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Excerpt for Trapped Like a Rat by , available in its entirety at Smashwords




Lilith T. Bell


Copyright © 2018 Lilith T. Bell

All Rights Reserved


Book Design by Selkie Publishing


This book is a work of fiction. Names, characters, events, and locations are fictitious or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual persons or events, living or dead, are entirely coincidental.


This book is licensed for private individual entertainment only. The book contained herein constitutes a copyrighted work and may not be reproduced, stored in or introduced into an information retrieval system or transmitted in any form or by any means (electrical, mechanical, photographic, audio recording, or otherwise) for any reason (excepting the uses permitted to the licensee by copyright law under terms of fair use) without the specific written permission of the author.




Infiltrating a pirate ship disguised as a boy is easily the most dangerous thing Brigid O'Cullane has ever done. But she has no choice if she ever wants to regain the treasure map that belonged to her dead father. Her father's closest friend Liam Lynch holds the map now and he may well have had a role to play in her father's death. When the dangerously sensual Liam catches her, he hints at secrets her father never shared—a double life of danger and wonder, magic and horror. Now she has no choice but to work alongside a pirate she cannot trust.


Yet as their journey continues across the sun-drenched Caribbean sea, their mutual desire is impossible to fight and a bond Brigid fears begins to grow. Faced with a startling paranormal discovery and dangers on the seas she could have never imagined, it's soon unclear whether Liam is with her for his own gain...or to protect her.


***





Other Books by Lilith T. Bell


The Captive to a Pirate Series

Trapped Like a Rat [Free]

Rats and Sinking Ships

To Catch a Rat


The Claimed by an Alpha Series

Cat and Mouse

Like a Cat in Heat

Once Bitten, Twice Claimed

Lost in Heat

Fighting Like Cats and Dogs




Table of Contents



Prologue

Chapter One

Chapter Two

Chapter Three

Chapter Four

Chapter Five

Chapter Six

Chapter Seven

Chapter Eight

Further Reading

About the Author






Prologue

August 3rd, 1688

Port Royal, Jamaica



Liam Lynch arrived in Port Royal with blood on his hands and a sack of his meager belongings over one shoulder. Under the scent of the sea there was the symphony of aromas associated with human habituation. Sweat and piss and perfume and smoke and baking bread and the acrid scent of sex that clung to the dock whores who had been hard at work since the morning tide had carried in its first crop of sailors.

A woman lounging near a stall selling fish leaned forward slightly when she noticed his eye, pushing her arms together to accomplish with her cleavage what her loose corset had failed to manage. “Looking for something?”

She wasn’t pretty, but that was hardly any fault of hers. One of her front teeth was missing and she had a few pock marks on her face. Though she didn’t look too plump, she had a bit of a double chin anyway. He couldn’t be sure if she was selling herself or the fish. Perhaps both, depending on the price.

He tipped his hat and continued on his way. “Nothing you can offer, I’m afraid.”

The press of people got tighter the further he went and he automatically covered the purse on his belt with his free hand, guarding against pickpockets. Sure enough, a cluster of beggar children were squatting in the filth between buildings, eyes watching him with that same curious hunger as the gulls waiting to snatch a man’s last crust of bread. The birds likely ate better than the children, though.

Could you spare some coin?” one of the children called out, rising to his bare feet.

It was wise to avert the eyes and avoid the trouble that could manifest from even acknowledging the children. He knew that, because he’d been the one people averted their eyes from often enough. Perhaps it made him a soft touch now, unable to turn away when he should. The boy looked to have blood native to the Caribbean, which was all too achingly rare these days. His eyes searched the child’s face for some resemblance to anyone he’d ever known, but his memory was fuzzy after all these years and children had always tended to all look alike to him anyway.

He tossed a piece of eight to the lad, the silver glinting as it somersaulted through the air. The boy’s hand shot up, catching it as deftly as any bird swooping in for its next meal. Liam nodded approvingly. “How old are you, lad?”

A shifty look stole over the boy’s face, shoulders hunching forward. “I’m ten.”

Another year or two and I think you can get work on one of those ships.” Liam pointed back toward the Black Pride, the ship he’d just left. “Do you have any family watching out for you?”

The boy shook his head in a quick jerk. “My mum died from a fever two months ago,” he said into his chest.

It might well have been a lie. From his personal experience, children on the streets often came up with lies to make themselves sound more appealing to the pity of those who had anything to give. Yet whether it was the truth or not hardly mattered in the end, since the boy was clearly close to starving. If he had parents, they weren’t able to care for him properly, either because they lacked the means or the desire.

When you’re old enough, keep an eye open for me and I’ll help you find some honest work.” Liam cast a disgusted look toward the docks, then shook his head and continued on. Honest work was a joke, but he hadn’t been close to starving in over a decade.

In any port throughout the Caribbean there was one thing that always held true. Sailors meant money and money meant alcohol. Whether it was smuggled or brewed in someone’s cellar, it could always be found. He followed the road to the tavern he wanted for the night and stepped inside. Now stale tobacco smoke, rum, and a hint of sour-sweet vomit assaulted his nose. At least he was plenty used to it by now and no more recoiled than he would from the ugly sights he saw every day.

Casiguaya recognized him immediately and slid through the room on steps as soft as the scurry of a mouse. Though she was shorter than him by a head and slender as a blade of grass, she was the closest thing to home he still had in the world. As far as he knew, the two of them were the last remaining survivors of the massacre that had taken their parents. Both of them had a European father and a mother from the Ciboney people, both a mix of old and new world magic. Casi was dark and lovely, using her God-given assets to make a living off the sailors who came through Port Royal. Any number of the men whose coin she took would have happily wed her and provided her with a home, but when he’d pointed that out to her she had laughed and asked him why she would want to give up all her freedom for a false sense of security.

