Far above The Scarlet Squall, a pale moon blanketed the frothy ocean. Thick with the pungent aroma of sea creatures, an occasional spray of water found its way on deck. Drew clutched the railing and mourned his cloak lying on the cot in the cabin below deck. Fallon had selected his bawdy mélange—a black and white striped shirt, blousy black trousers and red brocade vest. He could easily pass for an old salt now—his godfather's objective—right down to the black, high-top boots and gold hoop earring.
At sea for ten days, Drew had too much time on his hands. He spent his days reflecting on his mission to avenge Claudia's death and his nights immersed in erotic fantasies of Rogan, cursing himself for entertaining carnal thoughts of a man he should despise.
He closed his eyes against the painful memory of seeing the man he loved in the arms of another. He despised him—or told his sick mind he despised him—yet he couldn't get Rogan out of his head.
Their recent confrontations had been fraught with tension, and Brockport had the gall to ask him why he'd cut him from his life—more pointedly, why he'd never offered a reason. The licentious bastard. He knew full well what would happen if was found out…more precisely, found in another man’s arms.
Damnation, why had he surrendered to the man's advances in his bedchamber? He had only to call out for Fallon and Rogan would have been tossed out on his ass. Well, at one time, perhaps, but no more. Brockport had changed in the last five years, was no longer a young man of twenty, but a hard, lean mass of powerful muscle that screamed danger. Christ, he wanted to forget about the man and his gut-wrenching betrayal.
But how? Every night he tossed and turned in his cot, imagining Rogan's large hands caressing his feverish skin, imagining the man's thick cock slamming into him. Time and again, Drew relived the memory of their last joining and moaned into his pillow while satisfying his tortuous passion with his hands.
The man couldn't be trusted, had proven in the past his word meant nothing. So why did his heart ache with longing and why did his treacherous body thirst for Rogan's?
Drew twisted his neck around when from the foretop of the two-masted schooner, lanterns swayed precariously and a sailor shrieked out a dire warning. "Sails to the windward, six leagues, and flying the crossbones."
Running to and fro, seasoned salts manned their stations and armed themselves with assorted weapons.
Fallon barked out orders. "Cannons at the ready, and you there!" He shouted to a trio of musketeers. "Climb the rigging and set your sights."
Fallon raced toward Drew amid panicked shouts and heavy footsteps. "Lock the door to my cabin and shoot anyone who attempts to enter." Fallon pressed a pistol into Drew's hand.
"Don't send me away; I want to stay and fight."
"I agreed to this ill-fated scheme on the condition you would not place your life in danger. You know little about firearms, and you gave your word you'd heed my instructions."
"I'm no longer a child, Fallon. I know how to wield a sword."
"I know you're an adult now, but fencing lessons in your childhood pale next to hand-to-hand combat." Fallon placed a hand on Drew's shoulder. "Listen to me. If that's Bloody Hitch Cotty—and I have every reason to believe it is—he'll remember you, would like nothing better than to finish the job he started last year."
A ribbon of moonlight fell across Fallon's benevolent face.
"You do remember I'm here to avenge her, don't you?" Drew asked.
Fallon glanced toward the advancing vessel. "Of course. I want Claudia to rest in peace also, but you promised to leave the fighting to the mercenaries and seasoned pirates in the event we encountered her murderers."
With his heart in his throat, Drew stumbled down the steps and rushed along the corridor leading to Fallon's cabin. A shuddering crash pitched him against the wall and he fell to his knees as The Squall took a heavy hit from the advancing ship. Men screamed, the smell of powder spiraled up his nose and the screech of volley whizzed through the black night. Drew scrambled to his feet and flung open the cabin door, only to be pitched violently to the floor again when the ship rammed into something solid and unyielding. The vessels had collided. The pistol flew from his hand and skidded along the corridor like a crab fleeing from a giant squid. Crawling on his hands and knees to Fallon's desk, Drew retrieved the weapon then clung to the sturdy legs as the ship bucked and rolled to its side beneath him.
A putrid aroma of fire and smoke filtered under the cabin door. Drew clasped his hands over his ears and realized he'd lost the bandana around his head. Moreover, he'd lose his life if The Squall's crew lost the raging battle overhead. For a brief moment, he cursed his reckless folly of avenging Claudia's death. It was one thing to surrender his life, but he had no right to put Fallon in imminent danger.
