Margaret McPhee


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The Lost Gentleman

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Chapter One

May 1812 – Caribbean Sea
The sea was a clear green-turquoise silk, rippling and sparkling with crystal-flecked waves. The sky overhead was vast and expansive; the type of sky that only this part of the world held, a vivid never-ending blue, cloudless. It was only ten in the morning, but the sun had already unfurled its bright strength, bleaching the oak of the small American pirate schooner Coyote’s wooden deck pale and baking it.

Kate Medhurst could feel its warmth beneath the bare soles of her feet and was grateful for the shade of the dark awning that stretched over this section of the quarterdeck – that and the cooling sea breeze. It sent the dark silk ribbons of her straw bonnet flicking and dancing against her neck and the muslin of her black skirts hugging her legs, but Kate noticed neither. Her attention was fixed solely on one thing – the ship coming into view in the distance.
There was the sound of a raven’s caw, a slightly sinister call, out of place here in the middle of the ocean.

‘A raven on the mizzen mast. A portent that our luck is about to change,’ one of the men murmured from the deck before her. Kate knew the superstitions the same as every man on the ship. But unlike them she did not touch her forehead, making the sign to ward off evil. She did not believe in such omens, but superstition was a very real thing to most of those who spent their lives on the waves, so she did not mock them.

‘For the better,’ she said, ‘if what is coming our way is anything to go by.’ Through the spyglass she held to her eye she followed the course of the large black-hulled merchant schooner, struggling against the wind.

She snapped the spyglass shut and turned to Tobias, standing by her side. He was a tall man, over six foot in height, with a skin lined and weathered to a nut brown and hair that hung, from beneath his tricorne, in long matted braids interwoven with beads and feathers. His nose was flat with having been broken in too many drunken fights in the past. With his looks and his faded frogged frock-coat, Tobias was the very image of what one expected a pirate captain to be, with a temperament to match. He was still staring up at the raven with a vicious look in his eye.

‘She’s flying the Union Jack, but I cannot see her name.’ Kate spoke not to Tobias, but the small, sturdy older man standing on her left-hand side – Sunny Jim. The bandana wrapped around Sunny Jim’s bald head had once been red, now it was a grubby faded pink, pale in comparison to the mahogany-darkened leather of the skin of his face and neck. She passed him the spyglass. ‘Can you?’ She frowned, knowing the name of every British ship she had ever attacked.

Sunny Jim frowned even more than usual, shaking his head as he passed the spyglass to Tobias for appearances’ sake. ‘Not yet, ma’am.’

‘What does a name matter?’ Tobias asked as he peered through the glass.

‘Probably nothing.’ But it bothered her more than the large black bird that still sat on the mast top watching them.

At the sight of the ship, Tobias grinned, revealing his missing front teeth. His gold-hooped earring glinted in the sunlight and reflected golden dots of light to dance upon the tattoo inked upon his neck. ‘Nice,’ he hissed.

‘A straggler from the merchant convoy that passed at dawn, no doubt,’ she said.

‘Fallen behind, all alone, without the protection of those mean, son of a gun, Royal Navy frigates.’ Sunny Jim almost managed a smile. ‘Oh, dear, oh, dear, oh, dear. We can’t leave her out there all on her own now, can we?’

‘We certainly cannot,’ Tobias agreed. ‘We should slit their English throats.’

‘There will be no slitting of throats.’ Kate exchanged a glance with Sunny Jim, then shot Tobias a fierce curbing look.

Tobias’s upper lip curled. ‘You are too soft on them.’

‘Not soft at all,’ she countered. ‘Hit them in their pockets and leave them alive to bear the pain and witness to the fact that America’s seas are just that. America’s. It is enough.’

‘And supposing I disagree?’ He looked at her with angry challenge in his eyes.

‘Again? You seem to be disagreeing with me over much these days. This is not the time to be having this discussion. We will deal with it when we get back to Tallaholm. For now, you are on my ship, under my command and you do as I say.’

