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Even at that midmorning hour, the air of the marketplace, or souk, shimmered and undulated with heat. Chickens squawked, vendors shouted and argued, monkeys wearing little vests and fezzes shrieked for attention, and strange, incessant music curled among the stalls in place of a breeze. The smells of spices and unwashed flesh competed with pungent smoke from cooking fires, and the bright silken folds of Charlotte's borrowed robe and veils clung to the moistness of her skin.
She was enthralled.
Her companion, Bettina Richardson, who was a few years younger than Charlotte and clad in a similar disguise, did not share this enthusiasm.
"Papa will murder us if he finds out we've come to this dreadful place!" she hissed, the veil covering her pretty face swelling with the rush of her breath. "Why, we could end up being carried off to the desert by some sheikh!"
Charlotte sighed. "We won't, more's the pity," she said, just to annoy Bettina.
"Charlotte!" Bettina cried, shocked.
Charlotte smiled behind her veils. The Richardsons had sailed to the island kingdom of Riz, which lay between Spain and the coast of Morocco, to visit old friends, wealthy merchants they had originally known in Boston. Bettina had wanted to stay in Paris until it was time to sail for London and then the United States, but Charlotte had campaigned against the idea. She wasn't about to miss a chance to visit such an exotic place as Riz, since there was at least some potential for adventure.
That, of course, was exactly what vexed Bettina so much. She'd had to be coerced into borrowing the robes and veils from their hostess's wardrobe, sneaking out by way of a side gate, and venturing through the narrow, dusty streets, following the odors and the cacophony of sounds to the souk.
Standing in front of one of the market stalls, Charlotte touched a crudely made basket tentatively. She would remember this day all her life, and out of desperate boredom, she would no doubt embellish it at some point. She might add a grand sheikh mounted on a fine Arabian stallion, riding to the marketplace to buy slaves, or perhaps even a band of marauding pirates, scattering chickens and merchants in every direction with their swords...
A stir at the end of the row of tawdry little booths and crevices in the ancient walls interrupted her colorful musings. Bettina grabbed Charlotte's forearm with surprising strength and whispered, "Let's go back to the Vincents' house, Charlotte, please!"
Charlotte stood staring at the tall man striding through the crowd, barely able to believe her eyes. For a few breathless moments, she was thirteen again and back in Seattle. She'd climbed up into the rigging of a sailing ship, the Enchantress, and high off the deck her courage had fled. She'd clung to the ropes, too terrified to climb down on her own.
Patrick Trevarren had come up to fetch her.
Bettina gave her a little shake. "Charlotte!" she pleaded balefully. "I don't like the looks of that man! He's probably a brigand!"
Charlotte couldn't move, and she was especially grateful for her veils because she knew the fluttery smile trembling on her mouth would be an idiotic one. Patrick hadn't changed a great deal in ten years, though he was broader through the chest and shoulders, and the angles of his face were sharper; he still wore his dark hair a little too long, caught back at his nape with a thin black ribbon, and his indigo gaze was as incisive as before. He walked with an arrogant assurance that infuriated Charlotte, and yet her heart was hammering in her throat and it was all she could do not to run to him and inquire if he remembered her.
He wouldn't, of course, and even if he did, she had been only a girl when they'd met last. She had dreamed about him all these ten years, weaving fantasy after fantasy around the young seaman, but he'd probably never given her so much as a second thought.
He drew nearer, and even though there was a smile on his darkly tanned, aristocratic face, his eyes were cold. He plucked a ripe orange from a fruit stand, using the point of a dagger drawn from his belt, and flipped a coin to the crouching vendor.
Charlotte neither moved nor made a sound, except to breathe, but something about her must have given him pause. He came and towered over her and the trembling Bettina, staring down into Charlotte's amber eyes with an expression of bemusement.
Say something, Charlotte ordered herself frantically, but she couldn't. Her throat was shut tight.
Patrick pondered her for another moment, ran his gaze over the clinging robes she wore, and then proceeded around her with a shrug. He peeled the orange as he went, tossing the parings to one of the chattering monkeys.
"That's it," Bettina said firmly. "We're leaving, Charlotte Quade, this very minute. That was a pirate if I've ever seen one!"
Charlotte watched as Patrick stopped to look up at a veiled and shapely creature dancing on a board stretched between two large barrels, and felt a jealousy so intense that her throat opened and her lungs started drawing air again. "And we all know you've seen your share of pirates," she retorted, with unusual sarcasm. Instantly she felt a twinge of remorse for her sharpness. For all that Bettina and she were not perfectly matched as friends, Bettina was a decent sort and quite fragile, undeserving of such treatment.
