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July 10, 1704
One hundred miles east of Barbados, the Windward Islands stretch around the eastern end of the Caribbean Sea like stepping-stones to South America. A mere speck among them, the isle of Los Gatos basks in the golden sun, a small tropical paradise cooled by constant tradewinds from the northeast. High and craggy cliffs pounded by the windward surf protect the Atlantic shores, but on the leeward side of the island, calm inlets cut into deep natural harbors. It was in one of these quiet coves, where turquoise waves lapped at the fine black volcanic sand, that the Anna rode at anchor, her tall masts empty of sail, her well-worn decks scrubbed and shining. Verdant hills climbed like green-backed giants behind the sloop's anchorage; high on a windswept promontory overlooking a vast sea vista of dazzling pale green and aquamarine waters, a slender girl stood bathed in the delicate pink rays of early sunrise.
She was very small, and from a distance looked like a young lad in the unlikely garb she wore. A loose linen shirt was cinched about her tiny waist with a wide black belt, while snug black breeches clothed her slim hips. As she braced one foot upon a flat rock, the brilliant red wink of a ruby gave away the presence of a bejeweled dagger sheathed in her black leather boot. One small sun-browned hand rested on the hilt of her elegantly crafted rapier of fine Cordovan steel where it hung from a wide red satin sash. In her other hand, she held a long silver-plated spyglass.
Squinting one eye, she raised the glass to observe the treacherous barrier reef that ringed the island. A great treasure galleon had cometo rest on the submerged coral like a gigantic sea turtle upended on a beach, rocking to starboard as incoming waves battered its hull. The girl moved her glass slowly, examining the listing decks. The main mast was down, splintered and resting across the forecastle, while smoke still wisped in desultory columns from the main hold. Amid fire-blackened debris and downed riggings were sprawled the dead -- their white-and-gold Spanish uniforms battle-stained with blood and grime.
Caitlin Alexander's soft lips curved in a satisfied smile as she lowered the spyglass, absently pushing her hair over one shoulder, the long silky tresses shimmering like red gold fire as they settled over her back in thick tangled ringlets. Her amber-gold eyes gleamed with excited anticipation.
How lucky to have drawn the dawn watch this day! When she had come to the lookout post, she never expected to find so coveted a prize! A soft laugh escaped her. How wonderful it looked -- that Spanish flag, tattered and torn. It was only too bad that the Anna had not been the one to wreak such havoc on the Spanish dogs! A British man-of-war had no doubt earned the victory. Since Queen Anne had waged war on the Bourbons of France over the succession to the throne of Spain, many a Spanish galleon and French corsair had gone to the bottom at the hands of Her Majesty's navy. And it pleased Caitlin that many more had been defeated by the guns of her own beloved Anna. Caitlin's father, James Alexander, had named his ship for Anne when he had sailed as a privateer for her father, long before Caitlin was born. But her father was dead now, executed as a pirate six years ago by Pedro de Enriquez, the Spanish governor of Santiago de Cuba.
Caitlin's eyes darkened with anger. She sailed the Anna now, commanding the sloop with her half brother, Christian. They had avenged their father's murder many times over by capturing countless Spanish galleons and relieving them of their cargoes of treasure. Indeed, so many lay on the bottom at the hands of the Anna that they were now branded as pirates. But they were not pirates! Nor were they like the murderous buccaneers of Tortuga who preyed on helpless unarmed vessels like common thieves!
The Anna was run with the same discipline as Her Majesty's navy, with a crew of good and loyal Scots and Englishmen. Most of them had first served Caitlin's father, and the Anna gave quarter to all who asked, setting prisoners ashore where they would be found by other ships. They were hardly the bloodthirsty renegades that the Spanish Crown proclaimed, but since the Treaty of Madrid, all nations had outlawed piracy, and even Queen Anne had disavowed the actions of the Anna. Spain and France had gone further, and Caitlin could now boast a bounty of fifty-thousand pieces of gold upon her head, and an equal amount for the capture of her brother. Together they had taken thrice as much as that in Spanish gold and jewels and silver.
Caitlin smiled again. But this time, their prey had come to them. She turned and walked behind two heavy cannons, camouflaged by vines and thick palmetto leaves. Her crew had sweated and labored for several days to drag them into place nearly a year ago. The guns were a necessary precaution since they often chose Los Gatos for careenage or as a place of rest between voyages.
