeezed her hand and then retrieved the note from her pocket. She opened it to read it and after a short pause, held it out to her.
Shannon took it from her carefully and her eyes scanned the single line inside once, then twice more. She flipped the paper over as if hoping to find more writing on the opposite side that would offer some sort of explanation.
“I don’t understand…” she said after a lengthy pause. “Who’s H?”
“My husband,” Emma confessed with a shaky exhale.
“You’re…” Shannon’s mouth dropped open and her hand holding the letter fell forgotten into her lap. “You’re married?”
Emma winced inwardly at the hint of betrayal in her friend’s tone.
“Yes and no.”
At Shannon’s dubiously raised brow she scrambled for a better explanation. “It was only a matter of convenience at first, but then it became something more.”
“That sounds like every girl’s dream,” Shannon commented, her tone wistful. “A marriage of convenience turned union of love.”
“It’s not what you’re thinking,” Emma insisted. It would do no good to have Shannon jumping to conclusions about her rich, aging husband back in the Old World. “He’s not a man of means.”
Shannon’s expression fell and she tilted her head curiously to the side.
“I’m afraid I don’t understand. What other reason is there to marry a man out of convenience?”
Emma steadied herself. This was clearly going to be a fair bit more complicated than she’d imagined.
“Well, when it will protect you from a hoard of vengeful, blood-thirsty pirates, for one.”
Shannon’s eyes shot open and she was up out of her chair in an instant. The store clerk rapped at the door and opened it a few centimeters to ask if she required any assistance. Shannon composed herself with remarkable speed and requested a fresh pot of tea. When the door closed again she exhaled a long, low sigh and lowered herself into the nearest chair. Reluctantly, her eyes met Emma’s and she stared at her in disbelief.
“Pirates?” she asked again, her voice little more than a whisper. “Good lord, Emma.”
“I’m sorry. I know I should have told you sooner.”
It was clear from the turn of Shannon’s mouth and the droop of her shoulders that keeping such a secret from her had hurt her. Emma could only hope that in time she would come to understand, and possibly even forgive, though it was a lofty goal at best.
“He wanted me to build a life here and in order to do that I had to leave the part of myself that included him behind. I didn’t mean to deceive you, Shannon. You’ve been such a dear friend to me at a time when I had no one else.”
A gentle smile curved the corners of Shannon’s lips, “Well, I suppose now is as good a time as any to hear the truth.”
Another rap at the door signalled the arrival of the tea. Shannon called for the clerk to enter, and she bustled in, tea tray in hand.
“Is there anything else I can get for you Miss? Perhaps a few more swatches? We have some new fabrics that have only just arrived…”
“Thank you, but we’ll be fine with these,” Shannon said, offering the girl a curt nod and a friendly smile. Recognizing a dismissal when she saw one, the girl curtsied and left the two of them alone.
“Well, at the very least you must tell me about him,” Shannon commented while pouring some fresh, hot tea into Emma’s cup. She smiled at the memory of Hook and wrapped her hands around the comforting warmth of her teacup.
“He has the most piercing blue eyes I’ve ever seen on a man.”
Shannon nodded in approval, “That’s a good start. Go on…”
Where should she go from there? It was impossible to encapsulate all that there was about him, everything she loved, in so few unfulfilling words. “He’s fiercely loyal to his crew,” she added, “and a man of honour. When we first met I thought the very worst of him, but time and again he proved my suspicions wrong.”
“How did you meet?”
“The story I told you of the Montgomery shipwreck was true. I was the only survivor, thanks to Hook. When his ship happened upon the wreck he pulled me from the sea and nursed me back to health, saving my life.”
Shannon looked taken aback, her features awash in confusion, “Did you say Hook? As in Captain Hook? Notorious brigand of the high seas Captain Hook?”
Emma cringed and braced for Shannon’s reaction, “Yes…I did neglect to mention that he is a pirate.”
She expected an explosion of emotion, perhaps even a fit of disgust, but Shannon sat eerily quiet, her fingers wrapped loosely around the handle of her tea cup. In time she took a sip from it and set it quietly back down onto its matching saucer.
“Well, no wonder you’re in love with him,” she commented with a light shrug of her shoulders. “I don’t know how any girl could meet a man like that and not fall in love.”
Emma blinked in surprise. She hadn’t anticipated acceptance from her friend who avowed her hatred for filthy pirates at every opportunity. With a merchant for a father she understood the root of her aversion to the lot of them completely. Which made her reaction, or lack thereof, all the more surprising.
“You’re not upset about his being a pirate?”
“I despise pirates, it’s true. I haven’t made any secret of my feelings on that account. But I can hardly hate the man who saved your life and brought you to us, Emma. I’m only worried about you– how safe will you be as the wife of a pirate?”
“I trust him completely, he’d never let anything happen to me.”
“There are a good many dangers on the high seas that are out of his control. You know that better than I do.”
Emma nodded, finding reassurance in Shannon’s grave concern for her well being.
“I know, but my place is with him. I’m more certainly of that now than ever before. I would rather live and die at his side than spend a long, easy life wondering what might have been.”
“Lord help you, you’re as stubborn as I am,” Shannon conceded with an amused shake of her head. “Well, at least now I know why I couldn’t persuade you to take Nathan as a husband. He will be quite disappointed by this revelation.”
“I never meant to hurt him, you have to believe that.”
“Emma, you’re one of the sweetest souls I’ve ever met. There isn’t a conniving, duplicitous bone in your body!”
She smiled, warmed by Shannon’s words of encouragement.
“And now it appears this husband of yours is in some sort of trouble. What are you going to do?”
“Go to Port Royal as soon as possible. I need to know that he’s all right. This is the first I’ve heard word of him in nearly half a year.”
“You can’t travel there alone, Emma. It’s far too dangerous!”
“I have to go to him. Whatever it takes, I’ll do it.” She determinedly set her teacup down atop its saucer with an audible clack and set the pair aside.
“But you don’t even know what sort of danger he’s in!” Shannon protested.
“I have a fairly good idea. Port Royal is notorious for pirates. It’s also notorious for executing them.”
Shannon swallowed audibly and her expression turned grave, “Emma, I’m so sorry.”
“Don’t be sorry, help me,” she pleaded and reach forward to clasp Shannon’s hands in hers. “Help me get to him before it’s too late. Please.”
“I’ll do what I can, you know I will,” Shannon reassured her, “but I don’t see how-”
“I need passage on a ship, and an escort. Do you think you could convince Nathan to journey with me to Port Royal?”
“My brother is always up for an adventure. I don’t see how he could refuse. I’ll be coming with you, too, of course.”
Shannon cut off any words of protest with a shake of her head and a wave of her hand. “I won’t let you go there alone, Emma. It’s far too dangerous! Besides, you may find yourself in need of a friend if things turn out badly.”
Emma nodded, having little need for any further explanation. It was a very real possibility that Hook would already be dead by the time she arrived. It was a grim conclusion she would have to prepare for, but it wasn’t one she was willing to accept just yet. She would fight for him until his last breath on this earth because she wasn’t capable of doing anything less. In her heart she knew he was still alive, she could feel it to the very marrow of her bones, she only hoped he would wait for her just a little while longer.
“Shannon, I don’t know how I can ever thank you…” she said, her words underwritten with tears of gratitude.
Shannon pulled her into a tight embrace and gently rocked her back and forth, trying to soothe away her worries with a comforting brush of her hand against her back.
“There’s no need for thanks, Emma. After all, what are friends for?”
Author's Note: Thank you to everyone who's sent me such wonderful, uplifting message these past few weeks. You are such wonderful people and I'm thankful to have you all as readers. I hope you enjoyed this new chapter and that it didn't feel like filler. Emma is Port Royal bound next chapter, so stay tuned!
The breeze was cutting and brusque. As if sensing her urgency to be gone as far and as quickly from Boston’s shores as possible, it filled the sails with a sharp snap and the ship surged forward. Every minute of every hour they weren’t actively moving towards Port Royal was time wasted.
Emma stood at the bow of The Amadeus with her hands wrapped tightly around the rail and kept her eyes on the horizon. If willpower alone could have transported their vessel they would already be lowering the anchor at Jamaica’s island shore.
“If you stare at that horizon any harder you’ll turn it to stone.”
She reluctantly turned away from her first view of the open sea in months to find Nathan watching her with a look of concern.
“We’re making good time,” he promised with a reassuring hand on her shoulder. “My father swears Vasquez is one of his best captains. No one will get us there faster than he will.”
“I only hope it will be in time,” she replied with a frown. “How’s Shannon? Has her sea sickness abided?”
Nathan cringed, his nose wrinkling at the memory of the smell below deck. “I imagine it’ll be another day or so before she feels herself again. In the meantime, let us enjoy the peace and quiet.”
Emma pursed her lips and gave a half-hearted swat with her gloves against his arm, “Oh, hush.”
To her utter surprise, he listened. He stood at her side and offered his unfailing support while her pensive gaze was inevitably drawn back to the wide blue expanse ahead of them. The sunlight glittered on the water’s surface, dancing about like a thousand sparkling diamonds. If Shannon’s assurances were true, Nathan had had designs to propose to her not so long ago. And now he stood nobly at her side playing chaperone while she journeyed to be with the man she loved.
She had to wonder which part of this sordid arrangement had encouraged him to join. Was it simply to protect the two of them on the voyage? Or to be a shoulder for her to cry on should the worst come to pass? It was difficult to make out his true motives when he seemed so unfailingly genuine in his support. And regardless of what those motives were, he was there with her when she needed him the most and that was what mattered. Whichever woman wound up becoming his wife would be lucky indeed. Men like Nathan and Killian were a rare breed. How fortuitous for her to have known two such men in her short life.
“How long do you think it will be before we arrive?” she asked in time.
“If these strong winds and good weather hold it won’t be more than a week.”
She nodded in understanding and a worried crease formed between her brows. Nathan stepped closer and took her hand in his. “If I could get us there faster, dearest Emma, I would. It pains me to see you looking so distraught.”
“I know you would. I’m sorry to worry you. You and Shannon and your father…you’ve gone through all this trouble just for me. I can’t even begin to thank you.”
Nathan shook his head and patted her hand, warming it between his palms. “Knowing that you’ve found happiness will be reward enough. Besides, I must admit, I'm eager to meet the man who stole your heart away before I had the chance to. A part of me is hoping he's not nearly so wonderful as you've described so my ego can find a tiny bit of solace on the journey home.”
Her lips turned upwards in a reluctant smile and she felt the weight of anticipation momentarily lift from her shoulders. Nathan had that affect on others. No matter the situation he could ease your worries and make you feel as though it would all turn out right in the end.
“Would you like me to stay with you?” he asked, his tone sincere.
She slowly shook her head, “Thank you, but I’ll be fine.”
He nodded and released her hand after offering it a brief kiss. “Should you need anything…”
She smiled in gratitude and he left her side, heading to the upper deck to speak with the Captain. With his departure she breathed a quiet sigh of relief. As grateful as she was for his support, it was exhausting to observe social pleasantries when all she wanted was to be alone with her thoughts. How could she possibly be expected to talk about anything civil when the man she loved could very well be dead?
Her stomach clenched at the thought and she stepped closer to the railing of the deck in case she was suddenly sick. Or he could be slowly wasting in the grip of a deadly fever, his eyes delirious and his lips muttering her name. Such tortuous images had flooded her mind with relentless persistence since receiving the note that now remained tucked inside her dress pocket, its seams worn from being folded and unfolded countless times. There would be no relief until she knew for certain, until she saw him with her own eyes.
With her entire being she hoped to find him alive, but her heart was heavy with the weight of expectation. Somewhere in the back of her mind she was prepared for the possibility that he was already dead. She’d dreamt of all the gruesome ways it might happen so that nothing would surprise her if it should come to that. At the very least she hoped she would be prepared.
How does one face such a loss and not break apart completely? How would she manage the journey back to Boston without him? How would she motivate herself to sleep or eat or breathe knowing that she was living in a world where he no longer existed?
A shuddering breath escaped her and she hastily wiped two tears from her cheeks. She needed to remain focused and optimistic. If he was alive and needed her help, she would need to be prepared for every contingency. Nathan and Shannon would help where they could, but if she was to have any hope she would need to locate the crew of the Jolly Roger. Only they could tell her the truth about what’d happened to Hook and where to find him.
The thought of the crew she hadn’t seen in so many months spread warmth through her chest like the first hot, sun-filled day of spring. Even the parts about them she never imagined she would miss – the spitting, the cursing, the bawdy work songs and even lewder jokes – she found herself longing for now. If she closed her eyes and focused on the spray of the salt water against her skin and the sounds of the crew manning the ship all around her, she could almost imagine she was back aboard the Jolly Roger with Hook at the helm. She held her place, her feet rooted to the deck, and clasped desperately to that image determined not to let it go.
“Wait for me,” she pleaded into the wind, with the faint hope it would carry her message to him. “Please, Killian. Wait for me.”
He felt the brush of her fingers against his arm and the tantalizing touch of her lips at the hollow of his throat.
“Killian…Time to wake up.”
He groaned his disagreement but his arms found their way around her waist and held her against him while he fought to return to sleep. She traced the line of his jaw with her finger and then brushed it across his bottom lip in a feather light caress. When her movements became a little less guarded and her finger a little more comfortable prodding at his sleep heavy lips, he opened his mouth and caught the tip of it between his teeth. Emma squeaked in surprise and quickly pulled her finger back.
“You villain,” she chided, but he could hear the smile behind her words.
He grinned and cracked one eye open, “Serves you right disturbing my beauty sleep. How else do you think I came to be so dashing?”
“Well at least we know that ego of yours never rests,” she replied with a roll of her eyes. “Come on, there’s a great wide world out there and I want to see it.”
“So go and see it,” he urged, and closed his eyes again. “Meanwhile I’ll stay here and try to find some peace and quiet.”
“You’re no fun at all,” she pouted and heaved a great sigh as her cheek came to rest atop his chest.
“Now, love,” he cautioned. “As I recall, a mere two hours ago you enjoyed yourself a great deal in my company.”
He felt the heat of her cheek against the naked skin of his chest and knew he’d made her blush. He rather enjoyed making her blush, especially when it was just the two of them together in his cabin.
“Perhaps you dreamt it,” she offered unconvincingly as her chin came to rest atop her hand.
“Perhaps,” he smirked. “It was astonishingly vivid, this dream of mine. It featured you and your fine form clothed in nothing at all.”
“Scandalous,” she gasped in mock alarm.
“Truly. Shall I tell you about it?”
He opened both eyes to the sight of her bright, eager gaze and blush tinted cheeks. “Well, let me see now… Ah, yes. You had your legs astride my thighs, just here.”
Following the movement of his hand she drew one leg slowly across his waist and then slowly rose up with her body straddling his hips and her hands resting gently atop his stomach.
“Like so?” she questioned with a quizzical tilt of her head.
He nodded and shifted his body beneath hers, gasping softly as the warm wet heat of her core stoked the embers of his desire into a fledgling flame. The light shining through the windows of his cabin made her shift practically transparent and he studied the outline of her form with an appreciative eye.
“Yes, exactly so,” he replied in time, his voice a little softer than before. “You’re quite an attentive student, love.”
Her fingers began to trace little designs onto the skin of his stomach, and her eyes lifted to his expectantly. “What else happened in this dream of yours?”
“As I recall, my hand was at your hip, just so.”
Her eyes followed his hand as it went to her hip and gripped it through the thin material of her shift, while his other arm came to rest on the opposite hip. With the slightest encouragement her hips moved in the direction his hand led her, first slowly back and forth, and then with the slightest downward pressure. She let out a soft gasp and bit her lip as her hips moved on their own accord, no longer requiring any guidance.
He sucked in a gasp through his teeth and her name came spilling out, “Emma…”
Her movements slowed and eventually stopped. His desire was no longer a budding flame, but had been masterfully stoked into a raging inferno by the blonde vixen seated on top of him. He stirred beneath her, his hips shifting and thrusting subtly upward in search of satisfaction. Though she appeared unaffected he could tell from the way her fingers tensed and relaxed against his skin that she wanted nothing more than to continue exactly as she had been doing and bring them both to a glorious end, but instead she fixed him with a frustratingly patient look.
“What happened next?”
God in heaven, she was the ultimate tease. And he loved every tortuous moment of it.
“In the dream,” she prodded. “What happened next?”
He grinned at the determined look in her eyes and wondered which one of them would break first. “Well, I believe it involved a kiss.”
Her brows lifted expectantly and he pushed himself up onto his elbow while his hand went to her neck. With his fingers buried deep in her hair she unconsciously tilted her head into his palm.
“I put my hand just like so,” he said softly, “and pulled you close.”
She followed his lead, leaning ever closer until her lips were a hairsbreadth from his. All he wanted to do was surge forward and taste them, remind himself of their soft embrace and the taste of her, but she held them just beyond his reach.
“What sort of kiss was it?” she asked, a faint smile playing with the corners of her mouth. She was just torturing him for the fun of it now, and they both knew it.
“Shall I show you?” His voice was thick with want and he hardly needed to wait for her imperceptible nod before his mouth was on hers.
A sudden awareness circled the back of his mind even as his hips began to move against her in earnest and his mouth carved a careful path down her naked throat. There was something about her kiss that wasn’t the same as before, something different in the taste of her, the feel of her. He tried to block it out, but with each moment that passed the stronger the awareness became until it was all he could focus on.
He kissed her hard and she moaned into his mouth.
“Killian, please…” she whispered against his neck as her nails dug into the skin on his arms. He winced and pulled his lips from hers.
“Gentle, love. I enjoy a little slap and tickle as much as the next bloke but let’s say we go a bit slower this morning, hmmm?”
Her hands moved down his body, her nails sliding gently across the bare planes of his chest and stomach. She bent her head to his chest, her long golden hair tickling his naked skin, and led a warm trail of kisses across his chest to his shoulder where she promptly sunk her teeth in.
He awoke with a sharp gasp, his body surging upwards in a single motion. The rats that’d been crawling over his sleeping form scattered and he touched at the bite mark on his shoulder, hissing at the stinging pain of his touch. His harried breaths slowly dissipated and he became aware of his surroundings. Long gone was the airy, sunlight scene of his cabin and in its place was the dank, fetid cell he’d been trapped in for days.
And as the last vestiges of warmth from his dream faded, the jarring coldness of reality set in. It was almost certain now that he would never see Emma again, at least not in this life. There were nights where his dreams of her were so vivid he could have sworn they were real. More than once he’d awoken to the sound of his own voice calling out her name.
Some of the dreams he had of her were like the one from tonight – hot, enticing, his mind’s desperate desire for comfort ultimately guiding him to the guilty pleasure of an intimate night spent with her. Others were of the future they might have had together - the adventures they’d go on, the places they’d see. But mostly they were of seemingly forgettable moments in time, where he’d catch the light of the sun in her hair or hear her laugh at one of the crew’s terrible jokes, or he’d hold her in his arms on the deck of his ship while the winds guided them to their next destination. They were as beautiful as they were torturous and they were always about her.