‘Do I? When so many think
I am Coyote’s captain?’ He stepped closer, trying to intimidate her.

‘You do, you young cur,’ Sunny Jim said with soft deadly menace and pulled his cutlass free from its scabbard. ‘You would do well, Tobias Malhone, to remember that you’re a nobody playing a part. There’s only one true captain of this ship and, for all your fancy coat, it ain’t you. So if the Captain says it’s enough then it’s enough.
Comprendez?

Tobias gave a sullen nod and backed off from his challenge, for now. ‘If you say so,
Captain.’ He placed just a slight sneering emphasis on her title.

‘I do.’ She met his gaze unflinching. ‘Are you going to be a problem for me today, Tobias?’

He looked at her for a long second before answering. ‘No.’ He sneered at her. ‘Not today.’

She understood well the implication. Not today, but another. But unbeknown to Tobias, the problem would be gone by then. ‘Then we can get on with the job at hand. They are low in the water.’

‘Heavily laden with cargo,’ said Sunny Jim.

‘Our favourite kind of merchantman.’ She turned her gaze from the prize to Tobias. ‘Make ready. Let us see if we cannot lighten the merchantman’s load a little to speed her on her way.’

‘Aye-aye, Captain,’ Tobias said softly and without the cynicism this time. He grinned almost to himself, then spoke more loudly to the men who stood poised and waiting. ‘Take her about, boys, we’ve got a date with an English merchant schooner.’

There was a raucous cheer of approval, before the small loyal crew raved to action. Kate pushed her worries over Tobias to the back of her mind for now and watched from her place beneath the awning, with Tobias standing ahead, giving the small orders. The black canvas sails unfurled to catch the wind and the ship began to move.

‘Hoist the flag,’ she commanded.

A smile curved her lips as
Coyote sped towards her prey.

***

Kit Northcote, or Captain North as he now went by, snapped his spyglass shut and slipped it into the pocket of his faded leather coat. The coat had once belonged to a pirate, now it was worn by someone markedly different – someone leaner, harder, honed; although he still wore the black shirt beneath, the shabby buckskin breeches and his tall boots.

‘They are coming.’ His gaze was fixed on the distant ship.

‘Is it La Voile?’ Reverend Dr Gabriel Gunner, his friend, asked.

‘The hull is a single black-striped sienna brown, the sail is black, and she is flying the Stars and Stripes as well as La Voile’s own flag.’

‘A skull with a mouth that is the smiling curve of a cutlass painted red with dripping blood. He is artistic. You have got to give him that.’

‘I will give him more than that when he arrives.’

Gunner laughed. ‘The captain is going to get the nice little surprise that he deserves. Does he think that he can just keep attacking British merchantmen and get away with it?’

‘I expect that is exactly what he thinks.’

‘Do you know that La Voile is single-handedly responsible for reducing British transatlantic trade by almost twenty percent? How can that be? How is it even possible?’ Gunner asked. He was tall and surprisingly slender for a man who had spent many years at sea. Freckle-faced and with hair that in colder climes was red, but now in the bright sun of the waters off the Gulf of Mexico was golden beneath the straw hat he always favoured. He had clear, honest blue eyes and long bony fingers that could wield a prayer book, scalpel and cutlass with equal precision.

‘La Voile operates under the protection of both a pirate overlord and authorities who turn a blind eye to his illicit actions. He has one vessel and a small loyal crew – low costs, tight control. He hits fast and hard. Takes what cargo he wants and leaves the merchantman and crew intact and
in situ – a novel concept in the pirate world. He’s clever. Clever enough to hit only easy targets and leave the big well-defended jobs to others. Clever enough to find the inevitable stragglers that every convoy leaves behind. And clever enough to avoid being caught despite the best efforts of His Majesty’s navy.

‘Lucky for us,’ said Gunner.

‘Very lucky,’ agreed Kit and thought of the astronomically large sum they were being paid to do this job.