Ten feet behind the guns, a royal palm towered fifty feet above the clearing, and Caitlin stepped close to its massive trunk where a large cast-iron bell had been bolted to sound alarms. She gave a sharp jerk to the rope, sending a vibrating clang echoing down the cliffs to the sea and into the thick jungle vegetation behind her. She knew most of the men still slept with their women in the caves near the spring; barely waiting for the first ringing to subside, she pulled the cord several more times. Stepping away from the bell, she looked back out to sea, where the sun had risen to glitter upon the pale blue water like splinters of diamonds. She scanned the decks of the crippled galleon once more, nodding in satisfaction when she found the Spaniards still frozen in their death poses.
"Cait? What is it?"
Caitlin turned at the sound of her brother's voice, watching as he ran up the sandy path toward her, pulling on his shirt as he came. Christian was twenty, two years her senior, tall and lean with curly black hair secured in a bagwig. His face was handsome, and his boyish smile coupled with a devil-may-care attitude made him irresistible to ladies young and old. The gold earring he wore in his left ear added a hint of danger and mystery that only enhanced his appeal to the fairer sex, and he was rarely without a pretty woman in his arms. Caitlin knew full well that it was likely he had just left his woman of the moment in his bed.
Caitlin grinned up at him as he stopped beside her, his sunburned forehead deeply furrowed with worry. "It seems the Spanish devils have paid us an early morning call."
Christian froze, his dark eyes darting out to sea. "God's teeth, an attack? How many?"
Caitlin laughed. "Only one -- there, on the outer reef."
She watched his black eyes focus on the faraway ship as she handed him the spyglass. Several more of their men had come up behind them now, and others still climbed the steep path to the summit, all sleepy-eyed and in various stages of undress.
"From the sea battle we heard yesterday, I'd wager," Christian murmured, taking Caitlin's glass and holding the long instrument steady with one thumb as he peered at the galleon.
"Aye, 'twould be my guess as well."
"Her longboats are gone and the dead litter the decks like butchered hogs. They must have abandoned her, but the sea washed her in before she could sink."
He lowered the glass and gave her his disarming grin. "What say you, Cait?"
"I say the cowardly dogs had no time to unload the holds before they fled her decks. She's ours for the taking with all she carries."
"Fetch the longboat, mates!" Christian bellowed to those still gathering around. "Our English friends have sent us a present from the King of Spain!"
A cheer arose, and Christian laughed aloud with his usual good cheer before grabbing Caitlin around the waist and swinging her around.
"Come, little sister, you have been plaguing me for days to go back to sea! Perhaps we'll find you a crown of pearls on yonder galleon!"
Twenty minutes later, Caitlin stood on the beach that faced the shipwrecked galleon, her boots planted apart on the black sand. Roger Swain stood at her side, his huge hamlike hands on his hips as a team of shirtless tars dragged a heavy boat toward the shallows.
"Aye, lass, we have need to hurry or the tide'll take 'er soon with whatever bounty she holds," he said, then raised his head and shouted gruff orders to those laboring with the longboat.
"Move it along, me friends, and ye'll divvy up what treasures there be -- to each of ye a fistful o' diamonds for yer trouble!"
Caitlin smiled, glancing up at the giant beside her. If Roger Swain's rough and menacing expression and powerfully muscled body weren't enough to intimidate any opponent who faced him with a cutlass, his iron-gray hair and unkempt black beard straggling to the middle of his massive chest would certainly strike terror in the most fearless buccaneer. He was a staunch Scot from Edinburgh, who had served loyally as second in command to James Alexander, and now served the Alexander children in the same capacity. Several years past fifty, he was as robust and healthy as he'd ever been, and Caitlin and Christian trusted him implicitly, often bowing to his experience when at sea.
" 'Twill be an easy prey this time; I'll wager a silver ingot on that, lass. The English have done our work for us."
"And high time it is," Caitlin replied with sparkling eyes. " 'Tis our leavings they usually find adrift."
Roger guffawed with hearty good humor, until a call from Christian arrested his attention.
"Cait! Make it quick if you've a mind to board her!"
Caitlin needed no further prodding, and she bid Roger a quick goodbye, then ran down the beach, her boots scattering chunks of dark sand until she reached the water and sloshed into the shallows where several men held the boat. Holding her sword in place, she swung one leg over the gunwale and settled on the seat as Christian jumped aboard with agile ease, yelling orders to the rowers.