The guards took no small amount of pleasure in calling out Emma’s name in pitiful desperate tones while bowled over in hysterical fits of laughter. In between imagining all the various ways he’d kill the two mottled faced brigands if he ever had the chance, he wondered about what Emma was doing and how she was faring in Boston. He liked to imagine her in the market, her slender fingers caressing the ruby red skin of a fresh apple as she decided whether to purchase it. Or at a ball, her cheeks flushed with exertion and merriment as her silk-clad feet led her about the room. He so desperately wanted to be there with her, leading her about the dance floor to the envy of all the other would be suitors.
He swiped a weary hand across his face and used a stone on the floor to make another mark on the wall. Ten days he’d been in trapped within these stone walls, and it would be at least several more before the judge arrived to begin the trial. It would be any wonder if he didn’t go positively mad before then. Cells like this were designed for just such a thing, to make men dwell on the life that’d led them to their fate and fill them with humility, remorse and regret.
There were a great many deeds he regretted in his life, but he couldn’t escape the knowledge that without those deeds he never would have crossed paths with the blonde haired ghost that haunted his dreams each night. The woman he’d chosen to become his wife. The woman he loved more than life itself. Ah, yes. There were a great many regrets in his life, but Emma and the path that’d led him to her would never be among them.
The sudden frantic pummel of the crew’s feet across the deck pulled her from a dreamless sleep. Emma stared up at the ceiling and rubbed her eyes, wondering what time it was. There was still light outside the porthole, dim though it was. It was either early morning or late evening, but it was impossible to tell without going up on deck.
She'd only meant to take a brief rest, just a few minutes to close her eyes and clear her head. It hadn't worked. She felt even groggier now than when she'd first laid her head down to rest.
There was the sudden crash of a crewman jumping down from the rigging and a bit of dust shook loose from the floorboards and onto her sheets. She laid there quietly a moment longer, listening intently to the commotion above, until she could stand it no more. Careful not to wake Shannon, she slid quietly out of bed and went to investigate.
“What is it? What’s going on?” she asked the first crewman to cross her path. He brushed her off and ran for the rigging, climbing it faster than seemed humanly possible.
Nathan appeared at her side a moment later, looking somewhat harried himself.
“What is it?” she pressed.
“Pirates,” he answered quietly under his breath. “Off the starboard bow. Vasquez is deciding whether to fight them or raise the white flag. If they come aboard you and Shannon could be in danger.”
Her brows rose fractionally as her mind registered that depending on the ship they could be in very real danger of never making it to Port Royal, or home.
“Do we know which ship it is?”
Nathan shook his head. She couldn’t blame him for being uncertain – one pirate ship was likely the same as any other in his mind.
Emma squinted at the ship on the horizon. They hadn't come this far to be thrown off course now. Picking up her skirts, she marched determinedly up the short set of stairs to the upper deck where Captain Vasquez was speaking animatedly with his First Mate.
“Excuse me, Captain?”
“I have no time for this, take her,” Vasquez said brusquely and waved her away. Nathan’s hand descended onto her shoulder, the gentle pressure a silent suggestion that they depart.
With a shrug of her shoulders Nathan's hand fell away and she snatched the looking glass from its holder next to the ship’s wheel. Ignoring Vasquez's protests, she marched to the starboard side and put it to her eye. Twilight was nearly upon them, but she was fairly certain she recognized the banner. No, she thought, as she lowered the looking glass, she was positive she did.
“You will want to raise the white flag, Captain,” she announced and calmly returned the looking glass to its holder.
“She is insane,” he protested, speaking directly to Nathan.
When all Nathan could do was shrug Vasquez at last turned to her, his face red with indignation.
“You expect me to invite pirates aboard my ship all because a woman says so?!” he demanded, utterly flummoxed by the idea.
“That ship is the Jolly Roger,” she explained, doing her best to keep her tone neutral. “I spent several months aboard it prior to arriving in Boston. You may be interested to know that vessel carries 20 guns and is manned by nearly four score crew. By my count, The Amadeus is both out manned and out gunned. Not the best odds going into a fight, as I'm sure you would agree."
Vasquez's eyes travelled slowly over her, his expression filled of contempt. But whether he liked it or not, he had to agree with her assessment of the odds. He'd be an absolute fool to do otherwise and Nathan had assured her that Vasquez was no fool. Captains seldom lasted as long as he had without a good amount of wits and luck about them.
"Now, if you would be so kind as to raise the white flag," she continued, "I can promise that no harm will come to your vessel or your crew.”
After a tense moment Vasquez snarled, turned heel and barked the order to raise the white flag. When he saw that his order had been carried out, he turned back just long enough to stick an ink-stained index finger in her face.
"If you are wrong about this," he warned, his tone low and menacing, "I'll deliver you to the pirates myself."
Emma defiantly lifted her chin and held his gaze until he stormed off to ready the crew to be boarded. When he was gone she blew out the breath she'd been holding and grabbed hold of the railing for support.
"He's a blow hard," Nathan assured her. "I'd never allow him to hand you over to a ship full of pirates."
Emma turned with a smile and noticed the way Nathan's eyes panned over her features with a curious sort of expression.
“What is it?”
He shook his head and offered a polite smile. “It’s nothing. It’s just… I haven’t seen you that way before – so authoritative and bold. I dare say, Emma, I like this side of you!”
Her smile grew and she accepted his arm as he lead her down the stairs to await the arrival of the Jolly Roger.
Emma stood with Nathan and The Amadeus crew as the Jolly Roger pulled up alongside their ship. The pirate crew slid their gangplanks across the space between the two vessels and Emma rose up onto her tip toes to catch a glimpse of who was coming aboard.
She'd wondered who was leading the crew in Hook's absence. Was it Smee? Or perhaps Curly? Or maybe someone else she didn't recognize. It was entirely possible the crew had changed hands any number of times in the ports they'd sailed in the last half year. Still, it didn't stop her from hoping for a few familiar faces.
The Mongolian was the first to step down onto The Amadeus' deck. He spoke few words of English but his imposing presence made far more of an impact than any words could have. The crew took one look at him and warily shuffled backwards.
Next to arrive were a few crew with their swords already drawn. They whooped and hollered as they scrambled aboard and looked around. Then, finally a familiar face came into view - that of young Thomas. Emma couldn't help herself and rushed forward with a delighted cry.
Thomas stopped short and blinked owlishly at her before uttering an astonished, "Miss Swan? Is that you?"
"Yes, of course!" Emma gushed and threw her arms around him. She was nearly brought to tears by the sight of him. Until this moment she'd worried she might never see the crew she'd come to care for again.
"Where are the others? Smee? Curly?"
"Back on the ship," Thomas answered with a fleeting sweep of his hand towards the Jolly Roger. "What're you doin' here if you don' mind me askin'? I thought we's left ye in Boston..."
"I was in Boston," Emma explained and gripped his hand tight. "It's a long story. Is there somewhere private we can speak? I must have a word with Curly and Smee about the Captain."
Thomas' eyes went wide and he nodded, "Yes, of course. Right this way..."
He took her by the arm and led her to one of the gangplanks. She stepped a foot up onto the narrow wooden board only to be swept off of it before she could make another move. Her feet hit the deck and she looked around, disoriented, only to find Nathan standing protectively in front of her. A few of the Jolly Roger crew cautiously drew their blades and several of The Amadeus crew responded in kind.
"I'll be accompanying her, if you don't mind," Nathan asserted.
Thomas' brow furrowed and he looked disapprovingly between her and Nathan. She could only imagine what he must be thinking or what conclusions he must be drawing after Nathan’s demonstration. Emma struggled to rein in her annoyance as she stepped in front of him. He meant well, she knew he did, but right now he was preventing her from obtaining information about Hook and she wasn't about to let him do it.
"Emma," he said with a determined shake of his head. "I cannot in good conscience allow you to go alone aboard that ship. I will go with you or the men you wish to speak with may come here."
She could tell by the stubborn gleam in his eyes that this wasn't a battle of wills she was likely to win. Uttering a quiet sigh of resignation, she nodded her head and turned to Thomas.
"I'll 'ave Curly come aboard," he said and narrowed his eyes at Nathan before removing his hand from the sword at his hip.
Emma watched him shimmy across the rickety gangplank and exhaled a quiet sigh of relief.
"These men, this crew, they were good to me," Emma assured Nathan in a quiet whisper while they waited. "Please know they would never put me in any danger."
He gave a reluctant nod of his head and gently patted her hand, "I hope you are right."
Emma paced the floor of the Captain's cabin while Vasquez waited impatiently outside.
"We didn't realize 'til sun up that somethin' was amiss," Curly confessed with his eyes lowered. He looked older than she remembered. His stout, unshakable form had grown weary in the months since she'd last seen him and now sat hunched with defeat.
"There was talk up an' down the beach 'bout some navy dogs gettin' their hands on a cap'n," he added softly and his aged hands clenched into tight fists atop the table. "We put two an' two together."
She nodded and crossed her arms in front of her chest, her mind already whirring with strategies and a whole new host of concerns.
"Do you know where he's being kept?"
"Oh aye," Curly replied with a nod of his grayed head. "There's but one jail in Port Royal."
Emma pulled in a deep, calming breath and slowly exhaled. She could feel everyone's eyes on her, probing, expectant. They were all waiting to see how she would react, and what she would do next. Shannon's brows were furrowed in a genuine look of concern. Nathan had his arms crossed in front of him and kept darting suspicious glances at the pirates in the room. Curly, meanwhile, kept his head bowed, unable to even look her in the eye.
Losing Hook hadn't solely been her burden to bear, she realized, and felt her stomach drop like a leaden weight. It was remarkably clear to everyone in the room that the loss of their Captain had been an excruciating blow for Hook's crew, many of whom felt personally responsible for his arrest and detainment. They were adrift without him and nothing would be right until he was safely back aboard the Jolly Roger.
Emma's expression softened as she slid into the chair next to Curly and wrapped her hand around heavily callused fingers.
"It's not your fault," she assured him with quiet certainty. "And I'm willing to bet those navy dogs belonged to Williamson's crew."
Curly nodded his head, "Aye, tha's a good wager tha' one. Never liked th' look o' tha' bastard."
"I had a feeling we hadn't seen the last of him," she muttered and tightened her grip on Curly's hand. "What else do you know?"
"They 'ave 'im up on charges o' piracy. Long list o' 'em. These trials 'ave a way of goin'," he explained with a pitiful shake of his head. "Not much as is can be done. I fear they mean ta make an example o’ ‘im."
"I don't accept that," she countered with a stubborn shake of her head. "We will find him and we will get him out."
Emma got to her feet and resumed pacing. She was utterly incapable for sitting still in a crisis. It wasn't difficult to imagine what Hook would say if he could see her now. No doubt he'd make some comment about her wearing a hole through the floorboards before offering a tipple of rum to soothe her frayed nerves.
"You can't simply go into Port Royal jail with guns blazing," Nathan protested. "You'll need a strategy and some help from the inside. If he's charged with as many crimes as we've been told, then it's likely that only a pardon from the Governor himself will be enough to free him."
"We don't have time for that!" Emma insisted with a wholly unladylike groan.
"We may have a little time yet," Shannon interjected with an encouraging look at her brother. "These trials run on a circuit, so the judges are only in town every so often. If his trial has not yet started that gives us at least a little time to explore our options."
Emma halted her pacing long enough to turn her attention wholly to Shannon, "What are you suggesting?"
The red head sat up a little straighter in her seat and splayed her hands flat atop the table, "What if my brother looks into acquiring a pardon from the Governor and what that would cost, while you and I see if we can locate your husband at the jail. If he's condemned as they say, then there are certain concessions that are permitted and we could use those to gain entry - with a few bribes, of course."
Emma's heart leapt into her throat at the thought of seeing Hook again so soon, but she tampered down her excitement and fought to keep a clear head.
"And what if Nathan should fail?" she inquired. "What then?"
The siblings exchanged a look, communicating silently with one another in a way that only close siblings could. Shannon gave a quick nod of agreement, "We'll do whatever we can to help."
"You've already done so much," Emma protested. "If this goes awry, I couldn't bear the thought of either of you being caught up in the fallout."
"We can take care of ourselves," Nathan assured her. "We are here to help, however we can."
A gracious smile crossed Emma's lips and she nodded in agreement, "All right then. We'll try it your way first, and if that should fail we'll attempt the more direct route."
"Direct route, Ma'am?" Curly interjected with a lift of his head.
Emma retrieved a pistol and a bottle of rum from atop Vasquez's desk and set them on the table in front of him. He stared at the pistol in silence and then slowly nodded in understanding.
"Aye, aye, Ma'am," he replied and lifted his eyes to hers, meeting her gaze for the first time since he'd stepped foot aboard the ship. A blackened grin stretched his lips wide and he reached for the bottle of rum, "Guns blazin' it is."
Author's Note: Readers, you are so wonderful! Thank you for all the kind words on my last chapter. I'm happy to be able to get this one out to you so soon. Hook and Emma will reunite next chapter, so please don't despair :) There's plenty more drama and action to come!
Emma felt a sinking sense of foreboding fill her stomach as she stepped foot onto Port Royal’s shore. Shannon was not far behind, looking immensely relieved to be on dry ground again. Nathan took up the rear, and was pulling delicately at his collar before he’d even stepped foot off the gang plank.
“It sure is warm…” Shannon flicked open her fan with a sharp snap and began waving it immediately in front of her face. The small breeze it delivered did little good.
The air was thick with a muggy, oppressive heat that was unlike anything the trio had ever experienced. They hadn’t been ashore two minutes and Emma was already desperate to change into something that would breathe a little easier than her whale bone corset and satin skirts.
“Our father has arranged lodging not far from here,” Nathan informed then. “Come, I’ll hire a carriage to drive you to the inn.”
He led them through the crowd of bodies, carriages, and cargo along the dock and hailed one of the many drivers waiting for a fare. Nathan already had the door open and had his hand out to help them up the stairs by the time they’d squeezed through the last of the crowd.
“The luggage will follow,” he assured Shannon when her eyes darted back to the ship. “Your dresses will arrive at the inn within the hour.”
With that he shut the door to the carriage and gave the driver instructions on where to take them.
“Wait,” Emma called after him. “Are you not joining us?”
Nathan smiled and gave a brief shake of his head, “I’m afraid not. There are a few errands I must take care of on my father’s behalf. And of course, I will need to arrange an audience with the Governor. Shall I join you both for dinner?”
Emma gave a reluctant nod and sat back in her seat. Nathan waved as the carriage jerked forward and headed slowly away from the docks. Emma watched until the crowd had swallowed him up and then exhaled a heavy sigh.
“I imagine all you want to do right now is head straight to the prison, ” Shannon said with an understanding look.
Emma stared unseeingly out the window at the countless unfamiliar faces and shop windows that passed by.
“I’ve missed him so much,” she whispered, her voice barely strong enough to be heard.
Shannon’s hand found hers and gave it a reassuring squeeze, “Well, allow me tell you my plan and you can let me know what you think of it.”
Emma gave a silent nod.
“We’ll go to the inn and order up a long, hot bath. We’ll take our time, washing away two weeks’ worth of ship stench and filth and have a light lunch. By then our luggage should have arrived from the ship, so we can pick out something nice and clean to wear.”
Emma smiled and Shannon gave a little wink, “Something that’ll really make his eyes pop, hmmm?”
“Then I’ll take a bit of time to fix up your hair, like we did for the autumn social. You remember?”
“It looked lovely,” Emma gushed. “You really wouldn’t mind?”
Shannon gave a light laugh and shook her head, “Of course not! You know I’m a hopeless romantic, Emma. If I don’t have that husband of yours literally sweeping you off your feet by the time I’m finished I don’t know what I’ll do.”
A smile stretched across Emma’s face at the thought of Hook sweeping her into his arms and she gave an eager nod.
“I like the sounds of this plan. Do you think I’ll be able to see him today?”
Shannon gave an uncertain shrug, “Maybe after dinner. We’ll speak with Nathan then and see what he has managed to figure out. We may need him to arrange the meeting for us.”
“How will I ever repay you for this?” Emma said in earnest.
A playful smile flittered across Shannon’s lips and she leaned in, her voice hushed, “This husband of yours…would he happen to know any other attractive, unwed, sea captains he could introduce me to?”
Emma’s lips pulled into a grin, “I’ll see what I can do.”
Marshallsea Prison was located a stone’s throw from the gallows, and a short ways down from the Court House where the trial of one Captain Hook was set to begin any day now. Nathan put a finger inside his collar and pulled it away from his neck, hoping for some relief from the sweltering heat. Finding none, he tore his gaze from the haunting sight of several long dead corpses hanging in chains by the gallows and headed through the darkened door of the prison.
The smell hit him before his eyes had even had a chance to adjust to the dim lighting of the interior. The air was rank, fully inundated with the scents of death and rot and everything in-between. It made him long for the fetid stench of a ship’s hold. The thought of either Shannon or Emma stepping foot in this place didn’t sit well, but there was no helping it. Prisons weren’t designed for comfort or luxury, and often with good reason.
A small bribe and mention that he was inspecting the state of the prisoner on behalf of the Governor was all it took to gain access. The burly guard took one look at his attire and readily accepted the small bag of coins thrust into his hand.
He dutifully followed the man’s lead through a series of locked doors. Each time they passed through another, the intensity of the stench on the air worsened. By the time they reached the final door, he was calling upon every ounce of will power he possessed to not let his overwhelming disgust show.
The guard stopped in front of a cell which, for all intents and purposes, looked unoccupied. He raised a brow in question and the guard hawked loudly, spitting a sizeable glob of mucous onto the floor.
“’e’s in there all right,” he assured him and unlocked the cell door. “’e’s in shackles. Look alive, pirate. Ye ‘ave a visitor.”
Nathan’s brows lifted as he wondered whether shackling prisoners was a usual occurrence, or one prompted by some sort of violent outburst on behalf of this particular one. The guard held the cell door open for him to enter and he stepped through with a brief thank you. The door slammed shut behind him with a deafening clang.
He blinked a few times and glanced around the darkened cell, hoping his eyes would adjust to the dim lighting and darkly shadowed corners. Something scurried across his foot and he shuddered internally at the thought of what was lurking beneath the thin layer of straw at his feet.
“If you’ve come to save my soul, father, I’m afraid I’m not in the mood.”
Nathan turned his head towards the voice. It sounded dry and brittle, the voice of a man who’d already accepted defeat. He took a step closer and a shape began to emerge from the shadows. He could make out the outline of a man seated on the floor, his knee bent upwards, and his fingers wearily massaging his eyes.
“Is your soul in need of saving?” he asked and took a step closer.
The pirate’s shoulder shook in a silent chuckle and he lifted his head, “I’m afraid that ship has long since sailed.”
Nathan gave a nod and glanced about the cell now that he could see more of it. There wasn’t much to speak of. A thin layer of straw covered the floor and a little more was piled up in one corner in the shape of a bed. A bucket sat in the opposite corner, filled with filth he could only imagine. There were no other comforts or amenities to speak of and were he anyone other than Emma’s husband a part of him would have been glad that a lawless murderer had found himself in such a place.
“These conditions are deplorable,” he said eventually. “It is truly astounding.”
He felt the pirate’s eyes on him, sizing him up.
“What – no words about eternal damnation and the importance of repenting my sins today?”
“If you’re in search of reconciliation I suggest you look elsewhere,” Nathan replied. “I am no preacher.”
The scrape of a heavy chain against the floor sounded as the pirate shifted, his attention now fully on him.
“Then, might I ask, why exactly you are here?”
