A tale of pirates, lost love, and the fight for a happy ending.
After he’s set adrift and left to die by his mutinous crew, the last person Royal Navy officer Daniel Horton expects to come to his rescue is Captain Merric. An infamous pirate, Merric is known as much for stealing his victims’ hearts as their jewels. Daniel’s world is about to be turned upside down when he recognises Captain Merric as none other than Edward Merriston, someone he thought he'd never see again.
Edward can’t believe Daniel Horton is aboard his ship. While Edward is willing to do anything he can to get a second chance at their happy ending, Daniel isn’t interested in digging up the past. But Daniel is one priceless treasure Captain Merric isn’t about to let go of without a fight.
- 4 To Be Read lists
Heat Level: 4
Romantic Content: 5
Ending: Click here to reveal
Character Identities: Gay
Protagonist 1 Age: 26-35
Protagonist 2 Age: 26-35
Tropes: Second Chances, Reunited and it Feels So Good, Star-Crossed Lovers, Thrill of the Chase, True Love
Word Count: 55 600
Setting: 1718 Caribbean
Languages Available: English
Dead water held the ship in limbo. With no wind to fill her sails, HMS Expedience listed heavily to starboard. Engaging the French days before had left her belly empty, and the hastily made repairs would only be good enough for her to limp back to Port Royal. The dark mutterings of the deckhands accompanied the rhythmic scrub of brushes against wood as they toiled in the stifling Caribbean heat. The empty sea stretched out before them, with nothing in the distance to reprieve them from the relentless sun.
Captain Daniel Horton squinted into the bright sunlight. Keeping one eye on the horizon, he watched uneasily as his lieutenant, Neechals, and two of the other senior officers, Gilman and Jones, gathered together on the port side of the main deck.READ MORE
Gilman, weathered by his years at sea, was gesticulating towards the rigging, his three-fingered hand pointing fiercely at a gaping hole in the crisscross of ropes. Jones, the tallest of the men, shook his head, his smooth face—one yet to be damaged by combat—contorted in a viscous sneer. Neechals stood still and silent.
Daniel let his hand fall to the hilt of his sword. Neechals was a cold man, a man hardened by a series of campaigns, whose love was for the spoils of war, not for His Majesty’s victory over the French. Daniel had not been happy when Neechals had been appointed his lieutenant—his type was dangerous, and Daniel knew better than to let his guard down around him.
Gilman suddenly realized he was being observed. The look of guilt—–no, self-preservation—gave him away.
“Captain,” Gilman called. “You’ve seen the rigging?”
Daniel descended the steps from the upper deck. He was taller, although not broader than his subordinates, and he made good use of his height, peering down at Gilman and Jones, causing them to shuffle nervously. Only Neechals didn’t move.
“I am many things, Gilman, but blind isn’t one of them. I know the state of my own ship.”
“Of course, Captain,” said Gilman, his gaze flicking to where Daniel’s hand rested on his sword. “I’ll have a couple of the younger lads get up there and make repairs.”
“You don’t need my permission to ensure the ship is seaworthy. Get on with it.”
Gilman’s right eye twitched. Daniel had seen that particular facial tic several times, always when Gilman had been reprimanded, and he no doubt wanted to respond but thought better of it. Gilman barked out a string of orders. Two of the men scrubbing the deck got to their feet and began their ascent of the main mast.
“I’ll be in my quarters compiling the report for the Admiralty if you need me,” said Daniel. “I’d rather not be disturbed.”
“Understood, Captain,” said Gilman.
Daniel turned away, but not before he saw the exchange of glances between his three senior officers. He hadn’t reached the rank of captain by being a fool. His intuition squirmed in his belly, telling him they were up to something. The sooner they reached Port Royal the better. Expedience was meant to set sail for England in a few weeks for refitting, and he would not mind it being earlier.
Daniel hurried down the stairs that led below deck and into the darker recesses of his ship, passing Thomas the barber-surgeon, still wearing his blood-soaked leather apron. They’d lost a few good men in the skirmishes of the days before—if it hadn’t been for Thomas they’d have lost a damn sight more.
“Captain,” Thomas said with a nod.
Thomas looked uneasy, which was never a good thing for a man wearing so much blood. “Would you have a moment, sir? In private.”
Although Daniel would have preferred some time on his own, Thomas wasn’t the sort of man to approach him unless he had a real concern. “Wash up and come to my cabin.”
Daniel had long since lost the feeling of claustrophobia that had plagued him during his first few nights spent in the cramped belly of a ship; the smell of hundreds of men trapped together had once turned his stomach, the stale sweat and piss mingling to make an aroma unique to the way of life he’d turned to. But that was mere background now—there were worse things to contend with than a little discomfort.
