She felt betterthe moment she stepped outonto the deck. The roiling in her stomach diedan abrupt deathas she turned her face up to the sun and drew fresh sea air into her lungs.She had missed thislike astarving manmisses food.Fresh cleanbreezes, not the foul-smelling, polluted air in London. And the constant overwhelming racket thatwas the city: the rattle of wagons, the clip-clop of horses, the shouts of vendors selling their wares.
None of that assaulted herears.Here there was only theclang of the rigging, thesound of the waves hitting the hull, thewhisper of the breeze, and the flap of thesails. Dear Lord, how she had missedthis.Maybe she wouldn’t punishthe men too harshly for this action, after all.Maybe she could forgive them this. She already feltrejuvenated after only a fewmoments. And it was only atwo-day delay of her plans.
Aye, she decided, a peaceful smile curving her lips as she peered around at the crew, who all watched her with wary attention.She would… hang themall by their damn toes fromthe rigging! "What the hellis he doing here!"she roared, her gaze having found and frozen on Daniel.
In thesilence that followed hercry, Danielmerelysmiledat hercrookedly."Back-from-the-Dead Red, I presume? "
Valoree’s eyes widened onthe man calmlycrossingthedeck toward her, dressed in only a shirt and breeches, his haira bit mussed, and a charming smile on hisface. He wasas handsome andappealing as She had ever seen him. Her heart turned overin herchest.
"Bull, "she said calmly.
"Aye."The tall man was at her side at once.
"TakeLord Thurborneup to the crow’s nest andhanghim."
Danielgaped at her inthe brief silence that followed, hardly noticing how pale she had suddenlygone, or that herhands were clenched into tight fists, knowing only that she had just sentenced him to death.
"Yecan’t behanging him!" Henry cried in dismay.
"Aye!" One-Eye backed the quartermaster up. "We brought him here to marry ye!"
She silenced the men with a gesture, then turned, her expression as smooth and emotionless as stone. "I am stillthe captain of this ship, unless you menwant to vote me out of the positionright now. And, as captain, it is myjob tosee to your safety – even if you idiots are too damn stupid to tend to it yourself!"
"Now just a danged minute! We – "
"You brought one of theking’s spies aboard ship.Specifically, thevery onethe king assigned the taskof finding and bringingin Back-from-the-Dead Red andhis crew."
There was a suddensilenceatthat, uncertaintybeginning to show on every face.
"And, thatis about as farfrom intelligent as I wantto see you men get."
"Spy? "Henry said after a moment."Areye sure? "
"Aye. Beechamtoldmelastnight. Or the other day. Whatever damn day it was thatyou perpetrated this ridiculous folly. He was the king’s assessor inthe Caribbean. Hewasthe only onebesides the king who knew whatJeremy looked like, and his true identity.
He wassent to track usdown. Now" – she turned to Bull – "do as I say. And do it quick.Andmake sure hisneck breaks when you throwhim over;I don’t want him to suffer. Noneof this is his fault."
Noddingunhappily, the man grabbed for Daniel.
"Now just a damn minute, " Daniel snapped, dodging. "I was theking’s assessor, thatis true, butIam notto bringyouin, just question you."
He stopped talking and concentrated on struggling with Bull as the largerman tried to grab him. In the end, others had to step forward to help. Ittook eight men to entirely subdue him. They ended up having totie his hands behindhis back and his feet together so that Bull couldsling him over his shoulder and cart him toward the main mast.One-Eyeand Jackson followed.
"Never mind none. She won’t be hanging ye, " One-Eye whispered as they nearedthe mast."She’sjustletting offsome steam. The captain hasa bitof a temper."
Bull shrugged his shoulder, getting a better grip on Daniel before rumbling, "One-Eye’s right enough on that.She’ll let us get yeup there and all; then old Henrywill talk hersomesense. Then she’ll change hermind.Happens all the time."
"She often decides to have people killed? " Daniel asked incredulously as he bobbed on Bull’s shoulder, then lifted his head totry to avoid knocking it repeatedly against the man’swide back.
"Nay, " One-Eye admitted reluctantly. "As far as Ican recall, she’s never ordered it afore." When Daniel cursed at that, he added calmly, "But then that just proves what I’m saying. She’s notorderedanyonekilled ere now, so she’s not likely to startwith you. Shelikes you."
"You could have fooled me, " Daniel said, letting his head drop downagain wearily.The muscles in his neck were beginning to ache from holding hisheadatsuch an awkward angle.
"Idon’t know, One-Eye, "the other fellow trailing argued. "She looked pretty riled to me. ‘Sides, ye’re wrong, she has soordered someone killed. Twicenow."
