Absently, I chewed on a braid, oddly uncomfortable on my perch on the rock. It wasn't that the rock was particularly comfortable, but it was my favorite reading place, and it had never bothered me before. That it did now meant something was not right. I closed the book using a finger as a bookmark and looked around. It was nearly time to go home, anyway.

The ocean was beautiful. If I was not so busy reading, I could just watch it for hours on end. A sudden urge to dive into the water and play came over me. I would have, but I not actually very close to the water. I was on a stone outcropping that jutted out over the water. A jump from this height into the shallow waves below would undoubtedly kill me.

I contented myself by letting the wind engulf me. I stood, surveying the land, as I breathed the ocean scent, ingraining it deep within me. The shore looked peaceful, nobody was still in the water this late, all the children had been called home for supper. I smiled, remembering.

On hot summer days, anyone who could get away from work came down to the ocean. Children brought lunches packed meticulously by their mothers. My mother always handed me my own lunch basket, her clean white apron and light dress a stark contrast to her gleaming dark skin. Although it was early, it was already hot. Humid and hot everywhere, except right on or in the water.

My mother would give me a stern warning, "If you are not home by suppertime with this basket you will not be going out tomorrow."

I let out a soft chuckle. I never was very good at getting back by suppertime. She never stopped me from going out, but she did always give me that warning.

My eyes darkened, as they did whenever I thought of my mother, I had loved her dearly. When she died –

I turned my eyes away from the dark green water crashing against the shoreline to the rocks around me. It was a little rock peninsula. Usually I was the only to come out here. On occasion, an old man or two would come and fish here, but most of them went out on boats.

I adjusted the wire frames of my glasses. There was someone half hidden behind one of the rocks. Why was he hidden? Curious, I walked closer. I noticed that there was a group of men crawling through the rocks to my left. I stopped. What was this? I watched the chain of men and looked back in the direction they came from.

Whatever the source of the men, it was hidden by the outcropping I was standing on. I moved, quietly, to get a better view. A small skiff. I looked out at the ocean again. A ship's outline was visible in the growing darkness. I closed my eyes, steadying myself.

These were strangers. Protocol required that I alert the villagers. If they were friendly, then no harm done. But if they were enemies, it would be invaluable to the villagers to have the warning. Opening my eyes, I tucked my book under my arm and stuck my pinkies in my mouth. I wanted to let out the ear-splitting whistle that was taught to all children; otherwise, they were not allowed to go into the ocean. It could be heard even in the village and nobody would fail to come and see what I wanted.

"I'm afraid I can't let you do that," something hard and cold pressed against my neck. After a moment of its pressure, I realized what it was, a knife. I froze.

"Hands out of your mouth, Kira." I dropped my hands, careful not to hit the man who controlled my life, presently. "Why did you have to stop reading? I did not want to have to do this."

I knew that voice.

He knew my name.

"Pesh?" What was he doing with a knife to my throat? "What is going on?"

"You are coming with me, Kira. I can't have you exposing me to my family. If you had just bloody stayed reading – walk – then we wouldn't be having this problem." Pesh roughly pushed me forward, in the direction of the small boat. He was a childhood acquaintance. He had joined the navy.

I had so many questions, but mindful of the knife, which was still dangerously close to my skin, I held my tongue. Pesh removed my book from under my arm and herded me into the skiff.

The boat looked well worn, but unlikely to be leaky. "Pick up the rope and tie your feet together, well. I am watching, remember."

There was a wet length of rope in the boat. Carefully, I bent down and picked up the rope and tied my own feet together. We had all learned our knots together as children, so I tied them well. I had no desire to annoy him.

When my feet were tied, Pesh moved the knife from my neck, and in one swift movement, grabbed my hands. He moved around to be in front of me, and sheathed the knife. Taking a fresh rope from somewhere in his clothes, he tied my hands, tightly. He left a length of rope at the end and tied it around his waist.

I watched him as he worked, trying to get a sense of what he wanted of me.

His skin was not as dark as my own. His curly brown hair had driven more than a few of my friends mad, at one time or another. Years at sea had made him muscular. He was not my idea of good looking, but he was always nice to me when we were children. I just had no idea why the navy would have taken offense at our tiny town. We were a small fishing village.

