From the longboat, Rogan watched the sunlight weave through a patch of plum-kissed clouds.
Behind him, a veteran salt by the name of Jacob Hawke gave a low snort as he worked the oars. "Ho, Captain, the inlet on your left."
"Aye, Hawke, and the tip of a boulder on your right."
With little effort, Hawke threaded the boat through an outcrop of rocks and slid onto the sandy shore moments later. The man heaved his bulky body from the transport, jumped into water up to his knees, and dragged the small skiff to the beach. "I'll keep an eye out from here."
Rogan climbed out and headed for a stand of poplars at mid-island. A quick survey of the area told him Lethbridge hadn't arrived yet, and there wasn't another soul in sight. He slumped to the ground and with his back to a thick trunk, allowed his mind to meander.
An image of Drew's face came to mind, his haunting eyes and perfect features. A disgruntled groan left Rogan's parched throat with the realization every slanted man and red-blooded woman on God's green earth lusted after Drew like a pack of mad dogs.
Including me, Rogan thought with a sigh.
Could he believe the man, the tale about Claudia and her lover…their convenient marriage? Rogan knew he'd be perfectly justified if he boarded a slow boat to Paramaribo and forgot he ever met Drew Hibbard. He might strain and moan beneath him, even beg him for more, but clearly, Drew was stricken with impetuosity, not to mention mule headedness of the highest degree.
To discover their affair fell to wrack and ruin over a mistaken identity cut Rogan to the quick. Fate was the ficklest of lovers. Only once had his brother, Rory, taken leave of his studies in England and ventured home on holiday. Only once in all those years, and the wretched man—whom he loved with all his heart—had more than lived up to his sordid reputation while visiting Hampton. Wasn't it enough his twin made it his life's mission to fuck every man in London? No, apparently, Rory kept his higher goal in life at the forefront at all times—to corn hole every man within arm's reach.
Rogan plucked a blade of grass, stuck it between his teeth. Slowly the anger and pain of the preceding years evaporated, replaced by an admission of the aching hunger he harbored for Drew. Rogan vividly remembered the shared kisses, the way the blood pounded through his brain as Drew wrapped his legs around Rogan's hips and drew him like a moth toward a deadly flame.
Every cell in his body burned for Drew from the moment he first spotted the man across the crowded market. And his desire only blazed higher the day Drew married Claudia. Above the rage and hurt, beyond the sleepless nights and desperate need to punish Drew, lay a singular urgent need—to possess him wholly and completely, every day of his life. Not just because he desired his body. Rogan also longed to walk with Drew along the path of dreams, protect him from all things, real or imagined. How dangerous to expose this love, yet to deny it seemed painful beyond belief.
And so on this day, a glorious day created for fools like him, he cast aside his anguish and doubt and came to terms with his obsessive love for the widower. He could dismiss the hand dealt to them and forgive, or go to his deathbed loving Drew from afar, squelching this ravenous hunger with every breath he took. The latter seemed unthinkable. He'd started out intending to make him pay, in spades. Now, he simply wanted to see him safe.
His reflections were interrupted by the deliberate clearing of a throat. He looked up. "Lethbridge. I assume your summons is of utmost importance."
Spottswood's man bent slightly at the waist. "Two-fold, Brockport."
"Get on with it, then."
"No sooner had The Scarlet Squall limped into harbor than Fallon held the Governor captive with a titillating tale about piracy and kidnapping."
"Last week's news," Rogan said wryly.
"Nonetheless, Drew's godfather has filed a formal complaint. If you don't return the helpless widower posthaste, the Governor has no recourse but to place a bounty on your head."
Rogan flinched at hearing Drew referred to as the widower now. Just the thought of him married, consummated or not, rankled him. "Perhaps Fallon should be told to back off if he wishes to see him again."
Lethbridge's wide-set eyes narrowed. "Jesus, Brockport, don't tell me you intend to continue this charade of kidnapping?"
"I'm not ready to relinquish him."
"You intend to force him to stay aboard?"
"If I must, and I don't have to remind you, the threat of a bounty on my head does little to steer me off course."
"You cannot keep the man against his will."
Rogan shot him a sideways glance. "I assure you, Lethbridge, it has not been necessary for me to force Drew to remain aboard The Devil's Heel."
Lethbridge blushed. "This does complicate things. Fallon must be told or we'll have a royal mess on our hands."
With a sardonic inflection in his voice, Rogan said, "Fallon knows everything. Do what you must, but it's too late for Fallon to save him this time. I will return him to Hampton when I'm damn good and ready and not a moment before."
"There's more." Lethbridge's expression took on a grim mask. "How much does your brother know about your, shall we say, secretive vocation?"
Rogan's thoughts wandered while Lethbridge looked out to sea. He thought about his forefathers who hailed from England…and old English money. Twenty years ago, his grandfather had uprooted his family with the intention of expanding his wealth in the Colonies. The relocation proved successful beyond the old coot's wildest imagination and afforded Rogan and his twin, Rory, the finest amenities life had to offer.
Rogan had never acquired a taste for their banal lifestyle, and Rory had relocated back to England years ago to cultivate his artistic skills. Neither time nor distance had diminished the affection they held for one another, and with any luck, they'd be reunited soon. Apparently, Lethbridge was about to announce Rory had come home to roost. Rogan hoped for good.
His gaze remained fixed on Lethbridge until the man finished scanning the horizon and turned to him. "What has Rory to do with this?" Rogan said.
"He's returned from Europe. Imagine my surprise when I tailed you home to find out why you had returned to Hampton when you promised Spottswood you'd protect Drew Hibbard..."
"And, what? Speak man."
"Your valet, Higgins, ushered your twin into the study. The resemblance is remarkable."
Rogan gave him a deadpan look. "Not for identical twins."
"Yes, well, in any event, your brother introduced himself before our conversation went south. You can imagine how fast I back-pedaled from there."
"You didn't tell him?"
Lethbridge shook his head. "Of course not, but I can only wonder what he might glean from Fallon if he starts nosing around."
A black cloud settled over Rogan. "Why do I get the feeling your dismal news comes in triplicate?"
"Because it does," Lethbridge said. After a pause, he continued. "We received word Cotty's ship hobbled into Okracoke, made hasty repairs and sails the Atlantic again as we speak."
"For what purpose?"
"He's aware you duped him into joining his crew and vows revenge. He sails under the skull and crossbones, his cannon at the ready."
The pulse in Rogan's ears roared as he came to his feet, but he wouldn't let Lethbridge know how much this last tidbit of news concerned him. "Thank you for the warning." He looked toward the beach. "My man waits for my return."
"Bring Drew in where he's safe, Brockport. We had an agreement."
"I'll gladly return the money; it wasn't about that. Give me a day or two, and I'll return with him to Hampton."
Lethbridge turned to walk away, calling out over his shoulder, "I hope it's not too late."
Rogan sprinted toward the longboat. Like Spottswood's agent, he also hoped it wasn't too late.