Tears had already welled in Bettina's green eyes. She was an only child, gently raised, and it had not been easy for her to disobey her parents by sneaking out of the Vincents' home to explore a foreign marketplace.
"I'm sorry," Charlotte said gently, feeling broken as she watched a smiling Patrick lift the dancer down from her improvised stage and toss a coin to a robed man slumping nearby. "We'll -- we'll go now."
Determined not to look back again, Charlotte squared her shoulders and started off in the direction of the Vincent compound. Her senses were in a riot of shock at seeing Patrick Trevarren so unexpectedly, and she couldn't bear even to consider where he might be taking the dancer.
She was distracted, and conscious of Bettina's rising anxiety, and finding the path they'd blazed only an hour earlier proved difficult, without the noise and flurry of the marketplace to guide her. All the impossibly narrow streets looked the same, and any one of a dozen might have led to the quiet residential area she had left so boldly.
Bettina was sniffling, and she dried her eyes with her veil. "I knew it," she fretted, "we're lost!"
"Hush," Charlotte snapped, impatient. "We'll just go back to the marketplace and ask directions."
"We don't speak the language," Bettina reminded her, with maddening accuracy.
"Then we'll simply start out again, trying every route until we find the right one," Charlotte answered. She sounded a great deal more confident than she felt.
Bettina mewled in alarm. "I shouldn't have listened to you," she cried angrily. "I knew something terrible would happen if we disobeyed Papa, and I was right!"
Charlotte bit her lower lip to keep from telling Bettina to shut up. "We will get back safely," she said, in a purposefully gentle voice, when she had her impatience in check. "I promise we will. But you must be calm, Bettina."
The younger girl drew a deep, tremulous breath and looked around at the empty street. It was eerie, how quiet the place was, after the clamor and excitement of the souk.
"I shall have to drink poison if we are taken captive and forced to live in a harem," Bettina warned, quite matter-of-factly, when she'd recovered a little of her composure.
Charlotte might have laughed, under less trying circumstances. The fact was, they probably were in grave danger, wandering unprotected in a city where the culture was so profoundly different from their own.
There was nothing to do now but return to the marketplace, try to find Mr. Trevarren, and prevail upon him to rescue her a second time. It would be an exquisite humiliation, especially since he was bound to be occupied in a most scandalous fashion with the dancer, if he was around at all, but Charlotte could see no alternative. She and Patrick had not parted on particularly cordial terms that long-ago day in Seattle, but he was probably the only person in the souk who spoke English.
She linked her arm with Bettina's. "Come along. We'll be back where we belong, sipping tea and eating chocolates, before your mother and father even miss us."
The marketplace, crowded before, was swelling with people and donkeys now. Charlotte stood on tiptoe, searching for Mr. Trevarren's bare head among the covered ones of the merchants and customers, but there was no sign of him.
Bettina let out a strangled whimper, and Charlotte controlled her irritation.
It was then that the crush of men pressed around them. A dirty cloth, pungent with some chemical, was placed over Charlotte's mouth and nose, and her arms were crushed to her sides. She heard Bettina screaming hysterically, and then the world receded to a pinpoint, disappeared. There was nothing except for an endless, throbbing void.
Patrick Trevarren laid his hands to the sides of the dancer's trim waist and hoisted her back up onto the board. Feeling especially generous, he favored her with a grin and a surreptitious coin, and in that moment a shrill female scream punctured the thick atmosphere of the souk.
In Riz, as well as the rest of the Arab world, women were a commodity, but Patrick had grown up in Boston and studied in England. As a result, he was cursed with a strain of chivalry, and even though he sensed that responding to the damsel's noisy distress would be a mistake, he could not stop trying to find her.
He made his way through the crowd and found one of the two foreign women he'd encountered earlier. Her veil had slipped, and by the nasal quality of her continuous, snuffling wails, Patrick identified her as an American.
Exasperated, he took her shoulders in his hands and gave her a shake. "Stop that sniveling and tell me what's the matter!"
The curious Arabs retreated a little.
"My f-friend!" the girl sobbed. "M-My friend has been k-kidnapped by pirates!"
Patrick clamped his jaw down tight as he remembered looking into the other woman's wide amber eyes earlier. There had been something disturbingly familiar about her. "Where did this happen?" he asked, struggling for patience. "How many men were there? Did you see which direction they went?"
The girl made another loud lament. "There were at least a hundred of them," she eventually managed to choke out. Her green eyes were red-rimmed and puffy, and the end of her nose already looked raw. "And how should I know which way they went? I can't even find my way back to the Vincents' compound!"