"What have we done to attract the attention of our navy?"

Pesh, who had settled next to me, gave me a strange look. "I don't work for the navy anymore, Kira. Our ship was destroyed and the pirates, who did it, gave me two options, death or service. I chose service."

Confusion swept over me, "You are a pirate?"

He nodded. Then his face furrowed, "Why did you stop reading?"

"It was getting dark." I eyed him thoughtfully, he would know that the dark was not something that usually bothered me, at least not out in the open, but there was no other real reason I could give him.

"That has never stopped you before," he looked incredulous for a moment, and I worried what I would do if he pressed me. He sighed, "but I guess, even you had to grow up sometime. Truth to tell, I was hoping that you wouldn't notice us, now . . . maybe I should have talked them into letting me kill you, you will not like life on board that ship."

His arm was protectively around me, presumably so that I did not escape, but the rope did that well enough. His arm offered comfort. Still, his words shocked me, "You want to kill me?" Maybe he really was a pirate. But, he was always so nice when we were little.

"No, I wanted you to keep reading and ignore us." I smiled at that, he had never been very practical.

Despite the odd circumstances, I could not get over seeing someone from my childhood, "You know, everyone else moved away, right? I am the last one here."

"I figured as much. I thought you might move away too. I was hoping you had. I really did not want to do this to you," he sounded so mournful, that despite the bonds on my hands and feet, I believed him. He looked up at me, "It is because of your father isn't it? He would never let you go anywhere, especially after your mother died."

I looked away at the mention of Father, "He has his reasons," I said quietly.

Pesh snorted, "Selfish ones. I never did like your father. The control he had over you was always so unnatural."

I could feel my face getting redder and redder. I did not want to talk about Father. "Have you seen anyone else, though? I am dying for news of all of them."

"I saw Staci a year ago. She is married to a gentleman. She was expecting a child when I saw her and she was so happy." He looked into the distance for a minute. He and Staci had been together on and off throughout our adolescence.

I elbowed him, "I'm sorry, I know how much you liked her."

He shrugged, coming back to the present, "I am just glad that she is happy. The gentleman seemed like a fine husband for her."

I nodded, only half appeased by his explanation.

There were noises then, men were returning. Quietly, they piled into the skiff and one took up the oars. We started rowing out to the boat. I watched quietly as the town slipped away. Some part of my mind knew that I was being rowed aboard a pirate ship and I would not be allowed to leave alive. Another part of me, saw the retreating shoreline and rejoiced. I would finally be free of Father.

It was a long trip to the boat, far longer than I expected. That meant one of two things. Either this boat was huge, or the oarsman was not very good. With a quick glance over at the oarsman, I assured myself that it was not the latter.

When I glanced over at the oarsman, I could not help but notice that most eyes were on me. I shivered. I had seen that half hungry, half smirking look in their eyes. My throat tensed and I almost wished for Father back. Almost, but the fact that these men were not my father somehow made it better. I shot a glance over at Pesh, who gave me a halfhearted smile.

Finally, the ship drew near and while it had no light on, I knew what it was. A rope ladder was thrown down. I had no idea what good that would do me, as I was bound hand and foot. Pesh slung me over his back, with my arms around his neck and toted me up to the deck of the ship.

"So this is the minx that you warned us about, is it?"

"Yes, Captain." Pesh removed me from his back, leaving me in a heap on the floor.

Suddenly, a bright light shined on me, blinding me. I blinked furiously and tried to shield my eyes with my hands. "She is a good 'un, it is fortunate that you did not talk us into leaving her behind. Well, girl, what do you have to say for yourself?"

"Can you untie me and give me my book back? There is nowhere for me to run to." They were the first words out of my mouth. I regretted them almost immediately, I should have spit at the pirate, but I was not that type of person. I just did not spit on people. It was dirty.

"You mean she really was reading?"

"Yes, Captain," Pesh sounded dejected over that for some reason.

"You should bring her to my rooms and get some sleep, you did good work." It bothered me that I could not see the man who was talking, that bright light was directed right at my face.

"To your rooms, Captain? Are you sure?"

"Yes, now go." Pesh started to block the light and pick me up. The Captain called out again, "And you can leave her book there."

With unaccountable ease, Pesh picked me up and started walking away, "I'm so sorry Kira," he murmured. "I am so very sorry."