La Voile’s ship,
Coyote, was no longer a speck on the horizon. ‘My, but he is fast.’ Gunner spoke aloud what Kit was thinking.

‘Almost as fast as us,’ said Kit.

Gunner smiled. ‘Do we take him dead or alive?’

‘Alive,’ said Kit. ‘The bounty is higher. They want to make an example of him and hang him in irons themselves. Be gentle with this particular American pirate, Reverend Dr Gunner.’

‘If you insist, Captain North.’

The two men exchanged a wry smile of understanding.

The crew on the deck hurried about as if in panic, feigning a ship that was trying to escape the jaws of a predator. The Union flag fluttered from the jack, its red, white and blue crosses and diagonals clear in the Caribbean sunlight. Men appeared as if they were trying to adjust sails.

‘Is everything ready?’ Kit asked.

‘Exactly as you specified.’

Kit gave a nod and, slipping the spyglass from his pocket once more, studied the black-sailed
Coyote as she closed the distance.

‘Interesting,’ he murmured and focused on the three figures standing at the ship’s helm beneath the black awning. ‘They appear to be arguing over a woman.’

‘A woman?’ Gunner screwed his face in disbelief.

‘And a respectable looking one at that.’

‘A hostage?’

‘She is neither bound nor gagged.’

‘Abducted,’ pronounced Gunner.

‘More likely.’ Kit could see the distinct threat in the body language of the taller pirate towards the woman. The sunlight glinted on the steel of both men’s half-drawn cutlass blades.

‘Is La Voile one of them?’

‘I believe so. Look for yourself.’ He passed the spyglass to Gunner that he might study the three figures.

‘How big a fall in the bounty if we deliver him dead?’

‘Enough.’

‘You convince me, but I cannot deny that I would prefer a more personal approach to the spilling of his blood.’

The two men stood together on the deck of
Raven and waited for La Voile to step into their trap.



It was the sight of the captain of the merchant schooner that sent the first shiver of apprehension rippling down Kate’s spine. There was something about the dark steady focus of his eyes that reminded her of the unnerving stare of the raven that had sat overhead on the mizzen mast not so long since. She pushed the absurd thought from her head and tried to ignore the unease that hung about her like a miasma in the air. This was a hit, just like any other, she told herself, but her eyes checked again for long guns, despite the spyglass having already told her they were absent.

‘Not a gun in sight,’ said Tobias as if echoing her thought. ‘Not a hint of resistance. They are yielding just like all the rest of the British yellow bellies. Cowards! For once I wish they would give us a real fight!’ He spat his disgust on to the deck.

‘Unarmed and faced with our long guns pointing straight at them? Don’t be a fool, Tobias. We should be thankful that their common sense makes things easier for us,’ she said.

Coyote’s long guns had that effect on the British merchant ships that Kate selected, allowing an easy progression to locking the two ships together by means of grappling hooks before throwing down the boarding planks. The nameless ship was no exception.

Kate’s crew followed the same procedure, the same routine they were so practised at they could have undertaken it with their eyes shut. She watched the Tallaholm men disappear down the merchantman’s ladders to her cargo deck. All they had to do was take their choice pick of the goods being carried and
Coyote could sail away. Same as ever she did. Easy as taking candy from a baby. Yet that same unfamiliar apprehension and anxiety pulled again at Kate, stronger this time.

Her gaze scanned over the merchantman’s deck, finding nothing out of the ordinary, before returning to the ship’s captain once more. There was something about him, something she could not quite figure out. She examined him more closely. He was lean of build with that stripped, strong look that came from years of hard manual work. She could tell by the way his shabby faded coat sat on his broad square shoulders, from his stance, and the way the shadows cast from his battered old tricorne hat revealed sharp cheekbones and a chiselled chin.