What are you looking for tonight?” she asked, before her nose wrinkled and her eyes went to his hands. “Whose blood is that?”

He held up one fist, his knuckles scuffed but the skin unbroken. “New ship, new crew. Had to prove myself against someone who didn’t think I deserved my position.”

She took hold of his arm, steering him to a table. “A new ship? What happened to the one you’d been on all these years?”

Liam dropped into a chair and shook his head. “I need some drink in me before I tell that story.”

Five minutes later he had a cup of rum, clean hands, and had told the bare facts of the story to Casi. Though he’d always been one to relish a good, juicy tale, this wasn’t one of them. Not when his heart was so closely wrapped up in it, at any rate. He pulled out a letter that had been folded over and over again until it felt soft as felt, still unread by the person it was intended for, and slid it across the table toward Casi. “Do you think that sounds all right? For his wife, I mean.”

She pursed her lips while she read, brows knit together like two lines of black velvet. “I don’t think there’s any nice way to give this information, but giving it in person might be a bit kinder.”

Liam snatched the paper back. “Letters exist so you don’t have to say things to people’s faces, don’t they?”

Casi was quiet for a moment while he drank his rum. It burned pleasantly down his throat, making his eyes sting. When the cup was drained, he blinked a few times against a wave of dizziness and reached for the bottle. Delicate fingers laid over his to stop him. “Liam,” Casi said reproachfully, “you loved Ol’ Donny like family. Doesn’t family deserve the respect of, well, family?”

His fingers closed around the neck of the bottle and he jerked it toward him with a snarl. “They’re no blood of mine.”

Casi sighed, but pressed no further. “Did he have any personal affects that should be passed on?”

He turned his head to watch the entrance of a one-legged man on crutches, avoiding Casi’s eyes. “No.”

Do you know where his family lives? I can make sure they get the letter.”

Part of him itched to see the O’Cullane property, a place as remote to him as Rome or Hong Kong, but a larger part of him felt sick and angry at the thought. Grief refused to settle on a single feeling, torn between a miserable longing to see his old friend one more time and a seething hatred for the man for betraying him by being mortal. Haltingly, Liam told Casi the general area were Donovan O’Cullane had lived. True to her word, she found someone who was heading out of the city in that direction and promised to get it there by the end of the day, along with Donovan’s final pay. It saved him the misery of facing a family he couldn’t help resenting. And getting someone else to deliver the letter meant that he didn’t have to waste any time staying sober.

Casi nudged the bottle away from him and set some bread and cheese before him instead, clearly not embracing his plan to get as drunk as possible. “How long are you in port?”

He shrugged. “A few days. New captain has some business to take care of and our crew is still short a few men.”

She cut off a piece of cheese and held it out to him, waving it back and forth so the scent wafted to him. “Why don’t you eat a little and tell me some new stories from your privateering?”

He glared, pulling his hat off to drop it on the table, then accepted the morsel. “It’s pirating now.”

Same difference.” She smoothly rose from her chair, letting a hand run up his arm as she circled the table to stand behind him. “Come on, talk to me. How are you? I’m worried about you.”

The cheese was good and strong, blocking out less savory odors in the tavern while he ate it. “I’m all right, Casi. Truly. As well that I can be, at least.”

Though her hands were small, they were plenty strong and he winced when she began rubbing his shoulders, thin fingers digging into knots he hadn’t realized he carried. “When was the last time you had a woman?”

Huffing, he closed his eyes. Normally his sensual appetites drove him, but he’d been at sea with limited chances to indulge in good food or feminine company. When they had stopped in port, so many other concerns had kept him busy, like the small contingent on the new ship who resented him for rising in the ranks so fast. Or procuring alcohol and crawling back into his bunk as quickly as possible. A thousand things had seemed of far greater importance than anything carnal.

Honestly can’t remember,” he muttered. “It was before Ol’ Donny died.”

Why don’t you let me find you a girl for the night? It’ll take your mind off of all of this for a little while.”

You know how I feel about that.”

Casi stopped rubbing his shoulders, giving him a light smack in the upper arm. “You’ve got no problem paying for your food or bed, but think giving a lass a little coin for her time and trouble is beneath you? I know how you feel, but quite frankly I’m offended.”

He couldn’t help but laugh and the sound loosened something in his chest, releasing tension he’d been holding for too long. Turning in his chair, he caught her hand and grinned up at Casi. “I’m here for days to help the new captain pick up fresh crew. Maybe I’ll find a woman who suits me while I’m here, all right?”

If you insist.” Casi slipped her arms around his shoulders to hug him and he leaned back into the touch. To any of the humans watching, it likely just looked like a wanton woman being free with her affections, but they simply didn’t understand. Touch was deeply important to the ratkin and he found it as healing as the spirits in his bottle. He might as well have been receiving a hug from his mother for all the innocence of the embrace. “And what sort of woman would suit you, since you refuse to go for the kind available for a price?”

Hm,” he murmured, closing his eyes as he settled his head back against Casi. “Someone who desires me, obviously. Maybe a redhead, a feisty one who gives as good as she gets.”

Casi snorted. “And not a whore? Good luck on that.”


***


What do you mean this is all you have?” Brigid O’Cullane demanded, waving the letter in the man’s face. Her mother had fallen into tears as soon as word had arrived and retreated into the house, but Brigid was grasping for anything to cling to rather than accept this horror. “Did everything he owned on the ship get washed overboard as well? Everything but the money in his pockets?”