I shook my head, "you were doing your job."

"I'm a bloody Pirate, I have no job."

I was surprised he was getting so upset. I did not want this, certainly, but there was no point in blaming him for it. "I want to stay alive. I want you to stay alive. Just leave it be."

He flung me over his shoulder as some other Pirates approached. I smiled. I was far too heavy to be carried for any length of time. It would be so much easier if he just untied me. I almost told him so, but it seemed we had reached our destination. Pesh let me into his Captain's room and laid me down on the couch. "The bed is more comfortable, but I don't want to . . ."

"I understand, thank you." He really was such a gentleman, it was a shame he had been captured by Pirates.

"You do? I wish you didn't. It speaks of the things you should never have learned about. What went on in your house?" He untied the rope from around his waist, as we talked, leaving the excess curled up next to me.

Heat exploded in my face and my palms suddenly got very sweaty. "I don't know what you mean," I said awkwardly.

He raised his eyebrows, "and if that isn't a blatant lie, I don't know what is." Suddenly he stopped, "I have to go. I truly am sorry, though. You deserve better."

I shook my braids out of my face and looked around the room. It was a sensible cabin, not what she expected of a pirate captain. A small dresser a table and four chairs were the only furniture outside of the couch I was laying on and the bed. I did find it odd that he had a bed and not the hammocks most sailors used. Maybe it was to make up for the plainness of everything else.

The room, while neat and clean, was anything but new. The woodwork was worn from years of use and the dresser had little indentations where a hand had opened the drawers too many times.

My eyes kept coming back to the bed. Perhaps because, although I was not yet willing to admit it, that was where my doom lay tonight. It had bright red sheets on it, the only color in the room. They looked smooth and soft, almost silky. I shook that thought away; there was no way a pirate would part with enough money to pay for silk sheets. What purpose did silk sheets serve anyway? They could not possibly be needed in the hot summer.

I was jogged out of my thoughts by the door opening, "Alright, minx, what have you got to say for yourself?"

I twisted around to get a good look at the Captain. He was a stocky man, and tall. He looked like he could just barrel over a person and not miss a step. He had light features; his blonde hair was cropped close to his head. His blue eyes held a clarity that I had never before seen. I shuddered, he was far bigger than my own father.

Mistaking – or possibly understanding – my shudder, he smiled. "I see your friend put you on the couch, trying to protect you, no doubt. Although, you and I know that there is no protection, not from me."

I nodded, "Yes, Captain."

"Jerome, you are not on my crew."

It took me a moment to realize that he was correcting me. His name was Jerome. I nodded my assent, "Jerome."

He smiled even more broadly, and I could not tell if there was some cause of his mirth or if it was merely in jest. "You are peculiar, are you not?"

"I have been told so," I responded quietly. It was not something I liked to talk about.

"Do you want to know the business we had in your town?" His fast paced conversation changes were spinning me about.

"Sure," I knew it was not polite, but the non-committal answer seemed the safest.

He laughed outright this time. I could not tell if I had actually said something funny, or if I should be offended. "I am sure you do. We had business with your father." He waved a hand at my half-formed question, "We had two skiffs, one that landed right by your house. The skiff you were on had other business. My skiff took care of your father."

I shivered; I had my differences with my father, but when pirates were involved . . . I did not like to think of that, "Took care of?"

The pirate, who could not yet be thirty, walked closer to me and crouched down. To my surprise, he started unbinding my hands, "I would not be so upset if I were you. Seems to me, that, if I were you, he would have been dead years ago – by accident, of course."

"Wait – what?" Did that mean he was dead? I wanted a straight answer out of this man.

"You know he offered you in exchange for his life? He said you would make a good companion. As soon as I established my dominance, you would be rather compliant, according to him." He shot me a meaningful look. I looked away, fighting the rising blush on my face.

He said that?

"I let him go on for a while. He told me too much not to have had first hand experience with you." Tears were starting to well up.

I needed a book.


The Captain took my chin and turned my head towards him, "If I were you, he would have been dead years ago. I have done you a favor."

I erupted into giggles that became a full-throated laugh. I could feel tears streaming down my face. I was hysterical. I tried to turn my head away from him, but he held tight to my chin. "I will give you safe passage to the next city we stop in. You should be able to find work there as a school mistress, or a governess, or something."