Under his hat, his hair was dark, and his skin had the golden tanned colouration of a man who had spent time at sea. Beneath his coat she could see a shirt and neckcloth, both black as any pirate’s. Buff breeches were tight on muscular legs. On his feet he wore leather boots that had once been brown, but were now salt- and sun- faded to a noncolour that defied description. The long scabbard on his left hip was empty. Its sword lay with the other weapons her men had taken from him and his crew, thrown in a paltry pile on the deck before them. The tip of young John Rishley’s sword hovered close to the captain’s chest, should any of his crew decide to defy their captors. John had proven himself a valuable member of
Coyote’s crew, but Kate still wished Tobias had sent an older, more experienced member of her crew to hold the merchantman’s captain.

All of her thoughts and observations took place in seconds, her gaze absorbing it in one swift movement before returning to his eyes. Dark eyes beneath the brim of that hat. Eyes that were looking right back at her. The shiver ran over her skin again. Someone walking over her grave, her grandmother would have said. She did not break the gaze, because it was his eyes that were ringing every warning bell in her body. There was something about those eyes of his. What was it...? As she stared into them, she realised.

The captain did not look like a man who was nervous for his life or his livelihood. There was nothing of fear in him, not one tiny bit. His stance was relaxed and easy, too easy. There was an air of quiet, almost unnatural calm that she could sense even across the distance that separated them – him on the deck of the merchantman, her watching from beneath the awning on
Coyote. What she saw in that resolute, unflinching dark gaze of his was cold, hard, very real danger. She glanced at Tobias.

‘Something is wrong. Get the men out of there.’

‘What...? Hell, woman, nothing’s wrong.’ Tobias was looking at her in disbelief, as if she had run mad.

‘Do it,’ she insisted.

He glared at her, but, at last, grudgingly gave the command.

But it was too late. In that tiny second everything changed. It happened so fast that there was nothing she could do. One minute the situation aboard the merchantman was quiet, controlled, run of the mill, the next, all hell had broken loose. The British produced weapons, and such a host of weapons that she had never seen aboard any mere merchant schooner before. They fought, hard and fast and with an expertise that surpassed
Coyote’s crew. It was almost over as soon as it had begun. Easily handled, so that within a minute her crew on the deck of the merchantman were lying face down on its deck; all save young John Rishley, who was being held like a shield before the dark-eyed captain, the boy’s head pulled back to expose his pale vulnerability. A cutlass now glinted in the captain’s hand, as the wicked curve of its blade pressed against the youngster’s throat.

‘Sweet heaven!’ Kate whispered beneath her breath as her blood ran cold at the sight.

At that moment the rest of the British emerged from the schooner’s lower deck and cargo hold. Her men, who had ventured down there for the prize, were being led, bound and gagged.

It was not a situation in which Kate had ever found herself before. Her mind was whirring, her eyes flicking this way and that, seeking a means of escape for them all, but there was nothing. No way out – not with the merchant captain’s blade hard against John Rishley’s throat, if the man really was just a merchant captain, because Kate had seen a lot of British merchant captains, but never one like him. The boy was nineteen years old. Kate knew his mother and his sisters, too. His Aunt Rita taught Sunday School back home in Tallaholm. And Kate had sworn to them that she would do all she could to keep the boy safe. Now a British blade was pressed to his throat and the sight of it stirred such terrible dark memories that almost paralysed her with fear.

He frogmarched John Rishley before him, crossing the boarding plank over which
Coyote’s crew had walked without the slightest hint of suspicion of what was awaiting them on the other side. A lanky fair-haired fellow, who wore the robe and collar of a priest, followed in his wake.

‘When did you add abducting women to piracy, La Voile?’ The merchant captain’s gaze was fixed on Tobias. His English accent sounded foreign to her ear, but even so she could hear there was something educated about it. His voice was low-toned, serious, unemotional.

They thought her abducted? She opened her mouth to tell him the truth, to step up to the mark and own responsibility, for everything about him told her he was not just going to let
Coyote and her crew go. There was a blade at a boy’s throat. This was serious. The masquerade was over.