The young man at the door backed up, hands raised in surrender, eyes wide. He hardly looked any older than her, except for the thick mat of freckles across his face, likely earned from being out in the brutal Caribbean sun. Her own skin was alabaster in contrast, the benefit of her father’s support so she’d never had to work out of doors like so many young women in the colonies.

I wasn’t his shipmate, miss. Someone just gave me the letter to deliver it.”

Who?” She looked down at the letter again, noting how battered and abused it looked. How many ports had the letter had to travel through before arriving? “Was it this Liam Lynch?”

Some doxy in a tavern, miss. I think the man with her wrote the letter, but he was deep in his cups, miss.”

He was here? And he didn’t bring it himself?” A wave of dizziness hit her then, the rage she’d been using to bury everything else she might feel faltering. She sagged back against the door frame and let the letter flutter from her hand. It couldn’t all end this way, nothing but a letter and what things he’d left behind before his last voyage to remember her father by.



Chapter One

THE BLACK PRIDE

August 24th, 1688

Isla Tortuga, Hispaniola



Tortuga was rich from the bounty of pirates and privateers. Brigid looked toward land as they unloaded their booty. Her father would never share many details on his life as a privateer, but she had deified him far above the pirates she now found herself surrounded by. The Hispaniolan port was renowned as a haven for the worst of pirates and she was grateful that she was keeping watch on the ship for a variety of reasons.

Sad you’ll be missing out, Brian?”

Having used the fake name for weeks, she was finally starting to respond to it automatically, which was good. She’d worried everyone had thought she was slow when she first joined the crew, as she so often didn’t notice when her alias was called out.

The voice using her alias would have caught her attention regardless, though. His voice was deep, with a muddled accent that was difficult to pin down. His accent was influenced by all parts of the British Isles and a number of ports in the New World as well. Her father had sounded a bit like that, though heavier on Dublin. Her father had said it was a good sailor’s voice, as it showed a man called the entire world his home.

It was difficult for Brigid to admit there was anything good about Liam Lynch at all.

She turned toward the man who’d been speaking to her, passing off the crate she had in her hands. Of all aspects of his life at sea, her father had spoken the most about Liam. He’d taken the lad as something of an apprentice back when Liam was orphaned at twelve and the two had sailed together frequently since.

A bit, I suppose,” she lied. “I’m happy to watch the ship with Ancient Amos, though. I like the chance to prove myself.”

One detail about Liam that Brigid’s father had failed to ever describe was his face, which the young woman found disconcertingly beautiful. Despite his very Irish sounding Christian name, his skin was a golden bronze that would be difficult to come by on the cloudy isle. His face was unlined beyond a few faint worry lines crossing his forehead, illustrating his youth and health. His lips were full and well shaped, with the upper lip slightly fuller than the bottom. His nose was straight, lacking any hook to its bridge or the tell-tale asymmetry of having been broken in the past. The only real flaw in his face were two thin scars that ran down his left cheek, looking something like old claw marks. His cheekbones were high and sharp, drawing her attention to pale blue eyes that contrasted dramatically with the black lashes that fringed them.

The piercing gaze of those eyes seemed to look right down to the core of her and she quickly looked away again, feeling her cheeks warm up. Under the bindings she used to keep her breasts flat, she could feel her nipples hardening as shivers rushed through her body. Desire didn’t seem to care that she hated the man.

Eh, you’ve proven yourself well enough already, lad. We’d best watch out or you’ll be stealing my job next.” From the corner of her eye, she could see Liam smile and give her a wink.

Oh, that’s not what I’ll be stealing,” Brigid said, passing on the next crate down the line.

Liam laughed and once he’d handed off the crate, he gave her a friendly slap on the back. With the wet dock beneath her feet and the unexpected touch, it was enough to make her stumble. One of her boots slipped on the slick wood, throwing her body forward, head first off the dock and toward the sea below.

Powerful arms wrapped around her instantly. One of Liam’s hands was braced at her chest, the other catching her at the upper thigh. His touch made her heart pound far harder than the prospect of going headfirst into the churning waves. At her thigh his fingers slid upward as he pulled her back toward him, brushing against her clothed sex. Just that incidental touch was like being struck by lightning, making muscles clench and flutter. She was jerked back against his chest and held there for a moment to get steady on her feet. She could feel the fingers at her chest slide against the bindings there, clearly having noticed them. His middle finger slid over her nipple and she pulled away from him frantically, scrambling backward from the edge of the dock.

Their eyes met. One of his brows was raised and he was giving her a shrewd look. He’d felt the bindings and had certainly been close enough to guess at a lack of manhood between her legs. Was he paying enough attention to have realized and seen through her disguise?

That’s the last of the cargo. I’d best get back there before Ancient Amos drinks himself into a stupor,” she said in a rush.

Liam said nothing. Brigid hurried up the gangplank, trying to ignore both the rush of abject fear and confused arousal. Putting off her plan any longer would be too much of a risk. She had to find out what had happened to the map and flee the ship before the night was out.

Once she was on deck, she leaned backward against the railing for a moment and took a few deep breaths. She counted off the seconds in her head before she dared to look over her shoulder to see that Liam had left. Her eyes moved toward the port city and she allowed herself to shudder. If all went according to plan, she’d be sleeping in Tortuga that night, before finding a ship willing to take a passenger and making her way toward New Providence. Everything she’d heard about Tortuga had chilled her blood, though the majority of what she was told had been from gleefully bragging pirates—her crew-mates. Or at least that was who they would be until the end of the night.

