Stormy seas, a captive heart, and a coupling that breaks all the rules . . .
After years of committed service, Captain William “Bump” Quinn has finally taken the helm of the pirate ship Scarlet Night. But when rough waters send the Night off course, William winds up shipwrecked and alone on enemy shores—and prisoner to China’s most powerful pirate queen.
Captain Jian Jun is as alluring as she is formidable, and she’s careful not to let anyone too close. But the silence of the handsome Jamaican pirate in her custody intrigues her. Tempted by his topaz eyes and the strength of his character, she allows the captive into her inner sanctum. Though their bond defies all convention, Jun finds she is powerless against the emotions Will stirs in her. She prays their first union will not be her last. But with danger lurking in unexpected places, her beloved pirate may soon get the chance to prove he is every inch the hero he seems in her arms . . .
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William Quinn hated the dark. His companion had taken the lantern when she left. He could still smell the spiced honey of her skin and the musk of their sex in the rumpled sheets. She'd been a tiger in bed. His flesh still burned where her nails had raked his back. He'd lost himself for an hour or two between her smooth dark thighs. He only wished he'd learned her name.
Will lay in the bed and closed his eyes to the darkness. It was easier to visualize the layout of the room from memory this way. The door was to starboard. A three-drawer chest sat a foot to port. His pants were another matter. Where had she tossed them? She'd been in a terrible hurry to put her mouth on him. When she'd stripped him and seen his engorged cock, a smile spread across her shining face as if she'd discovered some long lost treasure. After that, she was driven by a single-minded desire. She'd been a most eager partner.
He rose and found his pants along with the wide blood-red sash he wore about his waist. And one boot. All the while, his limited sense was still on high alert. In this darkness, it would be easy to hide and ambush him. It wasn't as if he'd hear anyone approaching, but having lost his hearing at such a young age, over his lifetime, he'd honed his other senses to razor sharp. Will lifted his nose and gave another sniff. No, he was alone.
The heat along this stretch of the world limited his choice of clothing. Bare chested, he slipped into a tooled leather vest. He patted the breast pocket. His lusty partner wasn't interested in his winnings from tonight's poker tables. As the daughter of one of the local pepper merchants, money was not what she longed for. Madagascar pepper was considered black gold along this great treasure route. Her father was one of the wealthiest men in the city.
Will found his other boot, and sat on the edge of the bed to slip them on his feet. He sat there for a long moment. The hollow beating of his heart echoed in his chest. Even after hours of pleasure, the only thing sated was his body.
This girl, whoever she was, hadn't been interested in his newfound wealth or even knowing who he was. She'd only been interested in lying with him. It was the same wherever he went these days. He'd become a novelty.
Sex with the silent man.
It wasn't as if he could brag about his conquests. Tell tales of your night in his bed. He wouldn't bore you with long stories, or shout demands. He was deaf and never learned the basic fundamentals of speech. For some reason that made women eager to spread their legs for him. At least for one meaningless night.
Making his way to the door, Will wasn't surprised to find the public rooms below still doing a brisk business. Time held no meaning to these establishments. Glancing toward the back corner, the poker game still wore on. He was tempted to add to his already bulging purse. Tonight's profits had come too easy, but then it had always been a talent of his to read faces. Call it a lucrative byproduct of being deaf. Whether bluffing at cards or dealing with his crew, he could spot a liar at fifty yards.
Will's long legs carried him quickly through the dangerous dark streets. At more than six and a half feet tall, he made an imposing figure. The three-pistol baldric and side cutlass helped. As did his permanent scowl. He pulled a short knife from a leather sheath and carried it at his side. For two reasons. A handy weapon was never a bad idea, and the high polish on the blade gave him the perfect view of anyone trying to approach him from behind.
Will reached the docks without incident and was finally able to breathe easy when he dropped down upon the polished decks of the Scarlet Night. The gentle tip of the boards shifting beneath his feet, the smell of tarred rigging, and the sight of her three thick masts brought a smile to his face. He was home.
'Captain.' His first mate, Griffin, tapped his shoulder to sign the word before giving Will a sharp salute. Will returned the salute and replied with a few quick hand signals of his own.
'Are we ready to leave at first light?'
Griffin nodded. Will scanned the deck in a slow sweep. All looked as it should. The crew was busy loading supplies of food and ale. Barrels of powder and crates of spices were all being stowed properly.
Will slapped Griffin's shoulder in praise. He was a good man. Smart. Responsible. And a damn fine pirate. He could filet a ship with a single cannon shot down the length of their hull and fight like a man possessed. Short yet sturdy, his strength coiled in him like a taught spring waiting to unleash its controlled power. Will was happy he was on their side.
His first mate shook his head. Thankfully, Griffin was quick to pick up the basic hand signals Will had adapted over the years to help him communicate. Between the use of bells and signs and gestures, Will had been able to build a crew that could follow his strict orders and knew exactly what was asked of them and when. No small feat, but after almost two years at the helm, he'd amassed a fine group of men ... and one woman.