But Tobias stepped forward first. ‘Who the hell are you to question me?’ he growled, donning the role of the captain he was coming to believe he really was.

As she and Tobias and Sunny Jim watched, the raven flew down from its perch high on the top of the mast, to land gently upon the merchant captain’s shoulder. He did not bat an eyelid at the raven’s presence. The bird sat there quite happily, preening its black feathers that shone blue in the sunlight, as if it were his usual perch.

The breath caught in Kate’s throat. She felt her heart kick, then gallop. Her stomach dropped right down to the deck beneath her feet.
Not a merchant captain, after all. She knew who he was. She should have known the minute she set eyes on him.

‘He is the one they call North.’ Her throat was so dry that her voice sounded husky. Because she knew in full the implication of the man standing before them with his sword ready to slit John Rishley’s throat – for her crew, and for herself.

‘Lord help us!’ Sunny Jim whispered on her left-hand side.

She could hear the murmur that spread through her crew, could see the widening of their eyes, could hear someone beginning to pray.

Lord help them indeed.

Those dark eyes turned their attention to Kate. Now that she knew who he was she could have retreated from that gaze, but her pride would not let her.

‘At your service, madam,’ he said, and gave her a tiny bow of his head before returning his gaze to Tobias. ‘Let the woman go.’

Tobias laughed. ‘You can have her...if you leave my ship.’

‘I will leave your ship.’ North smiled and it was a smile that was colder and more cutting than other men’s glares. ‘You
are the pirate La Voile?’

‘I’m La Voile, all right.’

‘Good,’ said North. ‘I would not want to take the wrong man.’

‘Like hell am I coming with you!’

North pressed the blade harder against John Rishley’s neck. ‘You want me to slit his throat while you watch? Or will you yield to spare him?’

Kate had to press a hand over her mouth to stop herself from crying out. Her heart was racing. She felt sick with fear and horror and rage. As her hand tightened against of the long knife hidden beneath her skirts, she felt Sunny Jim’s grip around her wrist.

‘Don’t!’ he whispered fiercely. ‘Let him think you abducted. There’s too much at stake, Katie.’ The old man’s slip of the tongue, to use her girlhood name, showed just how serious the situation was. His crinkled pale blue eyes stared meaningfully into hers, reminding her of exactly how much was at stake both here and back at Tallaholm.

‘Go ahead. Slit it.’ Tobias grinned and shook his head, an excited expression on his face. He glanced down at the long blade of his cutlass, as if watching the way the sun glinted on the sharpness of the steel. Then suddenly with a great swing of his cutlass he ran at North, yelling, ‘But I’ll never yield to you, you English dog!’

‘No!’ Kate screamed, knowing Tobias’s foolhardy action would cost John Rishley his life.

It happened so fast that she could not have told how. One minute John Rishley was North’s shield, the next he had been thrown, alive and well, into another British grasp and a single slash of North’s blade had felled Tobias. She could see the dark stain spreading rapidly across Tobias’s chest, see the blood growing in a glistening pool on the scrubbed wooden deck beneath him.

Shock stole her breath.

The silence that followed was deafening. The seconds seemed to stretch.

Nobody moved.

Nobody spoke.

Kate stared. Tobias’s eyes were still wide open, dead and unseeing, staring with the same shock that she felt freezing like ice through her blood.

The priest, who seemed to be North’s second-in-command, walked over to where the body lay. Crouching down, he touched his fingers against Tobias’s neck.

‘Dead as a door post, I’m afraid,’ he pronounced softly, and gently swept the man’s eyes shut before murmuring the words of a final prayer and getting to his feet.

‘More is the pity. But we’ll take him dead just the same.’ North gave a nod.

With incredulous horror Kate watched as four of the British crew lifted Tobias’s body between them and carried it across the boarding plank to the bigger schooner.

