Chapter Three: Milady, Weep Not
Elizabeth couldn't catch her breath sufficiently to scream. She and the Countess had been separated despite her teary pleas... now the young girl hiccuped and gasped, light-headed and feeling quite faint, all alone in a large cabin at the back of the pirate ship.
Her reeling brain tried to make sense of it all, but then a merciful fog descended, making coherent thought difficult. It was all she could do to stay on her feet, ice-cold hands absently wringing her skirts, green eyes wide with terror and shock.
Footsteps in the hall... the sound made her head snap up. Whimpering with fear, she retreated until the backs of her thighs were pressed tightly against the wooden edge of a bunk. Suddenly realizing her closeness to a bed, she leaped away, scurrying behind the wooden desk that was bolted to the floor in front of a small window. Heart fluttering in her chest, she waited dry-mouthed for her fate.
She had read stories about pirates... and what they did to those females unfortunate enough to be captured by them. Although Elizabeth didn't understand everything she'd read, she knew enough to believe that whatever happened, it would be horrible, painful and torturous... and that she'd be "ruined." Exactly what that meant, she wasn't sure... and she fervently prayed that she wouldn't find out.
The tarnished brass doorknob turned...
Elizabeth gasped, eyes darting, seeking sanctuary, a place to hide...
And the door opened.
A young man entered the cabin, closing the door behind him.
Elizabeth couldn't breathe... complete and utter terror held her firmly in place.
The young man smiled, showing salt-white teeth. "Good afternoon, querida,'' he said in a smooth, soothing tenor. His accent was exotic, bearing traces of Ireland and Spain. "I hope the quarters are to your likin'."
Elizabeth sucked in a breath. Her voice shaking, she replied, "Who... who are you? What do you want? What have you done with the Countess?"
"So many questions!" The young man grinned wider, a dimple appearing on the left side of his mouth. "I will answer them all, I promise. But first... will you take a cup of wine with me?"
Elizabeth didn't know what to say. She could only watch as the pirate - the captain, she reminded herself - bustled around the cabin, fetching two pewter goblets and a decanter of wine from a locked cabinet. He turned, still smiling, and Elizabeth shrank back, pressing herself against the rail beneath the window.
His dark brows drew together in a slight frown. "Be at ease, querida. I ask you only to share some wine with me, nothin' else."
She shook her head. "What are you..." Her voice trailed off into a gasp as he placed the cups and decanter down on the desk with a flourish.
"Truly, I mean you no harm. Look at me." He spread his arms wide. "Do I seem the type to eat young virgins whole?"
Despite her fear, Elizabeth did as he bid, allowing her eyes to travel along the length of the pirate captain.
Knee-high boots with wide, overturned cuffs embroidered in a Greek key design; slender legs encased in tight-fitting trousers of black sateen; a slight waist made even smaller by a wrapped crimson sash; loose, blousey shirt open at the throat, revealing olive-toned skin burnished by the sun...
Her gaze flickered upward until her eyes met the pirate's; those pale blue orbs held a trace of amusement... and something else she couldn't identify. In some calm corner of her brain, Elizabeth found herself wondering how one so young and handsome could have come to lead a blood-thirsty pirate band.
"Now... sit down and drink, querida," he said, hooking a wooden stool with the toe of his boot and dragging it over to the desk. "You have my word... no one will harm you. You're perfectly safe."
Elizabeth reluctantly sat down in the chair behind the desk.
The young man sat down himself and poured the wine, pushing a goblet across the desk. "There now. Drink, querida, while I answer your questions."
Elizabeth took the goblet and wet her lips with the wine. She never took her eyes off the pirate captain; while the sheer terror she had felt was easing, she still didn't trust him and remained on her guard.
After a deep drink, followed by a delicate belch, the pirate said, "As to that blonde bitch of a mistress of yours, she's safe and sound, locked in one of the cargo holds and guarded by men I trust. She's a Countess, aye? You need have no fear on her score, querida. I'm intendin' to get a king's ransom for the shrew and no mistake. Her family won't give a clipped groat for damaged goods."
Elizabeth felt tears well up and spill down her cheeks. "Thank you," she said. "I'm sure the lady's family will pay you well."
"And what of yourself? Do you think they'll pay for you as well?" The young man leaned forward, resting an elbow on the desk.
Tears began to fall in earnest. "No,'' Elizabeth whispered softly. She stared down at her hands, feeling alone and utterly miserable... until she felt a light touch on her face. Startled, she looked up and met the captain's eyes. She was surprised by the sympathy she saw reflected there.
"What's your name?," the young man asked.
