Sold into slavery by her jealous sisters, Ada finds herself captive on the ship of a Greek merchant. Expecting a harsh new master, she's surprised to find the captain compassionateand attractive. Yet she can't fall for the man who owns hernot when she watched her enslaved mother pine after her unyielding father.
Nicolaus only wants to rescue the beautiful, mistreated woman from the auction block. He plans to free Ada, just as soon as he secures his inheritance. Which means racing the ship back to his homeland to best his brother. If he loses, all his cargo will be forfeitedincluding Ada. But as perilous storms reveal her courage and grace, the question becomes, can his heart stand to let her go?
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Ashkelon 668 BC
The shadow from the high mud tower loomed over Ada. Its shade broke the heat of the sun, causing her overheated skin to cool, stealing her anger. However, she knew the shivers racking her body had nothing to do with the coolness and everything to do with the fear coursing through her veins.
A young boy tugged on the lead bound around Ada's neck and hands, causing her to stumble. She bit the inside of her cheek to keep from crying out when her knees hit the wooden stairs. Before her bound hands hit the wood, a hand gripped ahold of her tunic and yanked her to her feet.
"You, there." The large brute released her and jabbed a finger into the boy's chest. "Take care with the merchandise."
The deep Philistine accent grated along Ada's nape. Waves from the great sea thrust against the port, filling her ears, roaring in her head. Breathing in through her mouth and out through her nose, she fought to calm the fear vibrating her limbs and risked a glare at the man through the mass of hair veiling her face.
"Come now, we don't have all day. These men would like to go home before the wind shifts again."
If she delayed the process, perhaps her brother would arrive and rescue her from her sisters' folly. Their jealousy had always been contained to biting words and foolish antics. Their last, a viper in her bed, had proven vicious, but selling her to an auctioneer in exchange for a gold band was beyond Ada's comprehension. How could her oldest sister, Dina, be so cruel? Because her sister, only half her blood, believed Ada nothing more than a daughter of a slave. All her sisters seemed to despise the way their father treated her as their equal, a daughter of a wealthy merchant. However, none treated her as poorly as Dina.
She shook the hair from her eyes and jerked her hands back. The rough rope cut into her wrists as the boy clung to the other end. The child stumbled and fell to his backside. His flushed cheeks, and beady black eyes quickly turned fearful when his master snatched him up by his tunic. The Philistine narrowed his eyes and Ada thought he'd clout the child, but he righted the boy and then patted him on the head like an obedient pet.
"See to the others." The Philistine's gaze settled on Ada. The corners of his mouth slid upward, revealing rotten teeth. He grabbed a handful of her hair and moved closer to sniff. The foul odor of his breath slammed against her cheek as he bent close to her ear. "If I did not need to feed the boy, I'd make you my bride just to teach you humility." He stepped back and swung his arm wide toward the gathering before them. Ada tried to jerk away, but the man kept a fisted grip on her hair. "Well now," he bellowed over the crowd. "Haven't we a lioness."
His thick arm snaked around her shoulders as he pulled her close. He made another show of smelling her with distaste. "And clean."
Ada was thankful for the platform she stood on as men of all likes surged forward. Their hands reached toward her feet, touching her toes. She scooted closer to her captor as she searched the crowd for her brother. Almighty God, if You have mercy grant me rescue.
"One piece of silver," a voice called from the crowd. The taunt was followed by a roar of laughter.
Ada glanced at the man who'd made the offer and sucked in a sharp breath. He was a short, burly man with a matted beard and a bevy of brightly dressed women clinging to his person. Their thick kohl and painted lips were tale enough of why the man would purchase her, but it was not their profession that left Ada shocked and even more angered. It was the five onlookers who stood behind the man. Her five sisters. Dina perched on the edge of a well; her hand propped on one hip, one corner of her mouth curved upward.
"Come now, certainly the girl is worth more," her captor roared.
"She is too thin." A man in the crowd spat as if disgusted with her appearance.
