“I—ah, I wondered if you would sell it to me.” She had brought nearly all the money she had with her, but had no idea what the cost of a gold ring might be.
“Why?” The blunt question took her unawares, and she fumbled for an answer.
“It—it looks like one my mother had,” she answered, unable to invent an answer better than the truth. “Where did you get it?”
Something moved behind his eyes, though he still smiled at her. He gestured toward the dark companionway, and tucked her hand in the crook of his elbow. He was taller than she, a big man. She pulled, cautiously, but he held her hand fast.
“So ye want the ring? Come down to my cabin, my dear, and we shall see if an accommodation might be reached.”
Below, he poured her brandy; she took the barest sip, but he drank deeply, draining one glass and pouring another.
“Where?” he said carelessly, in answer to her persistent questions. “Ah—well, a gentlemen should not be tellin’ tales of his ladies, should he?” He winked at her. “A love token,” he whispered.
The smile on her own face felt stiff, and the sip of brandy she had taken burned in her stomach.
“The lady who—gave it to you,” she said. “Is she in good health?”
He gaped at her, lower jaw fallen slightly open.
“Luck,” she said hastily. “It’s bad luck to wear jewelry that belongs to someone who’s—who’s dead.”
“Is it?” The smile returned. “I cannot say I have noticed that effect myself.” He set down the glass and gave a slight, pleasurable belch.
“Still, I can assure ye, the lady from whom I had that ring was both alive and well when I left her.”
The burning sensation in her stomach eased slightly.
“Oh. I’m glad to hear that. Will you sell it to me, then?”
He rocked back in his chair, eyeing her, a small smile on his lips.
“Sell it. And what will ye offer me, sweetheart?”
“Fifteen pounds sterling.” Her heart began to beat faster again, as he stood up. He was going to agree! Where did he keep it?
He stood up, took her hand, and pulled her up out of her chair.
“I’ve enough money, sweetheart,” he said. “What color’s the hair between your legs?”
She jerked her hand out of his grasp, and backed up as quickly as she could, slamming into the wall of the cabin within a few steps.
“You’ve mistaken me,” she said. “I didn’t mean—”
“Maybe not,” he said, and the edges of his teeth showed in his smile. “But I do. And I do think perhaps you’ve mistaken me, sweetheart.”
He took a step toward her. She snatched the brandy bottle from the table, and swung it at his head. He ducked adroitly, plucked the bottle from her hand, and slapped her hard across the face.
She staggered, half blinded by the sudden pain. He grasped her by the shoulders, and forced her to her knees. His fingers twisted tight in her hair, close to the scalp, and jerked her head, hard. He held her, head canted at an awkward angle, while he fumbled with the other hand at the front of his breeches. He grunted slightly with satisfaction and took a half step closer, thrusting his h*ps forward.
“Meet Leroi,” he said.
Leroi was both uncircumcised and unwashed, and gave off a powerful smell of stale urine. She felt a bolus of vomit rise in her throat, and tried to turn her head away. The answer to that was a vicious yank on her hair that brought her back, stifling a cry of pain.
“Put out that little pink tongue and give us a kiss, sweetheart.” Bonnet sounded cheerful and unconcerned, his grip on her hair tight as ever. She lifted her hands toward him in unspoken protest; he saw it and tightened his grip, making tears start in her eyes. She put out her tongue.
“Not bad, not bad,” he said, judiciously. “All right, open your mouth.” He let go of her hair quite suddenly and her head snapped back. Before she could jerk away, he had seized her by one ear, twisting slightly.
“Bite me, sweetheart, and I’ll mash your nose flat. Eh?” He brushed his closed fist lightly under her nose, nudging the tip with a massive knuckle. Then he took a firm grip on her other ear, holding her head immobile between his big hands.
She concentrated on the taste of the blood from her cut lip, the taste and the pain of it. With her eyes closed, she could see the taste, salt and metal, a burnished copper, shining pure in the dark inside her eyes.
If she vomited, she would choke. She would choke, and he would not notice. She would strangle and die, and he wouldn’t stop. She put her hands on his thighs to brace herself, and dug her fingers into the heavy muscle, pushing back as hard as she could, to resist the battering. He was humming, deep in his throat. From Ushant to Scilly is thirty-five leagues. Wiry hairs brushed her lips.
Then Leroi was gone. He let go of her ears and stepped back; unbalanced, she fell forward on hands and knees, gagging and coughing, the strings of saliva from her mouth tinged pink with blood. She coughed and spat, and spat again, trying to clear her mouth of foulness. Her lips were swollen, and throbbing with her heartbeat.
He lifted her effortlessly, hands under her arms, and kissed her, tongue thrusting, one palm cupping the back of her head to keep her from pulling away. He tasted overpoweringly of brandy, with a faint nastiness of decaying teeth. The other hand, at her waist, roamed slowly downward, kneading her buttocks.
“Mmm,” he said, sighing pleasurably. “Bedtime, eh, sweetheart?”
She lowered her head and butted him in the face. Her forehead struck hard against bone, and he uttered a sharp cry of surprise and loosened his grip. She wrenched free and ran. Her flying skirt caught on the doorlatch and tore, disregarded as she hurled herself out into the dark companionway.
