Love takes no prisoners.
Captain Gabriella Markham is accustomed to standing on the deck of her ship, wind in her face. Not rotting in a dank hold on an enemy’s ship. There’s only one thing on her mind: revenge on the pirate responsible. Until she realizes the seriously injured man sharing the darkness is Captain Diego Cruz, the man she almost married.
When Diego opens his eyes, he finds himself twice cursed. Not only was he attacked and taken, he’s marooned on an island with the woman who betrayed him five years earlier. Even worse, the fire between them still burns. And the faster he heals, the harder she is to resist.
Desperation cracks their resolve. Passion consumes them, but it only reopens the wounds of the past. Survival is only the first step in a quest to find out who hired another pirate to see them dead—and why. Only then will they learn if their hearts will survive on the fragile strand of trust that still hangs between them…
Product WarningsThis book may lead to fantasies involving deserted islands, passionate affairs, and a belief in true love.
Copyright © 2010 Kimberly Nee
All rights reserved — a Samhain Publishing, Ltd. publication
Gabby could almost taste the stench.
Her deep breath was involuntary, brought on as the arm that had been squeezing her ribs until they almost fused together released her, and her lungs finally expanded. Of course, as soon as she inhaled, she regretted it, as the foul odor gagged her.
Her feet hit the floor to send a jarring thud coursing upward through her body. Her right ankle rolled, a flare of hot pain driving up her leg. She stumbled, then dropped to her knees.
“Ahh…just how I like ’em,” the gravelly voice slit through the air with an evil rumble. “On their knees.”
The darkness was as thick as the smelly air, but she could just make out Ryan Carmichael’s lumpy silhouette. His protruding ears stuck out from his almost-perfectly round head at such an angle that even the darkness couldn’t hide them. He stood only feet from her, judging by the rancid odor wafting from him. As she recalled, he was never fond of water, even less so of soap. Apparently that hadn’t changed at all.
He’d removed the manacles from her wrists before shoving her into the hold, and the patches of broken skin stung like nettles. Rubbing her right wrist with her left hand, she muttered, “I would be surprised if you knew what to do with a lady on her knees, oaf.”
The air stirred and a sour dampness rushed against her cheek just before lights exploded within her skull. Bells clanged furiously off-key as she sprawled backward. Her head bounced off warped wood, and the flashes of light continued to dance before her eyes.
The floor creaked, the stench of sweat and tobacco stronger as Ryan nudged her with his foot. “You’ll find out soon enough, Gabby.”
He gripped a handful of her hair, yanking her to her knees again. Holding her fast with one meaty fist, he dragged her closer, until she choked from the stink of sweat and unwashed human flesh. His breath was putrid against her face and she fought back another gag. Her heart pounded wildly against her ribs at the scrape of filthy wool parting, and she reacted in the only way she knew how.
She drove her fists up between his legs with all the force she could muster. Ryan howled like a maimed wolf, releasing her and stumbling backward in one clumsy motion. He dropped to his knees, the floor groaning ominously as he struck the warped planks, and his voice was watery thin. “Goddamn bitch…” he panted through what sounded like clenched teeth. Wood groaned again as he shuffled back, away from her. She couldn’t see him, of course, but could imagine him with his hands cupped protectively about his wounded member, his mind racing wildly with all of the terrible ways he would get even with her.
But she didn’t care. He all but crawled out of the hold, then the key ground with a loud shriek as he jerked it in the lock. His pathetic whimpers died out, and she sank back to the floor with a heavy sigh of relief.
She sucked in a painful gasp as her fingers hit the tender spot on her jaw. It was puffy, no doubt bruised, but it seemed in one piece. Her lips were dry, the bottom one split but no longer bleeding, and she was beyond thirsty. Most likely, it would be hours before anyone returned, and she wasn’t hopeful that bringing her water was high on anyone’s list of chores. Her head ached from the force of Ryan’s blow, but she willed it into the recesses of her mind and waited for her eyes to adjust from the bright Jamaican sunlight to the absolute darkness of the ship’s hold.
A low, pitiful moan split the heavy silence and she chided herself for jumping. Licking her painful lips, she called out, “Who’s there?”
Another pathetic moan answered her. It was heavy with pain, yet thin with weakness. The voice was deep, if soft around the edges. A man’s voice.
Iron rattled, followed by a third moan.
Gabby rocked up onto her knees, wincing as an arrow of pain shot through her skull, and crawled toward the moan. “Where are you?”
The man groaned a fourth time. It was the loudest yet, and she learned why as her right hand came hard down upon a shin. The leg jerked, the muscles in his thigh stiffening in sudden pain. He relaxed as she whispered, “My apologies, of course. I can’t see my hand in front of my face.”
Chain rattled again, and a finger swept over the back of her hand. “Where am I?” The man’s voice was thin, lightly accented, and sluggish. Perhaps he had also suffered a head injury. Ryan did seem fond of using the skull as a target.
“In the hold.” She leaned toward the sound of his voice. Her legs curled beneath her, she stretched with one hand to feel the warm band of iron clapped about the man’s right wrist. Thick links of chain, each link cooler than the last as she traced them away from his body, clinked against the floor as she worked her way up to the wall, where the chain was firmly pinioned.
Nereus.” She made no attempt to keep the disgust from her voice. The length of chain clunked heavily against the wall before swaying into silence.
Her eyes adjusted as much as they were going to, much to her disappointment. It was possible to make out shapes and shadows, but not much else. The smell seemed to have faded, but that was no doubt because she’d grown accustomed to it.