Reaching up, she took off her hat for a moment, then slid the eye-patch she’d hidden under her bandana down and over her eye. Her father had always shown an unbelievable gift for seeing in the dark. Several years before he died, he’d shown her the trick to block out light to one eye so that it would be attuned to darkness. Later, she’d flip it back up again below deck and be able to see. She still didn’t have her father’s gift for seeing in the dark, but it was better than being blinded by the blazing setting sun over Hispaniola.

Amos, I have something better for you than the watered down grog we’ve been drinking,” she called out to the older man.

Despite the name of Ancient Amos, he was only in his late thirties. Prematurely grayed hair and a grizzled look from a lifetime of heavy drinking had granted him the name. He walked over toward Brigid, head cocked with interest. “What’s that, lad?”

She offered over the small bottle of rum she’d stolen at their last port and she saw his bloodshot eyes brighten up with pleasure. Ancient Amos took the bottle happily and used his knife to pry out the cork. “Here, lad. Have the first drink.”

Ah, you’re a good man.” Brigid grinned as she took the bottle, then tipped it back at her lips. Her tongue blocked the flow of the rum as she mimed taking a few swallows, then handed it back.

The opium that she’d added to the rum made her tongue tingle and as soon as Ancient Amos wasn’t looking, she turned her face toward the railing and spat over it. Finding something she was sure would knock out whoever she had watch with had been difficult, but she was sure the opium would pay off. She would never indulge in the drug, but her father had told her about its effects on men. He’d told her many useful things.

Judge a ship by its rats. It was a strange bit of advice that Brigid’s father had given her, but she had taken it to heart even so. The most valuable part of it was that she knew he had given the same wisdom to Liam.

Not wasting a moment in mourning, as soon as word came of her father’s death without even a coin tossed their direction, she had gone to the docks and watched. Every ship had rats, but the one with fat, sleek rats that showed neither fear nor aggression was the ship Liam would be on. That very day she chopped off her hair and put on her father’s clothes and presented herself to the captain as a youth in search of work.

She kept glancing toward the shore as Ancient Amos drank and she pretended to. The combination of opium and alcohol had the man blind to any nervousness she was displaying. Soon enough, he’d settled down to sit on the starboard side of the desk and seemed to have forgotten about sharing the rum at all. Eventually, the sound of snoring drew her attention back to him. He was sprawled out on the deck with his head propped up against the side of the ship, the bottle hugged to his chest like a lover.

Another cautious glance toward shore and then she grabbed a lantern to head below.

Her boots were nearly silent as she made her way back to the navigator’s cabin. Pirate ships were gutted of most cabins in order to lighten their weight. It increased speed and meant they could carry more cannons. Not all of the quarters were gutted, though. There was space for the captain, for the first mate, and for the navigator. Liam.

The door was locked, but that had never stopped her. Brigid dropped to her knees and flipped up the eye-patch. She set her lantern beside her before pulling out her lock-picking kit from a pocket in her breeches, a cherished gift from her father. Every second that passed made her more agitated and concerned about being caught, but she sighed in relief when the last tumbler slid into place. A quiet creak made her wince when she pushed the door open, then she slipped inside.

The room was small, just wide enough for a single cot and a compact desk to sit side by side. The desk had a chair before it and the bed had a chest at its foot. Beyond that, the room was empty. As spartan as it was, the cabin was absolute luxury compared to what the rest of the crew had. She went to the desk first and began to sift through the maps and papers and books. Some were stacked up neatly or rolled together on the desktop, while the rest had been tucked into the two small drawers the desk sported. Nothing with her father’s handwriting caught her eye, but she did find what looked like an old personal logbook and flipped it open to leaf through to the date when her father died, hoping there might be some hint as to what happened.

Liam’s handwriting was surprisingly neat and fine. The lettering was small in order to fit a great deal of information on every line, but it never looked cramped. He had the perfect navigator’s hand. There was no entry for the day the letter said her father had died, but two days later it began again. The precision of his lettering was off, that tightly controlled hand now shaky.


Storm heavily damaged ship port-side. Two leagues north of Eleuthera. Donovan swept overboard. Body found crushed against coral. His effects are chest and Bible. Will send word to his family. May God keep him close to His heart.


Several different feelings warred within Brigid as she gazed on that simply written eulogy. Though she had never met Liam before joining the crew of the Black Pride, weeks in his company and years of hearing her father speak of him had formed an impression of a man who didn’t show his intimate emotions lightly. Seven short sentences by a trembling hand told a world of grief. She wanted to have empathy for him, for the loss they both shared, and yet the notation that her father’s chest and Bible had survived the storm without being returned to her family enraged her. It was what she had assumed and why she had come after Liam in the first place, but being proven right didn’t soothe her anger.

She set the journal back into the drawer she had taken it from, then slid the drawer closed before turning her attention to the chest. With the desk proven fruitless, it was the next logical place to look for her father’s things. She settled her lantern next to the chest and knelt to check the lock.

The cabin door flew open, slamming against the wall behind it. Brigid’s head jerked up and her hand automatically went to grab the butt of the flintlock pistol at her belt.

Liam stood in the doorway, his hands braced on other side as he used his body to block the only exit from the small cabin. He wasn’t the largest man on the ship, but a body hardened by constant labor would make him a formidable foe. His dark hair fell to his shoulders, his beard kept shaved down to stubble. His clothes were simple, relatively utilitarian compared to the flamboyancy of many other successful pirates. The only bit of jewelry he wore was an intricate gold ring on a chain around his neck.