She swallowed past the huge lump in her throat. "Elizabeth, sir. Elizabeth Everheart."
"Well, Lizzybet," he said, cupping her tear-stained cheek with one hand. "You serve the Countess no more. You'll stay here with me... I give you my word that you'll come to no harm while I live."
Elizabeth looked deeply into the young man's eyes, then realizing that she may seem too bold, she dropped her gaze... and found herself staring straight down the gaping front of the pirate's shirt.
What she saw there made her gasp and tear herself away in shock.
"You're... you're a WOMAN!" Elizabeth tried to shrink back even further but her chair was bolted to the floor. "How...?"
"Graciela O'Malley," the pirate said. "Captain of the Sans Quartier; sometimes called the She-Wolf of the Caribbean. I thought you knew."
Privately, Graciela cursed herself. The maid was like a frightened bird; no sooner did she coax the shy virgin to her hand than she fluttered away again in fear. Still, patience was paramount in the art of seduction; perhaps this unexpected revelation would ease the path to her goal.
Elizabeth didn't know WHAT to think. "You're a captain? A pirate?"
Graciela chuckled. "Aye. For three years I've lead my crew; no doubt I'll be captain for some years yet, lest I take a cutlass through the back by a mutineer." She sat back down on her stool, putting some distance between herself and Elizabeth. "Easy, querida. I'm a woman, just as you are. Were you expectin' rape and rapine?"
"I don't know anymore." Elizabeth didn't know the exact mechanics of "rape" but from the whispered tales she'd heard in Court, she'd decided it was better to remain ignorant. She drew in a deep breath, unaware of how this action made her full breasts strain against the fabric of her dress. "What do you...?"
"What do I intend to do to you, you mean?" Graciela shrugged, pretending not to notice how the sight of the young woman's breasts - nearly exposed by the neckline of her gown - made her feel a sudden flush of warmth between her thighs.
She continued, "I'm not meanin' to kill you, Lizzybet. We'll be in Port Royale in a while." Graciela picked up her goblet and drained it, wiping her lips on the cuff of her shirt. "Until we get there, you'll stay in this cabin with me. I've only the one bed, but I'm thinkin' you've shared beds with other girls before, eh?"
Elizabeth nodded cautiously. When the Countess had visited other estates, she'd shared rooms and beds with other maids and female servants.
"Well then, that's settled." Graciela poured herself another cup of wine and nodded at Elizabeth's virtually untouched goblet. "Drink up, querida. We'll talk of your future later."
Elizabeth picked up her cup and took a sip... then she spilled the wine all over her dress when there was a loud knock at the door.
With a muttered curse, Graciela got up and crossed to the door, yanking it open. "What!!?," she snarled.
It was Miguel; the one-eyed first mate looked grave. "The lookout's sighted a ship, cap'n," he said. "Looks like British Navy."
"In pursuit?" Graciela wondered for a moment how they could have discovered the gutted merchantman so soon, then swiftly realized their presence here was a coincidence... but nevertheless, a deadly one. "Has the cargo been transferred?"
"Aye. I was goin' to order her cut away, but..." Miguel cocked his head so he could peer at Graciela with his good eye. "We can't outrun an armed Britisher, not with a bellyful of cargo."
"Mierda!," Graciela spat. She turned back to Elizabeth. "Stay here, querida. I mean it! Don't leave this cabin for any reason, understand?"
Elizabeth nodded, dabbing at her wine-drenched skirts with a handkerchief.
Graciela left the cabin, locking the door behind her.
"Coming up fast, cap'n!," he hollered back. "Just off the port bow!"
"Mierda!" Her eyes narrowed. "Even if we clap on every yard of sail we'll not outrun her."
The crew stood silently on the deck, every eye turned towards their captain. They were still lashed to the Grace although the merchantman's cargo had been stowed in the Quartier's cargo hold.
Graciela thought a moment. "It's a fight, then! All right, boys... load the swivel guns. Miguel, tell Doctor LeNez that I want every man on deck, ready to fight, wounded or not. Cut loose the Queen's Grace and prepare for battle. They'll not take us without a fight, I vow!"
Miguel began to call orders but stopped when Graciela grabbed his arm.
"Wait...,'' she said. Her pale eyes gleamed like chips of ice. "I've a better idea."
She quickly outlined her plan to the first mate, whose eye opened wide in surprise... then he nodded respectfully and said to the helmsman, "Turn about! Reverse your course!"
The startled pilot flinched, then obeyed as the crew stared up in astonishment at their suddenly grinning captain.
Graciela walked to the rail that surrounded the
quarterdeck and addressed her men. "Lads," she said, "Here's what we're goin' to