Colin had three very serious problems.
Insurmountable ones really, starting with the two ropes lashing his wrists to the rumpled bed he lay on. The third obstacle, he was quite certain, had something to do with the woman curled up fast asleep on his chest.
What on earth possessed her family to curse her with such a masculine name? Surely it had caused a scandal at the time. Everything about the female draped across him, her blonde hair making his stomach itch like the dickens, was nothing like the other women of his acquaintance. He couldn’t imagine women of genteel upbringing knowing anything about the outrageous acrobatics Quinn had performed (to his utter shame and greatest pleasure.)
The fading sunlight that trickled through the porthole danced across her skin, and she shifted in her sleep, snorting.
He frowned. There was something familiar…
The ship rocked hard to port—or was that starboard? More importantly, how could she possibly sleep with the vessel rocking so violently, to say nothing of the sweaty discomfort of their tangled limbs? He’d lost feeling in his left foot some time ago.
As though she felt him studying her, she opened her eyes, revealing that pretty aquamarine shade. Strangely enough, it was the exact color of blue in his favorite tapestry belonging to Headmaster Sidebottom.
He smiled fondly at the memory of the gaggle of geese embroidered on the fabric, inwardly scoffing at the ridiculous suggestion a friend had once made that it was actually a depiction of the royal court, naked no less, engaging in unsavory acts. No respectable Headmaster would have such a thing hidden below the school, in a secret passage that Colin had accidently stumbled upon when he fell against the mantle in the library.
Quinn yawned, stretching her arms over her head and drawing his attention down to the finest pirate booty he’d ever beheld. And her bottom was rather lovely too.
“I guess I fell asleep.”
“Quite some time ago.”
She arched a brow. “Are you suggesting I’m too heavy?”
“Trick question,” Pemberley squawked. “Trick question.”
Colin ignored the bird and opened his mouth to answer honestly, only to be cut off by Quinn’s breathless sigh.
“Either that’s your hornpipe digging into me, or you’re very eager to drop anchor in my lagoon.” She tipped her head, regarding him playfully.
She grinned slyly. “I thought you’d see it my way—” she began.
Quinn stilled. “I beg your pardon.”
“That’s who you remind me of.”
“I remind you of...your hound?” She spoke slowly, as though she were addlebrained.
He nodded vigorously. “Exactly.”
“Your hound?” Her voice rose and her eyes narrowed, and he thought over what he’d said.
“Yes,” he added a little less confidently. “She was the most loyal of companions, though not a particularly skilled hunter. And she did have the most peculiar fondness for sniffing people’s bottoms.” He shrugged as much as his bonds allowed.
“What do you think I could possibly have in common with a rear-sniffing mongrel?”
“Oh, Buttercup was of the finest pedigree—”
Quinn sat up and stabbed him in the chest with her fingers. “I am a highly trained Ninja and mistress of the seas. When my family’s ship sank, I survived a horrific storm on treacherous waters by clinging to the back of a passing sea turtle, and you think to compare me to a common dog?”
“I assure you there was nothing common about her.” He frowned. “Sea turtle you say?”
“Oooo.” She scrambled off the bed, hastily donning her clothes. “And to think I asked you to show me how you buried your treasure.” She strode toward the door.
“Wait. Please, Quinn. I truly didn’t mean to upset you.”
She paused, slowly turning back toward him.
“It sounds like you suffered quite an ordeal.”
Her head bowed. “I was the only one who survived. The rest of my family was claimed by the sea.”
“How awful. I’ve never been lost at sea. Though I did once lose my way home. Had to spend the night in a tree and wait for the governess to find me.”
“How old were you?”
“Oh, it was some months ago now.”
Quinn stared at him.
“Were you afraid?” Colin continued, fascinated by her tale.
“No.” She shrugged. “Well, maybe once or twice.”
“I believe I would have been terrified in such a situation,” he added.
She cocked her head. “It takes a courageous man to admit any weakness.”
“Then should I confess to another?” He tried to sit upright as much as his bonds allowed, but the fast movement worked against the nausea he’d been fighting, and he felt all the blood rush from his face.
“Are the rough waters making you ill again?” Crossing back to the bed, she perched on the edge of the mattress and pressed the back of her hand to his clammy skin.
He shook his head. “If I have any sickness, I fear it may be a more permanent kind as I cannot imagine ever feeling normal again.”
Worry crept into her eyes. “A sickness?”
“Aye. True love.”
Quinn fell off the bed.
Colin peered over the edge. “Are you all right?”
“No. Yes.” She scrambled back to her feet. “I have duties to attend to. Responsibilities. Duties.”
“You already said that.”
“I must go.”
Ignoring his protesting stomach, he pulled hard at the ropes. “You cannot think to leave me like this?”
Before he could blink she had a blade in her hands. “I will release you from your bonds, but you are forbidden to leave my cabin.” She strode toward the door.
Her fingers tightened on the door. “Yes?”
Wondering why she was whispering, he rubbed at his sore wrists. “Buttercup really was a fine animal, you know. My hound,” he clarified.
The door slammed behind her.
Colin cringed. She was the most peculiar woman.
“Might be a bit too rough for you today, Captain. A storm is brewing.”