He let go of my chin and started untying my hands again. I was hiccupping now from my hysterics. But, I was calming down, "You are letting me go?"

He wrinkled his nose at me, "I don't deal in damaged goods."

I frowned, as much as I was happy that he didn't want me, I was indignant, "I am not damaged. He made sure of that, so I could still marry."

"How considerate of him," If I wasn't mistaken his hands were shaking. From anger. If there was one thing I did not want, it was a pirate Captain angry at me.

"I am sorry, I did not mean to offend," I quickly offered.

The Captain shot me an odd look, "How could you put up with that from your own father? Why didn't you run away?"

I flushed even redder, "He was all I had. If I was not there, he was liable to get in trouble."

"Those are two different things. Did you like being needed, or did were you worried that you could not make it on your own?" He had moved to my feet. I started massaging my hands to get some feeling into them. "Well?"

"What business is it of yours? He is dead. What's done is done." He was pushing me too far. "You are a bloody pirate. How dare you –" I stopped before I said anything too damaging. In my head the words screamed out. I have never hurt another person. My actions are not up for critique. Finally, I finished, "I lived with him, you didn't."

In silence, the Pirate finished untying my feet and stood up, bearing down on me. Finally, he leaned down and scooped me up, with a sigh. "I can walk," I stated tersely.

"I don't want you to," was his indifferent reply. He laid me down on the bed and kicking off his boots straddled me. I could feel my blood pressure rising. I fought to remain still, reminding myself that whatever he wanted, it would only be more painful if I resisted. In my strange mental state, I realized that the sheets were indeed silk and very soft.

"I did not mean to judge you, Kira. I am just so mad at him. He was your father. He was supposed to protect you. I think I was too merciful. Look at you. You don't even struggle against me." His hands were on his hips but he wasn't looking at me. He was looking up at something. I tilted my head back to see what it was, but all I could find was the wall.

"Why were you going to kill him, anyway?" My father was well liked by the community. I was the odd one.

"He turned in one of my men a year ago. I do not take kindly to that." I twisted a braid around a finger. I remembered that incident, there had been insufficient evidence to charge him as a pirate, but he had been charged as a thief and sentenced to five years in the mines

If he was truly going to let me go, then it was a warning for me as well. "Did you get your man back?"

The Captain looked down at me, grinning, "Of course." He was smiling, but his blue eyes held no warmth. I pressed myself down to the bed, trying to escape him. His expression changed to one I could not read, "You are awfully calm for someone who is pinned on a bed by a vicious pirate.

I popped a braid in my mouth and chewed it for a moment before answering, "You said you did not deal in tainted goods. If I know anything about you, it is that you think I am tainted."

As if to prove me wrong, he started working on the buttons on my shirt. I shifted, but said nothing. If he really wanted me, there was little I could do to stop him. "What I said was, that I did not deal in damaged goods, it is bad for my reputation as a pirate. But since you informed me that you are in no way damaged . . ."

He let the sentence hang in the air and I could tell that he was giving me a way out, even as his hands opened the last button of my shirt and ran across my waist. I panicked, "Damaged? Oh, you must have heard me wrong. I am damaged, really damaged, mentally, especially. And physically, too, do you want to see the bruises?" I was babbling I knew, but he kept tugging my arms out of my shirt, leaving me just in my corset.

"Jerome," I tried again. "I am damaged. I could make this look very bad for you. I am sure others heard what my father had to say about me. They will know I am damaged." I tried to push his hands away as they pulled my shirt out from under me and threw it away from the bed. He caught my hands in his own.

"Don't." It was all he said, but the threat was apparent. He was not hurting me, but he could. He could beat me around for a little while. I did not want that. I stopped struggling against him. He let go of my hands and started working on my breeches.

"How can you berate my father when you intend to do the same, if not worse," I breathed, unable to contain myself.

He stopped and looked into my eyes, "I am not your father. I have no obligation to protect you. This is one of the perks of this job, my pick of beautiful women. I am just as entitled to you as any man is to his pay from work."

He continued undoing my pants and he slid them off me, throwing them to the side. He looked at my feet, "Do you always run around barefoot?"

