“I do not know where it is you came from, I do not give even the slightest damn if your name is attached to a fancy title! I will be clear on one thing, girl,” he growled, voice raw from the frigid water. It dripped in rivers from his hair onto my cheeks as I locked eyes with him above me. Somewhere in the chaos of hauling me back on deck, he’d pulled a knife and laid it firmly against my throat. “I will not save you again. No one will. In fact, I forbid it. If you wish to jump to your death, do it when my crew is otherwise preoccupied and won’t feel the need to rescue the damsel you claim to be.”
Heat flooded the surface of my skin as I pulled my wrist out from under where he’d pinned it to the floor. My dress had become vastly heavy, hanging like a potato sack around my shoulders and clinging to my calves with dead weight. My anger only seemed to infuriate the pirate further, the edge of his jaw ticking with repressed fury and tension. He opened his mouth to continue his tirade but I found my voice emerging from the searing pain in my lungs.
“I did not jump, you arrogant, stupid thief,” I screeched. I thrust my neck further into the blade and watched his brown eyes darken to an inky charcoal. I bore the resulting nick with welcome pleasure, a trickle of warmth sliding down my throat. “I was pushed. I am fast learning the subject of death may be your favorite but I promise you, I will never inflict pain upon myself. I am terrified and freezing and currently suffocating under a sodden dress and two hundred pounds of foolish male but I am no coward. I may long for death every day on this miserable ship of yours but I will live to see my way back to land and you with a knife of my own in your chest.”
His eyes widened only a fraction before his brows collapsed in on themselves with barely contained rage. The knife disappeared but was quickly replaced by his hand, hauling me to my feet as easily as a bag of grain. The grip of his fingers around my throat never eased as he drug me across the deck into the cabin. Several sets of eyes diverted their focus back to cleaning or restocking but I felt them pin on my back before the door slammed shut behind us.
My feet tangled in the folds of my dress and my knees crashed down onto pale, rough wood with a sound like a gunshot. The pirate released me with a look of disgust and paced to the large table dominating much of the room. It was covered in rolls of parchment, bits of uneaten breakfast, and a sword with the largest emerald I’d ever seen inlaid along the grip.
“I should snap your neck for what you said back there. I’ve killed men for less,” he stated, throwing himself down into a chair. The clothes he wore were finely made but soaked and his bottom lip was swelling from our wrestle in the waves. My elbow had connected with a satisfying crunch.
“And how many women have you killed, Captain?”
A chuckle much like a mountain lion’s purr erupted from his chest. He made no move to help me stand or offer a place to sit. Instead, his eyes drilled into mine with the studied calculation of what I assumed was a man who had indeed killed many. I had never seen him in the daylight but knew his voice was the one I’d heard when I’d been drugged and stowed away like common pillage. The past three days of being locked in the darkness underneath hadn’t softened my resolve to kill the man who’d so willingly taken me aboard and treated me as nothing more than cargo.
“I don’t make a habit of it. For you, little wench, I’m considering making an exception,” he drawled, kicking his bare feet up on the table. His boots were long abandoned on the deck where he must’ve kicked them off before diving in to grab me.
It was my turn to spew a sharp laugh, the rattle breaking off a chunk of pain in my chest. My braid was coming loose and tiny curls of wet hair clung to my forehead and jaw.
“Then you should have just let me drown. Seems a wasted effort,” I said. Slowly, I arched myself up and braced my hands on the cabin floor. As I stood, I searched the vicinity for anything I could use as a weapon but found none. The table between us seemed to be made of an ancient tree with knots and curves as large as a dinner plate. The sword caught my eye once again when the sun glinted off the blade like a shot of white light. “I told you someone pushed me if you would’ve listen-”
Memory tickled the base of my neck as I examined the emerald the size of my fist. It seemed the longer I looked into it, the harder breathing became.
“See something of interest?”
His voice had changed, quick as a whiplash, transforming into a gentle lull. Toying with me, daring me to reach for the weapon and shove it toward his heart. The dry edge of his pirate intonation disappeared and instead flowed over his vocal chords smooth as glass. I watched him as he studied the sword as well; broad, tan fingers lifted it and with sudden clarity, the memory biting at my brain pumped itself out of the recesses like lava from a volcano.
“You were eleven,” I whispered. Goosebumps pricked brittle as fire across my frozen skin and my stomach dropped to my feet. He looked up so suddenly the sword shook in his hand. I took in the massive, curve of his shoulders and the scars marring his face. “Dear God.”
Without thinking, I threw myself at him, reaching to rip open the front of his shirt. I landed straddle his lap, my eyes straining full of tears and remnants of salty brine. He dropped the sword and grabbed at my hands to stop the determined, animalistic attack.
“I will throw you back under, you rat. Stop it!” His grip was as firm as it had been on my throat, cupping my wrists like shackles and pushing me up and away from him.
“The necklace,” I screamed into his face, my voice breaking into a sob. “Show it to me!”
I had never seen a person’s face drain of color so quickly but he became sickly pale under what had been sun-darkened and freckled cheekbones. I stopped scratching at his shirt and my head crashed down onto his shoulder, tears replacing the rush of adrenaline I’d been on for the past few minutes.
His irises looked down at me, all burnt chestnut and flames. His chest sucked in a breath too deep under my hands and I heard the small sound at the back of his throat like a rusty hinge.
“Tell me who told you about my necklace,” he seethed, reaching to yank my chin roughly between two fingers. “Tell me who told you about my god damn necklace.”
The air felt too tight around us in the cabin and dark spots started dancing in the noon light before my eyes. Slapping his hand away from my chin, I leaned as far away from his shoulders to throw up nothing but acidic bile and ocean water.
“No one told me,” I wheezed, clinging to his chair arm like a lifeboat. “I am the one who gave it to you.”
A deep, whimper fluttered from his lips was the last thing I heard before everything went black.
© Pearl Bayou 2016