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"Outgunned, outsailed, outmanned, out
blasted! Damn it all! Bring her about and set to speed. Full sail," Logan Haggerty cried, teeth grating, eyes narrowed, fury all but blinding him as he stared at the pirate ship headed his way.
"Captain, we are at full sail, and blimey, we're tryin' to come about," Logan's first mate, Jamie McDougall assured him. Jamie was an old salt, an honest merchantman impressed into the navy, he'd moved on to piracy and then been pardoned back into the King's own service. If there were a trick to be played upon the brine, Jamie knew it.
If there were a way to outrun a pirate, Jamie knew that, too.
If they were sunk through the greed and egotism of the aristocracy, well, Jamie would know that, as well.
Logan had informed the duke that there were pirates in the area and explained his own disadvantage due to the lack of manpower he had aboard, should they be boarded. He had explained, as well, that the weight of their cargo would drastically affect their speed and maneuverability.
But the duke hadn't cared.
Logan had ten guns.
The pirate had twenty he could easily count, perhaps more, and Logan's spyglass assured him that the crew upon the pirate vessel numbered at least two dozen men.
He traveled with a crew of twelve.
The vessel bearing down on them, sporting a scarlet flag, was handsome indeed. She was a sloop, sleek and fast, riding across the waves as smoothly as if she were soaring through the air. She had a narrow draft, and would easily be able to escape larger ships in the shallows. The craft was well-fitted, he could see. Besides the larger cannon pointing their way, he could see that the upper deck was fitted with a row of swivel guns, and those with many barrels.
She was a beauty and had been altered for her life of crime. Three masts, when many sloops offered but the mainmast, and with sails that caught the slightest breeze. Her tenders were situated behind the swivel guns, allowing no space for weakness. She was small, sleek and strong.
He had known better than to enter pirate territory, but pride had been his downfall.
Ah, yes, his own pride, even more than that of the nobility he mocked, who had tempted him into daring this voyage despite his original vehement refusal to accept the assignment.
And how had the duke managed that? Logan mocked himself then. Why, because of Cassandra.
Sweet Cassandra. He had been sure he could win her love if he just had enough money. His bloodline was noble enough, but his circumstances were far too impoverished to secure her to him. But if he made a success of this mission, he could return triumphant and regain all that his family had lost. No, that had been stolen from them. If he could challenge the sea and make this voyage, he would be worthy. She was the prize that mattered if he succeeded in this breakneck dash to bring the gold of the temple of Asiopia to the colonists in Virginia.
Now he realized that he had been a fool indeed. And why? What was it about the woman that had so beguiled him that he would attempt such a reckless endeavor? He had spent his life knowing he must make his own way, and he had known both harlots and great ladies. He had shown them courtesy one and all, but never had he felt such a tug upon his feelings, or this desire to settle down. It wasn't that she was a tease or temptress, that she made demands or ever threatened to play false. It was the laughter in her flashing, quicksilver eyes, the gentle touch of her fingertips, and, most of all, the honesty in her every word and action. He could love her; really love her. There was more, as well, of course, which he could admit in his own heart. She would be the perfect mate for him. She was the only child of a respected and wealthy family. With her name joined to his, he could reclaim all that had once been his family's, rebuild the Haggerty fortune. She was everything he could have hoped for in his life's partner.
He could not blame her for his own willingness to take this risk. He did not even blame her father, who merely wanted security for his only child.
If there was any blame, it fell only upon his own shoulders.
A mocking inner voice taunted him for a liar and a fraud.
He had said that he sailed because he needed the money, but that wasn't wholly true. He was always eager to sail the seas. Eager to find one man.
And that man lived upon the seas, outside the law.
Logan even claimed that he sought justice, not revenge, though were he honest with himself, he would have to concede that vengeance, too, was in his mind and heart.
He should have carried more guns, he told himself now. He should have brought more men, but he needed men he trusted for the battle he hoped to engage, and such men were hard to find.
Still, if there was any blame for his current predicament, it was his.
These were dangerous times to sail the seas. When England and Holland had been at war with Spain and France, many so-called pirates saw themselves as fighting a righteous battle. In an English ship, he would have been at the mercy only of a French or Spanish ship. But when the combatants had come to terms in 1697, privateers littered the sea.
Many had nothing to go home to.
Many had no desire to go home. Waging war upon the sea had become a way of life.
And many others saw that a fortune might be won if a man were brave, reckless and ready to risk his life.
Never before had the Caribbean been so overrun with thieves.
He rued fate and the wretched, greedy men who had lured him to go against his better judgment.
Damn them, he thought.
A man could not be led to such a place unless he chose his course.
So much for common sense and strength of purpose. He had fallen. And his own reckless desires had damned these good men along with him.
Here on the waves of the Caribbean, he would be the death of them all. They couldn't outrun the pirate ship, and they sure as hell weren't going to bring it down. He wasn't a coward, but neither was he a fool. Lust and greed were about to kill him and, worse, all these good men.
"M'lord Captain?" Jamie asked. "What is your command?"
"We must rely upon this pirate's honor," Logan said, knowing he must sacrifice pride for the sake of his men's lives.
"What?" Jamie demanded. "Pirates have no honor."
"Aye, they do. More than many a supposed great man," Logan said. "Send up the flag. Demand parley. I will negotiate with her captain."
"Negotiate?" Jamie protested. "There can be no negotiation"
"If not, we are dead men. Bring our flag to half-mast. I will deal our way out of this," Logan said.
"Deal with a pirate captain? He'll skewer you through."
"Not if he wishes to keep the respect of his men," Logan assured him. "For the love of God, man, we are running out of time. Do as I say."