“Ah, yes. I haven’t given you my name, have I? Nathan Elliot.” He gave a short bow out of social habit more than anything else, “I’m a friend of a friend, if you will.”
The pirate gave a dark laugh, and the sound caught him momentarily off guard.
“Pirates have no friends in this sort of place, mate. We have our conscience, the rats, and a healthy fear of death, but friends, I’m afraid, are in short supply.”
Nathan gave an understanding nod and wished there was somewhere for him to sit that wasn’t covered in some manner of filth.
“That may be true most days,” he conceded, “but not today.”
The pirate casually rested his arm atop his knee with another clink of his chains. “And who might I ask is this friend you speak of?”
“I’ll keep that to myself for now. Suffice to say they will visit in their own in time and explain the details themselves.”
The pirate studied him intently for a long moment, taking in the details of his clean, well-cut attire, and straight posture.
“Why are you here?”
“I thought it prudent to gather the measure of a man. You might imagine I’ve heard little good said about pirates in my lifetime. There are countless stories about the sort of men who will capture a ship and leave no survivors, or cheat an honest man of his money, or ravish a good man’s wife simply for the pleasure of doing so.”
The pirate said nothing.
“Which sort of pirate are you?” Nathan asked and crossed his arms in front of his chest. “What sort of man is Captain Hook?”
The pirate exhaled a low sigh and slid a hand down over his face, “That is a loaded question, mate. What does my answer matter, really? The guards, the citizens out there, the Governor, the judge, the realm…they’ve already made up their minds about the sort of man I am. What difference will a few words uttered in a cell make to that?
“You yourself I’m sure made any number of assumptions about my character the moment you entered this cell. Some of them may be true, but most will be false. Ultimately, what does it matter? In a few days’ time I’ll be on trial and then I’ll be hanging from the end of a noose, and you will - all of you - continue on your merry way satisfied that the version of me in your heads was suitably punished for his many grievous offences.”
“So you’ve given up?”
“I’ve accepted my fate,” the pirate corrected him. “It was an arduous process, I assure you.”
There was no mistaking the bitter tone behind the pirate’s words and he had to wonder how it was that he’d ended up in this cell in the first place. It would have to be a conversation for another day. The guard returned and stood just beyond the cell door, loudly jingling the keys in his hand. Nathan glanced over at him and gave an understanding nod.
“Our time is up, I’m afraid,” he said with an apologetic nod. “I would encourage you to search for some kernel of hope to hold on to. The end isn’t the end until it is.”
“Do you know something I don’t?” the pirate asked with a curious tilt of his head.
Nathan gave a brief, polite smile and turned to the guard, “How much to arrange a bucket of fresh water, a bar of soap, and a set of clean clothes for the prisoner?”
The guard sucked his teeth and gave a thoughtful scratch to the several days’ worth of beard growth along his chin.
“10 shillings,” he said gruffly and crossed his large arms in front of his chest. “An’ not a penny less.”
“A reasonable sum,” Nathan conceded and handed over a small pouch of coins. “I’ll have some clothes delivered within the hour. There will be other visitors to see this prisoner following the dinner hour. Please be certain he is suitably washed and changed before then.”
The guard gave a condescending bow and chuckled low and deep, “Ye’sir.”
Wearing a painted on smile he’d perfected during years of tedious social events, Nathan turned from the guard back to the pirate who was now eyeing him speculatively from the corner.
“You will want to take me up on that bath and change of clothes,” he advised. “We only get one chance at a first impression after all.”
“Oh?” the pirate inquired with a lift of his brow. “And who might this visitor be that I should care for first impressions?”
Nathan felt an amused smile tug at his lips and disguised it with a polite bow. He waited for the guard to open the cell door and then replied, “My sister.”
Emma stood before the doors to Marshallsea Prison with her heart in her throat. Nathan had informed them over dinner that all of the necessary arrangements had been made. All she need do was step foot through that door, indicate she was there to see “the pirate” and the rest would take care of itself. At least, she was praying it would. There was no telling what might happen once they were inside.
“It will be all right,” Shannon assured her in a soft tone and took hold of her hand.
Emma nodded and pulled in a deep breath, “I’m ready.”
Hand in hand they entered through the narrow door to the prison and waited for their eyes to adjust to the darkened interior.
“How can anyone see in here?” she whispered.
“Maybe it is best if we do not see too much,” Shannon offered. “The smell is something quite profound.” She discretely put a scented handkerchief to her nose and Emma wished she’d thought to bring one of her own.
“Can I help ye?” They turned with a start to find a burly guard standing several feet away with his arms crossed.
“I-” Emma began but her words quickly faltered.
“We are here to see the pirate,” Shannon continued for her. “I believe arrangements have already been made?”
The guard gave a loud snort and grabbed up his keys. “This way,” he muttered gruffly and led them down a narrow set of stairs to the first in a series of large wooden doors.
The further they travelled the worse the smell became. The air was heavy with the stench of rot and countless other foul odours she had no wish to identify. Shannon’s hand tightened around hers and she squeezed back. Her heart was hammering in her chest so loudly she wondered if Shannon could hear it.
Her mind was whirring with a thousand questions and they grew louder with each step. Would he be pleased to see her? Would he be angry? Was he as she remembered him? Or had the weeks he’d spent in this place robbed him of that youthful vigor which had made her fall in love with him in the first place?
The guard came to a slow halt in front of the last door and unlocked it with the aid of a lantern and one of the many keys at his hip. The heavy wood creaked as it was swung open and he gestured for them to enter ahead of him. They stood in a small hallway looking at an empty cell behind thick wrought iron bars.
“This one,” the guard barked and stopped before a seemingly empty cell.
Emma craned her neck to see around his girth but found her efforts frustrated. Hook, if he was in there made no sound. The guard searched the keys on the ring at his hip for the one to the door while she nervously brushed down her skirts. Shannon had lent her a stunning violet silk dress for the occasion. Though looking down at it now in the dim light, she thought it looked almost black. Shannon’s dress had become the gown of a mourning widow.
The iron door creaked loud and long as it was jolted open. The guard gestured for her to enter and Emma swallowed hard. With a look back at Shannon for support, she took a hesitant step forward and into the cell. The guard closed the door behind her with an ominous clang and she jumped in spite of herself.
“I’ll wait right here,” Shannon assured her with an encouraging nod.
Emma took another small step into the cell and her eyes looked about, taking in the barren walls and straw covered floor.
“Killian? Are you in here?”
“I must have finally gone mad,” he answered softly from one of the cell’s darkest corners. She eyed the spot until she saw a flicker of movement, a glimpse of a white shirt as he took a step forward.
“That is the definition of madness, is it not? To imagine your heart’s truest desire standing before you in a place they have no cause to be?”
He stepped into view and her entire being let out a sigh of relief. She felt like she hadn’t breathed since receiving that note in Boston, but seeing him standing there like a vision from one of her countless dreams… Her mind had tortured her with every possible worst case scenario, but rarely had she dared allow herself to hope for a reunion like this one.
His feet halted their slow forward motion and his eyes swept over her from head to toe and then back again.
“You look exactly as I remember her…” he said with a weary shake of his head. “But I know she is not here. She is leagues away on a shore far from this one. You are not my Emma. You are some vision my mind has conjured up to keep me company on these last days.”
He wiped a trembling hand over his face and briefly turned away before looking back again.
“You look so much like her…” His mouth stretched into a pained smile. “It’s enough to break a man. Truly, it is.”
Emma pulled in a shaky breath and slowly let it out as she took another step closer, “And if I were her, if she were here, what would you say then?”
His eyes brightened marginally and he took another step towards her. The chain attached to the shackle on his foot scraped loudly against the stone floor.
“I would tell her first that I am sorry for breaking my promise to her. And then that I have missed her with every breath I’ve taken since the day we parted. But more importantly -- most importantly -- I would tell her how ardently I love and admire her.”
Her stomach fluttered in a way it hadn’t in more than half a year. Not since the last time they’d held each other, not since he’d last looked into her eyes and uttered his vow to return for her.
“You said you would come back for me,” she whispered, her voice breaking with emotion. “You promised.”
He frowned at the sight of the tears in her eyes and took another step closer, “Aye, lass. That I did.”
His fingers lifted to touch one of the curled strands of golden hair that hung over her shoulder. It slid delicately over the tip of his index finger in a gentle caress that made him pause and suck in a sharp breath.
“How?” he managed, his expression awestruck as his eyes lifted to search hers once more. “You’re here?”
Her hand stole his away, clutching it between her palms. She nearly broke down at the familiar touch of his callused palm as she brought his hand to her lips. He was warm and real and alive. He was standing there before her looking thin and weary, but otherwise no worse for the wear.
And suddenly every horrific vision she’d had, every worst case scenario that’d plagued her journey to Jamaica melted from her mind. The careful control she’d kept over her emotions since they’d lowered anchor crumbled and fell away and she bowed her head, quietly sobbing with relief. With a light jingle of the shackle chains his arms wrapped comfortingly around her. His touch was light, as though he didn’t entirely trust his senses, as his hand offered a soft caress against the skin of her back.
“I thought…I thought…” Her throat tightened around the words, refusing to give them life. She shook her head as fresh tears streamed down her cheeks and rested her forehead against the comfortingly solid perch of his shoulder.
Her name emerged from his lips sounding broken, almost desperate, and then his arms tightened around her with crushing force. He buried his face in the crook of her neck and she could feel the muscles of his back trembling beneath her hands.
He pulled away just far enough for his eyes to search hers and then kissed her hard. She kissed back, funnelling every ounce of worry and fear and relief she’d felt over the last weeks into that single kiss. He gave a soft groan and his lips moved to her cheek, then her neck, and back again.
“God, how I’ve missed you,” he confessed and briefly pulled away so his eyes could take in their fill of her. His hand lightly caressed her cheek and she closed her eyes to memorize the feel of his touch against her skin. “There were days when I thought it would destroy me.”
She wanted to say that she knew exactly how he felt, but tears welled up in her eyes and her throat closed up tight leaving her only able to nod as his fingers slid into her hair and pulled her to him for a lingering kiss.
“How did you find me, love? How did you know I was here?”
She wiped the tears from her cheeks and smiled, “What does it matter now? You’re alive! We can be together again.”
He took a step back, his expression sobering in an instant. “I am to be tried for piracy, lass,” he informed her quietly as his hand settled on her shoulder. “We both know how such trials turn out.”
“Maybe not. We have a plan.”
Emma turned slightly and gestured to Shannon, who was standing just beyond the cell door trying not to look like she’d been listening in on their conversation.
“Killian, this is my good friend Shannon. I would not be here without the help of her and her brother.”
He took a step forward and abruptly came to a halt. “Damned things,” he cursed and gave his leg a shake. The chain of the shackles jangled noisily against the stone. He settled instead on offering a bow in Shannon’s direction.
“My apologies I cannot provide a more courteous introduction. It’s a pleasure, Ms. ---?”
Shannon’s lips curved upwards into a pleased smile. “Elliot,” she informed him with a demure nod of her head. “And believe me Captain, the pleasure is all mine.”
Breakfast was unusually quiet. Emma stared blearily at the plate of food in front of her, her eyes heavy from lack of sleep. She’d lain awake all night thinking about him in that place – the smell, the rats, the cold stone floor and endless filth. If they found a way to free him this very moment it wouldn’t be soon enough for her. But all she could do was wait, and hope, and pray that Nathan’s meeting with the Governor would go well.
Shannon was the first to break the drawn out silence, “This all must be so unbelievably difficult for you, Emma.”
She lifted her gaze to find Shannon studying her in her usual direct way, but her striking features were softened by an empathetic frown. Emma attempted a smile, though doubted it was convincing to either of them.
“I’m fine. I’m worried about him is all. I hope I didn’t keep you up all night with my tossing and turning…”
Shannon shook her head and waved off the suggestion, but judging by the dark circles beneath her eyes she was simply being polite.
“He’s not what I expected you know,” she commented breezily as she took up her teacup.
“What were you expecting?”
Shannon gave a light shrug. “He’s handsome, even in the darkness of the prison I could see that. But it was his words and the way he carried himself that I did not expect. If we had met elsewhere I would swear he was a gentleman.”
“He is a gentleman,” Emma assured her and Shannon’s cheeks flushed with embarrassment.
“That’s not what I meant. Of course he’s gentleman, Emma. I did not mean to suggest otherwise. What I’m trying to say is that I had always imagined pirates to have a rougher sort of character. He carries himself as though he’d spent his whole life comfortably navigating society’s uppermost echelons. It was a bit of a surprise.”
Emma gave an understanding nod, “Killian wasn’t always a pirate.”
Shannon’s brows lifted in surprise and she leaned forward in her chair, eager to hear more.
“He served in the King’s Navy for years with his brother, Liam. Some years ago, the King sent them on a dangerous mission that cost Liam his life.” Her eyes lowered to the teacup in front of her, fixated on the elegant, hand-painted red flowers adorning the fine china. “It was sudden and tragic. The crew told me he died right there on the ship in Killian’s arms.”
Shannon gasped and sat back against her chair, “That’s horrible. The poor man!”
Emma’s shoulders lifted into a half-hearted shrug, “He told me there was no force on earth that could have convinced him to serve under such a King after that. And who could blame him?”
“Not me, that’s for certain.” Shannon offered her an encouraging smile and she wondered if perhaps her friend pitied her for having the misfortune to fall in love with such a man.
“It’s not as though I have deluded myself into believing he’s innocent,” she explained while the pad of her thumb traced the hard ridge of the teacup’s handle. “I know exactly what sort of crimes he’s committed and how many men he’s killed. I am not excusing them, but I also know something of his true character. He is not the villain they have made him out to be.”
“Of course,” Shannon assured her.
“And regardless of what crimes he may have committed, he does not deserve to die at the end of a hangman’s noose!”
Shannon’s hand crossed the table, took hold of hers, and gave it a reassuring squeeze. Emma started at her touch and quickly wiped the hot tears from her cheeks with the back of her hand.
“I’m sorry, I did not mean to…”
Shannon cut off her stammered apology with a stern, “Emma.”
She looked up, shoulders tense, half expecting her friend to demand that she put an end to this nonsense. But she well and truly should have known better. There was no greater ally in her fight for love than Shannon, the most ardent hopeless romantic that ever existed.
“I could tell he was a good man the moment I saw him with you. Any man, pirate or not, who would speak to you with as much love and adoration as he did in those few short minutes is worthy of a bit of understanding. We’ll find a way to get him out of there, I promise.”
Emma exhaled a shaky breath and collapsed back against her chair, “Of course, I’m sorry. I guess I’m more anxious than I thought about the upcoming trial. Has there been any word on when it will begin?”
Shannon shook her head just as the door to their room opened and Nathan strolled in. He’d decided to do without his vest and his cravat hung loose about his neck.
“Good morning ladies,” he greeted, and collapsed with a sigh into the nearest empty chair. He promptly poured himself a cup of tea and grabbed a scone from the basket.
Shannon studied his dishevelled appearance with a curiously lifted brow, “Well? Did you have any luck last night?”
“I haven’t seen my bed,” Nathan responded between sips of tea. “The Governor is an amusing fellow, though I’m certain he could drink any man on the island under the table.”
“What did he tell you? Anything that will help us?” Shannon pressed.
He nodded and turned his gaze to Emma, “The good news is he’s willing to hear my case. I have a meeting scheduled with him for tomorrow morning.”
“And the bad?” Emma hazarded while her stomach did a nervous flip.
“Your husband’s trial is set to commence today at noon.”
The small bit of food in her stomach felt as if it’d turned to stone, “So soon?”
“All is not lost,” he assured her with a consoling smile. “If the trial goes as we imagine it will, there is a ten day grace period before any sort of sentence is carried out. This is necessary to allow them time to put notice in the papers and circulate them around the island.”
Emma felt her body go numb and silently nodded her head.
“And there’s nothing else that can be done?” Shannon asked with a concerned glance Emma’s way.
Nathan heaved a sigh and poured some more tea into his cup, “Not at the moment. Our best chance is to play upon the Governor’s mercy. I will of course have to bribe him, but I’ve planned for such a contingency.”
“The trial,” Emma said quietly, “I have to be there.”
Shannon nodded understandingly, “And you will. We will go together.”
Nathan glanced at the clock sitting atop the fireplace mantle, “If all goes as planned, the trial will start at noon. The Court House is near the jail, just a few steps down the street. I’ll hire a carriage to take you there.”
“Yes, thank you.” Emma pushed back her chair and got to her feet, her mind already flooded with worries about the impending trial. “If you’ll please excuse-”
She paused and lifted her eyes to Nathan who was looking at her more sternly now than he ever had before. The glimmer of playful humour that seemed to perpetually linger in his gaze was gone.
“Please promise me you will not do anything rash. We will help him, but it will have to be done the right way.”
She nodded in understanding and continued towards the door.
“Promise me, Emma,” he pressed, turning in his chair. She took note of the stubborn frown pulling at his lips and knew he would not let up until she’d said the words. Shannon’s eyes darted between them but it was apparent from her silence she had no intentions of intervening.
With her back straight, she calmly smoothed the invisible wrinkles from her skirt with a sweep of her hands and closed her eyes in defeat.
“Fine,” she conceded, unable to disguise the grit in her tone. “I promise I will not do anything rash. Now if you’ll excuse me, I really must get ready.”
She departed with a sweep of her skirts and headed in the direction of her room. Once the door had closed behind her, Shannon and Nathan glance towards her practically untouched plate of food.
“I’m worried about her, Nathan,” Shannon admitted, careful to keep her voice low. “She didn’t sleep a wink last night.”
“Nor did any of us, I wager,” he replied with a knowing look at his sister. “Keep an eye on her at the trial. Considering the emotional state she’s in there is no telling what she might do.”
Shannon’s brows furrowed together and she took a thoughtful sip of her tea.
“He’s not at all what I imagined,” she said in time. “I understand completely why she’s in love with him.”
Nathan sat back in his chair and thoughtfully turned a silver fork in his hand, watching as the sunlight reflected off its polished edges. His mind had been elsewhere all morning, ruminating over choices and decisions he had yet to make. Seeing Emma as worried as she was gave him little comfort. He only wished the entire ordeal could be over for her sake.
She would never leave this place without him, no matter what it cost her, and that was the part that worried him. They all knew exactly how the trial would end, but something still wasn’t adding up. He hadn’t yet been able to connect all of the dots and knew he wouldn’t have a moment’s peace until he figured out exactly what information he was missing.
“We’re doing the right thing helping her free him,” Shannon insisted. “I’m certain of it now.”
Nathan glanced up at his sister’s earnest expression and offered a grim smile, “I know.”
The court house was packed, with not a single seat left unoccupied. She and Shannon had managed to squeeze into the last few remaining spaces left on one of the benches, while streams of curious onlookers were relegated to standing against the outer walls in a crowd three deep. The trial hadn’t even begun and already the courtroom was stiflingly hot. Sweat curled down the back of her neck and beneath the collar of her dress. She kept her fan in constant motion but it provided only the slimmest relief.
“Do you see him?” Shannon whispered and craned her neck to peer over the sea of heads.
Emma shook her head. The longer she went without being able to see him the more anxious she became. Her stomach was already twisted into an impossible tangle of knots and the heat only seemed to make things worse.