"No. Only on the beach. I had sandals by where I was reading, but when I noticed your men, I left them there to get help." I could only guess how dirty they looked after all the trudging they had made me do.

"Your friend was right; you are as good as a lookout, even if you were reading. How did you know we were there?" He was back up at my waist, taking off his own shirt and absently tossing it aside.

"I just knew something was wrong," I looked away from him. It had not been the panic, just a nagging suspicion.

"Did you? We could use a person like that on my ship. One who knows when danger is coming." His eyes were appraising, seriously considering.

"You want me to work for you?" He nodded. I motioned to his position on top of me. "I don't sleep with co workers." I was panicking that he was going to sleep with me and then keep me here.

"Sleep with? Your euphemism is amusing. At any rate, you will find that I rarely fail to obtain what I want." His hands had slid under me, undoing the laces of my corset.

"What do you want?"

He stopped.

"Please let me alone. I will sleep on the floor if you want, so you can change your mind at any point." He was still frozen. I sat up, bringing myself dangerously close to him, but at least I wasn't laying under him. "Look. You are already on your bed. Just go to sleep. I won't be any bother, I promise." He was still sitting on top of my legs, but he was not doing anything, just sitting there. "You don't want me. You want a beautiful girl to warm your bed for a night. Not me."

He sat there for what seemed like an eternity. My heartbeat slowed from its loud pounding down to a manageable level. I held my hands in front of me, clasped, so he would not take offense at them. I did not know what I was trying to do, except to save myself. He was going to hurt me and I wanted to save myself, badly.

After the first look at him, I looked away, trying to make myself seem unattractive. I remembered that it looked bad for him to be with a damaged woman, so I tried to look damaged. The only thing was, I did not know how damaged people looked. I tried to look crazy, without looking at him. If I had not been so scared, I would have laughed.

Eventually, he shifted his weight a little. I used the opportunity to try to pull my legs out from under him. He reacted like lightning.

His hands, which before were resting on the bed on either side of me, were suddenly undoing my corset furiously. He was practically on top of me. I would have been forced back on the bed but his arms held me up. He was frantic and I could not help it, I screamed.

"Get the bloody hell off of me!"

He forced me back onto the bed, none too gently. My corset was still in his hands. I tried to cover myself with my hands as a gut instinct.

"What is wrong with you? You let your father have his way with you, but I am repulsive?" He shook the corset at me, his face getting red with anger. His voice was so loud it made me cringe.

"I did not let my father have his way with me. I did not choose to stay there. I did not want that any more than I want you." I was panting now. "I do not want any man. Can't you tell? I do not wear those seductive dresses that girls wear. I do not flirt with anyone. I do not want to be used. Just let me alone."

My corset was gone, somewhere. His hands were everywhere. He had grabbed my own hands and pinned them tightly at my hips. He started undoing his pants, brushing himself against my hands as he did so. He smiled at my blush. "You are not so innocent as you pretend to be, Kira. You wear men's clothes that hug your beautiful frame so well. You did not run away from your father. Most importantly, you have been flirting with me for nearly an hour now. I can not wait much longer."

I fell silent. He was not listening to me. I wanted to yell more at him. I wanted him to stop. It was no good. There was no value in it. I just closed my eyes and looked away.

I could not bloody find my clothes for the life of me. The room was too dark, even though I could see the morning light spilling through the door there were no windows in the room. I was going to find clothes if it killed me. He was not going to wake up and find me naked. He would not. Finally, I found my shirt. I tugged it on quickly and was buttoning it, when an iron grip closed around my arm, "What are you doing?"

Just be still and maybe he will go away. But that immediate sense gave way to stammering, "I – I was just – I was," I took a breath trying to steady myself. "I wanted some clothes. I wanted –" What I wanted was to be far away from him.

"Well, you have a shirt on now." He said it as if that was all anyone could ask for.

I remembered my arguing with him last night had no effect, "Yes, sir."

"Can we go back to sleep now," It was not really a question, more like an order.

"Yes, sir." I moved to the couch, but he held firm to my arm.

"The bed is this way." He tugged me towards the bed. I did not want to go there.

"And the couch is that way." I had crawled out of the bed last night and slept on the couch. When I had awoken, I had sought to remedy my apparent nakedness.