Patrick picked a familiar face from the crowd, an earnest little boy who sometimes ran errands for him, and gave him a few pieces of silver. He knew the Vincents and had visited them on several occasions.
In quick Arabic, he instructed the boy to take the lady home -- she would obviously be no help at all in finding her friend. Then he began questioning bystanders.
Despite Patrick's easy command of the local language and the fact that he was well-known in the kingdom and received in homes on all levels of the social scale, he was still an outsider. The men frequenting the marketplace would sympathize with the kidnappers, not the girl. To them, the selling of innocent young women into virtual slavery was honest commerce.
Still, Patrick searched the alleyways that snaked away from the souk in every direction, a feeling of panic rising in him as he struggled to accept the hopelessness of his pursuit. The girl was lost; there would be no saving her from the fate that awaited her.
In the late afternoon, when the sun glared mercilessly down on the ancient, dusty city, Patrick returned to the harbor, where his ship, the Enchantress, was at anchor.
She was in a dark, cramped hole, a place that smelled of rats, mildew, and spoilage. Her head ached as though she'd been felled with a club, and nausea roiled in her stomach. Patches of tenderness all over her body told her she was black and blue, and where there wasn't a bruise, her skin stung with abrasions.
Charlotte wanted to throw up, but she was gagged, and when she moved to uncover her mouth, she discovered that her hands were bound as well. Tears of frustration and fear burned her eyes.
You wanted an adventure, she scolded herself. Here it is.
Hysteria threatened, but Charlotte would not surrender. She knew it was crucial not to panic; she had to think calmly and come up with a plan of escape.
Instead of strategy, however, she thought of Bettina. Had the kidnappers taken her, too? Charlotte shuddered to think how terrified the girl would be if that was true, and guilt lanced through her spirit. If Bettina came to harm, it would be Charlotte's own fault and no one else's. She had literally browbeaten her companion into visiting the souk, and the result might well be tragic.
Another rush of bile seared Charlotte's throat, and she swallowed. If she kept her wits about her, she might be able to find Bettina, and the two of them could flee their captors together. On the other hand, she might never see her friend again.
Colorful and patently horrifying pictures filled Charlotte's mind. She'd often pretended, in the privacy of her mind, to be a harem girl, with Patrick Trevarren as her sultan. It had been an innocent game, heating her loins and bringing a frustrated blush to her cheeks, but the reality of facing a life of white slavery was no schoolgirl fantasy. Of course, she wouldn't be sold to the man she'd dreamed about all these years -- oh, no. She would surely become the property of some whoremaster, or a concubine to some sweaty, slobbering wretch who valued her no more than he would a dog or a horse.
Charlotte thought of her home in Quade's Harbor, on the green shores of Puget Sound, where her father owned and operated one of the largest timber operations in Washington Territory. Brigham Quade was a man of very firm opinions, with no inclination at all toward nonsense, but Charlotte had never doubted his love for a moment. She and her sister, Millie, had always known he would give up his own life before letting anything happen to either one of them, and because of this certainty, they'd grown up to be confident and secure.
Lydia, their stepmother, had taught them to be strong women, unafraid to take risks and let their intelligence show, and for the most part, these traits had stood Charlotte in good stead. Until that morning -- if indeed it had been that morning -- when she'd awakened with the brilliant idea of putting on robes and veils and exploring the forbidden souk.
Charlotte pictured Millie, her beautiful, spirited sister, all dressed up in her lacy white wedding dress, eyes sparkling with love and excitement. She imagined each of her five younger brothers in turn, and grieved for them, one by one. Their names swelled in her heart; Devon, Seth, Gideon, Jacob, Matthew.
There was a very good chance she would never see any member of her family again. Even worse, her loved ones would surely suffer over her disappearance and obvious fate, and Bettina's parents would be devastated. Their daughter was all they had, and because of Charlotte's impulsive actions, they had lost their child.
Despair would almost certainly have overtaken Charlotte in that moment if she hadn't been given something more immediate to think about.
Door hinges creaked, and a slash of light appeared in the darkness. Then a small man entered the chamber. He wore Arab garb, but that was all Charlotte could make out in the gloom.
Her heart pounded with fear and helpless rage as he approached her, wrenching her roughly up off the floor and then pulling off her gag. He produced a cup of tepid water and pressed it impatiently to her mouth.
Charlotte bit back all the inflammatory things she wanted to say, all the frantic questions she yearned to ask, and drank greedily. The heat was intense, and she realized she was wet with perspiration.