The Philistine gripped a handful of her tunic at her back and pulled it tight. "There now, not so skinny."
Tears of anger fought their way to the back of Ada's eyes. As if losing her mother had not been enough
Dina's jealousy had gone too far. The gold bangle around her sister's upper arm sparkling beneath the sun was worth more than two pieces of silver. Her captor no doubt knew this, which filled Ada with hope. Perhaps, the Philistine would fight for a higher bidder, especially since she'd cost him that gold band. Perhaps, the wicked man would pass.
"Throw in your best cow," her captor yelled.
Dina tilted her head, her gaze considering the lone bidder before glancing at Ada. Her sister ran a finger down the intricately woven shawl that had once covered Ada's shoulders and crown of glory, as her father had called her hair. A smile teased the corner of Dina's lips. Her nose curled as she squinted. Ada's other sisters paid her no heed. Their little elbow nudges and giggles told Ada they thought it all a game.
If only it were true. However, it seemed Dina was bent on revenge.
Why had she not listened to her mother's warnings? Because she wanted Dina to love her, wanted all her sisters to love her as she loved them. Loneliness filled the cavity within her chest. One tear welled. It filled her eye, but Ada refused to let it fall.
"What say you, man? My dinner grows cold." The Philistine pushed Ada forward. His fingers tangled in her hair. She pressed her lips together to keep her scream from pleasing Dina any further. The bidding man drew his hand over his beard. "Why spend so much on a weak and spoiled vessel? It is obvious she knows not of hard work. I keep my cow and give you one" the man held up a small jar "drink of wine."
Scanning the crowd, Ada looked for her brother Asher, or anybody willing to save her. "Please, God," she whispered.
The Philistine leaned closer. His disgusting breath wafted over her. "No god will save you, sweet. Not even the goddess our city honors with such a magnificent shrine." Her captor motioned toward the mud-brick tower reaching into the darkening sky. "As you have no other bidders."
The Philistine's words disappeared as Ada caught sight of a man pushing through the crowd. He was tall, even taller than many of the warriors patrolling the city gates, and imposing. A large gold pendant rested on one sinewy shoulder, holding together the pieces of his tunic. Besides the gold bands circling his upper arms, his other shoulder and both arms remained bare. A wide leather belt cinched at his waist revealed just how massive his chest was. His skin was gold, bronzed from the sun. Dark curls sheared at his nape framed a chiseled jaw. His body bore the marks of war, such as she'd seen on her father and Asher, but his clothing told her he was not a man of humble means.
Her gaze flitted to his, and she wished she could see their color. He tilted his head and spoke to his companion.
"Three pieces of silver, three omers of barley and four drinks of your finest wine," her captor called out.
Ada jerked her attention from the beautiful man and back to the burly bidder and the women giggling around him. She closed her eyes and dropped her chin to her chest as that wayward tear forced its way to her lashes. It was not a fair price, not nearly equal to that of the gold band now gracing her sister's arm, but she felt the Philistine's acceptance when he relaxed his hold on her.
How could she accept such a fate? It did not matter. If God chose not to save her she would pray and trust Him to mete out justice upon her sisters. And to comfort her father when she did not return home with them.
"Are we agreed?" The Philistine's voice bellowed with the power of a crashing wave, causing Ada to jump.
"Ay" The bidder nodded.
"Two hundred pieces of silver."
Her head snapped up. She looked into the crowd for her brother, but her gaze somehow settled on the strange man towering above those around him. She drew in a slow breath. Dare she thank God for His mercy, yet?
"Two hundred pieces of silver," he repeated as he moved. The crowd quieted and parted like the wind blowing grains of sand. He halted in front of her. "Thirty omers of barley and four casks of Greece's finest olive oil."
Black. His eyes were the color of charred wood. Certainly they could offer warmth much like dying embers, but they were cold. Angry. His jaw clenched, hard as stone, and fear pricked her nape. Had God heard her prayer and granted her mercy, or had the Creator of the heavens and earth ignored her plea and delivered her into a worse fate?
