Press-ganged as a boy, Job Wright must learn how to live as a free man.
For years Job has been a captive, exploited and degraded by a crooked merchant crew. Until the day his ship is attacked by pirates. English pirates, no less, and Brethren of the Coast, a brotherhood of free men who owe allegiance to no one but themselves. Job thinks he’s been rescued at last, but he’s badly mistaken. As an Englishman aboard a Spanish ship, the Brethren believe he’s a traitor and an enemy. But just when pirate justice is about to be delivered, Garrett Dubh intervenes. He both saves Job’s life and recruits him to the pirate ship Audacious.
Surrounded by a fearsome crew, Job finds protection under Garrett’s wing. He’s ready to do anything for the handsome pirate—things he’d never willingly do for another man. But Garrett ignores Job’s shy overtures. He believes Job is too traumatised by his past. Too young to know what he wants. And nothing Job says will change his mind.
To show Garrett he can take care of himself, Job leaves the safety of the Audacious. He joins the most ruthless Brethren crew in the Caribbean, led by the enigmatic and cruel Rusé.
But in the French pirate haven of Tortuga, thoughtless actions can have fatal consequences, something Job is about to discover. And this time, Garrett isn’t there to save him.
The Gulf of Florida
Job waited to die.
Kneeling on the deck, his hands on his head, he looked with dull eyes at the dead men around him. His compañeros. Not that he would call them that, but the pirates would. His gaze fell upon Silvio, openmouthed with his last gasp of death. An almost-smile twitched Job’s lips, though he would be joining Silvio all too soon.
An argument had been raging above Job’s head for several minutes. Several more minutes of his life to enjoy. The moment he had sometimes prayed for was here, and now the miseries he had endured seemed nothing. He wanted to live. But at any moment, the boarding axe in the hand of the fierce pirate would come down upon his head, and that would be the end of him.
But another man held the fierce pirate at bay with the long barrel of a musket. Unlike the fierce pirate, this man had not deliberately painted his face into a frightful mask. He looked every bit as terrifying—soot caked his face and his shirtless torso was liberally daubed with blood—but he was arguing for Job’s life.
The fierce one snarled, “Get the hell out of my road!”
“Crook, he’s unarmed. Remember the articles. We’re not to be killing men who throw down their weapons.”
His defender was an Irishman, thought Job distantly. As if it mattered.
“And how many of our mates do you think he’s killed?”
“I couldn’t say, but I saw him kill that one.”
The Irishman pointed at Silvio as Crook raised his axe again. Crook checked and then bridled.
“He’s a traitor twice over, then.”
“What’s toward here?” A new voice, crisp and filled with authority. Both pirates turned and stood that little bit straighter.
Most of the pirates who swarmed the deck wore naught but their breeches, but this new man was fully dressed. His shirt might be splashed with crimson, but his face was clean of war paint, and he bore the appearance of a civilised man. The rapier in his hand was coated in gore, but Job could see it was a fine weapon.
“Got ourselves a Judas Iscariot, Mr Peregrine,” said Crook. “This shit-sack was sailing with the Dons, and him an Englishman.”
“But he’s surrendered, Mr Peregrine,” said the Irish pirate. “And I’m thinking he’s not overfond of the Dons. I saw him strangle one with his bare hands.”
“Noted, Mr Dubh.” The man turned to Crook. “Mr Cruikshank, you voted for each article in the chasse-partie and signed the whole. The survivors go to Port Royal to be ransomed.” He surveyed the corpses strewn around them, his lips pursed. “If there are any survivors.”
“They’ll nae ransom this one—he’ll be hanged for a pirate. Let him die clean here instead of at the end of a rope.”
“Mayhap.” Cold grey eyes alighted on Job. “What have you to say for yourself, Judas Iscariot?”
“I ain’t here willing,” said Job, his voice sullen. “Them Dons attacked my ship. Sank her. Took me and forced me to—” He swallowed, unwilling to put it into words, but he must tell this grim man something. “Forced me to work for them.”