I heard a sigh and felt his other arm under my knees. I tried to hide my shock as he lifted me up and carried me over to the bed. He laid me down and kept an arm around me as he climbed into bed and drew the sheets over us. He held me tightly in the bed as though I might run away. Although, there was nowhere I could run to.

"I need some space," I said softly, not wanting to upset him.

"Shh. I want to sleep." He sounded tired, but I was annoyed. I did not want to be here.

"So do I. I need some space. I have never been tied down by another person when I was trying to sleep before." I tried to keep my voice calm, but some of my annoyance crept into it.

His hand dug into my side and levered me around to face him. "What did you do for most of the night then?"

"I slept on the couch." He cursed and sat up, blissfully releasing me. I used the lapse in his attention to work on buttoning my shirt. He grabbed my hands, stopping me.

"You did what?"

"I slept on the couch." After a pause I added, "Did you think I was dying to share your bed?"

"It is probably more comfortable than the couch, at any rate," he said absently. Slowly, he laid back down and wrapped his arms around me. I sighed, saddened that my protests affected him so little.

"Why is this so terrible for you? Most women love sharing my bed." He moved one arm from my back and used a finger to trace the lines of my face, brushing my braids out of the way. My eyes were getting more used to this low light and I could faintly see him looking at me. "Of course, most women get more pleasure out of sex then you did last night."

I shuddered, remembering the experience. Women enjoyed that? It was painful. I did not say that, though, instead, I said, "I don't see how I could enjoy the loss of any hope of marriage." I could never get married now, for no man would want a used woman. I would be disgraced.

His hand cupped my chin now and wandered down my neck. "More than one woman has enjoyed just that experience. Some have not wanted to, mind, but I am very good at what I do."

"You are crude, is what you are." His hand wandered down my side, coming to rest on my hipbone. "And shouldn't you be dealing with your crew? It is not good for a leader to sleep in. It inspires laziness in his men."

"Says the woman who spends most days reading on a rock," he retorted.

"I do not. I only read in the evenings. Besides, I did not choose to be a pirate captain, now be gone and let me alone." I just wanted some peace. My book was still in the room, I recalled. If he left me here for a little while, I might be able to sneak in a few chapters.

To my surprise, he laughed. A really hearty laugh, as though I had told the funniest joke in the world. Or, I was the funniest joke in the world. He buried his head in the crook of my neck to laugh and I begrudged him the position. Still, as wrapped up as he had me, there was little I could do.

Finally, I said, "I fail to see what is so funny. If you would care to enlighten me . . ."

He stopped laughing for a brief moment before starting even louder than before. I sighed, and closed my eyes, waiting for him to calm down. "I – am – sorry," he breathed in between giggles. "It is just – you would make a wonderful school teacher. You remind me – you remind me of one of mine. She was always telling me to make something useful of myself."

"When you put me off the ship in the next city I will be sure to explore that opportunity," I said steadily.

He stopped laughing. "I want you to think on this, Mistress Kira. My men would think more of me if I spent the entire day in here with you."

I cringed at the thought, "you wouldn't, would you?"

"What have you to worry about? You no longer have your virginity to protect."

He fingered one of my ears, almost absently. It distracted me, so I was not thinking when I answered, "I am not a glutton for pain."

"I hurt you?" He had gone very still. Dangerously so. I did not want him to be this still, maybe it was one of his anger signs. "You did not cry out, say anything." He shook his head, disbelieving, "nothing."

Why not? I could feel the question as if he had screamed it in my ear. I wanted to shrug and say nothing, but he was so motionless and his voice was so flat. He was holding all of his anger back, but if I was not careful, it would explode. Keeping that in mind, I answered. "Father liked it when I was in pain."

A moment passed. Two. Three. "So you learned how to hide it." He was still, so still. I wanted to run into a corner and shield myself from his anger, but the action of doing so would surely only anger him more. Taking deep breaths, I steadied myself for his wrath.

"That bastard."



He was moving again. Slowly, but moving, it was enough for me. It meant he was calming down. He was still angry, but calming down. He released me from his hold and got up, lighting a candle. I was too afraid to move, but I closed my eyes so I would not look at his naked frame.

After some time, he walked over to the bed. I tensed, but he said nothing. Instead, he just turned and left the room.