Under the best of circumstances, meeting his eyes would leave her flustered and uncomfortable. It was far from the best of circumstances as his glacial blue eyes burned into hers with fury.

What do you think you’re doing here, boyo?” he demanded.




Chapter Two




The island of Tortuga had few single women beyond whores. For most buccaneers, that was women enough and a good way to waste what gold they had collected. A few had planned ahead and kept a wife in almost every port, so they always had a clean bed and woman to lay down with when they arrived. Liam desired neither a prostitute nor a neglected wife. Women who wanted a lover simply for pleasure rather than an ulterior motive were the only ones he had an interest in, which often meant places of revelry to other men were ones of celibacy to him.

When the pretty little thing who had been sitting in his lap at the inn had made it clear she had more interest in his coins than his kisses, he’d had his fill of Tortuga. He had it in mind to send the lad Brian off to enjoy himself, since the boy was guarding the ship and no doubt pining for a bit of fun.

Finding Ancient Amos passed out on deck and no sign of Brian had raised an instant alarm, particularly after the strange way the lad had been acting earlier in the afternoon. It was less instinct and more selfishness that had driven him to check his own quarters before looking anywhere else below deck.

Stealing was considered a serious offense on a ship and the lad was new, meaning there would be less mercy for him. Liam watched Brian rise to his feet, looking pale and frightened. The boy looked no older than twelve and his voice had yet to change, but he was quite tall for a lad, only an inch or two shorter than Liam himself. Brian kept himself covered in great baggy clothes and wasn’t particularly thin, but Liam was sure he had far more muscle than the boy. There was no doubt that he could beat sense into the lad. A friendly beating would be kinder than the whipping he could expect from official disciplinary action. Liam would make sure the boy survived, for one.

Well?” Liam asked, when the youth failed to answer his question. “Am I going to have to box it out of you?”

The boy raised his chin defiantly, though he looked no less terrified. “You have something of mine and I came to get it.”

Liam narrowed his eyes at the accusation. “Unlike you, I don’t steal from shipmates.”

The lad snorted and shook his head. “Only the dead ones.”

There was only so far Liam’s patience went and Brian had used every last bit of it. The older man shook his head as he stepped further into the cabin. “That’s it, lad. I’m taking you to the brig and informing the captain of this.”

Brian took a step back to avoid him, the terror in his eyes now turning to panic. “Donovan O’Cullane was my father and you took his bloody map!”

The bizarre statement made Liam freeze in his tracks. How would anyone else know about the map? Obviously, the lad was lying about being Donovan’s, unless the man had left some bastards around the Caribbean that he hadn’t told anyone about. It was possible, but Liam couldn’t imagine that the man who had lectured him on why they could never abandon a child would have fathered a secret son. The cultural imperative was too deeply ingrained in their kind. It happened, yes, but it was a shameful thing to do.

The lad took advantage of his shock to attempt darting past him. As the boy ducked beneath one of Liam’s arms, the navigator spun and grabbed for him, catching a handful at the back of the boy’s shirt. There was something else beneath it as well that felt almost like bandages. He’d felt that earlier and wondered if the boy had some injury he’d been hiding. No matter; for the moment all Liam cared about was keeping a good grip on the lad to drag him back in. He pulled the boy toward him as Brian struggled. There was the sound of cloth ripping and Liam felt whatever the lad wore under his shirt give way. The well worn shirt tore downward from the laced v-neck collar as well as the boy continued to fight. In his thrashings, Liam saw something that made no sense whatsoever.

Once he managed to catch an arm, he slammed his captive’s back against the wall, then looked down to verify what he had seen. Breasts. Full, ripe, painfully tempting breasts. They had been bound by the cloth that he grabbed through the shirt and were now unrestrained. Exposed as well, with the shirt torn open. He drew his eyes up slowly to the girl’s face. Of course. How stupid had he been to think for a moment that Brian was a boy?

He brought his free hand up to catch the eye-patch, the bandana and the hat over it that “Brian” had used in covering up her head. A red-haired lad trying to protect his fair skin from the sun had made sense, but that wasn’t it at all. Corkscrew copper curls fell almost to the young woman’s shoulders, framing a pale, frightened face. She was quite tall for a woman, but O’Cullane had been tall as well. She was strong, too, with the fight she’d put up.

Aye, I didn’t think Ol’ Donny had any surviving sons,” Liam said.

He brought a hand up to touch the girl’s cheek as he considered the resemblance, then felt the cold metal of a pistol’s barrel against the underside of his chin.

Give me the map and let me go.” The girl’s voice was deadly serious enough to put the fear of God in a man. The fright he’d seen in her eyes was gone now, replaced with the steely determination he’d seen in Donny’s face a thousand times.

Whatever his feelings were on Donny and what was possibly his daughter, there was no way in hell Liam would accept such a threat. He swept the pistol from the girl’s hand, then caught her wrist to pin it to the wall above her head. At the same time, he felt her wrenching her other arm free, her hand grasping at the dagger he kept in his belt. Again, he caught that wrist to pin it, then grit his teeth with a growl as she started kicking him in the shins with her boots.

Jesus Christ, woman!”

Spinning her around, he pushed her face into the wall and took the bandage she’d used for binding her breasts, then quickly tied her wrists together as she swore and fought and scratched at him. She still had her feet and teeth and head and whatever else she might decide to use as a weapon, but at least he had control of her hands. Even tied, he still didn’t trust her, so patted over her hips to find all of her knives and toss them aside. Feeling the curve of her hips and the firm roundness of her ass, he had to marvel at how well she’d hidden her body beneath baggy male clothing.