"She did not, "One-Eyedenied.
"Aye, shedid.Lemmy and Jake. They was hung, then tossed overboard for shark bait."
One-Eye’s mouth tightened grimly. "Those were the rules, Jackson. We all know therules. Weweretold ’emere weever signed up. Yer to leave ‘prudent women’ alone if they’re unwilling, else yer donein. We all know that."
"Aye, " Jackson agreed with disgust, then turned to Daniel’s bouncing head to explain, "It’s a womanthing. She’sa woman, so she hands out harsh punishment againsta manwho messeswith women."
"It’s nota woman thing, " One-Eye snapped impatiently."That rule was made by herbrotherwhen he rantheship. He got it fromthe rules of CaptainJohn Philips.It’snot a womanthingat all. ‘Tain’tdecent to be forcing somethin’on a lady that she don’t want, and if ye’re having to be told that, ye’llmostlike be hanging from the crow’s nest someday, too. Ain’t you got a sister or nothing? "
"What of amother? Iknowye gotsone of them. Everyone has one of them.How would ye like to go to visit her one day and find some snaketrying to force hisself onher? "
Jackson shrugged."I’dbe asking what she was doing letting him in the house in the first place."
"Aye, he’ll be hanging from the crow’s nest someday, " Bull rumbledgrimly.
"And just likeshedid for Lemmy and Jake, she’llsimplysay, ‘You know what must be done, ‘ then leave andwait inher cabin, "
One-Eye predicted. He peered down at Daniel and explained.
"She’s got no stomachfor killing. It’s why I’m sure she ain’treally meaning to hang ye. She ain’t gone to her cabin. She’s still standing on the deck, letting Henry yammer at her. She’sjust sharpening her spleen some. Ye’ll see."
Daniel fervently hoped so astheman called Bull lugged him up the ropeladder toward the crow’s nestabove. Tied and trussed as hewas, fighting was nolonger an option. His lifewasfully inthe hands, and at the whim, of the woman standing on the deck belowwatching them. Daniel’s lifehad never beenin anybut his ownhands before. Not another human’s, anyway.Itwas a new experience – one he didn’t like very much.Not very much at all.
"Here we are, "One-Eye announced as Bull set Daniel down.
The man said itas cheerfully as if they had just arrivedatthe theater.
"Well, " Jacksonsaidas the three mennow glanced down atthe deck, "she’s not yelling at usto stop yet."
"Nope, "Bull agreedunhappily.
"Yep, "theothertwo men said.
"Lookspretty angry still, too. Shedon’t look quite ready to sparehim."
"I’m thinking she’s still wanting tohanghim."
"Seems so, " One-Eye said, his voice heavy with disappointment.
They wereall silent.
"Did you bringtherope? "
One-Eye frowned at that question from Bull and shook his head."Seemed a waste of time.Expectedhertocall a haltthe moment we got up here."
"I’dbest go down and fetch some, huh? " Jackson suggested.
"Aye. Mayhap the delay’ll giveher achance to remember she’s notbloodthirsty."
Nodding, the man started down the rope, and One-Eye and Bull turned their attention back to their captain.
"I don’t know, " Bull rumbled with a shake of his head."She’s lookingpretty mean."
"Alwaysdidhavea temper, " One-Eye muttered.
"And she sure is riled this morning. His calling her Back-from-the-Dead Red probably didn’t help."
"Yep." They turned to glare at Daniel briefly for being foolish enoughto do so;then Bullnudged One-Eyeand nearly sent him tumbling out of the crow’s nest. "And youthoughtthey would be perfect for each other."
"You agreed, " the fellow said mildly, steadying himself.
"Aye, Idid. Guess wewere wrong, " hesaidsadly. "Here comes Jackson back with the rope."
"What’s Henry doing downthere? " One-Eye asked as Jackson mounted the lastof the ladderand handed up the rope.
"Babbling his head off, tryin’ to convince herto spare him, "
Jackson announced. Bullbegan toattach the rope to the rail.
"What’s shesaying tohis babble? "
"That his knowledge could put us all at risk, something we should havethought of ere bringing him here. That herjob is to lead usand keep ussafe, andit isa job she has to see to."
"Hmm. That’s true enough, " One-Eye agreedwitha sad sigh."I seeRichard and Peteyareon deck now."
"Hmm.They’re trying toassure her that Dannyhere won’t talk noneiftheyjustareallowed to chat with him."
"She buying that? "
"Notfor a bowlof beans."
They all sighed, then Bull finished tyingthe rope and sighed.