As soon as the door closed, I opened my eyes. He had left the lit candle on the table, with my book next to it. Folded over the back of a chair was fresh clothing. I wasted no time. I scrambled out of the bed and got dressed.

He had left me what I assumed were some of his own clothes. The shirt and breeches were far too big for me. He had also left my corset and fresh undershorts on the chair. I briefly wondered where the panties had come from but after establishing that they were clean, I decided that I did not care.

Once I was dressed, I took the book and set the candle down near the couch and settled in to read. I was not sure if I was allowed outside of the Captain's cabin and honestly, I was not sure I wanted to meet more Pirates. The book suited me just fine.

Some time near lunch, I heard a knock on the door. I stayed silent. The Captain would let himself in and anyone else was probably here to see the Captain, who was not here. The knock came again. "Kira, open up."

Hesitantly, I put my book down and went to the door to open it. I worried that it was some other Pirate trying to take advantage of me. But the knock came again, and I turned the handle. I blinked at the sudden sunlight nearly blinded me. I shaded my eyes and found a familiar silhouette in front of me. "Pesh, what are you doing here?"

"Dragging you out so that you can get food, or were you planning on starving yourself?" He looked half serious, "I would not put that past you."

"I was reading," I smiled sheepishly, by way of explanation. It was an excuse that worked well with people who knew me. The longer a person knew me, the more inclined they were to believe it.

To my surprise, Pesh did not look like he was buying it, "The question is why were you reading in there, instead of out in the sunlight by your beloved ocean?" He leaned in, serious, "No man out here will lay a hand on you, not if they value that appendage. The Captain can be possessive."

So, he did know why I was camping out in the room. I shrugged, "I was not sure if I was allowed to leave his cabin."

"Well, you are. So, blow out that candle and come to the mess for lunch." I did as I was bid and took Pesh's offered arm as we walked down to get food. The day was bright, and the Pirates were all busy running the ship. I did not entirely understand what that entailed, except that wind had to fill sails, but it seemed to keep them very busy.

"Why aren't you helping them?" I liked my friend's company, but I did not want to get him in trouble. "Don't you have work to be doing?"

Pesh shook his head, biting his lip. I just watched him, waiting. "No, not right now," he said, vaguely.

"Why not?" I wondered if all of the Pirates who went on land last night had a lazy day tonight. Although, it seemed like too many men were working for that. We had gone downstairs into a half empty mess. I wondered if it was his lunch time.

"The Captain," he started. I went cold. I did not like anything that involved him. "The Captain instructed me to take care of you. He was, rather – upset – with me." He turned to me hurriedly. "Not that I mind spending time with you, but he gave me time to do so."

I shook my head, "I understand. But why was the Captain mad at you?" From what I had heard last night, the Captain had seen great value in my capture.

Pesh turned beat red, "He wanted to know why I did not tell him about your father."

I looked away, fighting down tears. I took back my arm and went for food. It was not until we were seated that I was able to say, "He told you about that?"

Pesh nodded, still red, "He would hardly believe that I did not know. Then he wanted to know why you put up with it. He was very upset. I have never seen him so – emotional – over a girl." He looked up from his food hurriedly, "Not that you don't deserve it. It was just I had never seen it before, that's all."

I wanted to assure Pesh that I was not going to bite his head off at any moment, but at that moment, it was not exactly true. I looked around and found nobody near by, "What did you tell him of why I would not run?"

Pesh continued to play with his food, barely eating it. I glanced down at my own portion and started tasting the marginally edible items. "I told him little enough, because truthfully, I don't know why you were still there. But I told him about your sister – although it has been two years since – and how well loved he was in the town. Jeez, Kira, if you had run I don't think there would have been an old lady in ten miles not looking for you."

I nodded at that, trying to stomach the harsh substance they were passing off as food. My stomach was overly tight from what he said, "You told him about Sari?" My younger sister had been the joy of my life.

He nodded, "And how she died of cholera." He leaned in, "She was the reason, wasn't she? I remember my mother writing about how it devastated the whole town. Not only to loose her, but you as well, in a way –"

"Stop it Pesh. I lived through it. I don't need to be reminded." I wanted a safe topic. I wanted to go back to the cabin and read. I wanted . . . "Where did you visit in the Navy, Pesh?"

