This is probably foolish, she believes, breasts heaving with terror, trying to find her way to a lamp lit customs area. But rain is now falling heavier, her shawl, becoming heavy is discarded. But dread has sent her flying down what seems the easiest escape route, but there’s not a soul at this end of the wharf, no help anywhere. The darkness has aided her somewhat, but now, the full moon skids from a behind a cloud, monochrome light is falling over the dock and the inshore waters. Fearing her visibility she crouches down behind an empty crate, hearing the men coming closer, cursing and pushing barrels aside as they shove their way toward her, daggers drawn. She’s just about to make another dash to safety but instead, emits a muffled shriek! A powerful hand clamps over her mouth. Someone very strong is pulling her down, sweeping her off the wharf and into a rowing boat anchored directly below the dock. She flails and kicks until her arms are pinned in an iron grip. No longer seeing anything but blackness or hearing anything but the slap of water against the sides of the wooden boat, which reeks of fish, better judgment warns her to lie quiet, at least for the moment, but she gasps furiously from behind the big hand, “Let go of me, you miserable piece of sea scum!” Her captor, unmoved, pulls a heavy canvas over the two of them, then warns in a low, but sizzling serious tone: “Don’t make any sound, unless you prefer they find you!” “Who…who in the hell are you?” The Lady Sarah says in stifled dry whisper. “Never mind. Someone who doesn’t want to be seen any more than you do.” “Get your hands off me, you damn wharf rat!” “Keep quiet!” He tells her sharply, and to make sure she understands, again muffles her mouth, though not so roughly this time, while the other arm wraps around her middle, holding fast. The Lady Sarah waits, heart thudding beneath lacy bodice as she becomes aware of his body against hers. He’s lean, hard-muscled and strong, she knows that much. Her chest continues to heave and fall as they lay entangled on the bottom of the boat, listening for sounds of the men approaching. Jacko and Lugg search, increasingly agitated to find their prize, bewildered and drunk, falling over barrels, Jacko flashing a cutlass against the iron work in frustration. Maybe she’s safer from them, but what about the man holding her so tightly, not hurtfully? He certainly smells a lot better than those ruffian salt dogs. Clean as soap, a hint of leather mixed with mint, her nose detects. His muscular arms, glimpsed in the moonlight, along with light colored, glossy, shoulder length hair, but that is all she knows about her newest captor, yet her instinct to scream is lessened, something holds her still; obey his order to stay quiet. Her captor, too, finds it hard to keep his senses attuned to possible danger while he wonders about this woman captive in his arms. She swears like a Portuguese, yet feels soft and feminine and smells of an exotic floral scent as exquisite as the once frothy gown she wore, now in tatters, showing a shapely calf above an ankle wrapped in leather ankle boots. He’d come ashore from the pirate galleon anchored offshore to reconnoiter, make sure that Drake is not setting a trap for his men, something he might try to assuage the depth of his failure over the Spanish, have his men captured and his cargo impounded for the Queen, and in doing so have Queen Elizabeth appoint him a new quest. He, however, being on the other side of right, didn’t seek favor, only gold. His Jolly Roger crew had taken on the Spanish and brought home a valuable cargo, gold, animals, timber and tea. Now he’s willing to make a deal with the Queen’s emissaries but trusts them not. This particular pirate has a loyalty, firstly to his men, their loot, and lastly to her Majesty, having once been a Captain in her navy. Using the blustering night’s cover to come ashore he’d heard the commotion, seen the men crashing down the wharf, chasing what appeared to be a woman; a woman as pretty as deep purple. It was his way to do what came naturally, namely following trouble. The prize did indeed look worthy. Reluctantly he tore his attention away from her immediacy, listening intently for a sound, lifting the canvas just enough. The seamen are moving farther down the wharf and it sounds like another rip-roaring fight is going on. Maybe a tumble into the chill waters of the Solent would cure what ailed those troublemakers, he thinks, relishing the opportunity. His captive stirs against him, trying to speak. He relaxes his grip and asks: “What’s your name?” “I… sir..,” she sputters. “…am Lady Sarah Belington, so if you know what’s good for you, you’ll kindly let go of me.” “Lady, if I knew what was best for me; I would not be protecting you from Her Majesty’s scum. Are you down here alone?” He asks, not believing she’s been quite so foolish. “No. My carriage and driver are on the street.” She lies. “Really?” He says, shifting his head to one side like a dog trying to understand a spoken word. “Come with me, and just play along. If they spot us, I’ll swear you were mine, first!” Her mouth gapes, but his language is crisp and all business. He lifts her onto the boards of the dock with uncommon ease before nimbly bouncing up beside. Treading with stealth he leads first into an area lit by dripping fat torches, where she gets a good look at him. Not a displeasing sight in the least, she has to admit, trying not to gaze. He, too, appraises her with