He recalled the day he'd become Captain of the Scarlet Night. He and the former captain, Tupper Quinn, had literally stolen their ship back from under the nose of the British Navy. They'd been captured and faced hanging for crimes against the crown, but what the wool-backed Brits hadn't counted on was the fact that not only did Tupper have friends in high places with deep pockets, but Will had a hide thicker than a bull elephant. He still had the scars to prove it.
Three months after their escape, as they made their way down the west coast of Africa, skirting the British at every turn, hiding in every nook and cranny along the rugged coastline, Tupper broke the news that she no longer wished to be called Captain.
'It's yer turn now. Ye've earned it. The Scarlet Night is in yer blood. She's yer soul. Hell, ye cut yer teeth on the riggin.' It's only right to pass her on to you now.'
At first, he'd laughed at her. She was talking crazy. Who ever heard of a deaf captain? But as time went on Tupper cleverly stepped back little by little. With each new crewmember they acquired, she planted the seeds of possibility. By giving him more responsibility, more of her power, she opened the path for him to finally take command.
It was only then he learned the real reason why Tupper Quinn was stepping aside.
The muscle in his jaw tensed at the thought. He turned back to Griffin. 'How is she?'
Griffin jerked his chin toward the ladder way. 'In her cabin.'
Will made his way below deck to the rear of the ship. He'd swiped two bottles of her favorite rum from the galley as he passed. He knocked on the thick wood of her door, but didn't wait to feel her stomp on the floorboards to indicate he could enter.
The Captain's quarters. Oak trimmed and impressive. Built-in cupboards and a carved niche holding the bed. The choicest plunder filled chests and trunks flanking the walls. A wide swath of diamond-paned windows followed the back curve of the ship's fantail. The polished floors now boasted a bright rug secured from a Persian ship.
While Will came here daily to work the logs and charts, it was still and always would be Tupper's quarters. He found her in bed, half sitting, half reclining. She was the color of a dirty sail. When he placed the bottles on the desk, she opened her eyes.
She straightened and ran a hand over her dull hair. 'Bump, there you are. Where did you run off to?'
The old nickname made him smile. She was the only one to call him that anymore, and continued to do so when they were alone. He'd been given the name when he'd first come aboard. A filthy, spindly urchin rescued from the fetid gutters of Port Royal, Jamaica. Imagine a deaf child on a pirate ship. How he survived was a true miracle.
In the beginning, he was always in the wrong place at the wrong time with ropes flying and blocks swinging. Needless to say, he couldn't hear anyone warning him to look out or duck. It had taken weeks before he developed a sixth sense that something was about to cleave his skull in two. Until then, he had more knots and scrapes. His face spent more time on the deck boards than his feet. Earned the name Bump. As with fool nicknames, it bloody well stuck and followed him clear into adulthood.
But when Tupper made the decision to give up her commission, they agreed Captain Bump was not a fit name anymore. As it was, when Gavin Quinn, Tupper's late husband and former Captain of the Scarlet Night, brought Bump aboard, none knew his surname. An old woman claiming to be the boy's grandmother had pleaded with Gavin to save him from the brutal life he was living on the street of Port Royal. She'd told Gavin his given name was William.
Against all advice, Gavin Quinn had taken him on as a fledgling cabin boy who could neither speak nor understand and who spent more time those first few days bleeding from the head than performing any duties. But Gavin became like a father to him and saved his life. Will would forever regret not being able to save his. Captain Gavin Quinn died in the great earthquake of 1692 that wiped most of Port Royal, Jamaica off the map. Will witnessed the whole horrific event. Watched the sea swallow the land. Helpless and heartbroken. He still remembered every detail of that awful day as if it happened yesterday.
Will's surname Quinn was a gift from Tupper. He and the rest of the crew were arrested for treason and piracy by the British. Not right to hang a man with half a name. All those years he'd been like a son to Gavin and Tupper. When it came time to sign his death warrant, Tupper made it official. He was a Quinn — at least 'til they set him swinging.
'Pour me some rum, and tell me where you've been.' Tupper gestured as she swept her thin, pale legs over to hang off the side of her bed. She was looking frailer by the day. She pulled the shoulder of her shirt from drooping down her arm. Will handed her a mug. She downed the strong drink in one swallow and held her mug out for more. He refilled it. Gladly. They repeated this once more. It was taking more rum these days to ease her pain. He'd feed her a barrel full if it meant she'd rest comfortably.
Tupper patted his hand and leaned back against the pillows. Will stowed the bottle as he eyed the charts spread out over the desk. There was no question in his mind. His original plan was not going to work.
With the route he'd drawn out, they'd never reach China in time. He would have to risk crossing paths with the British and navigate the Indian Ocean then through the treacherous Malacca Straights past Singapore. These were unfamiliar waters, but what choice did he have?