North’s eyes shifted to where Sunny Jim’s hand still held Kate’s wrist. ‘Release her to us.’

‘And if we don’t?’ Sunny Jim demanded. His grip was gentle for all the ferocity of the part he was playing before North.

North’s gaze flicked coldly to Tobias’s lifeless form before returning to Sunny Jim’s. ‘We’ll kill every last man amongst you.’

She did not doubt his assertion, nor did anyone else. Every pirate and privateer who sailed these oceans had heard the stories of North the Pirate Hunter.

Sunny Jim’s eyes slid momentarily to Kate’s in veiled question. He would fight for her to the death, they all would, but she could not allow that, not all these men who had served her so loyally.

‘I am not worth one man’s life, let alone thirty,’ she answered. ‘Surely you see that?’ Words that could be those of a prisoner held against her will.


But Sunny Jim’s expression was stubborn. He had known both her grandfather and father and he was not a man to cut and run.

‘Give us the woman, and the rest of you may go free,’ said North.

‘You think we would believe a story like that?’ Sunny Jim sneered at North.

‘You should – it is the truth. I have no interest in bringing in
Coyote and her crew as a prize. My commission is purely for La Voile.’

She felt the hope that North’s words sent rippling through her crew. They did not fully believe him, but they wanted to. She knew it with a certainty, because she felt the same way, too. North could not be trusted, but, if he wanted, he could kill them all anyway and take her just the same.

Sunny Jim knew it, too. But still he wavered.

‘You must yield me to them,’ she said, as if pleading with her captor, when in truth it was the command he needed to hear.

He gave a nod, his gentle old eyes meeting hers in understanding and salutation. ‘If you want her so much, take her and let us pray you do not lie, Captain North.’ In the role he was playing Sunny Jim threw her hard towards North.

The force of it made her stumble and almost fall, but North caught her and in one movement swept her behind him. ‘Oh, I do not lie, Mr Pirate. You need have no fear of that.’ She could hear the ironic curve on his mouth as he uttered the cool words. But he was not smiling when he glanced at the priest. ‘Escort the lady to safety, Reverend Dr Gunner.’

The priest gave a nod and when he gestured ahead, she had no choice but to follow him, leaving behind
Coyote and safety, and step with feigned willingness across the breach that divided her world from his.


On the British ship Kate stood by the bulwark, her grip so tight upon the rail that her fingers ached, watching them, watching North, watching what would come next.

Those who had been captured upon North’s ship were returned across the plank to
Coyote. All of her men were lined up there, on their knees, most still bound and gagged. There was nausea in her stomach, an icy dread in her blood.

‘Will he kill them?’ she asked the priest, her eyes lingering on the scene on
Coyote’s deck.
‘North does not lie. He will not take their lives, ma’am.’

But priest or not, Kate could not trust the words.

North moved.

Her heart missed a beat.

But he did not spray the deck red with blood as she feared. Instead, true to his words, he sheathed his cutlass and walked away, leaving them there as he returned to his own ship. In less than a minute all physical connections between the two ships had been severed, the boarding plank and pricey grappling hooks sent plummeting into the waves without a second glance.

As North’s ship manoeuvred carefully away from
Coyote, Kate’s gaze held to Sunny Jim’s, but neither of them dared show one single sign. Behind her she could hear the creaking of the rigging and the crack of unfurling canvas and the movement of men busy at work. And before her, the distance of the ocean expanding between them as North took sail.

She was aware that North and the priest were somewhere behind her, but Kate did not look round. She just stood there and watched while the wind seemed to speed beneath North’s sails to leave
Coyote further and further behind. Until, at last, the dark shadow fell across her and she knew that North had come to stand at the rail by her side.

One second. A deep breath.

Two seconds. She swallowed and hid all that she felt.

And only then did she turn to face the man who was the infamous pirate hunter North.

Those dark eyes were looking directly into hers with a calm scrutiny that made her nervous.