Entering his cabin, he unbuckled his belt, and threw it and his sword onto the small bunk in the corner; his pistol he placed on the table he used as a desk so to be close to hand—just in case. Natural light from the small windows was enough for his current needs, although he’d have to light a few candles later if he wanted any chance of finishing his report tonight. But that also depended how long Thomas detained him. He shrugged off his jacket and flung it next to his sword.
At the sound of a soft knock, he called, “Come.”
Thomas entered, now devoid of the bloody apron and dressed in the more appropriate attire of his dark knee-length coat. Daniel owed his life to a barber-surgeon—not Thomas, but a man very much like him—and he’d yet to meet one he didn’t trust.
“I need to bring something to your attention, sir.” Another good thing about Thomas, he got straight to the point. “It involves Mr Neechals.”
“You can speak freely here.”
“I wish to report activities unbecoming for an officer and against maritime law.”
“Those are very serious accusations.” Ones the Admiralty would not take lightly if proven. “Continue.”
“We lost three men in the last skirmish. I had laid out their bodies for burial at sea and once I’d finished I left the room to retrieve an instrument I needed. I was gone for not more than five minutes and on my return saw Mr Neechals leaving the area. All three shrouds had been disturbed and the rings removed from the bodies.”
As much as he believed Thomas, Neechals had not been caught removing the rings. “Are you positive that there was no one else around?”
“I saw no one else close enough when I was leaving nor on my return.” Thomas held up his head. “I would stake my reputation on it being him. It is a poor excuse of a man who steals from the dead.”
“I do not think this is the only thing that makes him a poor excuse of a man. But it confirms my suspicions that Neechals is not to be trusted.” He paused for a moment, then continued. “Has this happened before?”
“I have reason to believe so, but when the blood is flowing, and I am trying to save a man’s life, I am not likely to remember his jewels, but once prepared for death that is different.”
Thomas did not look comfortable reporting his findings, and Daniel could understand that. A man was meant to be able to rely on his shipmates in a time of crisis, not suspect them of being thieves.
“I am writing to the Admiralty with my concerns. There are other factors and additional men I have my doubts about. Once we reach Port Royal, I will make my report.”
“You would not shackle them already?”
Daniel had considered it, but Gilman, Jones, and Neechals had their supporters among the crew, and he did not wish to trigger outright rebellion. The Royal Navy might punish mutineers without mercy, but he doubted he’d survive an attempt to oust him from his ship to see them hang. “It is a difficult path to walk when we are at sea. But we should reach Jamaica within a day or two if the wind picks up. Given the temperament aboard at the moment, I don’t wish to make the type of waves that are not lapping at the hull.”
Daniel clapped his hand to Thomas’s shoulder. He wasn’t a demonstrative man, not these days. Being captain meant keeping people at arm’s length. He didn’t have friends amongst the crew—to be fair, he didn’t have friends on land either. “I appreciate you coming to me. I will ensure the Admiralty hears of your loyalty.”
Thomas departed, leaving Daniel to ponder his next course of action. He took a seat at the sturdy table to the right of his bed, picked up his pen, and selected a sheet of parchment. For a moment he stared down at its blank surface before dipping the nib into a bottle of ink and scratching out the beginnings of his report. His words flew rapidly, line after line filling the page with descriptions of engaging the Royal Louis: the number of men dead or injured, the level of supplies, and the state of the ship. He chewed the inside of his cheek, wondering the best way to voice his concern about Neechals, Gilman, and Jones. He could give Thomas’s account, but that only implicated Neechals, and he was convinced Jones and Gilman were equally complicit. His words bled across the paper, and he couldn’t escape the momentary unease, knowing he had several days aboard ship with these men until he got the chance to report to the governor at Port Royal.
Daniel rose with the sun, as was his usual habit. Rarely, even when he was on land, did he sleep late. Neither did he let the troubles of the day impede his rest. He had gained the ability to sleep when and where was needed in his twenties, a talent that meant even at the worst of times sleep deprivation was not his companion. After a light breakfast taken in his cabin, he headed to the deck to find his first officer, only to see a group of men huddled at the stern, staring over the side of the ship.
“What is going on?”
The men turned to face him, and he saw Neechals and Gilman at the centre of the group. “It’s Mr Thomas, sir,” said Neechals. “Myself and Gilman arrived a few moments ago to see him staggering around. Before I could stop him, he was headfirst overboard.”
Daniel raced to see. Sure enough, Thomas’s lifeless body was floating facedown in the water. Daniel had to hide the visceral wrench of realization that tugged at his gut. Gone was not only an important member of his crew, but the one man he had trusted with his suspicions and who he could turn to as an ally. He would need to tread carefully, not give Neechals any glimpse of his true thoughts. “Get him back on board.”
Two men lashed ropes together and dived into the calm waters to retrieve the body. How convenient that Thomas should end up dead, with Neechals as witness to his demise.
“Why was he staggering?” Daniel asked, but he wouldn’t believe anything that came out of Neechals’s mouth.