“I feel sick,” she muttered behind her fan.
“Remember what Nathan said,” Shannon cautioned and looked her over for any signs she was ready to faint away. “Trust him to handle this. He’ll speak with the Governor and it will all be settled.”
A door near the front of the courtroom opened and a momentary hush fell over the crowd. Hook was led in with a guard on either side, the dull clank of his wrist and ankle shackles audible even from where she sat. Her hand reached blindly for Shannon’s and gripped it tight.
“It will be okay,” she whispered. “Have faith.”
Her eyes remained fixated on Hook, unable to look away. Though he kept his head held high, he didn’t glance her way as they led him to the Defendant’s desk. Perhaps he didn’t expect her to be there. Or more likely he didn’t want her to be. Countless murmurs and whispers filled the courtroom as the crowd got their first look at the infamous “Captain Hook”.
Emma swallowed hard and her eyes darted briefly to a second door that had opened nearer to the judge’s bench. The man who would decide the fate of the one she loved entered the courtroom dressed in a set of regal black robes with a coarse powdered wig perched atop his head. He sat at his seat, his back ramrod straight and looked out over the crowded room. With a polite tap of his gavel the crowd quieted down.
The Bailiff cleared his throat and began reading from a lengthy sheet of parchment.
“Sir, you are hereby charged…”
Her ears buzzed as panic prickled up the back of her neck like a thousand crawling ants. Each charge read aloud for the court was worse than the last; each was punishable by death or a lifetime in prison. This couldn’t be happening. It couldn’t be real! But the press of bodies all around her proved it was no nightmarish illusion.
All she wanted to do was scream, but the quiet reassurance of Shannon’s hand around hers kept her grounded. She reminded herself to have faith in Nathan. He would do exactly as he’d said and use every means to his advantage to free Hook from this mess. But it became increasingly difficult to trust that everything would turn out the way she wanted it to with the Bailiff continuing to read from a seemingly endless list of charges. Some were true, others completely false, but she doubted that mattered to the other occupants in the courtroom. As each new charge was read, horrified gasps followed, heads shook in disgust, and outraged shouts of “Death to pirates!” filled the court.
The judge was forced to tap his gavel several times and issue a warning that any further outbursts would result in immediate ejection from the courthouse before the crowd finally quieted down. Some minutes later, when the Bailiff had read the last charge, he added the perfunctory question, “How do you plead?”
She waited with bated breath and eyes closed.
She exhaled a weighted sigh and exchanged a cautiously optimistic look with Shannon. It was good to hear his voice sounding so strong and confident. He stood tall at the front of the courtroom, appearing unperturbed by the charges levelled against him. The judge raised a curious brow and replied with a subdued, “So noted.”
He turned to the Crown counsel with an expectant look, “You may proceed.”
Emma eyed the wigged lawyer who stood at the judge’s request and stepped around his desk to pace the courtroom.
“Captain Hook is one of the most nefarious, dangerous and violent pirates ever to trouble our fair seas. He stands here accused of crimes so horrid, so shocking, that I doubt I will have need to press the court to be convinced of his obvious guilt.”
An excited gasp travelled through the crowd and Emma’s expression flattened into a cold veneer. With a smug look the lawyer continued and she watched him orate about a man of ill-repute and even worse breeding who bore no resemblance to the one she loved.
The man blabbed on for hours, enamoured by the sound of his own voice and a ready audience to listen. By the end he had painted Hook as the worst sort of man, barely human for all the crimes he was alleged to have committed. If the Crown had suggested he enjoyed eating the flesh of babies as a light snack, she was certain the gullible crowd would have enthusiastically believed it. Her stomach churched with a sickening sense of dread at the thought of this same crowd gleefully cheering at his hanging.
“Do you have any witnesses to call?”
“Indeed, Your Honour, I do,” the Crown counselor replied and the first witness was called to the stand. Emma studied him as best she could from where she sat and found she could not recognize any part of him. He may as well have been plucked from the docks themselves. Part of her wondered if that wasn’t exactly what they’d done. Any man could be convinced to testify against another if enough coin was pressed into his palm.
The youth sat facing the crowd, looking decidedly nervous. He pulled at his collar and shifted uneasily in the chair as he recounted a harrowing tale of the Jolly Roger taking his ship and leaving no man alive, except himself of course. He maintained he had remained so only because he’d had the good fortune of being trapped beneath the pile of dead bodies that littered the deck. Emma found this hard to believe but heads all around her were nodding in sympathy. The Crown counsel gave the court a self-satisfied look and returned to his seat. Case closed.
Glossed over in the boy’s testimony were the rather important facts of how he’d managed to make it back to shore and survive weeks at sea without any provisions. He’d insisted, repeatedly, that Hook’s crew had relieved his ship of its entire store of supplies. She saw Hook lean over to his court-appointed counsel and whisper something into his ear. The man rose up uncertainly from his seat and the judge lifted a curious brow.
“Do you have a question for this witness?” he asked, almost surprised to see that the Defense counsel had any input whatsoever.
“Yes, Your Honour. I would like to ask this witness how it was he came to survive weeks at sea with no crew to pilot his ship and no provisions. It seems somewhat miraculous that he could have survived at all under those circumstances, and yet here he is.”
The boy’s face blanched and his eyes went immediately to the Crown counsel as though searching for some answer or reassurance.
“Well?” The judge prodded, turning an unfriendly eye on the witness.
“I, well, that is…”
“Kindly speak up, sir,” the Defense counsel interrupted, speaking more confidently now as he rose to his full height. “How was it that you survived? From your own account you were attacked some 200 nautical miles from the nearest shore. With a badly damaged ship, no surviving crew or provisions, how was it that you are able to be here with us today?”
“I…I was rescued.”
“Rescued you say? By whom?”
The Defense counsel calmly strolled in front of where the witness sat. His tone was reassuring, curious even, but with a little prodding he’d become like a dog with a bone. The young man’s eyes darted uncomfortably about the courtroom before settling on the floor in front of him.
“And what might that ship be, sir? A merchant vessel? A naval ship, perhaps?”
There was a drawn out silence as every eye watched the boy squirm in his seat.
“Answer the question,” the judge growled. If the furrow of his brow was any indication, he was quickly losing patience.
“A pirate ship,” the boy muttered so softly it was barely audible.
The Defense counsel swung round, victory flashing in his eyes, “Please speak up. What vessel was it that rescued you?”
The boy looked up, glowering now at the smug lawyer in front of him. “A pirate ship,” he replied, his words sharply punctuated by his anger.
A unanimous gasp erupted throughout the courtroom.
“A pirate ship. You were rescued by a pirate ship? And no doubt spent some time aboard it, did you not?”
The young man scowled and replied with a begrudging, “Yes.”
“And they clearly did not kill or maim you as you are whole and here before us today.”
The lawyer turned toward his newly captive audience and informed them that, “Pirate ships are not passenger vessels.” Some nodded in agreement, while others looked skeptically at the boy when only moments ago they’d clung to his every word.
“Did you or did you not work aboard this pirate ship?” the Defence asked.
The boy hesitated. “I may have…”
“That was a yes or no question, sir. Did you work aboard the pirate ship that rescued you?”
“Your Honour,” the Defense counsel pleaded, turning from the witness to the judge, “is the Crown attempting to make a farce of these proceedings? Having a confessed pirate testify before this court is absurd! The Crown itself has indicated that they are a wholly untruthful lot in their opening address and yet we are to take this pirate’s word as the God’s honest truth? It is insulting! I move that his testimony be stricken from the record in its entirety.”
The Crown counselor heartily objected, but the judge held up a hand to quiet him.
“So moved. The witness’ testimony has been stricken from the record.”
A shocked murmur travelled through the courtroom and the witness was escorted from the stand.
“You may call your next witness,” the judge instructed, “but I warn you I shall not tolerate any further theatrics.”
“Yes, Your Honour,” the Crown conceded. He conferred a moment with someone Emma could not see before speaking again. “The next witness we would like to call is Miss Emma Swan.”
A rush of confused whispers travelled through the court room. A woman? Who was this Emma Swan? A victim of the pirate’s lustful reputation, perhaps? An innocent victim from one of the many ships he’d pillaged? Emma could hear the questions circling around her, drowned out only by the sound of her heart hammering in her ears.
She started when Shannon’s hand tugged at hers and she looked at her with wide, horror-struck eyes.
“They’ve called you to testify,” she informed her in a frantic whisper. “We need to leave immediately.”
The Crown repeated her name and heads began to twist and turn all around her as the spectators searched for the mysterious ‘Emma Swan’.
“How do they even know I’m here?” she demanded and shook her head in shock.
“We have to go right now,” Shannon determined. “If we don’t, you’ll be held in contempt of court. They could arrest you, Emma!”
“If you’ll accompany me to the witness stand, Miss?”
Their heads turned in unison to take in the sight of a tall man dressed in an impeccable naval uniform standing next to them.
“You…” Emma hissed and drew back. “What are you doing here?”
Shannon shot her a questioning look but she didn’t have a chance to explain.
Captain Archibald Williamson fixed her with a barely suppressed sneer, “Pleasure to see you again, Miss Swan. Now, if you’ll come with me to the witness stand…”
He wasn’t giving her a choice. Emma sent Shannon a fleeting, frantic look, expecting some sort of solution but she could only shake her head in stunned silence.
Having no other alternative, Emma stood and exited the row. Williamson took her by the elbow, his grip hot and tighter than was necessary. Emma glared at him as he led her to the front of the room. Every eye was trained on her and she couldn’t help but be reminded of a wedding ceremony in a too small church.
She was thankful in that moment that her wedding to Hook had taken place on the broad deck of the Jolly Rodger amid the vast sea. She couldn’t imagine a more perfect setting. Her eyes caught his as she was led past the Defense table. She could tell with a single glance that he was just as shocked to see her being brought up to testify as she was. When his eyes shifted to Williamson his expression darkened. She noted the way his hand clenched into tight fist atop the table. He subtly shook his head, instructing her to say nothing.
She was led to the witness stand and a bible was thrust under her palm. She heard herself utter a stunned “I swear” and then took a seat atop the chair that was offered to her.
Williamson took a seat at the Crown’s table and gazed smugly at her, his eyes cold as steel. She felt a chill run down her spine. If Williamson was involved there was no telling what trap she’d just walked into. Her eyes darted to Hook, who managed to be rigid with anger and still reassure her with a faint smile.
The Crown counsel rose to his feet and gently cleared his throat. She studied him intently, desperate to know what questions he would ask. How should she answer? What words would guarantee Hook’s freedom? And what words would sink his chances entirely?
The lawyer moved closer, his hands clasped loosely behind his back. His features were as sharp as his intelligence, or at least that was how he carried himself. He studied her with a single, unbroken gaze that travelled the length of her from head to toe.
“Miss Swan, please answer my questions truthfully and to the best of your ability.”
She nodded her head in understanding. The courtroom was silent enough you could hear a pin drop. She focused on the sound of her breaths. In and out. In and out.
“Please answer for the court, Miss Swan. Are you married to Captain Hook? Are you that villain’s wife?”
Emma hesitated, her eyes darting to Hook. He subtly shook his head, instructing her to avoid telling them the truth. If she lied about this, then the rest of her testimony would be thrown out too. This could be her only chance to help him, to try and minimize the damage cause by the Crown’s scathing opening statement. This could be her opportunity to show them his true character, to prove that he indeed had a soul and that it was good.
“Miss Swan,” the Crown attorney pressed, his tone hardening. “Are you the wife of Captain Hook?”
The breath caught in her throat and she swallowed hard. She could feel the burn of a hundred pairs of eyes fixated on her, sizing her up with quiet judgment as they waited for her to answer.
“Yes!” she blurted out, trying to sound confident even as her hands trembled in her lap. “Yes I’m his wife.”
There was a brief moment of shocked silence and then courtroom erupted into chaos.
Author's Note: I know the wait was really long for this update. There are a lot of personal reasons for the delay that I won't get into, but I hope this chapter was worth the wait and that you enjoyed the read. I promise you I haven't given up n this story. There is so much drama coming up, I can hardly wait to get it all down. Thank you for sticking with this story and I'll do my best to not keep you waiting so long again. Much love xo
Everything seemed to happen all at once. The Defence counsel was on his feet objecting to any further questions while the crowd erupted into a sudden flurry of shocked gasps, surprised exclamations, and gossip-filled whispers. The clamour drowned out even the judge’s gavel as he pounded it repeatedly against his desk with increasing ferocity.
Amid the chaos one face within the crowd seemed utterly out of place. While the rest of the courtroom stared at her with scorn, admonishment or surprise, Captain Archibald Williamson of His Majesty’s Royal Navy sat calmly in his chair with a self-satisfied smile clinging to his lips.
She had never truly hated anyone before. There had never been a cause powerful enough or close enough to her heart to stir that sort of emotion, but as she studied the cold expression in the Captain’s grey eyes, she knew without a doubt that she hated the man with every fibre of her being. The feeling settled in her chest like a cold block of ice, hardening her heart against him.
He wanted to see her tremble and weep with fear, but he had no idea just how stubborn she could be. She straightened her back, folded her hands calmly in her lap and sent a polite smile his way. Judging by the way his brows shot up in surprise, she’d thrown him off guard. Good. He’d dragged her into this mess, and she fully intended to make him suffer the consequences of that choice.
Satisfied, she turned her attention to Hook, who looked far less composed seated behind the Defendant’s table. His eyes were wide and dark with worry and his hair in disarray from the many times he’d run his fingers through it. There were so many things she wanted to say to him, but there was precious little she could do to reassure him except offer a soft smile as the judge gave a final tap of his gavel.
“There will be quiet in this courtroom,” he insisted, his face nearly puce with indignation. When the courtroom was finally quiet, he set the gavel down and waved his hand at the Crown counsel.
“Counsel, please continue questioning your witness.”
The lawyer resumed pacing slowly back and forth in front of her chair, his hands clasped loosely behind his back. His expression was far too smug for her liking. What had Williamson told him? What was his end game? Questions churned through her mind as she fought the urge to turn her gaze to the naval Captain seated behind the Crown counsel’s table.
With no small amount of effort, she kept her expression a serene mask of calm and awaited the next question.
“How is it you came to be acquainted with the pirate, Miss Swan?”
She weighed her words carefully before responding, determined to avoid offering up any further opportunities for them to incriminate Hook.
“The ship I was travelling on was destroyed in a hurricane. Captain Hook pulled me half-dead out of the ocean and saved my life.”
She exchanged a brief, tender glance with Killian. His features softened and his shoulders dropped in a quiet exhale. He nodded his head encouragingly, and her eyes darted back to the lawyer standing in front of her.
“You were the only one he saved from the waters? A defenceless young girl?”
“No one else survived. I myself barely survived and certainly would not have without Captain Hook’s timely intervention.”
“Or so he told you,” the lawyer countered with a pointed look in Hook’s direction.
Her chin lifted defiantly, “Yes, and I believed him.”
“How easily you trust others, Miss Swan,” he remarked snidely.
“It was not a matter of trust. I saw how fierce the storm was with my own two eyes,” she countered, her voice loud and firm. “I watched our ship torn apart by the waves and the wind. I lost my entire family on that ship, Sir. If there was even the faintest hope they had survived I would have sought them out.”
Unperturbed, the lawyer nodded and interjected with his next question, “How long before you learned the identity of your rescuer?”
“Almost as soon as I awoke.”
“And how did you react upon learning you were aboard Captain Hook’s ship?”
She hesitated, her eyes darting uncertainly to Killian. If her testimony was to be believed, she would have to be convincing in all aspects. Exhaling a low breath, she straightened her shoulders and answered, “I was afraid.”
“Why was that Miss Swan? Had you’d heard the many horrifying tales told of Captain Hook? Were you fearful to now be the lone woman trapped aboard a ship filled with pirates?”
“I assumed the worst, as I am sure many people in this courtroom are doing,” she admitted softly, “But over time-“
“But over time he showed you his true nature?” the lawyer sneered. “The man is a seasoned pirate, Miss Swan. His soul is as black as they come!”
He didn’t give her a chance to respond before he interjected with another probing question, “Tell us, how long were you acquainted with the pirate before agreeing to become his wife?”
She hesitated and locked eyes with Hook, “A matter of weeks.”
“A matter of weeks?!” the lawyer repeated with mock surprise. “You mean to tell this court that in a matter of weeks it became clear to you that this pirate was a decent, sensible, law-abiding citizen and that you should commit yourself to marry him? Is that what you would have us believe?”
Emma felt her blood run cold and narrowed her eyes at the lawyer, “You are entitled to believe whatever you like.”
Hook whispered into his lawyer’s ear and the man hesitantly rose from his seat.
“Your Honour, why are the details of Miss Swan’s relationship with the defendant relevant to this trial? My fellow counsellor is badgering his own witness.”
The judge lifted a surly brow and nodded in agreement, issuing a stern order to the Crown, “Move on to something relevant, Counsellor.”
The man nodded and smiled apologetically before continuing with his next question, “Miss Swan, in all your time aboard the pirate’s ship, did you ever witness any illegal behavior?”
She shook her head, “I’m not certain what you are asking. Could you be more specific? What sort of illegal behaviour are you referring to?”
The lawyer frowned, “Pirate activities, Miss Swan. Attacking vessels. Boarding them. Robbing them of their goods. Did you witness any such activities while you were aboard the Jolly Roger?”
She glanced over at Hook, who subtly shook his head. She swallowed hard and answered with a firm, “No.”
“I find that surprising, Miss Swan. Would you like to know why?”
She smiled patiently at the lawyer, though her eyes were anything but warm as they followed him back and forth across the courtroom.
“I find it surprising because we have several eye witness accounts of you overseeing the looting of a merchant vessel, along with Captain Hook. These witnesses report seeing a woman, who matches your description, aboard the pirate’s ship overseeing the transfer of goods from the hold of the merchant ship. Do you deny that you were there? That you witnessed such a crime?”
Dread slid down her spine like ice cold water. She fought to keep her eyes on the lawyer in front of her, refusing to give anything away by looking at either Hook or Williamson. They could be fabricating those eye-witness accounts. It was entirely possible, too, that this was simply a ploy to get her to unwillingly incriminate Hook with her testimony. Her mind was whirring with possibilities, and it left her feeling as though she were playing catch up instead of getting ahead. What was the purpose of them bringing her here? What did they hope to accomplish?
Such thoughts helped her to stay focused even as her mind drifted back to that day aboard the deck of the Jolly Roger, where she’d shouted Hook down for looting that merchant vessel. She’d gone behind his back and arranged with Thomas for some food and ale to be left behind so the crew of the merchant ship could make it to shore. She swallowed hard, wondering whether this was now the unforeseeable consequence of her good deed.
“I never oversaw any such task,” she replied, relieved to hear the confident tone still present in her voice. It was a half truth, but it was better than a lie.
The lawyer’s lips pressed into a frown and he exhaled an impatient sigh, “Mister Hammett, if you would be so kind as to stand up for the court?”
From the crowd of spectators a man slowly rose to his feet and looked nervously about. Emma eyed him with confusion a moment and then the sinking realization set in that she recognized him - the Captain of the merchant vessel. So, his ship and crew had survived after all. She counselled her features and looked at him with a sort of detached curiosity, determined not to give anything away.
