Will Perry follow his heart?
Or his duty?
After peaceful months ashore, Perry and Quinn are ready to return to the life they love—roving with the Brethren of the Coast aboard the pirate ship Audacious. But Quinn is still haunted by his torture in a Spanish dungeon. Perry hopes being back at sea will restore his matelot to his old self.
But to Perry’s dismay, Raphe Ashburn of Night Hawk has returned to Port Royal.
Charming, aristocratic, witty—Captain Ashburn is everything Perry wishes he could be. Once, he and Quinn burned up Port Royal with their passion. Now he wants Quinn back, and he’s not above any nasty trick to achieve his aim. But with England on the brink of war, Perry is reluctant to challenge, and perhaps lose, a valuable ally in the coming conflict.
And then a rival from Perry’s old ship reappears when he’s least expected. Perry is forced to return to the navy and renounce his pirate brethren. And he can’t tell anyone the truth lest he puts them in grave peril.
Perry fears he’ll never see his matelot again, for Quinn is not the man to brook such a betrayal. And the dashing Captain Ashburn is waiting in the wings…
“I CAN SAVE YOU, Master Quinn.”
A weight on his back. His face, pushed into water, and he was choking. Drowning. He struggled wildly. Manacles around his wrists bit deep.
“Tell me, and you will be free,” came that hateful voice, buzzing in his ears like a corpse-fly.
“No!” he screamed into the water.
No one would hear him. No one would find him. No one would save him.
Not this time.
His nemesis had taken him, trapped him in a nameless dungeon, and this time he would die. He sank, his lungs crushed as the weight upon him moved. He was drowning, but he could still hear that voice, warm and rich and thick as blood, flowing into his ears.
“All I want is Thomas. You have betrayed him already. What matter if you do so again?”
“I’ve…never betrayed him!”
“Liar.” The word echoed through him, a knell of doom. “You lied to him. Every day you lie to him. Would he love you if he knew the truth?”
“I never…lied.” He could scarce catch his breath. Black danced at the edge of his vision.
“You told him you were true to him.”
“I am true…”
“Deceiver.” A poisonous whisper, shuddering across his nape.
He tried to shake his head, to deny it, but he could not move. “I have not…deceived him!”
Laughter, deep and mocking. “And what of La Piqûre, Master Quinn? You were seen with another man.”
“That was…was nothing.”
“Will Thomas believe that? Will he not wonder what else you keep from him?”
“I have…no secrets… Not from him…”
Stale cabbage and garlic and sickly-sweet musk assailed his nostrils as another laugh reverberated through his head.
“Coward. You are afraid to tell him. So many secrets, Master Quinn. So many things for you to live in dread of.” A tongue licked his neck, the weight upon him shifted. “Oh, how I love to taste it, your fear. But it is not you I want; it is he. This will all be over, and all you must do is betray him to me.”
Quinn tugged at his bonds; his hands were slippery with his own blood. He was tied to a board, spread-eagled, helpless. Fingers caressed him, stinging along his skin as if they were made of nettles. His aching member was obscenely engorged; fluid ran down in a lewd trickle. A hand wrapped around his cock, and his balls clenched with fear.
“You will betray him,” whispered the voice. “Just as you already have.”
He was viciously jabbed. He bit down to halt any cry, but a grunt escaped him. Movement flickered, and he lifted his eyes. A figure in a black robe stood before him.
“Gabriel,” came a soft voice.
Shocked, Quinn strained to see the man’s face, hidden in the shadow of a cowl. But he did not need to. He would know the voice of his true love were it a whisper amidst the storm. Silver eyes gleamed, and Quinn turned away, hiding from that merciless gaze.
Weeping helplessly, he surrendered, knowing he must be punished. He was hateful, vile. A base creature who deserved neither love nor life. He could not see the instrument of his death, but he could feel it probing, testing. Erelong it would pierce him and would not stop until it ran him through.
“Forgive me, Thomas,” he wept.
“Gabriel!” Hands grabbed his arms and shook him.
Pain blossomed, stabbing his body like myriad thorns.
“Thomas!” he screamed.
No answer, nothing but suffocating dark. The ground beneath him shifted, and he was falling, falling into a dark abyss.
His whole body jerked, and he was face down, buried in something soft. His heart hammered in his chest. He focused.
He was in a bed, his face smothered by his pillow. A hand gripping his shoulder shook him.
Quinn flopped over onto his side, taking deep, gasping breaths as he lay as limp as a boned fish. His throat was dry; his cheeks were wet.
Light flared. He blinked at the sudden brightness, his vision blurred by tears. Beside their bed, Perry fiddled with the lamp, setting the flame low. Lifting the gauze curtain that surrounded the bed, Perry slipped under and crawled back to Quinn’s side. Quinn reached for him and their hands met and clasped. Perry pulled him close, hugging him tight. He pressed his face into the hollow of a broad shoulder.
He spoke soft, but his voice cracked as he curled up into safety, sliding arms about Perry’s waist. His lover—his matelot—rocked him gently, cheek against his hair.
“Was it him?”
The name stayed unuttered, for Quinn could not bear to say it, nor even to hear it said aloud. There was no need to answer. He shuddered with the memory of his nightmare, the taste of it vile in his mouth.
Perry held him tighter. “He’s not coming back, Gabriel. He’d never dare set foot in any place he might be recognised.”
There was quiet during which Perry asked no questions. He never did, and for that Quinn was eternally grateful. Rescued from a foul Spanish dungeon months ago, he still could not speak of what had happened there. What had been done to him there. His only desire was to forget. Alas, his unconscious mind had other plans, weaving guilt and trauma into nightmare.
Perry tilted Quinn’s head up, combing back his hair, tenderness in his eyes. “Think only of me,” he whispered, and laid his mouth on Quinn’s in a soft kiss.
Arms were around him, hands flat and firm on his back. Quinn lay passive under his matelot’s kisses. Perry’s tongue teased his mouth open, gently seeking a way inside. Quinn sighed with a combination of relief and pleasure, letting Perry take the lead. Hands on him stroked soothingly, body and mouth on his own in a comforting pressure.
They lay thus for a long time, warm against each other, kissing lightly, hands moving in soft caresses. Calm spread through Quinn. Perry’s prick stirred, and soon it was pressing into his belly. His own prick had not awakened, but he moved his leg over his lover’s, tucking a heel into the back of his thighs. Their groins met and the hardness felt good against his own soft member. He ground his pelvis into Perry’s, hoping to feel a prickle of lust, a spark of fire lighting him from within. He stayed humiliatingly limp.
A hideous screech split the peace of the night. With a mortifying yelp of fear, Quinn curled into a tight ball.
Snarling a vile curse, Perry leapt from the bed. He flung open the jalousies, exciting myriad squawks and a frenzied flapping of wings.
“Go on, gerroff, you!” he hollered, stepping onto the balcony.
Arms wrapped to protect his head, Quinn felt heavy tears gather in his eyes. Tears of fright, of shame. He was a snivelling coward to start at such a noise. But though it was only the raucous morning cry of a rooster, the sound had pierced his soul.
A cock’s crow—the clarion call of the traitor.
Copyright © Jules Radcliffe