"Who are you?" she asked hoarsely, when she'd satisfied her thirst.
The man mumbled something in Arabic, and while Charlotte missed the meaning of the words, she caught the attitude. Her captor was not contemptuous, or even hostile; he was indifferent.
"What is this place?" she burst out, more in an effort to discourage the Arab from gagging her again than from any hope of getting a reply she could understand. "Why are you keeping me here?"
Charlotte's visitor shouted something at her; like his earlier conversation, the remark needed no translation. He wanted her to keep quiet.
To demonstrate this, he put the gag back in place and tied it a little tighter than before, so that the filthy cloth chafed at the comers of her mouth. Then he shoved Charlotte, hard, sending her toppling to the floor.
For the first time, a slow, almost imperceptible sensation of rocking penetrated the fog of fear and anger surrounding her, and she realized she was in the hold of a ship. It gave her comfort that she'd identified her prison, but she also had to face the forlorn reality that escape would be even more difficult.
As Charlotte watched the guard leave her makeshift cell, she was actually glad to be wearing the gag. The scrap kept in the flow of scathing and very colorful invective she'd learned in her father's logging camps. Even though he didn't speak English, the Arab would have known he was being roundly insulted, and his already thin patience would probably have snapped.
Charlotte forced herself to draw in deep breaths through her nose and let them out slowly through the cloth. Whatever happened, she must stay calm, taking every care not to lose her temper or show fear.
The heat in the dark hold was dense, and now that Charlotte knew the place was a hold, she picked out the sound of rats scampering overhead in the beams and foraging in the supplies stored around her. She shuddered and offered up a silent prayer for a miracle to happen.
Patrick sighed and turned away from the rail of the Enchantress. Usually he enjoyed watching the last fierce light of day shatter into glimmering liquid on the water, but that evening he was troubled.
His friend and first mate, Tom Cochran, was standing behind him. "Do we set sail with the evening tide, then, Captain?" he asked. He was a solidly built man, of medium height, and a gray-white stubble of beard covered the lower half of his face. "I imagine that Khalif fellow will be looking for us to put in sometime tonight."
Patrick gave a distracted nod. He had gone to school with the sultan in England, and Khalif was a good friend, but that night the prospect of visiting his luxurious palace lacked its usual appeal. "Yes," he said, somewhat hoarsely. "Give the order to set sail."
With that, Patrick descended to the lower deck and entered his private quarters, a relatively small chamber holding a bed, a wardrobe, a desk and chair, and several bookshelves. He made no move to light a lamp but instead collapsed into a chair with another long sigh.
He heard the shouts of the crew members above, on the deck and in the rigging, but his mind was stuck on the girl kidnapped in the souk that day. What was it about her that troubled him so? Unfortunate though it was, unwary young women were often snatched from marketplaces, ships, and street corners in this part of the world, and most were never seen again.
The nape of Patrick's neck clenched tightly, then began to throb. He cursed and sent a small book clattering against the wall.
A knock sounded at his door.
"Come in," Patrick called grudgingly, knowing that if he didn't speak, the cook's boy would just keep knocking.
That night, however, it was Cochran who brought the captain's dinner tray.
"For mercy's sake, man," the old sailor said, "light a lamp. It's as dark as the devil's root cellar in here."
Patrick reached up for the lamp suspended over his desk, removed the chimney, and struck a match to the wick. He knew his expression made it obvious he wasn't pleased at the interruption.
"What's chewing on you?" Cochran demanded, setting the tray down on the desk with a thump. "Didn't you find that little dancer in the souk, the one you've had your eye on ever since we dropped anchor?"
A surge of unexpected shame swept through Patrick, though he couldn't imagine why. He was an unmarried man, after all, and he'd betrayed no one by following the girl into her tent and enjoying her feminine attributes.
"I found her," he admitted, dropping his eyes to the tray. Lamb stew, brown bread, and weak tea -- again.
Cochran chuckled and made himself at home by folding his arms and leaning back against the closed door, though he hadn't been invited to stay. "Don't tell me she wouldn't have you."
Patrick refused to dignify that idea with an answer. He just glared at Cochran for a long moment and then tore a piece of brown bread between his teeth and began to eat.
"I guess I lost my head." Cochran grinned. "Forgot for a moment that no lady has ever refused Patrick Trevarren. If it isn't the dancing girl, what is it that's troubling you so much?"'
Patrick shoved away the tray, tossed the bread down beside his bowl. "This is a merciless world," he said gravely.
