A strait-laced lieutenant
A free-living pirate
A hopeless love
Quinn has never met a man like Perry. Stern and cold on the outside; burning inside with secret passion. Yearning for a mastery only Quinn can satisfy. But Perry is a respectable officer in His Majesty’s navy. Quinn baulks at asking him to give up everything for a pirate.
Perry has no regrets about their night of glorious sin, but he’s not free to love where he pleases. If word of his illicit affair came to the ears of Commodore Pobjoy, not only would his career end, he could never return home to England.
But when Quinn is captured, Perry is stunned. Everything he valued is hollow and meaningless without his master. He’ll risk all to get Quinn back, but he can’t do it alone. He has to persuade the Black Wolf and the crew of the Audacious that his daring rescue will work.
This time, it’s not just his career and reputation at stake. If he fails, Quinn will suffer a gruesome fate at the hands of a terrifying acolyte of the Spanish Inquisition.
Port Royal, 1663
On the eve of the holy season of Christmastide, the Black Dog heaved with sailors—naval, merchant, and pirate. Some visited the ladies upstairs to binge on sins of the flesh before they sailed; others came to indulge their taste for Mrs Blackater’s punch. Gabriel Quinn, sailing master of the Audacious, was of the latter group.
After taking a long, refreshing draught, he set down his mug and pulled out his tobacco pouch. He looked idly around as he filled his pipe, nodding at familiar faces amongst the Black Dog’s patrons. A young sailor pushed his way through the crowd to Quinn’s table.
“Aon scéal?” he said.
Quinn returned the greeting. “Diabhal an scéal.” He waved to the seat next to him and offered his pouch.
The youngster sat down and took a large pinch. “Pib Hellen, an Griffon.”
The accent brought on myriad memories and a pang of nostalgia. “Gabe Quinn, an Audacious. From Connaught, are you?” he continued in Irish, using a spill to light his pipe.
Pib grinned engagingly as he tamped down tobacco. “Sure and you’re from Connemara way, I’m told. Galway’s my home.” His smile slipped. “Was my home. ’Twould be death on me now to return. The Sasanachs transported me to the Barbadoes, but I escaped a while back.”
Pity touched Quinn’s heart. Outwardly, Pib was unmarred by his forced servitude, but Quinn knew all too well that some scars were invisible.
Such a pretty boy too. Who knows what outrages he was made to suffer?
Veiling these dark thoughts behind a friendly smile, he said, “Captain Smarte’s a decent man, but you’d be safer from your old master amongst the Brethren of the Coast than on the Griffon.”
Pib nodded eagerly. “By what I’m hearing, the Audacious is the best of the Brethren ships, even if the Black Wolf is a Sasanach.”
“That he is, boyo, but a fine captain for all that.”
They smoked in silence for a while, sending smoke rings to the ceiling between sips of punch. Quinn shifted in his seat to observe his companion’s profile. Eyes flicked sideways now and then, and the lad seemed on the verge of speech several times. Quinn drew musingly on his pipe.
Whatever might be on his mind, mayhap he’s too bashful to ask outright.
“Would you be wanting something from me?” he prompted.
Pib met his gaze with wide blue eyes. “I was thinking…” He dropped his lashes shyly. “That is, I was hoping if… Yourself and myself, we’re both from Connaught.” He looked up, his face filled with entreaty. “For the sake of a countryman, would you ever recommend me to the Black Wolf? I’m ready to sail with you tonight.”
Suddenly alert, Quinn stretched out, feigning nonchalance. “I’m sorry to say we’ve no berths. But the Sea Queen sails on the morrow, and Captain Fitzgerald is an Ulster man. I’m thinking he’d gladly find room for a fellow Irishman.”
Pib’s face fell. He licked his lips, shooting Quinn a coy look. “I wouldn’t mind, only I’d prefer your ship. I amn’t finical. I could share quarters. Or a berth.”
He put out a tentative hand. Before it could touch his knee, Quinn shifted under the pretext of knocking the dottle from his pipe. In so doing, he also moved his legs out of reach.
“Mayhap next season, Pib. When you’re a little older.” And I don’t mean sailing with the Audacious.
Pib peeped through his lashes, his mouth shifting into what looked for all the world like a coquettish pout. Again, Quinn was struck by the lad’s beauty, though it failed to move him. Only in his own youth had he found very young men appealing.
Draining his mug, he rose to his feet. “Liam over yonder, he’s bo’sun on the Sea Queen. Come meet him.”
Though he followed Quinn across the tavern, Pib dragged his feet, eyes mournful and mouth turned down. But when Liam enthusiastically clapped him on the shoulder, the lad perked up.
“If you can swing a cutlass, you’re welcome aboard, boyo,” said Liam. “We’re short on boarders. Here, have a drink.” He filled Pib’s empty mug with rum.
Quinn shook his head when Liam offered him the bottle. “I’m away to my ship. Mayhap we’ll meet again in Tortuga. I wish you both a profitable season.”
At the Black Dog’s door, Quinn turned to lift a hand in farewell. Pib returned the gesture, accompanying it with another of his plaintive stares. Ignoring that beseeching look, Quinn left the tavern and headed for the waterman’s wharf on King Street.