‘North, Captain Kit North,’ he offered the unnecessary introduction. ‘Under commission from the British Admiralty to bring in the pirate La Voile.’

The hesitation before she spoke was small enough not to be noticed. ‘Mrs Kate Medhurst,’ she said using her real name because it would mean nothing to him and because successful deception was best attained by sticking close to the truth.

He took her hand and just the feel of his fingers against hers made her shiver.

‘You are cold, Mrs Medhurst, now that our speed increases.’

She hated that he had seen it, that tiny sign of weakness, of fear. ‘A little,’ she agreed by way of excuse.

Before she could stop him he slipped off his coat and wrapped it around her shoulders.

She could feel the warmth of him still upon it, smell the scent of him too much in her nose – leather and soap, sunshine and masculinity. It surrounded her. It enveloped her. Bringing him close to her, making it feel like a gesture of intimacy that she did not want to share with any man, least of all him. She itched to tear his coat from her, to dash it at his feet, this hard-eyed handsome Englishman who was her enemy in more ways than he could imagine. But Kate knew she could not afford to yield to such impulses of emotion and controlled herself as carefully as ever she did.

‘Thank you,’ she said, but she did not smile.

‘You are safe with us.’

Safe? The irony of the word would have made her laugh had the situation not been so dire. ‘Even if I am an American? And there is-‘ She hesitated in order to choose the word carefully. ‘-disharmony between our two countries?’

‘Even if you are an American and there is disharmony between our two countries.’ There was the smallest hint of a smile around that hard mouth. ‘You are welcome aboard
Raven, Mrs Kate Medhurst.’

‘Raven,’ she said softly. Of course.

‘The name of the ship.’

The name that, had she seen it, would have made all the difference in the world.

‘They said there was no name upon your ship,’ she said.

‘La Voile was not meant to see it.’

‘It was a trap,’ she said slowly, her blood chilling at the extent of his cold calculation.

North smiled. ‘The name would have tipped him off.’

‘Yes,’ she agreed. ‘I am sure it would have.’ And knew it for the certainty it was. ‘Why take just La Voile and not
Coyote and the rest of her crew? Why leave behind the greater part of the prize?’

‘I am not interested in prizes. My commission is for La Voile and only La Voile.’

‘I did not realise he was so important to the British. Surely compared to Jean Lafitte, he is just small fry?’

‘He is a big enough burr and one with potential of becoming a rallying anti-British figurehead, much more so than Lafitte. Admiralty wish to cut off the head and leave the body in place to tell the tale, leaderless and ineffective. Which suits me. One man is easier dealt with than an entire crew and ship,’ he said.

‘So it seems.’ But things were not always as they seemed.

Her gaze held his for a moment longer, looking danger in the eye and seeing its ruthless, dark, infallible strength. She swallowed.

The tiny moment seemed to stretch.

‘Reverend Dr Gunner will escort you below to a cabin where you may rest. If you will excuse me, for now.’

She shrugged off his coat and gladly returned it.

A bow of his head and he was gone, moving across the deck to speak to his men.

Kate felt the tension that held her body taut relax, letting out the breath she had not known she was still holding.

‘Mrs Medhurst...ma’am.’ The priest moved forward to her side.

One last glance of hope and longing out across the ocean to where
Coyote and safety had diminished to little more than a toy ship upon the horizon.

The priest saw the direction of her glance and misconstrued it. ‘You really are safe with us.’
‘So Captain North reassures me.’ But if North were to realise the truth of who she was, of what she was... Captain
Le Voile, as she always thought of herself. Such a subtle difference from La Voile but that was important to her. Le Voile or La Voile, it made no odds when it came to North. Either way she was the pirate captain of Coyote whom he sought.

You really are safe with us.

Kate gave a smile of irony. For what place could be more dangerous than aboard Raven with the deadly British pirate hunter who had been sent to capture her?

It was a sobering thought. She forced it from her mind and, with a nod, followed Reverend Dr Gunner below deck.

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