Caitlin was half surprised that he'd let her come on the first boat. He and Roger had a tendency to be overprotective when it came to her, though both knew that she was perfectly able to take care of herself. She kept her eyes trained on the battle-scarred galleon on the reefs, wondering what they'd find aboard her as the oarsmen leaned their backs into their task. All were armed to the teeth with cutlass and pistol, and they strained against their oars as the craft wallowed over cresting waves like a clumsy sow over a rail.
Caitlin's excitement grew as the longboat bumped against the towering forecastle hull of the galleon. She knew the English would have burned the vessel and sent her to the bottom after relieving her of her prisoners and gold, so she had probably limped away to be abandoned by the crew members left unscathed by the battle. Perhaps they would find yet another fortune in gold to send to Queen Anne to soften her growing displeasure with them!
Caitlin was the first one over the side, despite Christian's call for her to stand back, and she grasped the ropes and climbed the wooden rungs with the agility she'd attained from years of practice. She paused at the gangport, the acrid smell of burning oil and gunpowder stinging her nostrils. She stepped down to the main deck, suddenly wary, as she peered through the thin haze of smoke partially shrouding the decks. There were twenty or so dead, most lying near her on the main deck among the tangled lines and sails, and as the others joined her from the long-boat, Caitlin took a tentative step forward.
"Hold it, Cait," Christian said softly from behind her, and at his quiet order, Caitlin's initial uneasiness grew into a strong premonition of danger. Something was wrong, something she couldn't quite put her finger on, and she slowly drew her rapier as she nudged a dead Spaniard with the toe of her boot. It was then that she realized what was amiss, and her heart dropped like a lead weight. Despite the blood and presence of corpses, there was no stench of death! It was a trap!
She whirled to yell a warning to Christian, but a blood-chilling yell came from close behind her. The next thing she knew she was being pulled back against a hard chest, and the cold muzzle of a pistol was pressed against her right temple. She tried to move but found herself held immobile in the flexed crook of a powerful arm as dead Spaniards came to life all around her. Caitlin watched in horror as swords scraped from scabbards, and the clash of steel against naked steel rang in the quiet morning. Before the fight could begin in earnest, the deep-timbred voice of the man holding her shouted above her head.
"Drop your swords or the girl dies!"
Nearby, Christian hesitated, his sword still poised for a thrust, his eyes riveted to the gun held to his sister's head, while Caitlin struggled desperately to free herself. Not willing to risk Caitlin's life, he slowly lowered his weapon; as it dropped to the wooden planks, his men reluctantly followed his lead. Once unarmed, they were quickly subdued by their am-bushers.
Caitlin jerked with all her strength against the viselike grip, but her captor was much too strong, and it was not until the last of her men had been bound that she was released. She whirled at once, catching only a glimpse of a big man dressed entirely in black, before she sent the razor-sharp point of her rapier streaking toward his hand. Her attack drew blood, and the pistol fell from his numbed fingers, but Caitlin did not hesitate as she sent her blade back toward his heart.
The man lunged sideways with lightning-quick reflexes that Caitlin had not expected in a man so large, and she cursed as strong fingers closed over her arm, jerking her forward with such force that she had to drop her sword in order to break her fall. She cried out as her knees cracked against the planks and slivers of wood drove painfully into her palms. Her sword rolled away down the canted deck, and she gave up on it, knowing that her only chance was to escape over the port rail. She was on her feet before anyone could stop her and was almost to the side when she was grabbed by the back of her shirt. She was jerked around by a tall blond-haired Spaniard in a blood-spattered uniform, and Caitlin did not hesitate to bring one of her knees up into his groin with all the power she could muster. He grunted with agony as he crumpled to the deck, and Caitlin leapt nimbly to the rail. As she dove, she could hear harsh orders being shouted by the man in black; then she hit the water, pulling herself underwater with long, frantic strokes. She broke the surface a good distance away from the galleon's hull, gasping for breath as she looked back. Two Spaniards were already in the water after her, and she turned and struck out for the beach. She had to reach Roger and the others so they could rescue Christian!
A wave crested over her head as she swam, breaking her stroke, and she coughed and choked as salt water entered her nose and mouth. Before she could regain her breath and momentum, her two pursuers caught her.