Once he was fairly sure she was unarmed, he leaned in against her, closing his eyes as he inhaled the scent at the back of her neck. She’d found some way to bathe herself on the ship, but there was a faint hint of the right scent there. She could be O’Cullane’s daughter. He shoved her back around to face him again, but this time pressed his body in close against hers so that she had no room to kick him. Her squirming and the jiggling of her bared breasts were having an unwanted effect on his body and when she abruptly went still and her pale cheeks turned bright red he could tell she’d noticed his arousal. Distractingly, he felt her hips shift forward to press against him in a purposeful movement.

Liam took a deep breath and then let it out to center himself, as he had more important things to worry about than a redhead wriggling on his cock.

Start talking, luv. Tell me why I should believe you’re Ol’ Donny’s and what you know about this map you claim I have.”

She fumed with her face downcast for a moment, then lifted her chin defiantly, glaring at him through narrowed eyes as dark and blue as the depths of the sea. Again, he was dismayed that he’d been so stupid as to not see through her disguise. Most people saw what they expected to see, but he should have been better than that. He had more than human eyes to rely on.

My name’s Brigid O’Cullane. You sent a letter to my mother telling her that my father died on the twenty-seventh of June and you lacked the decency to come and tell us in person. He was the first mate on the Nightbird’s Journey, a privateer for Britain and working against the Spanish. He took you under his wing when you were twelve and he’d be ashamed of you now, working as a pirate.”

You’ve been pirating as well.”

I’m just here because of you,” she countered. “The map would have been among his personal belongings. It showed an island which looks a bit like a turtle with one flipper missing. It is mine and I want it.”

Liam was quiet for a moment, resting one arm against the wall and leaning into it as he looked Brigid over, contemplating what she had said. The resemblance to Donny was clear enough—though the older man had lacked that fine pair of breasts, Liam noted to himself wryly—and she knew things no one else should have been able to tell him. The trouble was that he had no interest in giving up the map. He’d been working for weeks on figuring out which island was shown on it, since the crafty old bastard hadn’t given coordinates. Donny’s widow and daughter would have a house full of things to remember him by and all the wealth he’d been sending home for decades. Liam had memories and a map. Was it really too much for him to keep?

So, say I have this map,” he began, lightly tracing one finger down the center of her chest. He saw her shudder as she leaned into the touch, which made him grin. Well then. He had been wondering why a lad would always blush and avoid his eyes when they were alone. Knowing the lass beneath the disguise was attracted to him changed everything. “What would I have to gain by giving it to you?”





Chapter Three




Brigid narrowed her eyes, trying to ignore the shivers he was currently eliciting. A difficult task when she could feel his hips settled against hers, the hard heat of his cock prodding her. All she wanted to do was press to him and feel him places no one had ever touched her. “You’d know you’d done right by someone you claimed as a mate. It’s the decent thing to do.”

Mm, funny thing that.” Liam’s callused hand slid over her exposed belly and she made a soft, involuntary sound as she automatically leaned into the touch, feeling her nipples harden in the cool air of his cabin. Deep inside, her body clenched and a wave of heat collected between her thighs. “It assumes I’m a decent man to begin with.”

She squirmed between him and the wall, frustrated with her hands being bound. After she threatened to shoot him in the head, she could understand why he’d keep her wrists tied behind her back, but it was difficult to trust him at all when he had made a threat of his own regarding the brig and still refused to hand over the map. And then there was the matter of him not simply sending it home to her mother in the first place. She sucked in a sharp breath through her teeth. “I refuse to bargain with you any further tied up like this with my shirt open.”

Oh? Is it open?” He feigned surprise, drawing back to stare openly at her breasts. “Well. Can’t have that. Wouldn’t be decent, would it? That’s as bad as trying to kill a man after breaking into his cabin.”

She opened her mouth to argue further, but to her surprise she felt his hands going to the rag around her wrists. A few deft tugs and the knot was free. Then he smiled and, with an exaggerated chivalric flourish, folded the tattered edges of her shirt inward to cover her breasts.

Of course that means if you try to shoot me again, I won’t be so nice the second time,” he warned. Even with her untied, he didn’t pull away entirely, still keeping her trapped against the wall with his body, his eyes moving over her as though she were still fully exposed.

His nearness made everything else grow distant, muffled under a layer of heat and tingling skin. She shifted her weight between him and the wall, her body sliding against the front of his. The hiss of his indrawn breath and the way his pupils dilated let her know that at least she wasn’t the only one distracted. Could she use that? She was no wanton woman, but she’d heard stories often enough of men getting their heads turned by the promise of a woman’s bed and making terrible decisions as a result.

Don’t threaten me and I have no reason to shoot you.” Her voice was softer now, less accusing. “Please, give me the map.”

Even through her shirt, she could feel the warmth of his hand settling back on her belly. “And once, again, why should I?”

Her hand covered the back of his, then guided it upwards, over one of her barely clothed breasts. The touch had her biting the tip of her tongue to keep from whimpering, but judging by the hitch in his breath she’d caught his attention. “The map’s useless to you,” she said. “He never marked where the island actually is.”

Are you a navigator, lass?” he murmured beside her ear, his warm breath making her shudder.

No.”

Then how would you ever find the island either?”

His thumb began dragging back and forth over her nipple through the cloth, making her whimper. Her knees went weak, but he must have felt it as well. His body pressed to hers harder to keep her in place against the wall and she moaned at the feel of his cock working against her through her breeches. Her arms looped around his neck, holding him close as well as herself up.

I went there with him. I’ve seen it.”

