"But why didyouwant meto believeall those horrible things about John? " Meg askedinconfusion, and Blanche turnedon her in fury.
"Because you would not die, damn you! Time after time Addams triedto kill you, and timeafter time you seemed to sail through the attempts. Andnow heis dead."
"Hewas quite inept, " Valoree told her dryly."I presume it was hewho knocked me out in the kitchens? "
"Aye.Heheard mysister say she would gosee if the tea was comingand he crept off to the kitchen, but it was you who entered."
"Hmmm." Valoreenodded. "Youshould have gone down to the docks andhired someone from there to doyour dirty work.
No one down there would havemuffedthe job.I do not suppose you would care to share the name of the fellow whoknocked Megand I overtheheadtonight? "
"Why on earthwould I do that? "she asked irritably.
Valoree shrugged. "We might go easieron you whenwe decide how to deal with you."
"Dealwith me? " LadyBeecham peered atherwith asort of amused horror. "Who are you? Do you not see that I have a pistol? Do youwantto be shot? "
Valoree grimaced at that, wishing she had remembered her blade.She was truly going soft, else she would havewornit. But it wasso difficult to carry about now thatshe nolonger wore boots. A movement drew her gaze past John Beecham to see Danielwalking grimlyup the hall, Henry, One-Eye, Pete, and Bull at his heels. "Oh, hello, husband, " she greeted him cheerfully.
Lady Beecham swiveled her head in horror, and Meg’s son promptlytook the opportunity tosnatchthegun from her hand.
"Very good, "Valoree murmured, impressedwith the man’s fast thinking andagile motion. Perhaps Henry wasright: witha little seasoning, Beechamjustmightmeasure upto Daniel someday.
"Thank you, " Beecham murmured, flushing slightly at the praise, then turned thegun on the woman who had stolen him from histruemother.She started tosidle toward the door. "What do we do with her? "
They were allsilent for a moment; then Valoree suggested, "Well, that depends. Who hascontrol of theBeechammoney? "
"I do, "Johnadmitted, obviously perplexedasto the relevance of that.
"Good.I suggestyou hire someone to take herto PortRoyale.
Set her up in a teeny little cottage there, andgive her asmall stipend, just adequateto seeher fedand able to buy a new dress once ayear."
"Nay!" Lady Beecham turned to John in outrage, obviously horrifiedby the idea. "Nay.Son, you could not be so cruel."
"Actually, I think I could, " John murmured, seemingto likethe idea."Afterall, itis no more than the life yousentencedmy real mother to, is it? "
Grimacing atDaniel’s irate growl, she raised her eyebrowsat John."Itake it youbroughtthesemen along? "
He nodded apologetically."As soon as I said that Addams was my mother’s servant, theywere determined to come have a talk with her."
"Valoree? Whatareyou doing here? " Daniel asked, slipping past John to move to her side, concernnow mingling with her anger."How did youget here? "
"Visiting? " she suggested, laughing as John dragged Lady Beecham from the room. Meg followed her son. Valoree’s crewmen hesitated, then followed as well, leaving Valoree to peek at Daniel’s black expression andsigh. "I decided towalk over to thetown house after you left, but when I gotthere, Meg was slipping out. So I followed herhere."
"You walked? " He stared at her in horror. "At night? By yourself? Valoree, you should notbe taking suchrisks in your condition."
"Iam with child, Daniel. Not ill."
"You know? "
"I know what? ThatIam with child? Well, of course I know.
What sortof idiot do you take me for? "
"Well, when did youplan totellme? " heasked shortly.
"When didyouplan totell me thatSkullyhad broken his arm fighting offthisAddams fellow? " she snapped rightback.
They wereboth silent fora moment, glaring ateachother;then Daniel slid one hand wearily over his face. "Valoree, we have to – "
"Another deal for you to break? " sheasked.
He gave her a hurt look."Nay. I willnot break it. But inreturn we have to work together. You have to share with me.
Everything. Can youdo that? "
She stared at himsilently, knowing what he meant She had keptthe news of the baby to herself, andshewas trying tokeep hercrew to herself, too. And by doing so, she had shut himout of those portions of her life. It was as if she thought that by compartmentalizing everything, she could hold on toit all.
"Iwill try, " shesaidfinally.
"Thatis all I ask, " he assured her, pulling herintohis arms and holdingher closeto his heart.