“Is this the woman you saw aboard the pirate ship? Look carefully, Mr. Hammett.”
The older gentleman stepped closer to the front of the courtroom, then paused and nodded his head, “Aye, that’s her all right. Very distinct hair colour, as you can see.”
The courtroom erupted into a fresh series of murmurs. Emma’s eyes darted to Hook whose jaw and fists were both clenched tight. He bent his head to his lawyer’s ear and muttered something to him, but the man simply shrugged and shook his head.
“So it would appear, Miss Swan, that indeed you were present for this unfortunate crime. Were you a prisoner? Forced to participate in these illegal acts by this loathsome pirate?”
Heat rose to her cheeks and her fingers clenched around the material of her skirts, “I was never a prisoner aboard Captain Hook’s ship, and I never participated in any such illegal acts.”
“Well if you were not a prisoner, as you claim, then this court can only conclude you were complacent in the commission of this crime.”
A chair screeched back across the wooden floor and with a jangle of chains Hook was on his feet.
“Enough,” he practically growled, scowling darkly at the lawyer, and then at Williamson.
“The day you are referring to, Miss Swan was imprisoned in the hold of my ship. She was not a willing participant in any such attack. The only reason she was on deck at all was because she managed to escape. What Mr. Hammett cannot tell you is that the entire time she was on deck Miss Swan pleaded with me to spare the crew of the merchant ship. When she found I would not relent, she arranged with my crew for supplies to be left behind so they would have enough rations to reach shore. It is on account of Miss Swan’s intervention that Mr. Hammett is here to testify at all.”
“I see…” the Crown counsel said with a sage nod of his head. “Thank you. Your testimony has been very illuminating.”
Hook reluctantly returned to his seat and sent her a reassuring glance. Her mouth was still hanging ajar, gaping at him in disbelief. Did he not realize what he’d just done? Openly admitting to callous acts of piracy was as good as signing his own death warrant. Hot tears of frustration blurred her vision and she turned her face to hastily blink them away.
“You fool,” she muttered under her breath. “You chivalrous fool.”
The Crown lawyer had turned his attention to the judge. She’d heard enough of his self-important orating for the day and so tuned out whatever tedious, overbearing claims he was making. She closed her eyes and pictured leaving the awful, suffocating heat of the courtroom, finding Nathan for an update about how things were progressing with the Governor, and sipping a hot cup of tea. Her head was pounding with a constant ache that throbbed at each of her temples. All she needed was to take a single, easy breath, but knew it was impossible until all of this was over. She wouldn’t breathe easy again until Hook was freed on a Governor’s pardon and they were safe on a ship, sailing as fast and as far from this place as possible.
It wasn’t until Hook’s outraged exclamation of, “Leave her out of it! This is a damned witch hunt and you know it!” that she opened her eyes.
Hook's palms slammed against the top of the table and his eyes burned like twin firebrands as he glared at Williamson. Her brow furrowed in confusion, but a quick glance at the naval Captain made everything come slowly into focus. She’d figured out his end game at last, but it was too late to do her any good.
The judge gave an impatient tap of his gavel. “So ruled,” he ordered, sounding both bored and tired of the day's proceedings. “Miss Swan you are hereby charged with one count of piracy. Bailiff, if you would kindly remove the accused? Court is adjourned for today and will resume at 9 o'clock tomorrow morning.”
She sat frozen in the witness chair, eyes staring unblinking at the floor. Piracy? They were charging her with piracy? The knowledge of what that meant formed a hollow pit of dread at the very center of her being. The feeling of Hook’s warm hands pressed against her cheeks roused her out of her stupor and her eyes met his. In the daylight that streamed into the courtroom they were the most beautiful shade of cerulean she'd ever seen. The sight of them calmed her, even if it was only for a fleeting moment.
“It’s me they want,” he assured her, his voice low and fast. “Once they have me they’ll let you go. I promise.”
It took a long second for his words to sink in and then her hands reached for him, her head shaking in disbelief.
“No!” she cried and her voice broke as her eyes filled with tears. “I won’t let you do this.”
His expression was tender as his thumbs brushed the tears from her cheeks, and then his mouth was on hers, his kiss soft and brief. The Bailiff wrenched him away and he sent her an apologetic look as he allowed them to lead him away without a fight. What was he thinking, sacrificing himself for her? She wouldn’t allow it!
She called out to him, desperate to share one last glance before they pulled him through the door. She was rewarded with a roguish smile and then her wrists were wrapped in cold metal. She looked up into the cold grey eyes of Captain Williamson and felt her expression settle into a cold sneer. He looked amused by the day's events. He’d used her to get to Hook, to force him to confess in exchange for her freedom. It was utterly underhanded and vile, but she shouldn’t have expected any less from his sort.
“Your cell awaits,” he said, gesturing with his arm toward the door.
She smiled coldly up at him, making certain to hold his eye as she replied softly, “And so does your grave, Captain.”
“Tsk. Tsk. Threatening a Captain of the King’s Navy is a serious offence, Miss Swan. It would be a shame to add another charge to your growing list.”
“Please do not mistake my words,” she replied evenly. “It was no threat, Sir, but a promise.”
The Bailiff appeared before Williamson could react and took her by the arm, leading her toward the same door Hook had gone through only moments before. Her world was crumbling all around her, but at least she’d had the satisfaction of seeing the flash of fear that cut through Williamson’s eyes before she was pulled away. She turned and glanced back over her shoulder, smiling darkly when her eyes met the Captain’s.
If any harm came to Killian, she had every intention of making certain the illustrious Captain Williamson met a very unfortunate and very untimely end.
Author's Note: You all have been so wonderful and so patient with me these last months. I am determined to finish this story and intend to do as much writing as I am able before I go back to work. I hope you enjoyed this chapter, and the ones that are left to come. It's not quite up to my standards, but sometimes you just have to post it so you can move on to the next. Your reviews and notes have kept me going during these long breaks and I appreciate each and every one. And with that, I head back to writing the next chapter. Until next time, my lovely (patient) readers.
White hot rage filled his veins and his fist slammed into the slick stone wall of his cell. That bastard Williamson would pay dearly for dragging Emma into this. The thought of her being forced to endure a kangaroo court on trumped up charges of piracy left a string of foul curses crossing his lips. He struck the stone before him again and again until his knuckles ran red with blood.
He couldn’t escape the truth that as much as he wanted to wholly blame Williamson, he had his own role to share in this sordid mess. He made a sound of disgust low in his throat and kicked the wall in frustration. He’d been so determined to prove to her that he was dangerous so she would move on once they reached Boston. Pillaging that blasted merchant ship had been reckless and stupid and now she was the one paying for his arrogance.
She shouldn’t even be here. She shouldn’t be involved in any of it! And now, on account of him, she was stuck in a place he had no desire for her ever to be facing charges of piracy. Even if she found it in her heart to forgive him, he would be hard pressed to forgive himself for putting her at risk so easily.
His feet paced impatiently back and forth as the minutes crept by. It’d been hours and there hadn’t been a single hint of news from the outside. His imagination was driving him half-mad with its propensity to jump to the worst case scenario. He knew how the guards had treated him during his first days in the jail, and shuddered at the thought of her going through the same. Whatever it took, whatever sacrifices were required, he was determined to get her out of this quagmire as expediently as possible.
The scrape of metal on metal caught his attention and he turned to see the unwelcome face of the guard come into view. His expression darkened and his fist clenched tight at his side. He hadn’t the patience to endure any taunts today. With murder fresh on his mind, there was a very real chance he’d rip out the man’s throat if he dared get close enough to the bars.
A flash of auburn hair caught his eye and he straightened, fists unclenching at his side. He belatedly folded his arms across his chest to hide his abused knuckles and took in the welcome view of Nathan Elliot. The elder Elliot sibling politely thanked the guard with a genteel bow. He strode the few short paces to the bars of his cell, hoping for some news of Emma.
“How is she?” he asked in low tones once the guard had retreated back through the door.
An understanding look crossed Nathan’s features. “She will be fine,” he assured him and offered a consoling smile. “I have a spoken with the Governor and secured her release with a sizeable bribe and a reminder of some legal points of interest. Since you two are legally married, legal custom dictates she is not qualified to testify against you in court.”
An invisible weight lifted from his shoulders and a breath of relief left his lungs in a whoosh. With his eyes closed, his head bowed forward until it rested wearily against the cool metal bars of his cell. He’d never considered himself to be a religious man, but it seemed that even his prayers were being answered today.
“Thank you,” he replied in earnest. “It’s a relief to know Emma has such friends looking out for her welfare.”
Nathan nodded, accepting the compliment with an uncomfortable smile. His eyes looked away as he confessed, “I regret I could not play upon the Governor’s mercy to arrange a similar deal for you.”
Hook nodded and retreated into his cell a few paces. His cell was spinning, and he reached out a hand to steady himself against the wall. It felt like being below deck on the Jolly Roger while the ship tossed and turned through violent, stormy seas. He hadn’t expected to be released, hadn’t even seriously entertained the thought despite Emma’s assurances that that they would find a way. But to hear his last hope for freedom quashed with such a grim sense of finality made his heart sink. He wouldn’t leave this island alive, that fact was more certain than ever now.
Swiping a weary hand down his face he exhaled a low sigh before replying, “Thank you, Nathan. I appreciate your efforts even if they were unsuccessful.”
Nathan reached into the breast pocket of his jacket and retrieved a folded slip of paper, “Emma asked me to give you this.”
He took the note offered through the bars of his cell and unfolded it. It was short and to the point – I love you. Such a simple message and yet it was a balm for his weary heart. He slowly folded the note and gently cleared his throat before muttering a soft ‘thank you’.
“There is more, on the opposite side,” Nathan instructed and he turned the note over. He found more writing there, but in a different hand. His eye skimmed over the words and then narrowed.
“What’s this?” he demanded, looking up from the roughly scrawled note.
“Emma received that note in Boston. It was left for her at the inn. We set out almost as soon as she received it. I can only assume it was not you who sent it?”
Hook shook his head, his mind already spinning, “It wasn’t me who sent it.”
“Nor anyone on your crew. They had no knowledge of it when we showed it to them.”
“What are you suggesting?” he prodded, though a creeping suspicion had already begun to dawn and settle in the back of his mind.
“Who had the most to gain from Emma’s presence here?” Nathan replied, the question entirely rhetorical. They both knew the answer. Had Emma’s last words to him not been scrawled lovingly on the note in his hand, he would have balled it up and tossed it to the dankest corner of his cell. Instead he slowly and carefully tucked it behind the belt slung around his hips.
“I underestimated Williamson. Had I known he was this calculating, I would have run him through when I had the chance.”
Had he known then what he knew now, the naval Captain never would have left the deck of his ship alive. He would have gladly fought him to the death, damn the consequences, if it meant he could have shielded Emma from all of this.
Nathan’s brows rose curiously, “How did you two cross paths? He certainly seems to have an abject hatred of you both”.
“We encountered Williamson and his ship on the open seas. We were outgunned, so we ran up the white flag and Emma attempted to convince Williamson we were one of her father’s merchant ships on our way to Boston.”
He smiled fondly at the memory of Emma insisting he go along with her plan. She was so headstrong and determined to protect them all that there was simply no arguing with her. If he hadn’t already loved her, he would have fallen for her then and there.
“Williamson saw right through our little ruse, but agreed to let us go free with a little persuasion. He tried to convince Emma to leave with him, but she refused. I think having his honour found lacking against that of a pirate drove the man a little mad.”
Nathan crossed his arms thoughtfully in front of his chest, “So Williamson sent Emma that note, believing she would travel here to see you. But to what end? What does he hope to gain?”
“I cannot pretend to understand the depravity of that man’s mind. I may be a pirate, but there are far worse men sailing the high seas and Williamson is one of them.”
“So it would seem,” Nathan replied, his polite countenance faltering. “If this man is as morally corrupt as you say, I fear for Emma’s safety even with a pardon.”
Hook nodded grimly, “As do I. I know I have no right to, but I should like to request a favour of you.”
Nathan uttered an obliging “Of course.”
He turned away and walked a few paces back and forth, his hand distractedly rubbing across his mouth. This would not be an easy conversation and he wasn’t altogether certain he’d have the strength of character to say what needed to be said while looking the man in the eye.
He swallowed hard, his heart fighting the words already in his throat. He forced the syllables past his lips with his eyes shut tight, “Once she is released, as soon as you are able, please take Emma way from this place. You and I both know how this trial will end and I cannot bear the thought of her being anywhere near this island when the sentence is carried out.”
Nathan exhaled a low sigh, “She will not go willingly. Once she sets her mind to something there is no changing it.”
“Aye, I know it well. What I ask is not easy, but consider it my final request. Will you swear to do this for me? Will you swear to keep her safe at all costs?”
After a lengthy pause, Nathan relented with a weary sigh, “I will do my best.”
He held out his hand though the bars of his cell, offering it for Nathan to shake, “I appreciate all that you have done for us. I know Emma will be safe in your hands.”
Nathan tried to pull his hand back, but he held it tight, looking the man directly in the eye, “This will not be easy for her and she’ll need someone who can be there for her and care for her when I’m no longer able to.”
“I would not advise allowing Emma to hear you speak in such fatalistic tones my friend,” Nathan teased, trying to evade the directness of his request. When the man realized he had no intention of relenting, he gave a reluctant nod.
“It’s true that I care for her,” he confessed, his eyes lowering to the spot where their hands remained clasped together. “I have cared deeply or Emma for some time, but I always knew her heart was elsewhere. She has never looked at me the way she looks at you,” he admitted, lifting his face to flash a sheepish grin. “Whatever happens rest assured. I will continue to be there for her in whatever capacity she desires.”
Satisfied, Hook released his hand with a grim smile and a firm, “Thank you.”
He tried not to focus overmuch on the thought of Emma living out the life he’d imagined for them with another man. Those dreams would die with him on this cursed island, but at least she would be safe. And if she someday found happiness in Boston with him, then the pain and sacrifice of losing her would be worth it.
“It is almost time for Emma’s release. Is there anything you wish for me to tell her?”
He thought for a long moment and then replied, “Tell her I love her, and that I am truly sorry.”
Nathan nodded understandingly and offered a sincere, “Good luck, my friend,” before departing.
Hook leaned back against the dank wall of his cell, listening to the hollow echo of Nathan’s retreating footsteps. When they’d faded into nothing, he slid to the floor in defeat and tried futilely to reconcile his mind and heart with what he’d just done.
The wheels of the carriage groaned in protest as they travelled over the uneven cobblestones of Port Royal’s main thoroughfare. Emma closed her eyes and rested her head against the inside of the carriage, too exhausted to even attempt conversation.
Nathan sat dutifully next to her, unbothered by her silence. He’d arrived outside of her cell barely an hour after she’d been unceremoniously escorted into it, bearing promises of a hasty release. She’d tried to apologize, to tell him she hadn’t done anything rash, but he’d cut her off with a wave of his hand and a patient smile.
“Shannon told me everything. This is not your fault,” he’d assured her. “There is something going on and I intend to get to the bottom of it, but for now let’s work on getting you out of here and back to the inn.”
He left after that, promising to return shortly, and when he had it’d been with the jail guard and the key to her cell. She hadn’t asked how he’d done it, or what it had cost him, but she was certain both answers would only exacerbate her guilt rather than alleviate it. Nathan was far too good and generous a man for her to have caused him this much trouble.
“I regret I was not able to do more for your husband,” he said softly, breaking the gloomy silence that’d overtaken the carriage. “I will try speaking to the Governor again, but I am afraid…”
Emma laid her hand gently overtop his, “You have already done so much.”
Nathan glanced down at where her hand rested atop his and gently cleared his throat, “I believe we may need to discuss what is appearing to be the ever more likely outcome of this trial…”
“They are going to hang him,” she answered with a chilling tone of finality and turned her face away.
He hesitated before nodding his head, “It does appear likely, yes. He has requested that I remove you from Port Royal ahead of the sentencing and return you to Boston.”
A sad smile crossed her lips and she gave an understanding nod.
“He’s asked you to take care of me.” Her eyes darted to his to confirm her suspicions. “Hasn’t he.”
“I assured him that I will always be there for you,” he answered and paused before adding tactfully, “in whatever capacity you desire.”
The cart came to a stop outside the inn and Emma exhaled a weary sigh. She knew Killian meant well, Nathan too, but she hadn’t the slightest inclination of being passed from one man to the next like some infant in need of care. Nathan opened carriage door and held out his hand to help her down the steps to the street. His hand lingered overlong around hers and he stepped in close, his voice low.
“I know this is difficult,” he said, his eyes peering earnestly down into hers. “You know that I care for you and have for some time. If your wish is to remain friends, I will abide by it happily, but if someday you were to consider me in a different light…”
He bent his head and lightly touched his lips to her knuckles. The anxious knots that had formed between her shoulder blades softened momentarily, and she gave a small nod of her head when he righted himself.
“Thank you, Nathan. I appreciate your friendship more than I can say.”
He released her hand and it was then that she realized he wasn’t accompanying her into the inn. “I have some further errands to attend to, but Shannon is anxiously awaiting your return inside. I will do what I can for your husband, Emma. Please do not give up hope just yet.”
With a hand on each shoulder she pressed a soft kiss against his cheek and thanked him once more before heading inside. The door was only just closing behind her when she heard the carriage pull away, its wheels clacking noisily over the uneven stone streets.
Author's Note: A shorter chapter but a shorter wait. I hope you enjoyed it! Emma certainly hasn't given up hope on saving her beloved pirate just yet, even if everyone else is seeing the writing on the wall. There is more to come, so please stay tuned. I'll do my best to have the next chapter out to you as quickly as I can. Happy reading!
He didn’t have long to wait for Williamson to arrive. The naval captain sauntered into the jail like a man casually perusing the offerings at the Sunday market.
Though he was sorely tempted to grab him and strangle him through the bars of his cell, Killian hung back in the shadows and kept his arms crossed in front of his chest. Sinking his hook into the bastard’s neck would certainly satisfy his thirst for revenge, but it wouldn’t get him what he wanted. For the time being at least, he needed the captain alive.
Williamson came to a stop in front of his cell door, maintaining a safe distance from the bars.
“This is a good look for you, pirate,” he remarked with a snide glance about the decrepit cell’s interior. “Making friends with the rats?”
“Aye,” he replied gruffly.
Williamson’s brief look of amusement faltered. Clearly he’d anticipated a more heated exchange and his choice to not rise to the bait had left him disappointed. Good.
Undeterred Williamson tried again, aiming a little lower than before, “I wonder if your lady’s accommodations are as hospitable?”
Killian pushed off the wall of his cell and moved slowly closer to the door. The chain of his foot shackle dragged audibly across the floor, the metal scraping loudly against the stone. His jaw unclenched long enough for an amused smirk to cross his lips.
“Guess you haven’t heard the news then. Emma’s gone, mate. Sprung free hours ago.”
He reasoned it was a good thing Williamson had never thought to take up cards. His expressions were even easier to read than Emma’s. The captain made a noble effort of hiding his surprise but there was no mistaking the sudden way his eyes narrowed or the subtle downturn at the corners of his mouth.
“You’re lying,” he challenged, his voice low.
Killian dragged his tongue across his bottom lip, his grin widening. “It pays to have friends in high places, Archie. The Governor was only too willing to rescue a beautiful gentlewoman from being held here on trumped up charges.”