The chain rested in her palm. Though it was most likely pointless, she tightened her grip on it and tugged. It held fast. This was not a rusty length of old chain, but one well-oiled and kept in fine shape. Whoever this man was, Ryan had made damn certain he wasn’t going anywhere.
“How long have you been here?” The chain dropped from her hand to clank against the floor as she sat back.
“I haven’t a clue.” His voice was stronger now, but not by much. Fabric scraped wood and the chain rattled. Another groan, as he most likely shifted position. “I’m afraid I’ve been unable to keep my eyes open for more than a snippet of time. What day is this?”
Gabby frowned, pain pulsing through her head as she tried to remember. “Wednesday, I think.”
“You are a woman.” A hint of surprise edged his words.
“You’re observant.” Nausea surged through her. She squeezed her eyes shut, reaching up to gingerly rub her temples. Her head throbbed worse than ever. Perhaps Ryan had done serious injury.
“Have they brought you in to torment me further?”
She paused in her rubbing, twisting to stare down at him, though he couldn’t possibly see her slack-jawed expression any more than she could see him. “Torment you?”
“I would laugh, except my head might crack in two if I did.” She resumed her rubbing. “No. I was not brought here to torment you. I don’t know exactly why I am here, but I’m fairly certain it has nothing to do with you at all. There has been bad blood between Ryan Carmichael and my family for years now.”
“We are on board Carmichael’s ship?”
Another pause. “You know Carmichael?”
“Aye. A lawless bastard if ever there was one.”
She nodded with wholehearted agreement, uncurling her legs to stretch them. “I cannot argue there. He has been a thorn in my family’s side for nearly a decade.”
“And he is now a thorn in my side as well.” Chain rattled and he groaned. “I have never ached so much before in my life.”
“I recall only bits and pieces.” His voice grew faint with reminiscence. “We were just off the coast of Barbados. Heading toward Jamaica. A ship bore down on us. Fired upon us. Chainshot destroyed the mainmast. They boarded us. And here I am.”
“And the rest of your crew?”
Silence stretched between them to fill the darkness, and Gabby knew the answer before he replied softly, “I don’t know.”
Despite the oppressive heat, she shivered. “Ryan’s not known for taking prisoners. You must mean something to him.”
“I cannot imagine what.” He sucked in a sharp breath as he moved again. “He deals mainly with slavers. Mine was a merchant ship. Rum bound for the colonies and Bermuda.”
“At least you were able to fight. I was accosted outside a tavern in Port Royal.” Gabby rubbed her sore wrists again and tried not to think about how dry her mouth was, how cracked her lips were.
The humor in his voice was strained, his accompanying chuckle weak, but her back stiffened just the same. “Hardly. You are not the only captain in these quarters. Not by half.”
“Are you suggesting that you are a captain as well?”
“I’ll thank you to keep the amusement from your voice, sir. I am not only a captain, but a damn fine one, and quite respected. Perhaps you’ve heard of Markham Enterprises. Based out of London, but with offices in Jamaica, Bermuda and the colony of Virginia?”
Another silence descending upon them, and she thought he must have fallen unconscious again. Then, the silence shattered as he replied, “You are Captain Markham?”
Pride swelled through her. So he had heard of her. Her reputation preceded her again. “I am.”
But his next words deflated every last vestige of pride as he groaned and muttered, “Oh, hijo de perra…”
Just when Diego was fairly certain matters couldn’t grow any worse, Fate took great delight in proving him wrong.
He closed his eyes at Gabby’s boastful, “I am,” and stifled another, more vulgar oath bubbling to his lips. If he had enough chain, as well as enough strength, he’d wrap the length about Gabby’s pretty little neck, and pull until her head popped clean from her body.
Unfortunately, the short length shackling his left arm to the wall behind him didn’t offer up the opportunity to do that.
Even more unfortunately, his entire body responded to her throaty reply and betrayed his feelings for her at the same time. Not that it came as a complete surprise. It was a lifetime ago, to be sure, but there had been a time when the mere mention of her name was enough to arouse him, to make him ache with wanting her.
Even now, his body tightened in response to knowing she sat right beside him. Thankfully, the darkness hid any telltale evidence. She certainly wouldn’t see his reaction, and that offered a whit of comfort. And it did provide a distraction from the waves of pain radiating through him from his blackened right eye to his bruised right shin. He hadn’t gone quietly. Not at all. Carmichael had gotten a good taste of his own medicine. Unfortunately, since numbers were on the Englishman’s side…
His arm, pinioned almost above his head, tingled as his position kept the blood from flowing into his hand. Not that it mattered. His blood was far too busy flowing to other parts of his body, much to his annoyance.
“Gabby Markham,” he growled, trying to force as much heat into the words as he could muster. “I’ll be damned. And here I was so damn certain I’d never have to lay eyes upon you again.”
“Again? Have we met before?”
She could be toying with him, playing one of her coy games, but he thought he heard genuine confusion in her husky voice. “Oh, come now, Gabby. I’m hurt you do not recall me. Perhaps if I pulled you down and kissed you, you might remember.”
He almost felt her stunned silence, and smiled smugly into the darkness. She sniffed, then said, “I haven’t any inkling as to what you are talking about.”
“Perhaps this will remind you,” he lowered his voice and whispered, “No hay nada que no haria para usted, mi amor.”
There is nothing I would not do for you, my love.
Her sharp gasp added to his smugness. “Diego?”
“Ah, so you do remember me?”