"You filthy, rotten dogs!" she screamed as rough hands closed over her shoulders. She tried her best to reach the dagger in her boot, but had no time because the other man grabbed her. She managed to lay her fist in a hard blow against one man's jaw, then kicked desperately at his groin. The water impeded her movements, too much for her to do them much harm, but she clawed at a forearm that encircled her throat. The other man captured her kicking feet, and they held her tightly between them as they towed her back to the galleon.
Two single-masted pinnaces were now being lowered to bob at the side of the galleon, and Caitlin was pulled to the nearest one and hoisted into the hands of two men waiting to receive her. She was jerked down into a seat, her hands bound behind her back. Her heart thundered from exertion, and her fear grew as she watched Christian being lowered into the other pinnace. The man who'd held Caitlin during the ambush climbed down into the boat after Christian, and Caitlin's eyes darted back to the galleon. The rest of their crew had been left there, bound to the downed mast. They were not taking any other prisoners? But why?
The big man in black yelled an order, and Caitlin twisted around as the sails were hoisted on the pin-naces. She could see Roger and several other men on the beach pushing a second boat into the surf. They'd free those left aboard the galleon, then they'd bring the Anna in pursuit, Caitlin thought, as she looked back to the other pinnace where Christian sat with his back to her. She shifted her gaze to the man in black. Who was he? What did he want?
She closed her eyes and took a deep breath to calm her racing heart as the wind caught the sails with a snap of canvas, and the boat surged forward to skim over the water. Moments later, they were rounding the eastern point of the inlet to head out to open sea. Caitlin looked at the men around her, their faces hidden beneath dried blood and dirt, their uniforms ragged and filthy. They had to be after the rewards offered for Christian and her, but the man in black had used Queen's English when he'd shouted his orders. Even worse, she'd detected a subtle Scottish burr in his speech! Why would Englishmen want them? They'd never attacked an English ship! There was no explanation except that their captors were the worse sort of English pirates, those who would betray fellow Englishmen for Spanish gold!
Behind her back, she pulled against the cords binding her wrists together, but to no avail, as the two pinnaces sailed on, a brisk easterly at their stern. After a time, the dark-blue outline of a small island loomed on the horizon, and as they drew closer, Cait-lin stared in shock at the huge three-masted frigate that was anchored in a sheltered bay, the red-and-white cross of St. George fluttering proudly from the stern flagstaff. Confusion reigned in Caitlin's mind for the length of time it took the pinnaces to glide in beneath the shadow at one side of the tall frigate where huge black letters spelled out "GLORY" across the stern. It was no pirate ship they now boarded, but a commissioned English man-of-war!
Caitlin watched in silence as the big man climbed up the ladder to be saluted smartly by the men waiting on the deck. Christian was hauled up behind him, and Caitlin gritted her teeth as her brother was jerked away between two guards while others came for her.
Why, why, she wondered as she was pulled to her feet and pushed toward the ladder. The Glory was one of Queen Anne's ships, and it was obvious by the deference of the crew that the black-clad man was their captain. They couldn't be after the rewards, not with England at war with Spain and France! Why would they perpetrate such an elaborate and dangerous ambush just to capture them?
Nearly two days later, Caitlin was still asking herself the same questions as she paced about the small cabin into which she'd been shoved, wet and cursing, after they'd dragged her out of the pinnace. It was hot and dim with only one candle sending out a flickering glow from a small lantern on the wall. She paced the three steps that took her across the room, a journey she'd accomplished at least a thousand times during her captivity.
She sank into the narrow bunk and dropped her face into her palms. If they kept her confined much longer, she'd go mad! She had seen no one but the boy who had brought her food and fresh water the night before, and only for the instant it took him to set down the tray and disappear again.
A moment later she was up and prowling again. She felt so helpless. She'd hoped that Roger would have come after them on the Anna, but he had not. And it was probably good that he hadn't. Even the swift sloop would have little chance against the well-armed warship. She stopped abruptly as the rolling motion of the ship ceased. She listened intently, recognizing at once the sound of a ship being set to anchor.
They had apparently reached their destination. But where were they? Was the captain of the Glory in league with the Spanish? It must be so; there was no other reason to capture her. Even the thought of the effortless way in which he'd trapped them brought on a renewed surge of rage. And now he would be the one to turn her over to the bloody Spaniards!