“For a hefty sum, no doubt,” he scoffed and turned his back. “It’s a shame, pirate. I had hoped your lovely wife would enjoy the relative safety of her cell a little while longer.”
“Meaning?” His tone was frigid and razor sharp. Williamson couldn’t have missed the threat contained in that single word.
The naval captain made a half turn, smiling to himself as he replied, “The streets of Port Royal are dangerous these days – thieves and ruffians around every corner. There’s no telling what might happen.”
White hot rage filled him, tightening his chest and throat. He pulled air deep into his lungs and then blew it out slowly between his lips. Calm down. Breathe. He repeated those commands to himself until they stuck. When his rage had simmered enough that his voice would not waver when he spoke, he asked, “Why did you bring her here?”
Williamson grunted softly and nodded his head, “I was wondering how long it would take for you to put it all together.”
Killian took a threatening step closer, the chain of his leg shackle scraping ominously across the floor, “That doesn’t answer my question.”
The naval captain gave a dismissive shake of his head, “No, I suppose it doesn’t.”
“What has Emma to do with any of this?”
“She is a means to an end,” he replied casually.
“I had already surrendered. What do you gain from sending her that letter?”
Williamson pursed his lips in thought and moved a few paces away, careful to keep his back turned.
“Your brother and I served under the same captain once, many years ago. He spoke of you often. Always with pride, but something else too... You had such a nasty temper. The stories he would tell me...” He blew out a low whistle and tsk’d in disgust. “He thought the navy might save you from yourself. If he could take control somehow, guide you onto that right path, maybe you wouldn’t stray.”
Killian uttered a low note of disgust and his scowl deepened, “Don’t pretend as if you knew him, blaggard.”
“I pity Liam that you turned out this way. It must be such an utter disappointment. He and I bonded over a shared set of circumstances. You see, I also had a younger brother. Much like you, he was impulsive and misguided, a troubled youth. Like Liam, I had hoped the navy would sort him out and turn him into the man I knew he could be.”
“If your intention is to bore me to death, captain, you’re doing a marvellous job,” he drawled, and gave a long-suffering sigh.
Williamson turned back towards him and clasped his hands behind his back. He stood proud and upright, chest puffed out.
“George became a decorated member of His Majesty’s Royal Navy. And then his life was tragically cut short, all of that promise and potential gone in an instant. Do you know how he died, pirate?”
“I’m certain I can guess.”
“Would you believe me if I told you he died at the hands of pirates? The crew of the Jolly Roger to be precise. A crew led by the notorious pirate Captain Hook. Sound familiar?”
Killian gave a lazy shrug, “If you’re asking if I remember killing your brother, the answer is ‘No’. But I’ve killed countless naval men who’ve dared cross me.”
The captain flinched, as though he wanted to leap across the narrow distance that separated them and beat him senseless. Instead his face coloured, red shading his cheeks, and he closed his fists so tightly at his sides they shook along with his voice.
“You took my brother from me and dumped his body into the ocean like trash. It is unforgiveable.”
Captain Williamson turned his back once again and took a moment to gather himself before speaking again.
“Imagine my surprise when I saw you that day, the infamous Captain Hook. I would have shot you dead right there on the deck of your own ship, but then I saw how you looked at that girl. I realized then there was a better way to make you pay.”
Dread slid down the back of his neck, forcing the hairs to stand on end. He kept his expression calm even as the creeping panic made his chest feel tight. Had Nathan done as he’d asked and removed Emma from the island? Was she safely out of this man’s reach? He believed the eldest Elliot sibling to be true to his word, but had he truly understood the urgency with which they had to move? His stomach drew into anxious knots, the uncertainty of the situation paralyzing him with fear.
“I decided then, with the barrel of my gun still pressed to your head, that before I killed you I would take from you the one who was most precious. Her. That beautiful, brave, innocent, love-blinded idiot. Your one true love on this earth.”
“Then you are no better than me,” Killian snarled, unable to keep his emotions restrained any longer. “Your brother knew the dangers he signed up for when he became a naval officer. He pledged allegiance to King and country, ready to give his life for the cause. He died honourably in the line of duty. What you are speaking of is cold-blooded murder, the actions of a calculating, revenge-poisoned, pirate. Are you a pirate, Captain Archibald Williamson of His Majesty’s Royal Navy?”
Williamson ignored the question and slowly turned to face him. His expression was calm and filled with resolve. “I will find her,” he vowed. “And when I do, that very day, nay, that very hour, I will dispatch her straight to the bottom of Davy Jones’ Locker.”
“She’s already on her way back to Boston, mate,” he bluffed. “Sailed the same hour she was sprung free from this rat hole.”
Williamson chuckled, low and dark. “This is unlikely. That girl will see this through until the bitter end. I wager if I send my men to the hotel she’s staying in with those Elliot siblings I’ll find her soon enough. Now that I think of it that is rather a good idea.”
The naval captain appeared reinvigorated. He stood up straight and tugged lightly at the bottom of his jacket to straighten it.
“Farewell, pirate. I imagine the next time we meet shall be at your execution. I’ll be the one standing at the front, grinning from ear to ear as you swing.”
Williamson’s lips pulled back into a cold smile and he turned for the door, “I’ll be sure to give your regards to Emma.”
His body was moving before his mind had a chance to catch up. He snarled and shoved his hook between the bars of his cell, determined to strike Williamson anywhere it would leave a mark.
“If you touch a single hair on her head--!”
The naval captain managed to react in time to step just beyond his reach. He eyes flashed wickedly and he leaned a hairsbreadth closer.
“I’ll touch all of them. Maybe I’ll even have my way with her before slitting her open from chin to navel and dumping her corpse into the sea. Let that image haunt you to your grave, pirate.”
He strained behind the iron bars of his cell, determined to close those last frustrating inches that separated them, “When I get out of here I will make damned certain I kill you slowly,” he vowed. “They will create whole new sea tales about what I do to you.”
The captain’s cold grey eyes slid over to him and he nodded once, not the least bit rattled by his threats. If the man was this confident about succeeding, he already had a plan of some sort in motion. If Emma wasn’t already off the island...!
“Sleep tight, pirate,” Williamson levelled at him, then walked calmly through the prison door without a single glance back.
Author's Note: I am genuinely sorry for the wait for this chapter. I know it's a little short, but the next one is sitting at 10 pages right now so I figured it was best to give you guys this while I work on editing what's coming next. Finally some answers about Williamson's motivations. What do you guys think? As always I'd love to hear from you. For me, I'm going to get back to the next chapter. Can't wait for you guys to see it!
Soft mid-morning light filtered through the sheer curtain drawn across the window at the end of the hall. It illuminated the door to Emma’s room and the red-haired woman standing outside of it. Shannon Elliot anxiously twisted a pair of fine white gloves between her hands to the point of ruin. She paced a few steps closer to the window, muttered a few words of encouragement beneath her breath, then straightened her shoulders and moved purposefully to the door.
Just as her hand rose to knock she pulled back and stepped away again. It was a scene that had repeated itself at least half a dozen times since she’d returned from the courthouse. She felt duty bound to inform Emma of the court’s decision, but hadn’t the slightest idea where to even begin finding the words. How does one tell their dearest friend that the man they love has confessed to piracy and been sentenced to hang?
She’d felt sick with the news ever since those damnable words had left the judge’s lips and now it was incumbent upon her to deliver that awful burden onto Emma’s shoulders and heart.
“She will never forgive me for this,” Shannon muttered pitifully.
If ever there was a spot between a rock and a hard place she was certainly in it. The greater betrayal would be to keep such news from Emma entirely. She would be devastated either way, but Shannon was wagering that at the very least she would appreciate not being kept in the dark. And certainly it would be news better received from a friend. Still, it didn’t make the task that lay ahead any easier.
“Shall I bring up some tea, ma’am?”
Shannon suppressed a startled squeak and turned to find one of the maids patiently waiting at the top of the stairs, hands clasped neatly in front of her. She nodded and expelled a quiet sigh.
“Yes, I think tea will be lovely. Thank you.”
The maid departed with a curtsey and Shannon pulled in a deep, fortifying breath. She’d dilly dallied long enough. Better it come from her than for Emma to overhear the servants gossiping about the outcome of the trial.
It felt as if the whole of the island was talking about it, and they very likely were. It wasn’t often that a pirate the calibre of Captain Hook was caught and successfully convicted of piracy. It felt surreal, and yet she’d been sitting in the courtroom when the verdict had been announced. She’d heard the proclamation with her own ears, but had yet to fully come to terms with it. All she knew for certain was that in 10 days’ time, Emma would become a widow and the three of them would be on a ship returning to Boston. It felt like an eternity away, but also no time at all.
Clutching her mangled white gloves in one hand, she clenched the other into a tight fist and rapped lightly at Emma’s door. She held her breath and waited, ear turned to the door listening for some acknowledgement from the other side. A muffled “Come in” made its way through the key hole and Shannon swallowed down the last of her reservations before opening the door.
Shannon wasn’t quite certain what she’d expected, but somehow the sight of Emma already dressed and seated at the writing desk engrossed in a letter was a jarring tableau. She’d anticipated grief or distress, maybe even to find her dear friend still in bed with the shades drawn, yet there she sat calmly scratching her quill across the paper.
“Are you quite well?” she asked before softly closing the door behind her. “Did you manage to get any sleep?”
Emma replied with a noncommittal sound and continued writing, the rapid scratch of her quill sounding overloud to her ears. A quick glance at the bed and its crisply made sheets suggested it hadn’t been slept in. It pained her to think of the added burden she would be putting upon Emma’s shoulders with this news.
Emma scratched her signature at the bottom of the letter and dusted it with a fine layer of pounce before sealing it shut.
“Any news from the courthouse?” she inquired. Her tone was practically conversational as she scratched out an address on the front of her letter.
Shannon’s brows drew together as she tried to make sense of the scene before her. Had she misjudged her friend’s affections for the pirate entirely? She thought back to their tearful reunion at the prison and quickly dismissed the notion. There was little chance she’d misinterpreted a love that deep and profound. So what was the source of Emma’s sudden nonchalance?
She studied her friend closely and was frustrated to find no easy answers. This vexed her greatly as she prided herself on her ability to read others as easily as one would a book.
“There is some news,” she ventured, her tone carefully neutral as she slowly lowered into one of the chairs facing the writing desk. “Killian addressed the court and made a full confession.”
Emma gave a low grunt, but it was difficult to determine whether it was with pride, admonition or surprise.
“They’ve sentenced him to hang in 10 days’ time.”
“I thought as much,” she remarked quietly. “Well at least that awful business is out of the way.”
Emma turned round suddenly in her chair, her expression awash with understanding, “Thank you for going there today to hear the verdict. I know it could not have been easy.”
Shannon felt her head nod even as her mouth hung ajar in search of an appropriate response. Emma was facing the certain demise of her husband with...calm acceptance? Was it possible her friend was more distraught than she’d first realized?
Rising to her feet, she moved to Emma’s side and took up her hands, “Are you certain you are quite well? You do not seem yourself...”
Emma looked as though she might respond when an abrupt knock sounded at the door, announcing the arrival of their tea. Shannon exhaled a quite sigh of frustration before instructing the maid to enter. The girl did so promptly, carrying in front of her a tray filled with tea and sweet cakes. She set the tray atop the table and Emma promptly called out to her to prevent her from leaving.
“If it is no trouble,” she asked, holding out the letter she’d just finished writing, “could you assure this letter is delivered for me?”
The maid accepted the letter from Emma’s hands and tucked it into her apron, “Of course ma’am. Where might I be deliverin’ it to?”
“To the Jolly Roger. It is one of the ships sitting in the harbour. If you bring it to the docks one of the men from the ship will be able to bring it aboard for you.”
The maid’s eyes went wide and she glanced down at her apron as though in contained the Book of the Devil Himself, “The pirate ship ma’am?”
“Yes, that is the one. I will pay extra if you can guarantee it is delivered within the hour.”
A look of horror lingered in the maid’s eyes but was overpowered by the promise of extra coin. Making good on her word, Emma deposited several coins into the maid’s palm and promised the remainder once the letter had been safely delivered.
The maid’s head nodded readily, her eyes going wide, “Of course ma’am. I’ll make certain it’s delivered post haste.”
The maid turned to leave but Emma’s hand darted out and caught hold of her wrist. Shannon’s eyes went wide at the way Emma’s grip tightened until the girl’s lips twitched in a faint grimace.
“I am certain you understand how important it is to me that my correspondence reaches that ship in-tact.”
The maid nodded her head obediently, “Yes ma’am.”
“I should hate for my letter to go off course and be seen by eyes other than those belonging to the man it is addressed to.”
The maid lowered her eyes and obediently shook her head, “No ma’am. I promise it’ll go directly to the ship.”
Satisfied, Emma released the girl’s wrist and dismissed her. Shannon noted how the spots on the maid’s skin where her fingers had gripped tight were slow to fill with colour. She eyed her friend in disbelief as Emma made her way to the settee for tea. She quietly poured some brew into both of their cups and then held one out to her.
Shannon accepted the tea, still reeling in mute shock at the drastic change in her friend’s demeanor. She slowly lowered into the chair opposite Emma and set her cup with its as of yet un-tasted tea atop the table.
“Forgive me for being frank, Emma, but you seem not quite yourself.”
Emma took a quiet sip of her tea and then lowered the delicate cup to the saucer in her lap with a light ‘clack’.
“I am sorry if I have worried you, Shannon.”
“Emma, please do not shut me out. I cannot even begin to imagine what you must be feeling, but-”
“That is exactly the problem. You cannot understand, and neither can Nathan. Both of you are so steadfast in your support and love, and I will be eternally grateful to you for it for as long as I live, but my mind is quite made up. I will not drag either of you into what is to come.”
Shannon let out an exasperated sigh, her calm, collected countenance faltering, “Meaning what? For Heaven’s sake stop speaking in riddles, Emma, and tell me what is going on. I believe you owe me that much at least.”
Emma offered a tight-lipped smile, “I only mean that the less you know of what is to come, the better. I would very much like for you and Nathan to be able to fall back on plausible deniability should it come to that. I would hate to know that either of you were implicated or experience hardship on my account.”
Shannon shifted in her chair, leaning in closer as she lowered her voice to a near whisper, “Are you suggesting what I think you are?”
Of course! It all made sense now – Emma’s calm demeanor, her complete lack of care over the verdict or her husband’s confession. She hadn’t accepted the truth at all! She still thought she could save him in some insane scheme. No doubt one that would lead her to end up standing right on that scaffold next to him.
“Good God, Emma...” Shannon scolded, aghast at the thought of it. “Please tell me I’m wrong.”
Emma elected not to answer. She rose to her feet instead and stepped over to the hearth. The coals glowed red inside and she held out her hands to warm them. Even from where she sat, Shannon could see how they trembled.
“This is madness,” she hissed, and rose up to stand next to her. “I know you are willing to do anything to save him, but at what cost Emma?”
Her hands closed into fists and she lowered them to her sides. “It is a cost I am willing to pay,” she answered, her eyes flashing defiantly. “I would rather die here on this island knowing I had done everything in my power to save him than go back to Boston and live with the knowledge that, like a coward, I did nothing.”
Shannon felt her features soften and she took up Emma’s hand between hers, “Have you considered what he wants? I have a feeling he would much rather see you safely off this island and far from Captain Williamson’s reach.”
Emma frowned, “I’m certain he would. He would rather play the martyr to guarantee my safety without once stopping to consider what impact such a decision might have on me. What is the point of living if the man I love is dead? Is that not simply existing? No... I allowed him to make that decision for us once because he thought it was for the best, but I refuse to be so obliging this time around.”
“He may not like it,” Shannon warned her, her tone guarded.
“He can be angry with me when we are together and safely aboard the Jolly Roger. At least he will be alive and cross with me. That much I can handle.”
A reluctant smile curled Shannon’s lips upwards and her grip on Emma’s hand tightened, “I hope the poor man knows what sort of stubborn woman he was marrying when he agreed to his vows,” she teased.
Emma smiled as well, her teeth showing white against her red lips, “Oh he was well aware. There were more than a few moments on our journey to Boston when we butted heads. We always found a way to reconcile though, and this time will be no different.”
Shannon nodded, still unsettled but relieved to see the return of the friend she knew.
“Have you told Nathan anything of your plans?”
Emma shook her head and pulled her hands away. She moved to stand in front of the window, looking out at the dozen or so ship masts visible in the distance.
“Killian asked him to take care of me,” she replied quietly. “I know he would do an admirable job of it.”
“Nathan has always cared for you,” Shannon assured her. “Are you worried your choice will offend him?”
Emma’s shoulders lifted slightly and then fell, “Perhaps. You have both taken such good care of me. You and Nathan are the two most important people in my life after Killian. I would hate for anything bad to befall either of you on account of your connection to me.”
“Nathan will not be persuaded easily,” Shannon warned her. “He would feel just as conflicted about leaving you behind as you feel about leaving Killian.”
Emma stilled as she processed these words and then quietly nodded, “I understand. I will try to find a way to make him see things from my perspective. Maybe then he will listen.”
“Or he will eye you from the other side of the table, ask you quite calmly if you have gone completely daft, and then dismiss your plan entirely,” Shannon countered with a half-hearted teasing laugh.
Emma joined in and nodded, “Yes that is very likely, too.”
Shannon felt compelled to help in whatever small way she could. It was apparent to her now that Emma’s mind was made up. Short of kidnapping her and throwing her in the brig of their ship, they had little chance of convincing her to leave the island of her own volition.
“What can I do to help?”
Emma stared thoughtfully out at the harbour a moment then turned her face her.
“I will handle speaking to Nathan, but for now my heart would be put at ease if you could promise me that when the time comes you will leave this island on the fastest ship available and return to Boston without me.”
Her friend’s expression hardened and she defiantly lifted her chin, “You asked what you could do. This is what you can do.”
Exasperated, Shannon threw her hands up in the air in defeat, “Fine. You want me to promise that when push comes to shove we’ll leave you behind and high tail it back to Boston? Fine. But that does not mean I have to like it.”
Emma’s expression softened and she smiled understandingly, “I know I am asking a lot of you, but Captain Williamson is a vindictive, vicious sort of man and I want there to be no chance for him to cause trouble for either of you.”
Shannon swallowed hard and slowly lowered into the nearest chair. “You’re scaring me, Emma. What if...” Her hands curled into tight fists atop her lap and she closed her eyes against the very thought of it.
Emma slid onto the settee next to her and linked their arms together, “Let’s not think about that now. Tell me more about what happened at the courthouse. Any details you can remember...”
Shannon reluctantly nodded while secretly glad for the diversion. While her mind continued to reel over news of Emma’s reckless plan, she recounted in vivid detail the events of the morning’s trial.
“Was Williamson there?” Emma wondered.
Shannon thought it over and then slowly shook her head, “No, I do not believe I saw him.”
“What could that snake of a man be up to?”
Shannon lifted her shoulders in a half-hearted shrug. Another abrupt knock sounded at the door and they turned in unison as the maid opened it a crack to announce that Emma had a visitor. Years of genteel breeding drew them immediately to their feet as the door swung open wide.
From the darkened hallway Curly came into view. He limped, dour-faced, into the room and Emma hurried to greet him. She discreetly deposited another pile of coins into the maid’s palm before she departed and then motioned in her direction.