Despite Jamie's protest and the wary looks upon the faces of his men, in twenty minutes time they were broadside the pirate and not a cannon had been fired. Logan stood with his men, staring across at the handsome rigging of the pirate ship, while the crew of privateers stared at them, grinning, totally aware that they had the upper hand.
Grappling hooks and strong rope bound them as tightly together as lovers locked in an intimate embrace.
"Your captain, my fine fellows!" Logan shouted. "Where is your captain? I demand to see your captain."
"You demand?" one peg-legged man jeered.
"Indeed. It is my right to demand negotiation, not even though you be pirates but because you be pirates. If you refuse me, you are cursed and damned, and well you know it."
He had counted on the superstitious bent of sailing men, and he had not been mistaken. The surly crew muttered softly and looked uncertainly from one to another.
Then, through the crowd upon the deck, strode the captain, a slender young man, clean-shaven, with rich dark hair curled beneath a broad-brimmed feathered hat. His coat was red velvet, and beneath it, his shirt was white as snow. He was tall with features that belonged on a Greek statue rather than a rogue at sea. He wore great black cuffed boots, and despite the elegance of his countenance, he walked with assurance, and the pistols and knife sheathed at his broad belt meant business, as did the long sword that hung by his side.
"Good heavens, men, don't let this gentleman disarm you so quickly. He is cleverly attempting to save his own hide," the pirate captain chided, stepping forward. "But not even because it is his supposed right to negotiate, but because he deems himself so clever, I am willing to take the time to have a word with the man."
"Whatever your reason, I appreciate it, good Captain
?" Logan said, waiting for a name.
"My flag tells it all," the captain said. "I'm known as Red Robert."
"You are an Englishman," Logan said, as if to remind the pirate he had attacked one of his countrymen. Though the days of so-called privateering were behind them, many a sea robber still did not prey upon his own kind.
"I am not an Englishman, I assure you."
Red Robert had apparently made his assessment already.
His name, Logan reflected, was bandied about in many a tavern. It was one that caused even the brave to tremble, for the stories that went about were fearsome.
He had not expected a man who looked so young. Then again, pirates rarely survived many years, at least, not at piracy. They were killed, or they took what riches they had obtained, changed their names and created new lives on distant islands or in out-of-the-way towns.
Logan spoke again, aware that he had to do so with a certain eloquence if he intended to achieve his goal of keeping his men alive, whatever his own fate.
He took a step forward. "I, good Captain Robert, am Logan Haggerty, Lord of Loch Emery, with no emphasis on the title, for were it worthy of great land or riches, you'd not be finding me here upon the high seas. What I seek is the right of man-to-man combat."
"Hmm, do tell," Red Robert said.
"If you best me with your sword, you have gained a good ship and great riches without spilling an ounce of blood other than my own, or chancing the loss of treasure to the bottom of the sea, and without risking the lives and limbs of your men."
"And if you best me, m'lord?" Red Robert inquired with polite amusement.
"Then we sail away."
Red Robert seemed to weigh his words with gravity. But then he said, "Surely you are jesting."
"Are you afraid?" Logan demanded, assessing the pirate captain's slender frame and apparent youth, which made a strange contrast indeed against the hardened edge of the sea robbers surrounding him.
"This is not a profession for one who is afraid," Red Robert returned casually. "Don't be deceived by my
youth, Lord Haggerty. I am more than proficient with my weapons."
One well-muscled man standing at the pirate captain's sidenot much older, but far stronger and broader whispered in Red Robert's ear, causing him to laugh.
"This may be some trick, Red," one of the other men warned, a fellow with long gray hair, a large gold earring and his fingers twitching on the hilt of the knife at his waist.
"No trick," Logan said quietly.
"No fear, Hagar," Red said, acknowledging the man who had spoken. "And no deal." He turned to Logan. "However, here is what I do offer. If you best me, you do not sail away free. After all, m'lord, you surely knew you traveled dangerous waters." When Logan would have spoken, Red Robert raised his hand. "Your men live. They may sail away free with half the treasure. But you remain with us, a willing prisoner, to be held for ransom."
"I've told you. My title means little."
"And so the daring voyage you attempted today?" Red Robert mocked.
Logan stood his ground without reply, though his heart seemed to shrivel at the thought of never seeing Cassandra again. Still, his men would live to sail away.
If he could win.
And, God help him, the fellow was lean, which would make him quick. Agile. A deadly foe.
Though far broader in the shoulder himself, and not without a fair share of power in his arms, he was agile, as well. He'd trained with some of the finest swords-
men money could buy, since it was only recently that the family fortunes had taken such a sad turn.
His men. He had to save his men, God help him. He'd had every right to gamble with his own life, but he had been wrong to risk theirs, as well. And if he could best this captain
"I will be your willing prisoner. But I would ask, then, that even if I lose, you take the treasure but give my men the tenders so that they might make safe landfall."
Red Robert shrugged.
The tall, dark-haired fellow at his side protested. "No."
The captain turned on him with such a fierce look of displeasure that the man stepped back and hung his head. "Brendan," Red said warningly.
The captain had a curious voice, Logan thought. He seemed eternally soft-spoken. Strange, for someone who needed to bellow orders against the wind. There was a husky, almost whispered quality to his voice.
"Aye, Red," the man named Brendan replied, but despite his immediate acknowledgment that Red was captain and his orders stood, he was rigidly disapproving.
"It is done," Red Robert said.
"This is madness," Jamie protested softly to Logan. "A trick, certainly. They will not let us go. They will not forego half of such a treasure."
"It is madness," Logan agreed. Madness from the moment he had agreed to transport the treasure. Madness? Aye, from start to finish, but here was his chance to at least save those he had dragged into folly along with him.