Nicolaus willed calm into his tense muscles and forced the Sea Dragon to slumber. That man had died along with the skirmishes between Greece and neighboring islands. That man had died after he unknowingly sunk a ship filled with innocent people.
The ill treatment of the young woman reminded him of his own time as a slave, worse it reminded him of what he was certain his sister might be enduring. If she was still alive. He would not think on the fact that if he hadn't killed off the Sea Dragon his sister wouldn't have been taken from his vessel when his ship was boarded. Then again, it seemed he could lay the blame on the Sea Dragon, but why he was uncertain. Had it been revenge or something else altogether? It was a question David had never answered. All Nicolaus knew was a man he'd once called friend had betrayed him and had been a cruel master, not only to him but to all of his slaves, including the women. No matter how much he tried to ignore the fear, he could not, would not allow another woman to suffer. Not in his presence. Not again.
"What are you doing? You cannot think to use your father's merchandise to buy a woman, Nicolaus." His friend and best sailing mate, Xandros, laid a hand on his shoulder. "My friend, we do not have the time nor the resources to rescue maidens."
Ignoring Xandros and the dark clouds pushing against the sky, Nicolaus spoke to the Philistine who had yet to close his mouth. "Agreed?"
The Philistine's gaze dropped to the purse resting against Nicolaus's hip as if he could judge the amount hidden within the leather bag, and then buried his nose against the young woman's face. "She is clean." At least that is what Nicolaus thought he'd said. The man's dialect was thick and heavy as if he'd had too much wine. Of course, Nicolaus was not as familiar with the language of these people as he should be. "Three hundred pieces of silver, a hundred omers of barley and ten casks of your oil."
The game of bargaining was well known to Nicolaus. His father was among the finest merchants. Resisting the urge to weigh his purse in the palm of his hand, Nicolaus raised his eyebrows as he perused the young woman. He leaned toward Xandros, who spoke the language well. "Tell him there are many women in Greece who are clean and without such" he made a motion with his hands as he glanced toward the woman "curves."
Her lips parted with a soft gasp, and her dark eyes flamed with anger as Xandros repeated his words.
"A hundred pieces of silver. Twenty omers of barley and two casks of olive oil." Nicolaus crossed his arms over his chest and waited, a tactic he had often used when negotiating with adversaries. After a few moments of silence he turned on his heel to leave.
"A moment." The Philistine's words halted him. Nicolaus glanced over his shoulder. The young woman narrowed her gaze toward a spot in the crowd. Following the direction of her angered glare, he saw several young women pointing toward the platform. They seemed to be arguing with the oldest among them. Who were they? Rivals? Had this young woman stolen the affection of a man from them? Possible, but given how similar the one wearing the gold band looked to the woman being auctioned, he wondered if they were of some relation. Cousins, sisters perhaps?
"We have not all day," Nicolaus said as he turned his attention back to the Philistine. "You have no other bidders vying for this woman." He flicked a glance toward the first bidder. "None willing to pay what I am. Two hundred pieces of silver and one cask of oil. It is a fair price and more than the piece of jewelry you traded her for."
It did not take much to discern the trade, not when the one woman guarded the ornament with a raised brow and a smirk, and so he opted for his original bid of silver in an effort to halt all haggling. After dealing with the Philistine merchants in Ashkelon most of the day, he was done and ready to set his oars to the water. He was ready to return to his island home in Greece.
A low growl emitted from the Philistine. The hand grasping the woman's hair shook, pulling her hair if the signs of discomfort forming around her mouth and the lone tear were any indication. It took all of Nicolaus's will not to jump onto the platform and release the woman. The Sea Dragon would have and he was certain he would have, too, if the auctioneer had not conceded with a nod.
Nicolaus untied his purse, counted out the coins and handed them to Xandros. "See to it she is on the ship posthaste. We must leave before the storm comes in. Brison will fetch the oil."