“The Dons don’t take captives to work their ships.”
Job lifted his shoulder. “Their master had gone and died.”
Mr Peregrine’s brows lifted skeptically. “You’re a master of sail?”
“Nay, just a hand. But I know these waters. They said if I got them safe back to Isla de los Árboles, they’d let me go.”
“And you believed them?”
Job could read nothing in Mr Peregrine’s flat eyes. He shrugged again.
“Figured I was bound for their bloody dungeon, whatever they told me. Was planning to sink them on the Rechinars. Told them I knew the way through the reef, didn’t I? They never suspicioned I’d be willing to go down with them, if only to take them all to hell.” Job cast a dark look at his dead captors.
To Job’s surprise, a smile lifted Mr Peregrine’s mouth. It quite transformed his grim visage. He would never be a handsome man, but the smile gave him a certain charm.
“Very well; you have your life—for now. I’ll leave it to the captain to decide what to do with you. Mr Dubh, take him to the ship. Mr Cruikshank, you’re with me. We’re clearing out below.”
“Aye, Mr Peregrine,” said both pirates in chorus.
Crook and Mr Peregrine disappeared down the hatch. The Irishman held out a hand, and Job grabbed it, pulling himself to his feet. He looked up; like most men, the pirate was inches taller than he. A grin curved the shapely lips. Job could not resist returning it, and the cold weight, like a stone in his belly, warmed.
“Much obliged,” he said awkwardly. “I mean, for saving my life.”
“Don’t be making me regret it, boyo.”
“I ain’t a boy,” said Job, a little sulky.
“Soothly? You surely cannot be much more than fifteen.”
Job was short, his figure slight, and he was accustomed to men underestimating his age. But somehow it stung more coming from this man.
“I’m nineteen!” he snapped, throwing his shoulders back.
Chestnut brown eyes laughed at him. It was kindly laughter, though.
“All right, I’m eighteen,” Job conceded reluctantly. “But I’ll be nineteen come the autumn.”
Mr Dubh pursed his lips, though the brilliant eyes still danced. “I’ll remember,” he said gravely. “’Tis only half a year hence, after all. Do you have a name, then?”
“Well met, Job. I’m Garrett. Follow me, now.”
They crossed the deck, stepping over corpses. A rope net connected the two ships. Job watched for a moment, seeing the man’s back muscles knotting under his skin as he hauled himself up, his arse on perfect display as his breeches tightened around his nether regions. Job swallowed at the sight, surprised by the stirring in his own breeches. He grabbed on to the net and climbed. Heaving himself over the gunwale of the pirate ship, he dropped onto the deck. Garrett was waiting for him.
“Welcome aboard the Audacious.”
“The Audacious? You’re the Black Wolf’s crew?”
“That we are. Come, I’ll take you to clean up.”
For the first time since his own ship had been taken by the Spanish guardacosta, Job felt a glimmer of hope that he might survive. The Audacious sailed under the marque of the Jamaican governor. And whilst the Black Wolf was a fearsome captain, one of the Brethren of the Coast, he was known for his clemency toward captives. He might even let Job go. Though to do what, Job had no notion. He had been at sea since he was fourteen—he knew no other life. He had but one skill.
Garrett stowed his musket near one of the ship’s guns and then led Job to the forward cabins. He opened a door and gestured for Job to precede him. The room was a quarter gallery, generous in size, containing several tall barrels and four privies. Job looked around, wide-eyed.
“We have necessary seats up top as well,” said Garrett, noticing his stares. “We’ve a crew of a hundred odd, and the captain says a ship can never have too many places for a man to take a shit. Especially when the food’s gone bad and everyone’s got the squitters. And down here, you don’t get soaked if the weather’s foul.”
A waist-high shelf ran along one bulkhead. Garrett opened the cupboard under it to reveal metal washbasins stacked inside. Setting a basin on the shelf, Garrett filled it with water from one of the barrels. He loosened his battle-tangled hair from its sailor’s queue, and it fell about his shoulders, a dark veil. Running his hands through the thick mass, he pulled out a tangle or two and neatened it before tying it back again. Job stood stock-still, wondering if he was supposed to assist.