Even from the dock, the activity aboard the Audacious was unmistakable. Lanterns blazed all over the ship; men hung from the yards and scurried about the deck. Quinn caught a ride with a lighter, ferrying goods to the ship.
As he crossed the main deck, a sailor shouted from above. “Captain’s asking for you, Gabe!”
Calling his thanks, Quinn ducked into the quarterdeck cabins. The stateroom door stood open. The Black Wolf sat at his desk writing, his quill scratching across the parchment. At Quinn’s footfall, he looked up, and a cheerful smile mantled his face.
“What ho, Gabe! I need a favour.”
“Of course you do,” said Quinn, taking the sting from his words by grinning. He dropped into the only other chair.
The Black Wolf rose and shut the door. “Billy Killjoy’s lieutenant comes aboard anon. In fact, I’m surprised he’s not here already. He seems a punctilious fellow. But I did tell him midnight.”
“You agreed to let him set foot on the Audacious? Kit, tell me you’re not serious! We’re a Brethren ship, not one of our dear commodore’s navy vessels.”
“If I refuse, Killjoy might find a more sly way to get someone aboard.”
An image of Pib flashed across Quinn’s mind, but he dismissed his suspicion. The boy’s too young. Sure his mother’s milk is still wet on his lips.
“And if the lieutenant is a spy, I want him where I can see him,” continued the Black Wolf.
“If? I thought you were convinced.”
“I was. His Puritan father’s been dead for years, and his mother raised him alone. She’s a Barbon.”
“A Barbon? Sounds like some kind of hat.”
The pirate captain grinned. “’Tis a family name. The preacher, Praisegod Barbon? The Barebones Parliament?”
Quinn shrugged. “Before my time. And you know I pay precious little attention to politics.”
“I do. But my point is, the Barbon family are fanatical Dissenters. I thought certain Lieutenant Peregrine was too.”
“And what makes you doubt yourself?”
The Black Wolf stroked his beard, his face thoughtful. “I spoke with him today. I’d swear the boy hasn’t a dishonest bone in his body. And he hates Billy Killjoy. He hides it well, but there was a moment when it blazed forth as if he’d screamed it aloud.”
Quinn snorted. “And that’s enough for you to trust him?”
“Not bloody likely! But that brings me to the favour.”
Quinn raised his brows in wordless enquiry.
“I want you to befriend him,” said the Black Wolf. “Get him to confide in you, and find out where his loyalties really lie. Perchance we can turn him into a spy for us. Certes Billy Killjoy and his lapdog Pricklebum are up to no good.”
Again, Quinn snorted. “He’s a Puritan. He’s more like to curse me to hell for being a sodomite.”
A black eyebrow quivered, and the Black Wolf’s blue eyes danced. “Will you try for my sake, Gabe?”
“You know fine I will,” said Quinn, resigned. “But don’t expect aught from me if he shows his teeth. I’ll not stand for being insulted by any man.”
“I ask nothing more than you try.” The Black Wolf sprang up from his seat, rubbing his hands. “Meanwhile, I have word of a flotilla, laden with pearls from Margarita. They’re sailing by way of the Lucayes, hoping to evade notice.”
“More fool them.” Quinn considered for a moment. “We might waylay them off Samana.”
“A good notion. Lay in a course, would you?”
Quinn went to the wardroom, where he stored his maps and spread out on the officers’ mess table. The ship rolled in the rising sea, and he held tight to his instruments as he worked. Before long, a sailor poked his head in.
“That laddie from the navy’s arrived, Gabe. Captain says you volunteered to show him about.”
Volunteered, my hairy cods. Aloud, he said, “Much obliged, Crook.”
Abandoning his work, he followed the sailor to the entry port on the main deck.
“Half expected him to ask to be winched aboard alongside his trunk,” said Crook. “But he started the climb with nae fuss at all. Promising, I call it.”
Quinn sniffed. “Our flower of the navy hasn’t proven his mettle yet. I’ll take it from here.”
Crook grinned and made his way forward to where a knot of sailors worked the tackle.
The choppy sea made the climb a challenge for any not bred to the life of a sailor. Quinn glanced over the side. A dark figure was nearing the top of the ladder. Stepping back, he plastered a smile on his face, ready to do his duty.
Lieutenant Peregrine paused at the entry port, one foot on the main deck, the other still on the ladder. A sneer touched Quinn’s lip at his clothes—dark and Puritan-plain—and he weighed up their unwelcome visitor swiftly. Medium height with a physique lean but strong. Hair scraped back from a stern face, its hard expression at odds with a generous mouth and its full lower lip. Square chin, firm and slightly prominent. Wary eyes, flicking to take in his surrounds before he committed to formally boarding the ship. Quinn concluded he was a man of caution.
Lifting his foot from the ladder, the lieutenant was about to step fully onto the deck when a sharp wave tossed the ship. He clawed for the manrope. Quinn leapt forward to catch him in his arms, and the lieutenant looked into his eyes.
The world slowed down.
For a long moment, Quinn could do naught but stare, tangled up in a pair of silver eyes filled with wonder. A thought that he beheld an ideal fleeted through his mind. The body in his arms was hard with muscle yet as yielding as a lover, and the lips scant inches from his own were made for sin. Lust curled through his blood. His grip tightened at a vision of whisking the lieutenant to his quarters and tumbling him for the rest of the night.
Copyright © Jules Radcliffe