He pushed his way through the crowd and toward the group of women he'd seen the slave glaring at. Standing before them, he took in their various features from exotic to plain. The oldest, bearing the intricate gold band with colorful stones around her arm, wore a veil over one shoulder. If it had not been sitting haphazard, Nicolaus would not have thought it out of place. However, the color and the weave seemed more suitable to the woman he hoped Xandros was securing. It also seemed to match the color of the slave's tunic.
The woman lowered her eyes, her dark lashes brushing against her tanned cheeks. He wondered again if this woman was sister to the slave, the shape of their eyes, the slant of their mouths when they scowled were similar. However, the slave was much more beautiful. This woman's hair, cropped at her shoulders, was near the color of the sky the moment right before the night cloaked them in total darkness. The slave's hair, the color of wheat just as the sun begins to slip beyond the horizon, hung down her back in gilded waves. Her skin was much fairer, not as dark as the woman before him. This woman bore the lines of displeasure, sadness and spite, not those of a woman who'd known the love of family.
He pulled out a decent gold coin and flipped it between his fingers. Her greedy eyes followed the movement as she licked her lips as if starving for a meal. "I would purchase this from you." He touched the gold band. Although the stones glittered, the craftsmanship was not to be praised. It certainly was not worth the two pieces of silver the procurer used in his quest to acquire the slave, nor was it worth the gold coin Nicolaus offered her. He did not appreciate the way the band seemed to cause this woman to gloat, as if she'd been given a king's ransom. It did not seem fitting to leave her adorned with it.
Dina reached for the coin but Nicolaus pulled his hand back. "The band." The woman glanced at her companions before tugging the gold piece from her arm and dropping it into his palm. "What of the veil?" he added.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
This book is beautifully written and makes putting it down almost impossible!
I picked up this book on a whim as I like pirate stories. But the only pirates here are ancient (600 something B.C.). The young captive, Ada, is actually bought at a slave auction where her half-sisters have traded her to a slaver for the equivalent of a gold bracelet. To save her from a life of prostitution, Nicklaus who is a Greek tradesman, buys her and takes her aboard his sailing vessel. Instead of being grateful from being spared a hellish life, Ada is a conflicted woman who falls for her master. She doesn’t want to be like her own mother, a slave who fell in love with her master, therefore Ada fights against her growing feelings. There are several twists and turns as the story progresses but none the reader won’t anticipate. I found the characters very shallow, each pursuing their own destiny without much regard for the others. By the time the two protagonists realize they are in love I was happy to reach the story’s end. The descriptions of the era and the high seas high jinks were well done. A nice book for reading by the fire or at the beach. Refreshing because of its lack of explicit scenes.
Intriguing, captivating and utterly romantic, Captive on the High Seas is the best yet from Christina Rich. The story of Ada’s rescue from wicked slave traders by kind-hearted Nicolaus, is as heartwarming as it is suspenseful. Holding my breath in one moment, sighing in delight the next, I read Captive on the High Seas in one sitting, completely unable to put it down. With the ancient Mediterranean as a breathtakingly beautiful setting, pirates bringing edge of the seat anxious moments, and a blossoming romance between the most unlikely pair, this story will clench your heart and not let go until the final scene is long past read. Orphan children, loving family, close-as-brothers crewmen, perhaps none truly understand the gentleness and compassion that has come over Nicolaus. And yet, they all see through the tough exterior he creates to hide his love for the girl he bought on the auction block. Independent, strong-willed, unwilling to bow to the obedience required of a slave, Ada captures the heart of the seaman on his race to adventure. As they encounter storms, people in need, sickness and feelings they never expected, Nicolaus and Ada fight to courageously right the wrongs keeping their hearts apart. In peril met with courage, evil dissipated with compassion, sorrow overwhelmed by love, you will come to admire Nicolaus and Ada as they battle their adversities. You will cheer for them, perhaps breathe a prayer on their behalf, as they grasp onto the grace that will allow them to give their hearts to their One True God and to each other. Captive on the High Seas is a story to live in your heart long after the pages of the book have closed. Eagerly awaiting more compelling drama and romance from Christina Rich.