The idea of meting out justice to vicious killers seemed appallingly stupid right now while the cutthroats stormed his ship. Hideous visions of what they'd do to the men on the Squall made his stomach pitch.
Amid the chaos and disorder, the sound of heavy footsteps in the corridor reached him. Instinct, and tentacles of fear, inching down his spine warned him someone stood on the other side of cabin door. The handle rotated right to left, the silent movement penetrating his fear-numbed brain.
The enemy kicked the door open and stood under the archway. Rising to his feet and staggering, Drew faced the intruder with one hand behind his back. Perhaps if the ruthless brigand thought he held a weapon at the ready, he'd think twice about attacking him. The notion was quickly squashed when a cold leer spread the pirate's lips.
God, the man struck a magnificent pose. A white shirt, cut into a deep V, revealed a mass of wiry dark hair on his expansive chest. His narrow waist, swathed with a crude belt of links and chains, topped the soft leather trousers clinging to his muscular legs. Thick, brown hair hung in coiled ropes beneath the charcoal bandana about his forehead, and an eye patch covered one eye, but the other—the color of rich chocolate—sparked with impending victory. Drew's heart somersaulted and his intestines twisted into reef knots. Rich chocolate? Impossible. He must be delusional, yet only one man held the capacity to stop his breath with one look.
"No!" he said, taking a shaky step back. "What in the hell are you doing here?"
Rogan paused and delivered a bold look that sent shivers racing down Drew's spine. "Saving your sorry ass, apparently." Nodding toward the hand he concealed behind his back Rogan advanced. "What do you have there, Drew?"
The staccato rhythm of Drew's heart pounded in his ears. When it came right down to it, could he shoot Brockport? "A pistol and I have no qualms about putting a hole in your black heart."
"I wouldn't advise it. If you kill me, you'll soon be at the mercy of Cotty's heartless crew. When they find a pretty boy like you hidden away, they'll abuse you in the worst way."
When another blast from the cannon rattled the ship, Drew jumped and the pistol clattered to the floor. Rogan closed the distance between them quicker than flies mate and yanked him against his chest. Anger flashed in Rogan's dark eyes. "Never threaten to shoot a man if you don't intend to follow through with it."
Gathering his courage, Drew clenched his teeth. "Take your hands off me you bottom-feeder, you low-life."
With that full, wide mouth inches from his, Rogan said, "We have little chance of leaving this boat alive, none if you fight me every step of the way."
"Are you mad?" Drew brought his elbows up, prayed he'd hit a vulnerable spot and groaned when Rogan deflected it. "I have no intention of leaving this ship with you."
Steel fingers dug into Drew's arms as Rogan gave him a shake. "Cotty's men will pass you around until you're ripped to shreds and when they're finished, they'll toss you over the side for fish fodder."
"I'd rather die than leave with you!"
Rogan paused again and examined his face, inch by excruciating inch, drawing him in until the sounds of battle raging overhead faded into a distant roar. "That may be," he said at last. "But I gave my word to Spottswood."
Spottswood? What does the governor have to do with The Scarlet Squall? Drew looked down to gather his thoughts, but couldn't dispel the questions racing through his mind. "What are you about now? What the hell are you talking about?"
"I regret there is little time to explain." With one hand, Rogan grabbed a handful of his hair and with the other, turned him away and placed a knife to his throat. "Don't worry, handsome lad, I'm not going to cut your throat; it's for show." He propelled him forward with a knee to his ass. "Now move!"
By the time they reached the upper deck, the air snapped with heavy musket fire. Locked in hand-to-hand combat with bandits and thugs, the Squall's crew fought valiantly. The metallic sounds of cutlass meeting cutlass mingled with the acrid stench of powder. The smoldering, crimson sails made Drew’s stomach heaved. Smoke seared his lungs as Rogan pushed him toward the poop deck near the aft of the vessel. Through the gray haze, Drew couldn't tell one man from the other, couldn't begin to judge who'd wave the flag of victory when the bloodletting ceased.
A sick knot formed in his stomach when a tall, powerfully built man stepped from the shadows and blocked their path. A ball of fire lit up the night sky and Drew released a sigh. "Fallon."
"Release him, Brockport," Fallon said.
Drew's relief was short-lived when the tip of the steel blade dug into his neck. "Stand down, Fallon. I'm taking him off this ship, dead or alive."
Drew didn't have to see Rogan's eyes to know they burned colder than a glacial winds.