Quinn scowled at Mori, sidestepping him to reach the plank. She jerked her boots off. “There’s always a storm brewing.”
It was the unrest brewing inside of her that was a more pressing concern. What had possessed her to share her past with Colin? She’d brought him aboard thinking only to satisfy her most carnal cravings, and somehow he had managed to make her crave so much more. But true love?
Determined to settle her thoughts, she placed one foot carefully out on the plank.
A hand closed around hers. “You’re not alone out there today, Captain.”
Quinn scanned the water’s surface. “Why wasn’t I told that he’d been sighted?”
“You gave orders not to be disturbed.”
She frowned. She should have remembered that. Another reason she needed to clear her head. “We both know our friend poses no danger to me—”
“Unless you were to lose your balance.”
Her head snapped around at the suggestion her Ninja skills would fail her on board her own ship.
He immediately bowed his head. “My apologies, Captain.” He moved away, leaving her alone.
Quinn walked to the end of the plank and lowered herself into cross-legged position, her back straight and her gaze trained on the horizon.
After a few calming breaths, she closed her eyes. From beneath her she could hear a familiar tick-tock sound, but didn’t satisfy the beast by betraying any concern over his presence. How ironic—to be saved from Davy Jones’ Locker by a sea turtle, only to be stalked by the crocodile who held her personally responsible for its master’s death.
She couldn’t very well blame the oversized reptile, since she had killed the man. The very same man with six fingers on his right hand, who had killed her father and left the rest of her family stranded aboard a crewless vessel in pirate-filled waters.
It had likely been a blessing that the storm struck before they were set upon by the very bloodthirsty buccaneers she now stood against. It had taken her years to track the six-fingered man, and it was the only time in her life she had ignored her training, choosing to let him know she was coming for him.
She could have easily assassinated him in his sleep, but had wanted to look in his eyes and make sure he heard her say, “Hello. My name is Quinn Fitzgerald. You killed my father. Prepare to die.”
Tick-tock. Tick-tock. Tick-tock.
Pushing all thoughts of her past aside, she concentrated on her breathing.
Tick-tock. Tick-tock. Tick-tock.
She should feed Colin to the circling crocodile for comparing her to a hound.
No. She would not allow thoughts of the dupirate to distract her. She needed her wits about her to decide what to do with him.
Except... True love?
The man had never lain with a woman. What could he possibly know of true love?
She squeezed her eyes tighter, refusing to think of Colin any longer. It didn’t matter that the man possessed the finest cutlass in need of a good, warm scabbard. She was a disciplined Ninja and would not become a complete slave to her desires where he or any man was concerned.
She’d sooner be knocked overboard and fed to her toothy nemesis.
“Awk! Storm’s a comin’.” Pemberley fluttered from one corner of the cabin to the other. “Storm’s a comin’.”
Colin dismissed the bird with an irritated glare, trying to fixate on his real problem and not some unlikely weather crisis. As if a simple-minded bird could sense a pending storm.
He needed to see Quinn. He was positive he’d failed to convince her of the many fine attributes Buttercup had possessed, and simply couldn’t rest until the matter was resolved.
Voices sounded outside the cabin, and like the last few times since Quinn had departed, he scrambled to wrap a blanket around himself in case anyone burst inside unexpectedly. Thankfully, the voices didn’t move beyond the other side of the door, and he relaxed onto the edge of the bed, listening.
“The Captain won’t like this.”
Colin didn’t recognize the first voice, but the man spoke as though his nostrils were pinched painfully together.
“That is the last time we send Smeed to retrieve the supplies. He knows the hard tack is supposed to be gluten free.”
Gluten free? No, that couldn’t possibly be right. He must have heard wrong. Curious, Colin crept to the door and pressed his ear against it.
“When the Captain finds out—”
“No one needs to tell the Captain,” the second one argued.
“Shhhh. Do you want her to overhear us? We both know heads will roll if she catches wind of this.”
“Then we best make sure she doesn’t find out until the last possible moment.” The voices faded away before he could overhear anything further.
Colin paced away from the door, then back again, trying to make sense of their conversation. The door was rather thick, and he could have easily misunderstood the first part of their conversation, but he was certain he’d clearly heard the end of it.
Whatever was happening, they didn’t want Quinn to know, and it undoubtedly rhymed with gluten-free.
“Think, Colin.” He tapped his forehead. “What rhymes with gluten-free?” He continued to pace. “Scrutiny?” No, that couldn’t be right.
He stopped and faced Pemberley. “Mutiny? That’s it! That must be what I overheard. Quinn’s crew is conspiring against her to take over the ship!”
His blanket forgotten in his haste, Colin rushed toward the door. “I need to get out of here. I need to warn Quinn before it’s too late.” He spared only the briefest thought for disobeying Quinn’s order to stay inside her cabin, then wrenched the door open and ran off to find her.
“Awk! Still naked,” Pemberly squawked behind him. “Still naked.”
A Word to you, Our Dear and Gentle Readers: If you enjoyed this small offering, please do us the honor of returning to grace our humble blog with your presence one week hence, when we shall be delighted to bring to you the next installment of our little saga, which is to be entitled, Chapter Nine, The Highwayman's Runaway Bride.
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The Naughty Nine
Click to read Chapter Seven
Click to read Chapter Nine-A