“Curly, I believe you have met my good friend, Shannon Elliot?”
The pirate removed his cap and made a half hearted bow, “M’Lady.”
“You received my letter?” Emma asked and exhaled a sigh of relief when he gave an affirmative grunt.
“Figured I ha’ to come see for m’self if you was mad with the drink. Seem sober enuf to me tho’.”
“Stone cold, unfortunately,” Emma assured him with a grim smile.
“I hope you will both excuse me, but I must check in with my brother. Will you meet with us for dinner, Emma?”
A smile warmed the serious expression on her face and she responded with a distracted nod, “Of course.”
“Until dinner then,” Shannon called in a sing-song voice, doing her best to appear utterly ignorant of what Emma had planned.
She felt the pirate’s eyes on her as she brushed past them and suppressed the shiver that jetted down her spine. She understood Emma’s fondness for the crew, and was certain she was a good enough judge of character, but there was something about pirates that would never quite sit well with her. In truth, the very thought of them made her skin crawl.
Shannon exhaled a weighty sigh of relief as she closed the door to Emma’s room behind her. She suppressed the urge to linger and listen at the door and instead made her way purposefully down the stairs.
Emma was right about one thing – the less she knew of their plan the better. Determined to do something productive, she set off in search of the maid to learn of Nathan’s whereabouts. He needed to know what Emma had planned. Maybe there was a chance yet that he could talk her out of it.
Author's Note: As promised, a quick update. I hope you've enjoyed the last two chapters and where the final arc of this story is headed. I am endlessly thankful to all of your for your patience and continued love for this little fic. I can't wait for you to see what's coming up next! Until then...
Nathan took the news of her plan about as well as could be expected.
His eyes flashed furiously at her across the dining table, while hers slid accusingly in Shannon’s direction. The youngest Elliot sibling kept her face tactfully shielded behind her wine glass. Traitor, Emma thought without vehemence. She’d expected Shannon would tell Nathan everything. In some ways it made it easier. Dealing with his outrage was far simpler than trying to find the words to break the news to him gently.
“I thank you for your concern, but my mind is quite made up,” she informed him politely while calmly slicing a bite-sized portion from the round of roasted pork loin atop her plate. Averting the eyes of both Elliot siblings, she gulped down a healthy sip of wine and did her best to appear as confident in her convictions as she sounded.
Nathan was fastidious to a fault, even amongst friends, but her words had him pulling the cravat at his throat loose and ripping open the top buttons of his collar.
“I cannot allow you to do this, Emma,” he stated emphatically while shaking his head. His hand raked anxiously through his hair leaving him looking thoroughly dishevelled. “It’s lunacy what you are proposing.”
“I do not require your permission,” she retorted sharply. Perhaps a little more sharply than she’d intended. Nathan balked and rose from his chair. His fingers took up his wine glass and his feet led him to the hearth. He stood in silence in front of the fire, his eyes studying the way the firelight illuminated the wine inside his glass.
“I swore that I would keep you safe,” he said slowly, his words measured. “I gave Killian my word as a gentleman that I would remove you from this island before his meeting with the executioner.” He turned towards her, his eyes regarding her carefully. “Would you have me go back my word and break the vow I made to him?”
Honour meant everything to Nathan. Going back on his word was not something he would contemplate, much less do unless absolutely forced to. It went completely against everything he stood for – honour, integrity, and a gentleman’s code.
“You should not have given your word in the first place.” She felt a pang of guilt as the words crossed her lips.
“You sound as if you’ve gone mad,” he announced, clearly exasperated. He turned his ire on Shannon then, gesturing emphatically across the table in Emma’s direction. “Tell her she sounds insane. Clearly she is utterly incapable of listening to reason.”
“Emma,” Shannon interjected, her tone placating, “will you not agree to at least give it a day and think it over?”
Nathan nodded, eagerly clinging to the suggestion, “Yes! Take a day and think it over.”
“I have already given it a great deal of thought,” she assured them both. “This was always the plan if our more diplomatic strategies failed.”
Nathan shook his head and finished the wine in his glass in a single gulp. “I know you are willing to die for this, Emma, and I commend you for your courage...”
She lifted her brows in expectation, her silent “But...?” hanging in the air.
“I wonder though, have you given a thought to Killian’s wishes in all of this?”
“I am certain he has no wish to meet his demise at the end of a hangman’s noose,” she retorted. Nathan winced and retreated a little, but was determined she hear him out.
“I looked a condemned man in the eyes and promised him I would protect the woman he loves from harm. I genuinely believe that his knowledge you will leave this island safely is the sole bit of comfort getting him through these next days. Would you deprive him of that little bit of solace, Emma?”
Frustration and exhaustion punctuated his every word. She could see the visible toll this burden had taken out of him. For a fleeting moment her heart longed for those hot afternoons spent gossiping over inconsequential matters while sipping lukewarm tea in the Madison tea room.
Her heart clenched inside her chest even as she stubbornly straightened her shoulders. “He will have little need for solace if everything goes according to plan,” she replied wearing a thin smile.
Nathan exploded with an audible groan of frustration and stormed out of the dining room. The door shut firmly behind him with enough force that it rattled in its frame.
They listened to the sharp rap of his shoes echo across the wood floors as he retreated to his room. Somewhere a distance away another door slammed and then there was silence. Emma waited a beat before lifting her eyes to Shannon’s. The red-head’s brows rose in animated surprise and she took up her wine glass.
“Well, that went about as well as we could have expected,” she commented and refilled her wineglass before taking a sip.
“Do you think he will hate me for this?” she wondered aloud.
Her eyes lingered worriedly on the door to the dining room, half wishing Nathan would breeze through it and apologize for over-reacting. Perhaps a bit selfishly she’d been relying on his strength to get her through these next days. He had a way of making even the most complicated scheme feel effortless; nothing could rattle him. But this had. She’d rattled him. She felt the guilt bubble up until it sat uncomfortably at the back of her throat, nearly choking her with its weight.
“I should go speak to him…apologize…”
Shannon’s hand found hers across the table, halting her rise from the table with a light touch.
“I know my brother. It’s best to give him some time to cool off. He’ll come around.”
Emma nodded and turned her gaze away from the door. Her eyes settled on the half-eaten meal atop her plate but she couldn’t find the willpower to stomach even the smallest bite. The remainder of dinner passed in relative silence, both of them a prisoner to their thoughts. They waited until long after the wine had run dry and the dessert dishes were cleared away, but Nathan didn’t return.
It was past midnight when they finally did cross paths again. Sleep felt like a far and distant dream, so she’d decided to sit in the Inn’s garden instead. It was a small garden, just a few shrubs and flowers with a bench, but it had become her private bit of solace on the island.
“I hope I’m not disturbing you?”
A smile crossed her lips at the familiar tone of his voice and she turned to see him standing there looking exactly as she remembered him – calm, poised, and impeccably dressed.
“Not at all,” she replied and meant every word. She’d been hoping he would seek her out and slid over on the bench so he had space to sit. She gestured to the empty spot next to her, inviting him to sit.
“Shannon said I might find you here,” he explained as he lowered himself next to her on the bench.
His eyes followed hers to the spectacle of the moon as it rose on the horizon, growing fatter and brighter with each passing minute.
“I keep finding myself here, night after night, watching the moon rise,” she said quietly. “I wonder if he’s doing the same, or if he can even see the moon from his cell. We used to spend nights standing on the deck of his ship, staring out over the endless dark waters at the moon. Did you know that at night the ocean appears so black you can’t tell where it stops and the sky begins? But when the moon hovers on the horizon it fills up the sky like some great glowing beacon. Sometimes it appears so large you imagine you could reach out and touch it with your bare hands.”
“But no matter how close you sail to that horizon it’s forever just beyond your reach?” Nathan concluded. Emma’s eyes held his a long moment and she nodded.
“Yes, I believe I may know a thing or two about that,” he replied with a shy smile and she was relieved to see the return of his dry sense of humour.
“I know it upsets you, but this was always the plan if our more diplomatic efforts to free him failed.”
“Your plan maybe,” Nathan conceded. “It certainly wasn’t mine.” He folded his hands under his chin and sat in contemplative silence.
“What if your plan fails?” he cautioned, his tone soft. “Are you prepared for that too?”
His warm hand took up hers and it was only then that she noticed just how badly her hands were trembling.
“This plan of yours is a high stakes gamble, Emma, and a losing one at that. In the very best case scenario you both escape this island only to become fugitives of the law with a price on your heads. Is there nothing I can say to make you change your mind?”
“If I thought there was no hope of success we wouldn’t be having this conversation,” she replied gently. “I know it will be difficult. I know it will be dangerous. I have accepted the risks because I cannot imagine living the rest of my life without him.”
“I respect that you gave him your word, Nathan, I do. But I also made a vow to Killian. On the deck of his ship, in front of his entire crew, I promised to be his wife until death separated us. I intend to uphold my end of the bargain.”
Nathan’s fingers tightened around hers, “So you would rather die trying than leave here with me.”
Her heart sank at the look in his eyes but she felt her head nod in agreement.
“Please do not think of it that way,” she urged. “If the circumstances were different I would happily return with you and Shannon to Boston. But Killian is my soul’s mate. I knew it the moment I opened my eyes aboard his ship. I was delirious with fever and frozen half to death, but in that moment I knew I was safe with him. I have no desire to be parted from him again. Come Hell or high water we will leave this island together, in one way or another.”
“I had hoped I would be able to encourage you to reconsider,” he replied sounding defeated. “But it seems I was on a fool’s errand.”
“I’m afraid it’s too late for me to reconsider my choice to love him,” she confessed with a quick glance his way. She saw the way his throat contracted as he swallowed and felt another pang of guilt strike just beneath her breastbone. “Whatever happens I will not regret my choice to stay.”
With a weary sigh of defeat he rose to his feet and took up her hand, holding it gently between his fingers. He lifted his eyes heavenward, as though sending up a silent prayer, then returned his somber gaze to her.
“As always, I am at your service, Emma. Whatever you may need,” he promised, and pressed a brief kiss to her knuckles before turning to leave.
Emma sprung to her feet and impulsively wrapped her arms around him, imprisoning him in a strong hug. Her parting words to him fell from her lips, soft, sincere, and trembling with emotion.
“There will never be words enough for me to thank you for all you have done for me. It has been a privilege to be counted amongst your friends, Nathan. Thank you.”
His hand came to rest lightly across her back and she felt the soft, silent kiss he pressed into her hair.
“Of course,” he replied gravely. “Is that not what friends are for?”
She nodded her head against his chest and tried to regain control of her emotions. She knew this may very well be the last time she saw him and her arms couldn’t seem to find the willpower to let him go. His arms drew more tightly across her back, pulling her against him. He held her so close she could hear the racing beat of his heart beneath the crisply pressed linen of his shirt. He held her a moment longer, his warm hands feeling strong and reassuring against her back. Even though he couldn’t support her plan, even though she knew this was goodbye, his unwavering presence in this moment offered her the strength she needed to face what came next.
“It is late,” he said softly as his arms fell away. “Perhaps we should retire?”
She nodded, taking the arm he offered, and allowed him to lead her back to the inn.
Emma awoke before dawn to the sound of muffled bumps and curses from the other side of her door. A struggle? Frozen beneath the blankets that covered her, she listened with every cell in her body. A muffled grunt, another curse.
Moving as quietly as she dared, she slid out from beneath the covers and shoved her pillow underneath. It wouldn’t buy her much time, but maybe it would be enough. Careful to avoid the worn floorboard that creaked whenever anyone dared breathe in its direction, she made her way to the writing desk and took hold of the heaviest-looking candlestick. Holding it firmly between her two hands, she stepped close to the window and slipped behind the heavy curtain. If whoever lurked outside her room dared enter she would be ready for them.
As if on cue the door knob on her door jiggled as though someone were trying to open it from the outside. She retreated further behind the curtain and held her breath. With unexpected force the door exploded inward, wood splinters from the frame scattering across the floor. She clamped a hand over her mouth to stifle a cry and waited, listening for the footfalls that followed. Two? No, three. There were definitely three of them. She could hear the soft scrape of their boots across the floor, their laboured breaths. Her own lungs burned from the desire to draw breath but she kept her hand clamped firmly over her mouth, determined not to make a single noise.
“She ain’t here” she heard one of them utter in a hoarse whisper.
“She’s here all right,” one of the others replied. “Keep lookin’.”
Emma tried to make herself as small as possible, retreating as far back against the window as she could manage. With her back flat against the wall, she tightened her grip on the candlestick in her hand, determined to beat whoever discovered her with it and then run for the door.
As it turned out, they didn’t even bother to search for her behind the curtain. One simply grabbed her around the waist, curtain and all, while another sliced the curtain free of the rod with the sharp edge of their sword.
“We have what we came for, let’s go.”
Emma gave a muffled cry of protest from within her curtain prison and squirmed every which way in search of freedom. Arms wrapped tight her like a vice, pinning her arms to her sides and her legs together. She struggled a while longer under she was physically exhausted and gasping for breath in the heavy cloth prison that engulfed her.
“Where are you taking us?”
Nathan! Emma recognized that voice, even muffled behind layers of fabric. She renewed her fight, squirming and twisting as much as she was able. When that failed she dropped the candlestick and smiled when it landed solidly on the foot of her captors who responded with a vehement, “Bleedin’ Christ!”
“Unhand me at once. I demand to know where we are being taken! The Governor will be most displeased to hear of this.”
Their captors, however, were not forthcoming. They ushered them out of the inn and into a carriage or wagon of some sort. Emma heard Shannon’s muffled cry of protest, followed by Nathan’s promise there would be dire consequence for all involved. A door closed with a snap and then the clack of horse’s hooves sounded across the cobblestones.
Emma, however, felt no movement beneath her. That was until she was thrown, curtain and all, onto something solid and hard. She landed with a ‘thunk’ and gave a quiet groan when the air had finally returned to her lungs. A moment later they were moving, the solid wood beneath her jerking forward at a slow and steady pace, hooves clacking slowly against the stones one after another.
She lost all sense of time on the journey to their unknown destination. It could have been minutes or hours. She spent most of that time fighting for fresh air from inside her fabric prison. Her earlier thrashing had left her shift tangled and her hair matted about her face. She tilted upwards towards what she thought was the opening of the curtain in search of cool air, and at least some relief from the oppressive, damp heat slowly suffocating her inside.
In time the wagon came to a halt and she was again heaved upwards with a vice-like grip. Based on the way it rocked unsteadily beneath her, the next mode of transportation was a small boat. She focused on the sound of the waves lapping against the sides of the vessel, and then on the sound of the oars slipping into the water.
Her mind was racing, focused on Nathan and Shannon. Had they been hurt? Were they safe? Shannon’s muffled cry as she was forced into the carriage haunted her, playing back over and over again in her mind. “Please let them be okay,” she pleaded to no one in particular.
The boat’s oars were noisily brought aboard and orders were called to the ship that awaited their arrival. Emma waited for what would happen next. Another transport? More time spent gasping for air? Would they pitch her overboard into the dark ocean?
Instead the curtain that had entombed her was pulled away in a sudden snap. She gasped, desperate to drink in as much cool night air as she could. At the same time her hands went to work pushing the hair back from her face and arranging her shift into something more appropriate. When she’d collected herself enough to get her bearings, she sat up slowly and looked into the faces of her captors.
“You all right?”
Emma blinked and exhaled a long, low sigh, “Yes. I’m quite well, thank you Thomas.”
“We wasn’ too hard on ye?”
“Just enough,” she assured him with a smile. “It had to be convincing. Is everything prepared?”
“Aye,” he nodded and gestured up at the ship. “Just as ye ordered.”
“Excellent. Let’s get on with it then. We haven’t much time.”
Author's Note: Happy New Year readers! It's been an eternity since I updated this fic and I am sincerely sorry for keeping you waiting for an update. I really struggled with this chapter. I've written and re-written in it so many times that I just needed to be done with it and move on. I'm still not 100% happy with it but there is too much good stuff to come in this story that I couldn't sit on it any longer. Your reviews and messages really helped me push through some of the worst bouts of writer's block I had this year. Please never underestimate the power your positive words can have on a writer's confidence.
I hope you enjoyed this chapter. I hope it was worth the wait. And I sincerely hope that if you're still reading this fic you'll hang in for the final chapters. Rest assured when I've left you hanging this long I already have another chapter well in the works. The next one is 85% done - it just needs a bit of fine tuning before I post it up. For those who may be missing our dear pirate, the next chapter is Killian-focused beginning to end ;)
Until next time...
He’d never quite understood the state of being ‘stone cold sober’, but he understood it now. Acutely. The hemp noose slung round his neck pricked at his skin, the weight of it heavy atop his collarbone. The crowd was sizeable and not a single face among them was familiar. Relief washed over him and he closed his eyes in silent gratitude. Nathan had remained true to his word then. Emma was gone, far from this place and the grisly fate that awaited him. He was glad for it. Glad she wouldn’t see this, and gladder still that his body swinging from the end of a rope wouldn’t be her last memory of him.
It became difficult to focus on the words being spoken to him. His many charges were read aloud by the magistrate. The man’s voice was hoarse from straining to be heard above the crowd, making it sound as though he’d consumed far too much rum the night before (or perhaps not enough). A man of the cloth was there as well to read him his last rites. The cleric stood before him looking suitably grim as he prayed aloud for the safe passage of his soul into God’s hands. When he’d finished reciting the last rites, the man snapped his bible shut and leaned in close to add, “May you burn in Hell, pirate.”
His brow rose fractionally and he stared the cleric down as he retreated into the crowd. On any other day he would have offered some suitably glib retort, but there was no fight left within him now. He just wanted to be done with the whole messy business, and the sooner the better.
A shake of his shoulder drew his attention and he looked upon the hood-covered face of his executioner.
There was something familiar about the gruff voice muffled behind the hood, but he dismissed the thought with a shake of his head and directed his gaze towards the still-growing crowd. He stared stone-faced overtop their heads and into the far distance, imagining he could see Jolly Roger just beyond the city walls. He pictured her sails filling with the wind, ballooning out to carry her crew across the ocean’s waters faster than any man-made ship would dare. He breathed in deep to savour his last breath. The familiar scent and salt of the ocean clung to it. They comforted him, lingered in his lungs and at the back of his mouth until he slowly exhaled.
The weight of the shackles fell from his wrists and then he felt the prickle of hemp rope being tied around his arms, binding them in place behind him. They similarly removed the shackles from his feet and tried to put a grain sack over his head but he ducked away and shook his head. The executioner gave an indifferent shrug and tossed the empty sack to the deck of the scaffold and moved to stand next to the switch that would release the trap door beneath his feet.
This death had been his destiny since the moment he tore off his naval uniform and swore he would never sail under another man’s orders again. He’d been so certain of that fate he’d blithely taunted death to take him in those early years, utterly unabashed in his arrogance. There was a time, after Milah’s death, when he’d welcomed death with open arms. He’d searched for it at the bottom of every bottle of rum.
But it was Fate, not Death, who had intervened to place Emma Swan quite unexpectedly into his path. One stubborn, beautiful woman was all it had taken to irrevocably change the course of his life. She’d opened his heart to love again, and his mind to the possibility of a happy future. But the reprieve had been temporary. Death had still come for him, though he was now no longer ready or willing to go.