steel blue eyes, glittering ice beneath expressive blond brows. His hair pulled back and tied at the nape. Bronzed beard, almost white with flecks of sea salt, covers a strong jaw which she believes has to have been sculpted, so perfect is it. She tries not to be seen letting her eyes cast downward, noticing a leather necklace holding what looked like a shark’s tooth on his chest beneath the open white, fully sleeved shirt tucked tightly into black pants; a wide blue sash snug around his trim waist, over which a leather belt holds a curved handled pistol and a glittering cutlass. She is caught staring and is embarrassed, knowing a warm flush is visible on her face. “Sir…” she says, keeping in mind her modesty, “I thank you for rescuing me. Now I need to find my carriage driver, hoping to convince him help is near at hand. “No doubt you will, Lady Sarah. But first, I’ll claim my reward…” She stares disbelievingly into his blue eyes, set so prettily in his wind-tanned face, and catches a flash of even white teeth within a roguish grin. “Re….reward?” she stammers, then it comes to her. Those ships…the rumor of the traitor turned pirate, Captain James Rause, yes, the very one who had sailed under Drake himself, now a pirate! “All right, sir…” she fumbles for time with a small satin purse attached to her waistband ribbon, “I have a few coins here…” But his long, tapered fingers close around her outstretched hand, gently folding her fingers back over the coins. “Not the reward I had in mind, Lady Belington…” And he smiles like a panther regarding its prey, standing close. “What I want from you is worth more than a handful of money.” “Sir! Please!” she exclaims, cheeks flaming, “…surely you do not think that I…” she ceases to utter another word under his touch, quieting her, disconcerting in its pleasant way, more so than the notion he’s simply another rake on the hunt for a willing woman. He grins wider. “As much as I would relish what you believe I’m alluding to, I haven’t the time. Only enough for this…” And he pulls her softly, stealing a kiss on her cheek. “You…” She gasps, feeling she could be swept against him without remorse, held in his powerful arms. “…Pirate!” she finishes in fiery indignation. Fearing this man might know the thrill, like a bolt of lightning that just passed through her body. “Your father has the power to pardon me, and my crew, before the Queen. Drake has lured me here with promises…offering freedom for treasure. I know from experience that he’s not a man of his word. Once he has me where he wants me, he’ll try to gain favor with the Queen troops capturing me before a trade is made official.” She made no effort to push him away. What is the matter with her, she wonders in a raptured daze, stared at his smiling mouth, secretly wishing to feel their warmth on hers. But then she became aware that from somewhere, someone was shouting her name. An instant later her demanding, tantalizing captor releases her. There was something in his eyes she’d never seen in a man’s eyes. “Your carriage man has found you.” He says; ready to go back from whence he came. “Wait…please…where will you go…if it’s a trap, why come?” “Trouble…for Vega lights my way, to die with grace, but first ride the swell of possibilities.” And with not another word his immediacy is no more. Silas, the carriage man is coming down the wharf as fast as his skinny legs will carry him, toting a lantern and horse-whip, and spouting threats at what her father will do to her. “Missy, my lordy lord…your father is gonna lock you away for a month of Sundays when he hears about this! I swear the Commander’s gonna be fit to be tied!” Silas goes on and on about her indiscretion making their way back to the carriage. For once Lady Sarah has no retort for the scolding, moving slowly as if in a daze, she puts two coins back into her purse, but something is already filling its softness. Inside is a leather necklace, and a shark’s tooth, and quite vividly remembers where she first saw it, and all the events of a short while earlier. She begins to form a plan to wriggle out of the hot water she’s sure to be in, smiling at her father’s old, but loyal servant. “Silas, I’ll put in a good word for you with Miss Hattie if you’ll be kind in the telling?” “That ain’t a’gonna change things, Missy! Your father needs to know about this! I think Mistress Charmaine is right, it’s high time you had a husband who’ll see you stay out o’ trouble!” The Lady Sarah Belington turns once to gaze over the charcoal waters that roll under the moon’s September glow. “Silas,” she turns to the old man, “do you think there might be pirate ships out there?” “Only a pirate that’s stupid enough to want to visit the end of a rope, Lady Sarah.” When they arrive back at the house, a candle of fat is burning in the window, flickering its light against the walls as Silas help Lady Sarah down before urging the horse forward to the stable. Peering inside she sees two men, both seated at a table. One man is her father, the other Sir Francis Drake. Her father insists she go immediately to her room and will be dealt with come morning. “Retire, daughter, for tomorrow there will be a hanging.” The Commander says, proudly. “A pirate, no less…and a traitor to boot!” He places his hand on the shoulder of Drake. Lady Sarah, filled with rage, as when a cat, furious with passion, flies at a dog many times larger and heavier than itself, hurls herself at Drake, startling her father to near heart attack!