Valoree stepped out ondeck and stretched in delight, herhead tipping up tothe sun and her eyes closing asshe breathed deeply of the fresh seaair.
"Good morning, Captain." Strong, warm arms closed around herfrom behind, and a chest pressed against her back. Large hands flattenedthemselvesagainst her well-rounded stomach.
Smiling at thatdeepvoice in her ear, Valoree lowered her head, herhands moving torest onDaniel’s armsas she leanedintohim.
"Goodmorning, Captain, "she whispered back.She gave asigh – the deeply satisfiedsigh ofa woman whose life was asgood as it could be. Theselast months hadseen everything straightened out.
A visitwith a doctorto verify herpregnancy had been enough to see both Daniel’s grandmother’s money, and Ainsley estate, releasedto them. That hadonlyleft the meetingwiththeking.
Much to Valoree’s pleasure, Daniel had taken her alongwith him for the royal audience.Too, it had gone much more smoothly thanshe had hoped. Daniel had explained the matterofJeremy’s death and Valoree’s continuation inhis stead. She herself had explained the reasons she had not yet delivered the king his portion.
The king had been very understanding. Valoree suspected it was due to themeticulous accounting theyhad presented tohim, and the scrupulous care that they had taken in ensuring his portion was set aside. And the fact that it was easily – and immediately – deliverable surely helped their case as well.
"You, slept well, I hope? " Little butterfly kisses along her throat drewValoree from her thoughts.She laughed huskily.
"Like a babe rocked tosleep in its mother’s arms."Turningin hisembrace, sheleaned her stomachinto him andpulled hishead down fora sweet kiss.
"Mmmmm, " he murmured; then his gaze slid past her. He smiled wryly.
"What is it? " she asked, glancingaround.
"The men, "he said, but needn’t have bothered. She could see that everysingle man on deck was watchingthemwith big, silly, self-satisfied grinson their faces. No doubt everysingle one of them was congratulating himself for his part in her present happiness.And she supposed theyhadallplayed a part. Forif they hadnot voted that she marry, then kidnapped the husband of theirchoice, she wouldn’tnowbe married to the man standing before her. So… letthem gloat abit, she decided, then watched as Daniel placed hishandsonher belly.He hadn’tbeen pleasedat the idea of this trip.He had refused to come until the spring, claiming that therewas little the men could do in the way of building theircottages, repairing Ainsley, and planting their crops untilthenanyway.
Valoree suspected he had also hopedthat thebaby wouldshow itselfearly and that any worry wouldbe outof theway. The men had therefore been stuck traveling between the ship and ThurborneCastle, taking their turns at eachplace, and suffering horrible boredom through the winter. Come the first sign of spring, Valoreehad announced determinedly that theyhad to get the men to Ainsley.Daniel had agreed, though not happily, and they had prepared the boat to journey around England to the other side. It was the longway there, for certain, but the men had wanteditthatway. Notthreeof them knew how toride ahorse, and travelingwagons had madethem all flinch atthe thought, so here they were, heading for Ainsleyand the lives they hadalways wanted.
Daniel had claimed that the pirates would get tired of the pastoral lifein notime. He felt surethey wouldbe clamoring for their old life ere summer. Valoree half suspected he was right, but the only solution they had come up with wasto keep the ship.
Should such an eventhappen and they wished to return to sea, theThurbornes could arrange for legitimateshippingexpeditions that the men couldperform.
"You realizethatour child is going to bethe mostspoiledbrat in allof England, " Danielmurmured, rubbing one hand gently overValoree’s belly.
Valoreelaughed. "And howdo you come to that conclusion, husband? "
"Well, just look at these sea dogs. Every single oneof them cannot wait for him to be born, andeverysingle one of them thinks heshould be the godfather."
"And every single one of them shallbe hergodfather, " Valoree said. At his astonished look, she chuckled. "Think on it. That way, shouldanything happen to leave herwithout us, she will have the besthelp agirl couldask for."
Daniel shookhis head and pulled her into his embrace."That willneverhappen."
"It happened to me, " shemurmured solemnly intohis chest.
His arms tightened around her as if to protect her from the memoryof her loss.
"Captain!" Theybroke apartatonceatRichard’s shout, both of them turning toward where the otherman hung over the crow’s nest waving downat them.Both of them calledout at the same time, "What is it? "
"A ship! Westward ho!"