Tupper started to cough. Her body wracked with each bark. She covered her mouth with a handkerchief to whip the bloody spittle from her mouth. Seeing the blood, Will's stomach dropped. His hands curled into fists.
He had learned about the progressive medicines now available in China. They were far ahead of western doctors. He'd get her there no matter the cost. Will prayed their luck would hold. They'd survived the harrowing trip around the Cape of Good Hope, hadn't they? It had been the quickest way coming west, and Will had accidently discovered a small unknown secret to navigating the 'Cape of good storms' without losing a single life.
Tupper rapped her mug on the edge of the desk asking for more rum. Will pulled the bottle and then poured her some more. They'd fought the beast of Good Hope, and it was that hope he was hanging on to now. There was one life he was determined not to lose. Not if he had any say in the matter.
Will raised the wick on the lantern and studied the maps. Time was the enemy now. If he didn't find the fastest route to China, Tupper would soon be dead.
A red sun rose out of a fiery sea. It was the time of reckoning. Jian Jun sat in her place of honor upon a gold-trimmed throne. Around the perimeter of the room stood her seconds-in-command, advisors, scribes, keepers of her vast accounts. With a fleet numbering in the hundreds of ships, it took an entire nation to oversee the operation. Jian Jun was their captain and supreme authority. She was their pirate queen.
As queen, each appointed commander came before her to pay homage and deliver to her the hearty percentage due from his or her rich bounty. Disputes came before her to be settled. Punishments, swift and severe were delivered as well. Although not delivered by her own hand, her wrath was ruthless according to many. She demanded a strict adherence to her rules, and was intolerant of those who broke them. You didn't build an empire this size by being weak.
General Chou Peng — her right hand, first mate, her iron fist — stood nearby. He wore the purple of royalty. A symbol that he was honored as her confidant and trusted as her second in command. Peng was a study of angles. Sharp shoulders, chiseled cheek bones, pointed face made more severe by the thin blade of black beard decorating his chin. He was sleek, refined, cold. Not a tall man, yet he carried himself with an air of utter control and authority.
Peng's loyalty was absolute. Rather remarkable considering she had been the one who'd taken over her husband's fleet known to all as the Dragon's Fire. Many were more than shocked on the day she appeared before them wearing her late husband's ill-fitting armor and literally stepped into his boots. Peng had been the obvious successor, but Jian Jun was determined to use the knowledge she had gleaned at Jian Fu's powerful elbow. She would not return to the life he had rescued her from, and would fight whomever she must to honor his memory and rule his pirate empire.
One of her sub captains, the commander of the junk, Yue'er Gao, was dragged before her in shackles and forced to kneel at her feet. Twenty of his men were hauled into a huddled mass behind him, their ankles chained one to another.
Chou Peng read the petition levied against the captain and his crew. They were charged with disobeying Jian Jun's direct order and attacking a small fishing village under her protection. As if those offenses alone were not cause to lose their heads, they had assaulted the innocents — women, children, elders. Burned their homes. Ransacked their farms. Butchered their livestock.
The commander stood and held her stare. He had stood with the same indignant air once before and showed the evidence of her justice. The last time he had lost only his left ear as punishment for not listening to the laws. Today he would lose much more.
"He openly defies me." Jun spoke to Chou Peng in English as to keep their conversation private. "Disrespects me. Leads his men completely outside our rules with no shame and no conscience."
"Headstrong, yes, but his ship is one of the most profitable."
Her voice rose, and yet she never broke her dark stare upon the prisoner. "He attacked people I gave my word to protect. Do you believe I place gold above human life? The life of a child? The honor of a woman?"
"Of course not," Peng placated. "The report of the incident speaks of vast amounts of alcohol involved. Perhaps they were not in their right minds."
"I should excuse the raping and total destruction of this humble peaceful village to a night of drunken madness?" Jun held up a gloved hand to cease any further discussion. "No." She rose to her feet, pulling both scimitars that hung in crossed leather baldrics across her chest. Raising the blade of one she slashed it through the air and pointed its barbed end at the man's throat.
In her native Chinese, she pronounced sentence, never easing her stony glare. "I want his ear, his tongue, his hands, then his head. And the heads of all the cowards who followed him like blind sheep to commit this atrocity against me, this fleet, and my people." Her voice thundered through the room. "Let them be a warning to all, that my word is law and my justice fierce. Decorate the rails of the Yue'er Gao with the bloody remains. Adorn the harbor with their heads before burning the junk into the sea."
Chou Peng stepped forward and ordered the guards to remove the men to be executed. He gave Jun a short sharp bow before he followed the convicted men out to see to the deed set before him. Jun, watching them go, never broke, never moved. The arm holding the sword remained steady. Yet inside she trembled with a mixture of outrage and fear and numbing sadness.
Excerpted from "Within A Captain's Soul"
Copyright © 2017 Lisa Olech.
Excerpted by permission of KENSINGTON PUBLISHING CORP..
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