“Executioner, if you please.”
He straightened up, pulling his shoulders back as best he could with his arms bound tight. If he was indeed destined to greet Death today, he intended to do it standing tall so he could look the bastard straight in the eye. He glanced over at the spot where Williamson stood at the base of the scaffold watching him intently. The man’s expression was smug, with a hint of a jubilant smile on his lips. Unable to resist, he gave a saucy wink and watched with delight as Williamson’s face flushed red with indignation. He intended to make damn certain that bastard knew he hadn’t broken him, right to the bitter end.
His eyes panned the crowd one last time and settled on a familiar face. What was he doing there? In the same split second the thought crossed his mind, his stomach dropped and the floor fell out from beneath his feet. He tensed instinctively in anticipation of the snap of the rope that would seal his fate. Instead his boots met the sandy ground below and the rope went slack about his neck. Stunned, he tipped his head back in time to see the executioner peering down the hole in the scaffold floor at him. The man removed his hood and he felt his lips draw back into an amused grin as Curly gave him a wink before disappearing from view.
For a moment Killian simply stood there, having absolutely no idea what to do next. He hadn’t anticipated a rescue. He wasn’t even certain there was a plan in place beyond saving his neck from swinging. Moving on instinct alone, he kept his head low and darted out from beneath the scaffold in search of a quick exit. He moved in the opposite direction of the crowd, hoping to escape down an alley before the soldiers gave chase him. He’d always been faster on his ship than on land, and was desperate to get there now, any way he could.
His fingers worked frantically to loosen the knotted hemp rope binding his arms together. That momentary distraction was all it took for him to lose track of where his feet were headed and his shoulder crashed hard into something solid and unmoveable. A suffocated grunt was forced from his lungs as he recoiled and momentarily lost his balance. He dropped to one knee to catch himself before his face hit the dirt. He didn’t have long to gather his bearings before he was hauled to his feet by the scruff of his shirt. With both feet now under him now, he found himself face to face with a familiar foe.
“Ah, Archie. Fancy meeting you here,” he quipped.
Captain Williamson’s ruddy face was covered in a light sheen of sweat and the pristine, white cravat knotted at his throat appeared to have been tied far too tight.
“How did you do it, pirate?” he seethed. His large shoulders rose and fell as he caught his breath.
Killian made his best effort at a shrug with his arms still bound behind him, “For once I haven’t a clue. I’m as surprised as you are by this fortunate turn of events.”
Williamson gave an exasperated sigh and slammed his fist firmly into his gut. Killian doubled over with a groan as his body absorbed the blow. He crumpled, falling to his knees as his lungs struggled to draw breath. While he focused on recovery, Williamson drew his sword. He winced from the throbbing pain in his stomach as he righted himself enough to stare down the shining point of the blade aimed squarely at his chest. He would have raised his hand in surrender if he was able, but as his arms were still bound he had to settle for redoubling his efforts to free them instead.
“It does not matter I suppose,” Williamson admitted. “It will not stop me from carrying out the sentence of the court. I will promise, however, to do everything in my power to make certain you suffer until the very end.”
“Delightful,” Killian retorted under his breath and allowed his eyes a brief moment to scan the area for a weapon of some kind. A stick, a rock – anything he could use once his bloody arms were no longer tied behind his back.
“Or we could bend to the will of Fate and simply call it a day,” he offered lightly.
“On the contrary, pirate,” Williamson replied, and something resembling a smile crossed his lips. “It would be my extreme pleasure to mete out justice in the name of the King.”
“Well, aren’t you the dutiful soldier.”
As Williamson’s sword arm drew back to strike his mind was rapidly calculating which direction would be best to dive in, and exactly how much force would be necessary to outrun the captain. But with his blasted arms still bound and no weapon of any kind at his disposal, his odds were not good. His luck tended to be better than most, but perhaps Death had come for him this day after all.
“Drop the sword.”
The pair of them froze like statues, momentarily stunned. They stared at one another in a shared moment of confusion before turning simultaneously towards the alarmingly feminine voice that had issued the command.
“Ah, Miss Swan. How kind of you to join us,” Williamson drawled, looking quite unalarmed as he slowly lowered his sword to his side.
Killian felt every hair on the back of his neck stand on end and turned slowly, just enough so he could see her while keeping Williamson in his peripheral view. She had her long, golden curls pulled back off her face in a loose plait and was dressed in the same attire as any number of dock hands and sailors trawling through the streets of Port Royal. His eyes settled on the dark tan leather leggings hugging the curves of her well-formed legs and he felt his throat suddenly run dry. Good god she was a vision…
He no longer had to wonder about the mastermind behind his unexpected rescue. It seemed she’d had a plan of her own in place even when he’d given up and turned himself over to the hands of Fate. Were he not half-paralyzed with terror at the thought of her being caught up in this he would have been positively bristling with pride at the sight of his stunning, fearless, pirate wife.
Her eyes met his and a fleeting, apologetic look crossed her features. Any questions he had, and any scolding he intended to met out, would simply need to wait. There was the matter of one Captain Williamson they needed to deal with first. Judging by the pistol Emma was aiming squarely at the Captain’s chest, she had that well under control as well.
“I will not repeat myself, Captain.” When she spoke her voice was firm, exuding cool calm despite the small tremor in her fingers as they pulled back the hammer of the flintlock.
Williamson’s glare was dark enough to send a shiver jetting down his own spine, but Emma was unshakeable. The naval captain assessed his options and odds a moment longer before uttering a foul curse. He begrudgingly dropped his sword to the sandy ground and held his hands aloft in surrender.
“Now take three very slow, very careful, steps backwards,” she ordered. “Take any more than three and I will shoot you dead. Blink in the direction of that sword and I will shoot you dead. Do you understand?”
Williamson’s upper lip pulled back over his teeth in a sneer as he spat out, “Perfectly.” He did as he was ordered though, and carefully took three measured steps backwards.
Keeping one eye on Williamson and one hand on the pistol, Emma grabbed a small knife from her belt and cut the remaining ropes that bound his arms. Killian exhaled an audible sigh of relief as the rope fell away and immediately dove for Williamson’s sword. He gave it a playful spin out of old habit then held it pointed in the Captain’s general direction.
“Fate works in mysterious ways,” he mused, pleased to see William’s face darken with indignation. Oh but it felt good to torment him. Had he been less of a cruel bastard he would have simply knocked the man out and been done with it, but Williamson had made it personal and besides, taunting him was far more fun.
He glanced quickly at Emma. Her arms were visibly trembling now from the strain of holding the gun level. Flintlock pistols were not intended for prolonged use and her arms were unused to the weapon’s weight.
“It’s all right, love,” he assured her quietly. “Give the pistol to me.”
“No,” she bit out and stubbornly shook her head.
His brows rose fractionally in surprise. Surely she didn’t plan to…? Emma’s eyes narrowed and her jaw jutted out defiantly. He’d seen that look before, had found himself on the receiving end of it more times than he cared to admit, and knew exactly what it meant. The thought of it sat like a stone in his gut, and he tried again to quietly dissuade her.
“Emma, trust me when I say you do not want this man’s blood on your hands.”
Williamson scoffed and let out a sharp, biting laugh, “This is nothing more than a farce! You lack the courage to pull that trigger, Miss Swan. I would bet good coin that pan of yours is not even primed.”
Hook could see that it was and sent a warning glance Williamson’s way. He couldn’t be certain why he did it, only that he felt he owed it to the man to know he was within a hairsbreadth of meeting his end. Even a bastard like that deserved to face death straight on.
Emma exhaled a long, slow breath, then said softly, “You know as well as I that we cannot allow him to live.”
“She is correct, pirate. I will hunt you both to the ends of the earth. I will have my justice.”
“See?” she intoned, her brow rising fractionally. “You cannot keep my hands clean forever.”
“Emma, stop this,” he urged, stepping in close to her side. “If we leave now he will never catch us in time. The Jolly Roger is the fastest ship in all the realms…”
“And we will always be running, always looking over our shoulders. No…” she shook her head, horrified by the very thought of it. The man standing before them had almost stolen their future. It seemed clear Emma wasn’t prepared to provide Williamson even a fleeting chance to finish what he’d started.
“It ends here,” she determined and defiantly squared her shoulders.
The sudden loud ‘CRACK!’ of pistol fire cut through the air. The acrid stench of gunpowder filled their noses and smoke hung heavily between where they stood and Williamson waited, blocking their path to freedom.
As the smoke cleared they could see the faint outline of Williamson’s form. He was still standing. For a brief moment Killian wondered if she’d missed. Flintlocks were notoriously unreliable, even at close range. His hand tightened around the handle of Williamson’s sword. He was ready to use it if necessary – whatever it took to ensure Emma found her way off this cursed island alive.
But as the smoke cleared further, it became clear she hadn’t missed at all. A red stain spread slowly across Williamson’s chest from where the lead shot had torn through him. His expression was a mix of indignation, disbelief, and confusion as he stumbled a few steps forward then fell to one knee. He turned his gaze downward then, gaping in muted horror at the grim scene before him. His hands pressed to his shirt as though he could simply force the blood back inside, but it was to no avail. He looked up at them as if determined to speak one last word. A horrible gurgling sound emerged from his throat instead, and his eyes went wide before he collapsed face first onto the sandy ground at their feet.
Emma stared at the unmoving form of Captain Williamson a few heartbeats longer before tossing the pistol away. Killian shoved the sword point into the sand then took her gently by the shoulder. His fingers exacted just enough pressure to draw her attention away from the corpse at their feet. The source of all their recent troubles was finally no more.
“Emma…” he urged, his tone soft but insistent. “Look at me, love.”
She did, but slowly. When her eyes met his it was as though she were trapped in a dream. It took a long moment for her to shake it off, but when she did she propelled to action almost immediately.
“We must leave,” she insisted and reached for his hand. “NOW!”
He only managed to get that single word out before the first explosion shook the island. Shrapnel went flying, throwing them hard into the sandy ground. Emma was up first, crawling away from the site of the blast. She grabbed hold of his arm and pulled him in the general direction of the docks. His ears were ringing and his brain felt as if it was rattling around inside his skull, but he followed her without question. Chaos and smoke surrounded them as another cannon blast echoed in the distance, then another.
“There is a boat waiting,” Emma explained between breaths as they crawled out of the square. “We must hurry!”
They crawled until their legs were steady enough to carry them, then they ran like hell. Another explosion hit nearby, sending a thick cloud of dirt and debris into the air. The dust and smoke made it almost impossible to see where they were headed. He could be of little help since his time on the island had been spent primarily within the prison walls. Aside from the route they’d taken him along to the scaffold, he hadn’t the first clue about the layout of the town. Emma seemed to know the way well enough though, which surprised him. But he followed her without question as she led him down a complex maze of alleys and away from the square.
He hazarded a quick glance over his shoulder and felt a wave of relief flood through him. They weren’t being followed – at least not yet. There was hope for them still!
Emma ducked instinctively as another deafening explosion ripped through the town. Behind them random pops of gunfire sounded, followed by high-pitched screams.
“We need to get to that boat before they destroy the whole damn island!” she shouted back over her shoulder.
The smell of the port was strong in their noses now – the brine of the sea mixed with the unpleasant aroma of sun-cooked algae. They were close! One final turn and they could see the beach. At high tide it would be completely under water, but for now it was a narrow band of dark sand. And at the water’s edge sat their salvation, a well-manned rowboat ready and waiting. And in the distance – home.
Killian felt his chest grow tight at the sight of his ship. In the fetid belly of the Port Royal jail he’d eventually come to terms with never seeing her again, but she looked as beautiful now as the day he’d first stepped aboard. It would take a damned long voyage before he would be tempted to make landfall again after this.
It didn’t escape his notice that none of this would have been possible without the woman at his side. She was fearless, stubborn, and absolutely brilliant to have concocted a plan of this magnitude to save his neck. He’d never felt more humbled by a woman in his entire life.
With freedom mere steps away, he grabbed hold of her hand and pulled her abruptly into the shelter of a doorway. The timing was terrible of course, but coming so close to death had made him determined to seize upon the little moments with her whenever he could. If things went badly he may never have another chance, and somehow that prospect offended him more than death ever had.
He wanted to say something profound, but the words stuck in his chest, imprisoned by the swelling of his heart as he looked into the face of the woman he loved more than life itself.
A heartfelt “Love…” was all he could manage. Her fingers traced lightly along his jaw, feeling the several days’ worth of stubble that had grown since she’d last seen him. He’d never let it grow quite so long before and watched her intently, curious as to her reaction. A faint smile curled one corner of her mouth upwards and then she rose on her tiptoes, her mouth seeking his.
He wanted to be gentle, but as soon as her lips touched his the island slipped away. There was only her body pressed against his, her lips teasing his mouth, her fingers wrapped around the collar of his shirt pulling him towards her. He lifted her and guided her legs around his waist, a move made remarkably easier by the fact she was wearing leggings rather than a long skirt. Her legs gripped tight, the leather creaking as he pushed her back against the narrow wall.
“I have missed you more than you could possible know,” he professed as his mouth briefly left hers to plant fleeting kisses across her cheek.
“I think I may know a thing or two about pining for a lost love,” she replied and gave a soft gasp as his lips brushed a particularly sensitive spot. He pulled back just long enough to take in the sight of her. He wanted to apologize for having put her through that, for ever having left her in Boston in the first place, but it was neither the time nor the place. He would say all that needed to be said once they were safely aboard their ship. Still, they had time left for one more kiss.
He fixed her with a warm smile and she moved slowly, gently easing forward until her lips met his. This kiss lingered the way well-aged rum lingers on the palette and he actually groaned in protest when she pulled away. The salacious look in her eyes briefly knocked the wind out of him and he gently cleared his throat before trying to speak.
“Shall we…continue this aboard our ship?” he inquired with an inviting lift of his brow. She nodded eagerly and he let her down slowly until her feet were securely beneath her. Taking hold of her hand, he quickly checked to make certain the coast was clear, then ran with her as fast as their feet could carry them across the beach.
A handful of crew were waiting in the boat and they pushed off as soon as the two of them hopped inside.
“Are we ever glad to see you, Captain,” Mr. Smee announced with his cap in hand. Tears appeared to glisten in his eyes before he hastily wiped them away and loudly cleared his throat with a cough.
“I never thought I would say this, but the feeling is mutual,” Killian quipped, offering a genuine smile to his longest-standing crewman. Smee seemed to bristle with pride and looked positively pleased as he pulled on his hat and began barking orders to the crew. With Smee counting in time, they drew further and further from the danger of Port Royal’s shores with every stroke.
“We did it,” Emma declared, her voice soft with disbelief. “We actually did it.”
His arm went round her shoulders and she rested her head against his chest. He was delighted to be able to hold her again, unfettered, the way he’d longed to for days on end.
“That was a hell of a plan, Swan. Are you sure you aren’t a pirate?”
He felt her shoulders shake as she gave a silent chuckle, “Perhaps I found my true calling.”
He glanced back to find the island in smoking ruins. Fires had broken out in several buildings surrounding the square and no doubt the survivors were preoccupied with putting them out before the whole island burned to the ground. It was pure mayhem – just enough of a distraction to allow for a narrow escape. His fingers tightened their grip and he planted a secret kiss into her hair. She never ceased to amaze him.
The Jolly Roger’s cannons fired several more volleys at the city before finally falling silent. Hook watched with delight as the docks on the east side of the port exploded into matchsticks of wood.
“It’ll be some time before they’ll be able to follow us,” he announced, his smile widening as he finally allowed himself to exhale with relief. It felt surreal to be sitting there, listening to the lap of the ocean’s waves against the side of the boat with Emma in his arms. The open freedom of the sea awaited them just beyond and it was all theirs. He almost wondered if he had perished after all, and this vision was in fact the afterlife. He couldn’t complain. If this were his Heaven, he would relish in it quite happily for all eternity.
Emma’s head grew heavy against his chest, “I’m so thankful you’re safe.”
His fingers slid into her thick hair, rubbing ever so lightly against her head in a soothing gesture. When she didn’t respond with her usual shiver, a tingle of awareness crept slowly up his spine like a bubble of air floating to the surface from the ocean’s black depths. The hairs on the back of his neck prickled in warning and he pulled back to get a better look at her. Something was very, very wrong.
“Emma, love, wake up. We’re nearly there.” When that didn’t rouse her, he shook her a little and tried again. “What is it, love? Tell me, are you hurt?”
“Is she hurt?!” Curly shouted from the front of the boat, his voice barely audible over the wind and the waves.
He didn’t answer because he didn’t know how to. Was she hurt? He didn’t know. How could he not know?! He just barely kept his panic at bay as his hand lightly caressed her face, hoping she would open her eyes for him. When she didn’t stir he sucked in a deep, calming breath and began a methodical search for any injury.
He started with her head and buried his fingertips deep into her hair to check for lumps or open gashes. Finding none he moved his search lower to her neck, then shoulders. Both were fine. Then he saw it – the sheen of blood on his sleeve. Pulling her forward as best he could in the limited space of the boat, he searched for the source. Only then did he see it – a small gouge carved out of the back of her vest caused by some bit of shrapnel perhaps. His throat clenched so tight he could scarcely swallow. Moving quickly, he pulled the vest down her arms and tossed it to the floor of the boat. He was no surgeon, but a glance was enough for him to know her wound would need more than a splash of rum to fix. Bunching up the loose material of her shirt, he pressed it against the wound in a vain attempt to slow the bleeding.
“Hurry men, as fast as your arms can carry us!” he ordered, his expression faltering when he saw the distance they had yet to travel.
Mr. Smee’s eyes went wide at the sight of Emma’s form laid across his thighs and her bloodied shirt fisted in his hand. “We haven’t a surgeon aboard, Cap’n!” he informed him, panic underlying his tone.
“Bloody hell! That man will not succeed in taking her from me. There must be another option!”
“There is one,” Smee hazarded, “but I’m afraid neither of you will like it much.”
“I am presently considering all options, Mister Smee,” he replied tersely.
“Yes...yes, of course, Captain,” Smee bumbled, as he was prone to do when nervous. “I’ll explain just as soon as we’re aboard.”
Turning his attention back to the crew he urged them to redouble their efforts, but they needed little encouragement. Emma had almost single-handedly returned their captain to them in a feat so outlandish that pirates would be recounting it at every watering hole from Jamaica to the Dutch East Indies. In that moment, they would have moved heaven and earth for her if they could.
“Hurry men! We haven’t a moment to lose!” Smee called to them. “Put yer backs into it now! Heave! Ho! Heave! Ho! Heave…”
Author's Note: I hope you guys enjoyed this chapter! I've been so excited to finally share it with you after having it sit in my head for what felt like an eternity. If you're a fan of Black Sails then I'm sure you saw some inspiration from the show in this chapter (fantastic pirate drama if you haven't seen it!). My other inspirations came from the songs "Start a Riot" by Banners and "My Blood" by twenty one pilots. I don't normally do song recs but thought I would share since those two in particular were my go-tos when I was struggling through bouts of writer's block.
Readers, you have all been so supportive of this fic. It warms my heart every time I see your reviews and messages in my inbox. I can't wait for you guys to see how this story ends! On that note, I'll get cracking on the next chapter. Please stay tuned!
Until next time...