"Well, one of my favorite places was this little port town – you would have loved it – just two days sailing down the shore from our own town. It had the most interesting summer festival I have ever been to. And all of the roofs on the houses were red . . ."

I half tuned him out, half stayed listening. I found myself wishing that Pesh was not aboard this Pirate ship. It was not only that he was a good boy and deserved to be working his way up in the Navy. It was also that he complicated matters for me. I had not wanted the Captain to know about Sari. He would think that it was a weakness of mine. Maybe he would use other people to manipulate me.

When we were done eating, we turned our dishes in and headed back up into the sunlight. I loved the sun and the water and for a while, we stood in silence looking at the two. I wanted to sing for the pure beauty of it. I almost did, and then I remembered where I was.

"You were going to sing weren't you? Don't worry, they aren't listening." I shot him a look. I did not want to sing for these Pirates. Pesh sighed, "I am sorry, Kira. You should not be here. You are right. Singing would be wrong here."

I shook my head at him, "I just don't want to give them a reason to keep me here. The Captain said he would let me go at the next city." I put a hand on his, "It is only temporary. Things will work out for me, don't you worry."

He seemed a little puzzled by my show of serenity. Perhaps, because it was just that, a show. But, I could not let him worry. It was not worth that. He had enough to worry about with being trapped as a Pirate.

"I should try to get back to work, if you are okay," he said awkwardly.

I nodded to him, "I have a few more chapters I would like to get through anyway."

He hugged me lightly and then walked off, red faced. I smiled at his wake. We had never been friends, but he was always so nice. I liked him a lot.

I took my time getting back to the Captain's cabin, enjoying the sunlight. "You like it here?"

I answered without even looking at the sailor. "I would have to be a fool not to, with all this sea and sunshine. And that glorious smell. I don't understand how people can live inland. They must feel so dead, not being able to smell the ocean." I realized I was babbling and turned to face the friendly pirate.

I came up against a human wall, which did not allow me to face him fully. "I did not realize you liked the ocean so much, Kira." A hand absently played with one of my braids.

My breath caught in my chest, "Jerome?" I could have cursed. I needed to be more careful with what I said.

"I am insulted that you did not realize it was me, Kira. Although, maybe you thought it was your village lover boy."

"Pesh? He isn't a lover boy. And anyway, he knows how much I love the ocean."

"Explain." I wanted to turn and face him, but one of his arms held me firmly in place. The other was still tugging on my braids.

"I could have read anywhere, and been a lot more comfortable to boot. I chose to read everyday practically in the ocean." It was common knowledge in my town. "Besides, I don't think there is a soul on earth that does not like the ocean."

"Maybe, although, I doubt it. But what you are professing is love. And you want to ground yourself in some city and teach children, what a waste." He sounded truly mournful.

Confused, I forced myself around to face him. He looked down at me with pity and that closed off all the sympathetic feelings I was just starting to form of him, "Teaching children would not be a waste. It would be a good, honest, job for me."

"And that is what matters to you, isn't it? You would give up even the ocean for a chance at being honest." He seemed so sad by it.

"I don't know what you are getting at," I said plainly.

"Nothing," he replied. "Come back to the cabin for supper." And he walked off. I watched him for a little. He would talk amicably to the crew members as he went.

"You feel it, don't you?" I looked over at the soldier twining rope around an anchor.

"What?" I looked him over. He was only little older than I was, nearly a quarter of a century. He was sitting on a barrel, working with the rope in a practiced formation. He was fair skilled at what he was doing and rarely looked at it.

"That feeling, like you would follow him to the ends of the earth."

Surprisingly, I knew what the young sailor was talking about, "I guess, but I won't."

He raised an eyebrow at me. I marveled at how his eyebrow could be almost the same color as his fair skin. "You will be surprised."

I shrugged, "I doubt it."

A/N: So, I have been working on this story for a long time, and I have about another thirty thousand or so words written. It is often the story I work on when I am getting nowhere with Splits and I thought it would be a good idea to get some feedback on it. Understand that while it has been edited, it still has mistakes. I would love corrections. If anyone likes it, I will keep updating. If not, well, I'll probably still write it anyway, even if I don't update. -jlr