"She’ll regret itlater, " One-Eye assured Danielquietlyas he slid the nooseover his neck.
"Most likely she don’t even like it now, " Bull commented, scooping himup and carryinghim to the edge."She can’t stomach killing."
Daniel could feel the large man’s arms tense as he prepared to heave himoff the rail. Silently hebegan topray.
"You cannot, yousimply cannot, dothis!" Henry cried with dismay, watching Bull fit the noose around Thurborne’s neck.
"He isa lord, a – "
"He is a threat to each and every one of you now that he knows whoyou are. If wereturnhim to London, he willhead right to the king to turn us all in."
"Not if you marry him. If you marry him, he’d become master of this ship.The welfare of allthesemenwould behis.Look, this isn’t hisfault.At leastgive himthe chance. Marry him, bedhim a couple times.Get with child; then, if hedoesn’t come around and look likehe’ll keep the secret, wecanmake ye a widow. But you’ll have fulfilled therequirements of yourfather’s will. Then we canstill claim theland." Henry watched her jaw tighten, her expression tellinghimthat she was atleastconsidering theidea.
He had torestrainhimself fromtelling her to think a bit quicker as he glanced warily up at the crow’s nest. Bull was lifting Thurborne into the air in preparation to toss him over. If she thought too long, it would be too late, but he already knew pesteringher wouldn’t work. She did whatshe wanted, inher own time, too.She always had.
"Halt, " she called suddenly tothe men above. Henry tried not tosag with relief as she began to pace beforehim. It was obvious she hadn’t made up her mind, but he wouldn’t pester her. It wouldn’t helpif he did.All he coulddo was wait until she had thought it out.
When she suddenlystopped to whirl and face him, Henry felt himself stiffening to attention anxiously. "Very well, Henry. I’ll marry the bastard to saveyour hide and his. But if he doesn’t showsigns of coming aroundright quick, you willbe making me awidow.You personally."
He nodded solemnly, hiding hisrelief asshe continued. "And I won’t beeither forgetting or forgiving this action, you sneakyold tar."
"What did she say? " Bull asked, glancing down at the deck wherethecaptainappeared to bechewing Henryout.
"Sounded like ‘Halt’ to me, " One-Eye muttered, peering hopefullydown.
"Nay, it was’Toss.’"Jackson joined them at the railing.
"Aye, asin’Toss ‘im.’ Tosshim over."
"She wouldn’t say ‘Toss, ‘ " One-Eye snapped impatiently.
"She’dsay, ‘Get on with it, ‘ or ‘Throw him over, ‘ or maybeeven ‘Toss him over, ‘ but she wouldn’t just say ‘Toss.’ "
"Well, I think she said ‘Toss, ‘ " Jackson said a bit peevishly.
"I’m pretty sureit was’Halt, ‘" One-Eye argued. Bullagreed.
"Sounded like ‘Halt’ to me."
"Me, too, " Danielsupplied.
"See, that’sthree toone."
"Well, he would say that, wouldn’t he? " Jackson asked with disgust.
They stoppedarguing at that second shout, and Bull leaned a littlefarther overtheside, dangling Daniel a littlefarther over too, ashe peeredattheman who had called – Henry.
Relaxing, Bullstepped back from therail andset Danielon his feet.
"There, ye see? " One-Eye commented with obvious relief, stepping forward to remove the noose from his neck. "I told ye she wouldn’t see ye dead. ‘Tweren’t yerfault ye’re here."
Danielmerely stared at him numbly. He wasrather numb all over, actually. He couldn’t seem to feel athing: not hislegs, not hisarms, not even anger.He was just numb.
Other than removingthe noosefrom around his neck, theydid not bother to untie himfurther. Bull simplyslunghim over his shoulder, then swung out onto therope ladder, carting him down just as he had carted him up. Despite the awkward position, Daniel was rathergrateful.Hedid not knowthat he couldhave managed the climb down – whatwith not beingable to feel his legs and all.
Valoree watchedgrimly untilthemen werehalfwayback down the ladder, then glared at Henry and turnedto stalk back into her cabin.Themen hadcertainlygottenher intoa fix this time. She hadtruly thought shewould have to see the man dead. She hadn’t wantedto, and hadfelta shreddingsensation in her chestasthe man was led up the ladder to thecrow’snest.That shredding had intensified a hundred-fold as she had seen them placethe noose aroundhis neck, but She had trulyseen no alternative. Herbrother had leftthese men inher care. The knowledge Daniel now held, thanks to their foolish interference, had made him a terrible threat tothem all.It washer job tosee he neverbetrayedthem.