Caitlin's small chin came up, her mouth hardening. The black-hearted devil would never have the satisfaction of seeing her fear. She would face the axman as bravely as her father had. Despite her inner resolve, a violent shudder shook her, and Caitlin tried to force away the vivid image of her father's execution -- the burly, hairy-chested executioner, watching her from the holes in his black hood, his eyes flat and hard and cold like black onyx, the terrible whistle of the ax falling on her father's head -- and her stomach lurched as a taste of sour bile rose in the back of her throat.
Beads of perspiration broke out over her brow, and Caitlin covered her mouth with her palm. She hated it when she allowed the horror to resurface. For six years she'd lived with the terrifying nightmares that awakened her to her own shrill screams. Only Christian understood the terror that gripped her then. He had been fourteen that day, and Caitlin almost twelve, when Pedro de Enriquez had forced them to watch their father die, but they had not learned the lesson he'd intended them to master. They remembered not the swift justice of mighty Spain, but only the cruel death their beloved father had suffered at her hands.
Caitlin whipped around as a key rattled in the lock, nerves as tight as water-soaked leather. She clasped her hands and held herself in rigid self-control as her captor entered and stood before her. He no longer wore the black garb, nor did he wear the blue uniform of an English captain with its gold braid and epaulettes. Instead, he was dressed simply in a white linen shirt and tan leather breeches atop knee-high black boots. He appeared enormous in the cramped cabin, tall and powerfully built, and Caitlin's eyes dropped to the short sword buckled at his waist before she lifted them to his face.
On the galleon, his features had been hidden by dirt and blood, but now she could see that his face was lean and clean-shaven, handsome in a hard and arrogant way. His skin was burnished the deep teak common to seafaring men, and his hair was blue black, curling back in thick waves over his ears and touching his nape in back. Beneath straight black brows, his eyes watched her, pure and piercing, a clear-blue like sun glittering off ice.
Trey Cameron stared openly at the girl standing before him. He remembered a small wild thing on the galleon who had turned on him with murder in her eyes and rapier in hand, but now those same eyes were huge and golden and more beautiful than any he had ever beheld. It had taken him a long time and a lot of trouble to capture the little girl-pirate in front of him, but her stunning beauty would make the task which lay ahead of him a good deal easier. She was so tiny. Could this young girl, standing so stiff and wary, her cheeks flushed high with color, her eyes burning into him as if she were afraid of him, really be the one who had attacked him so ferociously, slicing his hand with her sword?
"What have you done to my brother, you filthy traitor?"
No, he decided instantly, she wasn't afraid of him. Steely defiance had rung in her low, terse words.
"Nothing," he answered, taking a step toward her. She countered with a step backward. Maybe she was a little afraid, he thought, stopping to smile in order to put her at ease.
"Do you seek the gold on our heads?" she demanded.
Trey stared into her eyes, realizing for the first time that there was a brown ring around the gold, making them all the more vivid against her smooth, honey-browned skin. Her suntan surprised him, since most Englishwomen of his acquaintance guarded their complexions more carefully than they did their virginity. Her extraordinary eyes searched his face, the fragile line of her jaw tight as she spoke again.
"Our men will gladly pay a ransom for us -- double the Spanish reward."
"I seek no Spanish reward," Trey answered. "I am here at the command of Queen Anne of England."
Caitlin tried to hide her shock. Was the Queen so angry with them that she would have them hunted down and imprisoned? Caitlin could not believe that.
"Come along, girl; I won't hurt you. Your brother is waiting for you on deck."
Trey reached out and took her elbow as he spoke, and Caitlin noted the white bandage on his injured hand, glad she had wounded him during their brief encounter. She immediately jerked her arm free, and sighing impatiently, he took hold of her again. Caitlin pulled against the strong brown fingers encircling her wrist, surprised when he did not jerk her after him but merely kept her at his side as they left the cabin.
She walked slightly behind him, occasionally attempting to pull free. He let go of her as they reached the ladder to the quarterdeck, and Caitlin hurried up the steps in front of him, blinking against the glaring sunlight as she came outside the dark hatchway. She inhaled deeply in the salty sea air as she looked around. Rocky cliffs jutted above a narrow crescent of pink and white sand, and Caitlin stared in utter disbelief at the sprawling West Indian plantation house that sat atop them.
Windsway! He'd brought them home to Windsway!
Copyright (c) 1986 by Linda Ladd