Gay historical romance from the Golden Age of Piracy
Secret friends. Forbidden lovers. Some bonds aren’t meant to be broken…
Sir Henry Polglase—Polly to his friends—can’t afford to be distracted. Not even by the stunning Titus Kandel. He can’t confide to anyone why he really went into the dirty business of slave-trading. And when he forms a partnership with Titus’s vile master, he’s certain he’ll never be forgiven.
But fate has a way of intervening. Hearts as well as fortunes can be won on the turn of a card.
A story set in the world of Radcliffe’s epic Pirates of Port Royal series
“Your card again, sir,” said Jonkheer van Wyk, glancing up from the table.
“So it is. Why, your luck is quite out tonight!” Polly reached for the silver stacked in the centre, careless of his shirt cuff. The lace-trimmed linen, hanging from his doublet sleeve like damned curtain, knocked everything in its path. Coins rolled every which way, and his goblet teetered, slopping water onto the table. Suppressing an oath, he grabbed the goblet to steady it before chasing his scattered winnings.
“Titus!” roared the jonkheer, raising the ivory-handled cane that was never far from his hand. “You clumsy oaf! Why did you place Sir Henry’s glass there?”
Before Titus could move, and thus come within striking distance, Polly banged down a new stake. His palm slapped the wooden table with a crack loud enough to make everyone in the wardroom jump.
“The bet is three reales,” he announced in a voice that could have been heard in the back of a theatre.
The distraction worked. Van Wyk set down the cane and scowled at the half dozen coppers in front of him, not even a shilling’s worth. “You have won the ready coin I have aboard this ship. I shall write you a promissory note.”
Picking up the exhausted deck, Polly began a slow overhand shuffle. “I fear I must disoblige you. As I told Mr Geelvinck when his money ran out, I never take a promise as a stake.”
“Ay, that is quite true,” said the purser ingratiatingly from his end of the table.
Van Wyk shot him an impatient glance and returned his attention to Polly. “Come, sir, we are business partners. My four hundred pounds is yours when we reach St Christopher on the morrow.”
“My dear jonkheer, with no intention to offend, I’ve only your word that you have four hundred pounds,” said Polly with an urbane smile. “Until I see that money, please forgive my caution.”
Outrage quivered in van Wyk’s face. “You question me? All know I am rich. Why, I have more wealth than your own King Charles!”
Polly lifted a disdainful brow at this vulgar boast. “I congratulate you, sir. And yet I stand by my principles. I do not trade in promises. Only cold, hard cash.”
“Vuile smeerlap,” the man hissed half under his breath.
Judging by Geelvinck’s shocked expression, it must be a vile insult. Polly ignored it and continued his lazy shuffle, falling into a slow, mesmerising rhythm.
The jonkheer schooled his face into what Polly guessed was meant to be a winning smile. “My luck must change soon. This is a temporary setback.”
Polly merely shook his head, letting his mouth droop sadly. Van Wyk huffed in exasperation.
“My share of our company’s profit, then. I will bet that.”
“But you have no stake in my company, sir. Not until I receive four hundred pounds. In cold, hard cash.”
Spots of colour appeared in van Wyk’s sallow cheeks. “Then I have nothing to offer you,” he snapped. “I must bid you goodnight.”
Polly haphazardly cut the deck, frowning with irritation over his clumsiness. He straightened the cards and looked up with a nonchalant smile. “I’ve no wish to retire yet. But there is a valuable article you could stake.”
“I’m a plain man. I have no jewels to wager.”
“Nay, nothing like that. The contract I hold for Titus’ services still has three weeks to run. On the morrow I sail to Gambia whilst you go on to Port Royal, therefore the fifteen shillings I paid for those three weeks must be refunded.”
“I’ll not refund your money,” said van Wyk angrily. “The deal was final.”
“Our agreement stands then,” said Polly with a gentle smile. “Of course, that means I shall take Titus with me. Where he is during the course of the contract is irrelevant.”
The jonkheer’s jaw dropped. “You cannot take him! He is mine!”
“It pains me to contradict you, sir,” said Polly, in no pain whatsoever. “But according to the agreement we wrote together, and you yourself signed, he is mine. For the next three weeks, at least.”
“But you could be gone for months! How am I to retrieve my slave?”
Polly hitched a shoulder. “Again, irrelevant. The contract makes no mention of the circumstances under which Titus returns to your service. Merely that he returns.”
Fury blazed in van Wyk’s shallow eyes, and then they sharpened with cunning. “Ah, but the terms we agreed to were that he must tend me each morning. And also to work as steward on this ship.”
“Only to pay for his passage whilst aboard this ship. Tomorrow he disembarks with me. As for attending you, the contract guarantees no such thing.”
“It does! Between eight and ten every morning, you have no right to him. I distinctly recall that phrase in the contract.”
Keeping up his idle shuffle, Polly watched the jonkheer through his lashes. “Certes the phrase is there. What is not there is an explicit statement of where Titus is and what he does during those two hours. In fact, there is no mention at all of your name. Is that not true, Mr Geelvinck?”
“That—that is quite true, jonkheer,” said the purser timidly. “I witnessed your contract myself.”
From the corner of his eye, Polly saw Titus standing stock-still, a bottle in his hand. “So you see, sir, I have it in writing that Titus is mine. There is naught to stop me taking him when I leave the Batavia. Unless you buy back his services.”
“The law court in St Christopher will not agree with you!”
Polly raised an amused brow. “What, the law court of an English colony? Make a finding against Sir Henry Polglase, friend and favourite of King Charles? Who, I’m sure I need not mention, appoints all colonial officials to their lofty positions, and can easily replace a chief justice who displeases him.” Polly hid a grin. There was no advantage to letting the jonkheer see how much he was enjoying himself. “By all means, let us take this matter to court.”
The ship rocked, its creak unexpectedly loud in the sudden quiet. Geelvinck’s eyes flicked from van Wyk to Polly and back again, his expression troubled.
The sugar planted breathed heavily through his nose. “You tricked me with your devious contract,” he growled.
Stroking the blue silk of his doublet sleeve, Polly lounged back in his chair. “Nay, how could I? I had no notion you and I would separate during the contract period. But I will enforce its terms. I would be a poor business man an I did not. You’d not wish to be in business with a man who has no head for it, would you, Jonkheer van Wyk?”
“Nay,” he grated. “But you’ve known for days this would arise, yet you have made no mention of it.”
Polly pursed his lips in distaste. “’Tis a sordid thing to be chasing a debtor. A gentleman does not press, and I was waiting for your offer to pay out the balance of Titus’ contract. It seems you had no intent to do so—and now you no longer have the wherewithal.” He sighed with faux sympathy. “The contract, therefore, stands.”
All but grinding his teeth, van Wyk cast a malevolent look at Titus, still frozen in the middle of the wardroom. No doubt he intended to vent his frustrations on Titus’ very flesh when he attended him in the morning.
Not if I can prevent it. “Of course, there is a way around this unfortunate dilemma we find ourselves in,” Polly continued smoothly.
Copyright © Jules Radcliffe