Both of them moved to the rail, squinting in the direction Richard waspointing. Indeed, there was a ship, and it was sailing towardthem at a fast clip. Valoree’s hands clenched, a frown curving herlip. She had a strange feeling. … Whirling awayfrom therail, she shielded her eyes and peered up at her second mate.
Richardraised the glass to his eyes and toward theoncoming vessel. Valoree knewwhen he finally lowered the tube that it wasn’t good news. "She’s flyinga black flag, Captain."
There was a moment of completesilence asthe crew absorbed his words.Theyhad never been on the receiving endofa pirate attackbefore. Butfor thistrip, they were flying England’s colors, and thehold was stocked full of furniture, provisions, tools, and seeds. They were carrying everything they had thought they mightneed to turn Ainsley back into the homeit hadonce been.
Ridinglow in the water from all the weight, theyno doubt looked aprime catch.
"What do wedo, Captain? " Daniel asked solemnly as the men began to drawnearer. Valoreepeeredat him insurprise. Despite his claimthatthey would make their decisions andrule together, and despitehis discussingmost, if not all, things with herbefore announcingthedecisions they came to, She had truly thought that atthe first opportunity, he would take charge andrelegateher to a subordinate position Instead, he appearedtobeputtingherin charge and stepping down. Seeing her amazement, he gave a half-smileand shookhis head.
"There is no time for our usual discussion here. A decision has tobe made andmade quickly. Andyou arethe more experienced oneinthissituation, Valoree Whenwe encounter acrisiswhere I am, I will take charge, but right nowit is you." Hiswords were almostgentle. "What do we do? Try tooutrun them? "
Pushing her thoughts away for later consideration Valoree concentratedonthe problem at hand."We’re too heavywith all the goods for Ainsley in the hold.We’dneverescape."
There were grunts and nods ofagreement fromthe men, and Daniel seemedtoagree. Helooked annoyed though. "Then we surrender? "
"The hellwe do!"Valoree gave him astare as thoughhe were mad, an expression the others bestowed on him as well.
"Well, those are our only two options. Outrun them or surrender. What else – "
"We fight, " Valoree announced. The men immediately cheered at the announcement.Daniel wasa little less pleased.
"Fight? This ship is full ofgoods, not weapons, and thereare women and children aboard, "heremindedher grimly, his gaze dropping to herbelly. Valoreewaved him tosilence.
"We will notfight outright, " she said patiently. "Though if I were theonly woman aboardwe might. However, I amnotthe only woman aboard, " she continuedquickly when hebegan to look quite angry again."But we are not weaponless." Turning away from him, shesought Henry with hereyes, andhe quickly moved through the men to her side. "Break open the crates below. Every mangetstwo flintlocks and acutlass. And setsome mento carting thecannonsup here."Henry started offwith all haste, the others following.
"Valoree, I love you. And I know you are the more experienced at this, " Daniel said unhappily. "But your experience is with attacking, not defending. I really think we should just surrenderand hope forthebest. Our chances – "
"Are quitegood, actually, " Valoree interrupted with a grin, her eyessparkling as she peeredaround the deck, quickly making plans in her head. "They think we are simplya merchant ship.
Weare riding low.They’llexpect usto have acoupledozen men at most. We have seventy-seven."
"Seventy-six, " he corrected, glaring meaningfully at her stomach. "Andtwelve females."
"Seventy-six men, andthirteen women, " she laughed, rubbing her stomachmeaningfully. Sheheadedtoward the helm, eager to talk to Bull.
Daniel caught herarm andswung heraround to face him. "This isserious, Valoree. Ido not want you or the other women in jeopardy."
Sighing, she touched his cheek gently, her smile turningsad.
"We already are, husband, and nothing you can do can stop that."
"But if we surrender – "
"They will kill us. Or worse, " she added quietly. "Have you forgotten what piratesdidto my brother and his men? "
"You do notknow that these men are the sametype."
"Andyou do not knowthat they are not. I wouldrather not take the chance. Notwithmylife, notwithyour life, and notwith littleJermina’s life, " she added, patting herbelly.
"Jermina? " Danielcried.
Valoree let outa sad littlebreath. "Nay, hmmm? I did not think so, and trulyI donot muchcare for the name either, but I thought it would be nice to name her after my brother, " she murmured wistfully. She sighed again, then gave asmall shrugand turned to continueon toward Bull. Danielwas right at her heels.