Indecision wavered in Fallon's gaze, and Drew glanced over his godfather's shoulder, fighting back the bile. He'd never seen such carnage. Dead bodies littered the deck and blood ran in streams across the wooden planks. Clutching their bellies and torsos, wounded pirates scrambled over the sides of The Scarlet Squall, seeking the safety of their battle-worn ship. The Squall's crew sent them scrambling, but had paid a heavy price.
"There's no need to take him." Desperation tinged Fallon's voice. "The pirates are retreating and he'll be safe with me now."
Rogan laughed. "Safe with you? You're the man who gave him carte blanche to engage in this ill-fated adventure." He tightened his grip on Drew's hair. "I should kill you for that."
"Rogan, Drew was raised in a genteel environment; he's not strong enough to withstand your brute force."
"Then I suggest you back off. Besides, Cotty won't let this stand; he'll follow you to the gates of hell now. Personally, I don't care if you die, Fallon, but you're not taking Drew with you."
Fallon looked into Rogan's eyes and Drew knew his godfather had made his decision. He didn't trust Rogan, couldn't be sure he wouldn't make good on his threat to slit him ear to ear.
"Now, stand down," Rogan said with knife-edge finality.
Fallon lowered his pistol and with slumped shoulders, took a step back. Rogan propelled Drew toward the ladder rope leading to the dingy. With Rogan's arm about his chest, the man climbed onto the rope and lowered them one agonizing rung at a time. The wind lashed about their heads and pitched them against the side of the ship. Rogan cursed, regained his footing, and moments later tossed Drew into the small boat, following him in. Rogan untied the knot holding the vessel to the Squall, picked up the oars and shoved off through an endless sea of swelling waves.
With his teeth clattering like a rattler's tail, Drew huddled in the bottom of the boat and glanced behind him. Against an orange sky, lurid, red flames licked the last remnants of The Squall's sails. Rings of black smoke spiraled skyward, and shouts and cheers from her crew echoed across the great expanse of water. Cotty's crippled pirate ship teetered like a toy, rolled and bobbed, then turned north and limped away.
A veil of smoke and haze had settled over them by the time he turned back to Rogan. "Now you've done it, you stupid ass. Here we are, stuck in the middle of the ocean with nothing to eat, no water, and no doubt we'll freeze to death by morning."
The hard muscles of Rogan's arms flexed as he gripped the oars and pushed through the leaping waves. "People choose their own destiny, and you chose yours when you embarked on this foolhardy adventure."
"Then why didn't you leave me with Fallon? I would have much preferred to take my chances with him than a blackguard like you."
"A fair enough question," he said impassively. "I want answers and you're going to give them to me, pretty boy."
"You kidnapped me for answers?" Drew leaned forward and spat the words through the miserable drizzle. "Hell will freeze over before I give you answers! You'll get nothing from me, Rogan Brockport."
The downward curve of Rogan's mouth darkened his eyes. "I'll get everything I want from you, Drew, and not just answers."
Even as the blackguard said the words, a series of thrills pedaled through Drew's veins. He felt Rogan's primal desire, a shrouded mist of fire connecting them in the close confines of the small vessel. Good God, he could barely see him, but felt his body heat, sensed the depth of the man’s lust.
His mind swam. Until this moment, he hadn't truly admitted how desperately he wanted Rogan, had wanted him all along. How he prayed after his marriage to Claudia the memory of the man's touch, the taste of his mouth on his, would be eradicated forever. How wrong he'd been to think he could dismiss their history so readily. Now he'd be alone with him…was alone with him, and the depth of his need for the man had never seemed clearer.
Rogan stopped rowing a short time later, lit the lantern and hung it over the side of the boat. Then he reached for a blanket at his feet and flung it at him. "Get some sleep. We won't be rescued for hours."
Drew had no idea what Rogan meant by rescued. What did he really know about Brockport anyway? If the rumors he'd heard about the man were true, Drew had been taken by a brigand, albeit a sinfully wicked brigand. His tongue stuck to the roof of his mouth and whatever retort he meant to fling in Rogan's face died in his throat. He couldn't allow Brockport to manipulate him again, draw him into his web of deceit. He was a libertine through and through, and Drew would be no better than the others who went willingly to the man's bed. Rogan's words—"I'll get everything I want from you," ran like a litany through his dazed brain.
Sweet Mother of Jesus, help me.