And I know where he’s sailed. I’d find it eventually.”

His thumb was now working in agonizingly slow circles. As her eyes fluttered shut, she wondered if using her body to distract him might have been a mistake. He was far too in control and flustering her too well for it to work in her favor. Every little shift of her legs made her aware of the slick dampness collecting between them and the way his achingly hard cock was pressed to her.

You don’t know about the traps. Or how to get there safely,” Brigid said.

Traps, hm?” His lips slid over hers, a soft teasing brush that made her breath freeze in her throat. “Map doesn’t mention any traps.”

Of course not. He didn’t want anyone but me to find what was there.”

She expected him to find some new way to counter her. Instead, he kissed her again, his lips caressing hers in slow, languorous strokes. Brigid was still for a moment, unsure of how to respond. When she felt him catch her bottom lip to suckle at it, she moaned involuntarily and leaned forward to press her lips to his. His tongue slipped past her lips to explore her mouth, sending shudders down her spine and making fresh heat throb in her sex. As his lips and tongue and teeth coaxed responses from her, both of his hands pushed back her shirt once more and cupped her breasts, his thumbs teasing at her nipples.

One of his thighs insinuated itself between her legs, pressing up against her and rocking there. Every movement made her shudder in response as rough fabric slid against her aroused flesh. Liam drew back from the kiss, scraping her bottom lip between his teeth and suckling before placing a gentle kiss on it. “You tell me where the island is and about all these traps, I’ll get us there safely. We can split whatever he left on the island eighty twenty, in my favor.”

Brigid made a sound of disgust as she leaned as far back into the wall as she could to look him in the eye. “It’s my map. You wouldn’t do anything useful for me.”

Luv, you don’t even know where the map is. Without me, you have nothing.”

And you’d be all right with that? Depriving your dead shipmate’s widow and daughter of what he left for them?”

I’m a pirate. Did you expect honor?” he asked, smirking. “In Donny’s memory, I suppose I could go down to sixty forty.”

Before she could argue further, he was ducking down her body. His tongue dragged down her throat, making her skin burn where he touched her and then feel chilled once he had passed by. A wet trail moved down over her pulse, then followed her collarbone before moving down her chest. He drew a circle with his tongue around one breast before coming up from below. His tongue teased at the underside of her nipple before he drew it into his mouth and suckled. In spite of herself, she moaned and buried her fingers in his hair, her eyes closing once again. The gentle tug and pull of his sucking made her body tighten and she was certain she had to be soaking through her breeches with arousal. The press of his thigh against her was welcome and she rolled her hips against him, working herself against his thigh.

I’ll give you five percent,” she said, her voice tight around the words.

He chuckled against her breast, his breath chilling the damp skin. “Fifty.”

Ten.”

Forty or you’ll just have to go wander that island alone without a map.”

She grit her teeth, mentally debating how likely it was she could steal the map from him once he let his guard down. There seemed to be no way to get it honestly without giving away a massive amount of her inheritance. “Fine,” she said, with all the spite she could muster.

Liam kissed his way up from her breast, his stubble scraping at the tender skin of her throat when he nuzzled there. She shuddered at the touch and tipped her head back slightly to expose more of her throat to him, which he took as an invitation to bite down on the side of her neck, bringing his body close against hers. His hands were working her belt open, his teeth torturing her flesh and all she could do was whimper, thoughts of her father’s gold falling away. When his teeth left her throat, she made a soft sound, the pain seeming somehow sharper in the absence of his bite.

We have a deal, Brigid. ’Tis a pleasure doing business with you,” he said before his lips crushed against hers. The kiss was demanding this time as he plundered her mouth, claiming her. All she could do was give herself up to it, responding to savage hunger as his tongue stroked over hers and explored her mouth.

Her belt finally came undone in his hands and she felt his fingers slip inside of her breeches. She had sewn a few pairs of simple linen hose to wear under the breeches, for added protection from prying eyes when her clothing became wet and clung to her skin. His fingers slid over them, perhaps confused by her alterations to her undergarments, but once he found the knot keeping them in place he deftly opened them with one hand. The first touch of his fingers against her soft mound of red curls made her gasp and stiffen, her heart pounding so hard she was sure the vibration had to be visible through her skin. He either didn’t notice her response or didn’t worry about it; his hand only moved lower.

His middle finger slid along her slick lips, teasing at them as it glided back and forth. Her fingers curled into fists in his hair and she shuddered and struggled between him and the wall, moaning. He ducked down abruptly, abandoning her lips, and brought his kiss to the breast he’d neglected before. Just as he began suckling there, she felt his finger press between the folds of her sex, the tip of his finger circling her clit. Her hips jerked forward at the sensation and she whimpered, squirming in frustration. Pinned as she was only heightened every little touch from him, because she was unable to concentrate on anything else.

That single finger flicked and teased against her with expert precision, circling around the sensitive nub before brushing directly against the tip. His tongue at her breast mimicked the movements of his finger, though there was the addition of his teeth lightly nipping and the pull of his suckling. After a moment, she felt him slide two fingers against her arousal, lightly rubbing on either side and gently applying pressure between them before sliding against her directly again.

Brigid whimpered, her hips thrusting forward against his hand in search of some last bit of contact she craved but couldn’t describe. “Fuck,” she breathed.

His mouth abandoned her nipple for a moment, to allow him to speak. “In good time, luv.”

Those two fingers between her thighs slid forward, his thumb now taking their place working against her clit. His teeth caught her nipple to tug as he sucked, his fingers pushing inside of her at the same time. She cried out at the unexpected yet welcome feeling, then bit down on her bottom lip to try to silence herself. If he had come back to the ship, others might have as well.