“Fetch a basin, boyo,” said Garrett. “Captain can’t abide filth, and you smell worse than a soldier’s boots. Sure, you’ll make a better impression if you’re clean.”
“Han’t never seen a quarter gallery for common crew before,” said Job in wonder. “Hands stay dirty until the ship makes land. ’Cepting when it rains.”
“Not on this ship!” said Garrett with a snort.
The Irishman bent over the basin and splashed his face and chest before scrubbing at them. With soap. Job’s mouth fell open. Shaking off his shock at seeing something so alien on a ship as soap, he took up another basin and half filled it with water—fresh, not seawater. He ripped off his shirt and threw it to the floor, then stood on it so it would catch the drips.
Glancing sideways at him, Garrett said, “May I be damned if your clothes don’t stink worse than you do. Wash up; I’ll fetch you some clean slops.”
Job grunted an acknowledgement and stripped to his drawers. He had been wearing the same garments for weeks, and even he could scarcely bear his own stench. Taking up the soap Garrett had abandoned, he applied it to his upper body with relish, passing the cloth over his skin and scouring out his armpits. The water in the basin turned cloudy, but Job was hesitant to refill it without permission. He wet his lank hair and rubbed soap into his scalp before rinsing and washing it again. By the time Garrett returned with a bundle under his arm, the water was black with dirt.
“God blind me, boyo, you’re washing the grime back on!” he exclaimed. “Why did you not get fresh water?”
“Didn’t know I could use more,” said Job in explanation.
Garrett laughed, his face lighting up, and Job felt his heart thump. He had already taken stock of the warm eyes and fine body, but clean of the filth of battle, the man’s features were strong and masculine. One of his front teeth was slightly chipped—a charming imperfection in his flashing smile. His nose had been broken, though it had mended straight enough, and a faint scar along his jaw was a pale line in his tanned skin. He was a fighter, then, and not just a musketeer.
“We’re not stingy with water on this ship,” said Garrett. “We’ll make land if we run low.”
Picking up Job’s basin, he threw its contents down a privy hole where it emptied straight into the sea. He scooped more water from the barrel to fill the basin and placed it back on the shelf.
“Much obliged,” said Job shyly.
Garrett gave him a smile that set his pulses jumping again. “There’s the fresh clothes for you when you’re done. Drawers too, so you may doff those rags you’re wearing.”
“No need to be bashful,” said Garrett. “I know we’ve a woman aboard, but she won’t come in here.”
“You got a woman aboard?”
“Did you not see her? She’s the Black Wolf’s lady, though, so watch your manners. No leering or whistling. And absolutely no touching.”
Job was still reluctant to expose himself, but Garrett stood there expectantly. With fumbling fingers, Job untied his drawers and let them fall to the floor. Garrett raised his brows.
“I believe you are eighteen after all; you’ve quite the gift there. Well now, don’t be blushing. Sure, the ladies must love it when you come to port.”
His face hot, Job turned sideways in an attempt to hide his prick, surprised by the effect Garrett had on him. He hoped the Irishman would not perceive that he was growing hard. Taking a deep breath, he tried to control his body’s response to being naked in front of a man he found so alluring.
He failed on all counts.
There was a creak as Garrett approached, and Job could feel warm breath on the back of his neck. He shivered but could not for his life move away.
“Perchance ’tisn’t the ladies who are glad to see you after all,” said Garrett, his voice an intimate murmur in Job’s ear.
A light hand seared down Job’s back, and something inside him snapped. He fair leapt across the room. Hands covering his prick, he put his back to the bulkhead. Anger flashed in Garrett’s face. Stomach churning, Job bowed his head, waiting for the blow he knew was coming.
But the Irishman stepped back instead.
“I’ll wait outside, then,” he said in a cool voice.
The door slammed, and Job was alone.
Copyright © Jules Radcliffe