The first mate pretended profound shock. "Now, there's an insight for you," he replied mockingly. "And here I thought it was all rose petals and angels' wings." Cochran, unlike most of the Enchantress's crew, was an educated man. In fact, Patrick knew he'd once been a tutor in a boys' school in New York, though his friend didn't talk much about the days before he'd gone to sea.
Massaging the knotted muscles at his nape with one hand, Patrick told Cochran about the kidnapping. He didn't mention how the maple-colored eyes haunted him, though.
"You can't save them all, Patrick," Cochran said, when the woeful tale was through. "Besides, some of those girls end up living like queens, you know that. The pretty ones get servants of their own, and fine clothes, and all the fancy food they can tuck away."
Patrick bit the inside of his lip to keep the floodtide of furious despair coursing through him from coming out as a bellow.
Cochran laid a hand on the captain's shoulder. "Was she pretty?" he asked quietly.
"Yes." Patrick's admission was gruff.
"Then she'll be all right," the seaman told him. With that, Cochran opened the door and went out.
Patrick propped his feet on the desk, just to one side of the tray, and tilted his head back with a groan. His headache was getting steadily worse, and even with his own lids stubbornly closed, he could still see those golden eyes looking up at him in the marketplace.
In the next instant, Patrick remembered. He and his uncle had docked the Enchantress in faraway Seattle, back in '66 or '67, and stayed a few days to enjoy the local hospitality and unload some of the goods they'd brought from both California and the Orient.
He'd returned to the ship one afternoon, after spending the morning with a local merchant, and looked up to find a scrap of a girl swinging in the rigging.
He'd yelled to her to come down, and she'd called back, in a reasonable enough tone, that she couldn't move. He'd climbed up to retrieve her, of course, and they'd exchanged words.
Patrick didn't remember her name, but those amber eyes were engraved in his consciousness. Impossible as it seemed, that adventurous young woman and the one he'd encountered in the marketplace, just prior to her abduction, were one and the same.
He knotted one fist and slammed it down on the desktop with such force that the silverware rattled on his tray.
Charlotte lost track of time after three days. She was given very little to eat or drink and allowed to relieve herself only once every twenty-four hours or so. Her veil had long since disappeared, and her borrowed gown was twisted around her, torn and dirty. Her skin burned with fever, and the bruises and cuts hurt more with the passing of time, instead of less.
No one had come to ravish her, that was some consolation. She could endure hunger, thirst, general discomfort, and a bladder that was about to explode, but the prospect of rape terrified her.
When her irascible guard came to collect her one night, jerking her to her feet with his usual lack of ceremony, she thought her luck had finally dried up and blown away like so much fine sawdust. She fought desperately, though she knew all the while there was no chance of winning, and the Arab finally backhanded her across the face. The blow, was so hard that she fainted.
She awakened -- whether it was minutes or hours later, she had no way of guessing -- to find herself squashed inside what felt like a burlap bag. She could see light through its loose weave, then make out the shadowy forms of several men.
They were laughing as they engaged in some game of cards, and Charlotte was practically convulsed with fury.
She started to scream that they were all beasts and found that she was still gagged. A second later, her eyes widened as the realization came to her that she was naked inside that scratchy burlap sack.
The gambling went on, and Charlotte dozed, opened her eyes, dozed again. Finally she felt the bag that enclosed her being slung over some man's shoulder like a bag of chicken feed. She struggled, but that only made whoever was carrying her laugh out loud.
"She's a spirited one, all right," a voice said, in unadorned American English. "Raheem won't be happy when he finds out you lost her at poker, but she might improve the captain's mood some. He's been growling for the better part of four days."
An American, Charlotte thought, nearly faint with relief. Now she could explain what had happened, book passage home to the United States, live a blessedly ordinary life...
After a lot of jostling, Charlotte heard a loud knock. Again she felt the rhythm of a ship beneath her.
"Yes?" someone called, in none too friendly a tone.
"I brung you somethin', Captain," answered the man who carried her. "Me and the rest of the crew, well, we've been lookin' for a way to cheer you up a mite."
Door hinges creaked, and Charlotte felt a peculiar combination of excitement and fear. After all, she'd been stripped of every stitch, and she was in desperate need of a bath and shampoo. When the bag was opened, she was going to make for a very unnerving sight.
The sack landed on the floor with a thump; she felt pulling as the rope or twine at the top was untied. The burlap fell around her in a rough pool, and she snatched it back up far enough to cover herself.
When she finally found the courage to look up, she found herself staring into the astonished ink blue eyes of Patrick Trevarren.
Copyright © 1993 by Linda Lael Miller