Neechals shrugged. “He was worse for wear of drink.”
“Thomas was not the type of man to indulge to an excess.”
“It’s been a difficult few days, though, hasn’t it, sir? Can’t be easy for a man to witness carnage and not be able to save us all.” Neechals, the louse, sounded sincere. “It is only natural he might turn to a measure or two of rum to steady his nerves.”
Thomas’s body was dragged aboard. The gash at the side of his temple a possible sign of wrongdoing.
Daniel couldn’t tear his eyes away from the dead man. “And what of the head wound?”
“He must’ve smacked his head on the side of the ship on his way down, sir. I daresay he was out cold when he hit the water.”
“Did anyone else see what happened?”
“Just myself and Mr Gilman.”
“Seems unlikely on ship at this time.”
“The others were busy ensuring the safety of the ship, weren’t you, lads?”
The other men nodded, refusing to look Daniel in the eye. Neechals and Gilman had a tight grip on the crew, the loyalty that should have been shown to the captain being diverted in a steady trickle day after day.
All Daniel could do now was add the details to his report and pray the wind picked up before he ended up in the brine like Thomas. Being captain was a lonely job; the responsibility of the crew and ship lay at his feet. Until recently he had embraced that, relished the power of command. He should have been able to rely on his lieutenants, but they were plotting against him, so having Thomas’s support had been a welcome relief. Now he was alone again, and his position never so precarious. Daniel was no coward. He would not let these bastards get away with their crime. He would have justice for Thomas, but he needed to be careful.
He spent the rest of the day poring over the maps he was meant to be updating. They might’ve been there to protect British interests in these waters, but he had clear orders to put his mapmaking skills to good use. It occupied his mind, yet not enough for him to be fully distracted, so he turned his attentions back to his report.
Daniel froze as he heard movement in the corridor. He chastised himself for overreacting to the general comings and goings of life on board as he recognized it was just crockery rattling. He hunched over his report, deciding it would be better to record his thoughts in general terms: how uneasy the crew had become, that there was the smell of insubordination in the ranks, but then to specify those he suspected to be the ringleaders, citing Thomas’s statement and his death as proof. They’d be back in port in a matter of days; despite her damaged state, Expedience would get them to Jamaica, and there he could speak freely to his superiors.
A floorboard creaked behind him. He swivelled around to see who had entered his cabin unannounced. Too late, he was staring at the barrel of a cocked pistol held in Neechals’s steady hand; Gilman and Jones stood behind him, also armed. Daniel glanced to his own weapon, laid on his bed, out of reach. So much for not being a fool about his own protection. His anger at both Neechals’s gall and his own stupidity raged like a fiery ball in his stomach.
“On your knees, Captain. Nice and slow, and you won’t get hurt.”
He slid carefully off his seat and to his knees, not taking his eyes off Neechals. Malevolence radiated off Neechals in waves, the sight made Daniel’s knuckles itch to punch the cur. “Very good. Seems you can take orders as well as you give them. Hands behind your back.”
Daniel did as he was told. If he was going to get out of this alive he would need to pick his moment. Doing anything sudden would lead to a hole in his head. Gilman moved behind him and tied his wrists together with rope.
“I’ll see you all hang for this.” Their bodies swinging from the yardarm would be a most welcome sight.
“Trust me, Captain, I’ll be telling the Admiralty a very different story. They don’t like deserters,” said Neechals, his grin vicious. “Even if they do find you, your word will count for nothing.”
“You’ll have to kill me to stop me speaking,” Daniel said, defiant.
“I took no pleasure killing a skilled man like Thomas, but he needed to be silenced. You? Well, I think a slower death is a privilege of your rank.”
The loud crack from the butt of Gilman’s pistol connecting with his skull was the last thing Daniel heard as he slumped forwards, unconscious.
Daniel blinked, staring up at the cloudless blue sky and the unremitting sun. It took several moments for him to remember what had happened and to realise that he’d been cast adrift. He struggled to sit up, the boat rocking as he did so. The action made his head swim and his vision blur. Looking out across the ocean, the empty miles of sea stretching out before him, with no sign of Expedience or any other ship, there was little hope of rescue. But this was what Neechals wanted, his slow death at the mercy of the elements. Abandoned at sea, his ship gone. They’d left him with nothing, not even a skin of water, and no protection from the sun. He doubted he would survive more than a few days, succumbing to delirium before death. At least the ropes had loosened and he was able to free his hands, stretching his shoulders and arms, trying to relieve the dull ache.
His head pounded angrily from the thirst that was already beginning to assert itself and from the swelling where the butt of the pistol had connected; his stomach lurched with every wave, the boat far too small to avoid being buffeted. He lay down. There was nothing he could do but wait for the temperature to drop and his pains to fade. Unable to maintain his focus, Daniel let his eyes drift closed and willed himself to sleep.COLLAPSE