Liam’s fingers thrust into her steadily, his thumb working back and forth against her clit. He kissed and nuzzled his way across her chest to catch her other nipple between his lips, scraping it between his teeth. A sudden shudder wracked Brigid’s body and she arched between him and the wall, hissing through her teeth. Her hips rocked reflexively, the muscles of her stomach fluttering with the tremors of her orgasm. His fingers continued working inside of her, his thumb drawing delicious circles.

As some of the tension began to ease, she felt him leave her breast, kissing his way back up her body. His lips slid over hers before he nuzzled at her cheek, brushing it with more kisses. “You’re very sensitive.”

She made a soft sound in response, unsure of what to say or if she could even form words at the moment.

His hands moved to hold her by the hips, turning her body against the wall. She moved pliantly with his urging and felt him pushing her clothing down off of her hips, then mold his body against her back. There was the sound of his belt unbuckling, followed by the feeling of hot, hard flesh against her naked ass, making her body tighten in fresh hunger.

One of his hands brushed her hair over her shoulder, exposing the back of her neck, and he stroked his lips over the freshly bared skin. “Do you want me, lass?”

Yes,” she said, the words barely a whisper.

His hands guided her thighs farther apart, as far as they could go with her breeches around her ankles, and then she felt the thick head of his cock pressed to her virgin entrance. Her body tensed in worry, fearful of pain, but he only rocked there, easing himself past her lips. Every tiny movement he made pressed him that much deeper into her and then he drew back again. Just a fraction of an inch at a time he’d slide into her, then pull back. One of his hands skimmed over her stomach before moving down between her thighs, using his middle finger to stroke her clit again. His other hand cradled one of her breasts, massaging it as he kissed along the side of her neck.

He rolled his hips forward again, pushing deeper into her and she hissed as she felt her barrier give. Instantly, Liam stilled and she felt him draw his face back from her throat. A touch breathless, she turned to look back toward him over her shoulder. His brows were knotted together, a faint frown on his lips, but as soon as their eyes met he leaned in to kiss her. She moaned softly into the kiss, pressing back against him as he worked deeper into her again. There was an unexpected intimacy in their height being so close, their bodies lining up perfectly.

Bit by bit, he pressed into her until their bodies were flush, his hips cradling the curve of her ass. He rocked their bodies together, making her whimper against his lips, before he drew back and thrust into her. The kiss broke, Brigid gasping for breath and she heard him groan before he buried his face in the side of her neck. Each thrust used almost his entire length, pressing into her until her body was forced forward against the wall. Her fingers clawed at the wall, leaving lines from her nails on the wood as she sought something to grip.

As he continued working in and out of her body, his thrusts began to come faster, the finger he was caressing her clit with keeping up the pace. The angle he was at from behind her made his cock drag along her inner walls, sending tremors through her body with each stroke. Coupled with the movements of his finger, she thought she might go mad or scream. She had to bite down on her bottom lip again to stay quiet, worrying about biting it bloody. Her hips rolled back to meet his thrusts, though as he went faster it became impossible to match his rhythm. At her breast, his fingers were pinching and teasing her nipple between them, still massaging the soft mound in his palm.

That feels so good,” she said, the words strangled on a moan.

He made a quiet sound, acknowledging that, and kissed his way back up her neck. “Aye, luv. Stop holding back and let yourself enjoy it. No one will hear us down here.”

Brigid wasn’t sure if she actually believed that, but speaking had already broken the dam. On his next thrust, she cried out. Each time he worked into her, she couldn’t stop herself from gasping or moaning and murmuring soft obscenities, all of which seemed to only spur him on. His kisses at her throat grew more ardent, his own breath ragged and the occasional stroke punctuated with a quiet, masculine groan.

When she felt his teeth dig into the back of her neck in another bite, all of the tension in her body snapped and her voice bordered on a breathless scream. She arched her back as she writhed between him and the wall, rocking forward into the finger that stroked her and then back onto his cock, shudders of pleasure wracking her frame. In the throes of her release, she could feel him bite down just a little harder, his groan muffled at the back of her neck, and he buried himself completely in her heat. The feeling of his hot seed flooding her sent new shivers through her and she trailed off into a quiet whimper, reaching back with one hand to hold him to her neck by his hair.

He kept rocking into her even as they both came down from their orgasms. She leaned into the wall heavily, trying to catch her breath. His teeth released the back of her neck and brushed soft kisses there. The feel of him pulling out of her made her hiss softly, though more gentle kisses made up for it.

Turning around somewhat shakily, she continued to rest against the wall. Liam had reclined back on the bed and looked out of breath as well as he pulled his breeches back into place and belted them.

So when do you want to leave to go find this island?” he asked.

She was silent for a moment, stunned that he was back on that topic so quickly, not even waiting for them to get their clothes together. Blushing in shame at her own stupidity, she leaned down to pull her breeches back up, then held the torn shirt closed with one hand. He’d tied her up and threatened her with the brig. He refused to give her the map her dead father had intended for her. They weren’t lovers. At best, she was a captive he was using to find his way to the treasure. She doubted he’d let her keep her share, so why should she expect any tenderness now?

Tonight.” Her voice lacked inflection, cautious about showing emotion after what they’d shared. “I want to get there as quickly as possible.”

Then I’ll pack a bag. I’ll meet you on deck in a few minutes?”

Brigid gave a small nod, then fled. Confusing ideas crowded her head, torn between kissing him and stabbing him as soon as she knew he had the map on him.





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