The sailors were at supper; twenty men sat at a long table in the mess at the end of the companionway, twenty faces turned toward her in expressions ranging from startlement to lascivious interest. It was the cook who tripped her, sticking out a foot as she dashed past the galley. Her knees hit the deck with numbing force.
“Like games, do you, sweetheart?” It was Bonnet’s voice in her ear, jovial as ever, as a pair of hands scooped her up with disconcerting ease. He whirled her to face him, and smiled. She had hit him in the nose; a thick trickle of blood flowed down from one nostril. It ran over his upper lip, and followed the grooves of his smile, thin lines of red showing between his teeth, and dark drops dripping slowly from his chin.
His grip on her arms tightened, but the merry glint shone as ever in his light green eyes.
“That’s all right, sweetheart,” he said. “Leroi likes games. Don’t you, Leroi?” He glanced down, and she followed his gaze. He had shed his breeches in the cabin, and stood half nak*d, Leroi brushing against her skirts, quivering with eagerness.
He took her by one elbow, and bowing gallantly, gestured toward the cabin. Numbly, she stepped forward, and he took his place beside her, arm in arm, nonchalantly exposing the white cheeks of his buttocks to the stares of his gaping crew.
“After that…it wasn’t so bad.” She could hear her own voice, unnaturally calm, as though it belonged to someone else. “I didn’t—didn’t fight him anymore.”
He hadn’t bothered to make her undress, merely untucked her kerchief. Her dress was made in the usual fashion, with a low, square neckline, and her br**sts were high and round; it took no more than a casual downward yank to bare them, popping them up over the edge of the bodice like a pair of apples.
He mauled them idly for a moment, pinching her n**ples between a large thumb and forefinger to make them stand up, then pushed her toward his tumbled bed.
The sheets were stained with spilled liquor and stank of perfume and wine, and overwhelmingly of the rank, heavy odor of Bonnet himself. He shoved up her skirt and arranged her legs to suit him, humming all the while beneath his breath. Farewell to you all, ye fine Spanish ladies…
In her mind’s eye, she could see herself thrusting him away, flinging herself off the bed and running for the door, skimming light as a gull down the dark companionway and bursting up through the grated deck to freedom. She could feel the wooden boards under her bare feet, and the glare of the hot summer sun in her dark-blind eyes. Almost. She lay in the dim cabin, wooden as a figurehead, tasting blood in her mouth.
There was a blind, insistent prodding between her thighs and she convulsed in panic, scissoring her legs. Still humming, he thrust a muscular leg between her own, brutally nudging her thighs apart. Naked from the waist downward, he still wore his shirt and stock. The long tails drooped around Leroi’s pale stalk as he rose up on his knees above her.
He stopped humming long enough to spit copiously into his palm. Rubbing roughly and thoroughly, he eased the path and then set to business. With one hand clutched firmly on her breast, he guided himself with the other to an inescapable berth, making a jovial remark about the snugness of the accommodation, and then loosed Leroi on his mindless—and mercifully brief—gallop to pleasure.
Two minutes, maybe three. And then it was over, and Bonnet lay heavily collapsed upon her, sweat crumpling his linen stock, one hand still crushing her breast. His lank fair hair fell soft against her cheek and his exhalations purled hot and damp on her neck. At least he’d stopped humming.
She lay frozen for endless long minutes, staring up at the ceiling, where the reflections from the water danced across the polished beams. He sighed at last, and rolled slowly off her onto his side. He smiled at her, dreamily scratching one bared and hairy hip.
“Not bad, sweetheart, though I’ve had livelier rides. Move your arse more next time, hm?” He sat up, yawned, and began to straighten his attire. She edged toward the side of the bed, then, sure that he didn’t mean to restrain her, rolled abruptly off and onto her feet. She felt light-headed and desperately short of air, as though his bulk still pressed upon her.
Moving in a daze, she went to the door. It was bolted. As she struggled to lift the bolt, her hands shaking, she heard him say something behind her, and swung around in amazement.
“What did you say?”
“I said the ring’s on the desk,” he said, straightening up from retrieving his stockings. He sat down on the bed and began to pull them on, waving casually at the desk that stood against the wall. “There’s money, too. Take what you want.”
The top of the desk was a magpie’s nest, littered with inkpots, trinkets, bits of jewelry, bills of lading, tattered quills, silver buttons, ragged bits of paper and crumpled clothing, and a scatter of coins in silver and bronze, copper and gold, currency of several colonies, several countries.
“You’re offering me money?”
He looked up quizzically, fair brows arched.
“I pay for my pleasures,” he said. “Did you think I wouldn’t?”
Everything in the cabin seemed unnaturally vivid, detailed and individual as the objects in a dream, which would vanish with waking.
“I didn’t think anything,” she said, her voice sounding very clear, but distant, someone speaking from far away. Her kerchief lay on the floor where he had thrown it, by the desk. She walked there, carefully, trying not to think of the warm slipperiness that streaked down her thighs.