Real quick -- the Lie to Me virtual book tour concludes today at Socrates' Book Reviews, with an interview with the Sandman, a.ka. Jayce Honeycutt. The Amazon Gift Card winner will be announced by this coming weekend. (With RWA Nationals hitting this month, I need a little time to catch up on my entry-tracking.)
Next, I have more Bound by Decency for you today. It's the last preview I'll be sharing on the blog. Which leads me to some other news as well:
Bound by Decency kicks off a blog tour tomorrow, on release day. Join me and meet the characters, learn about the inspiration behind the book, as well as a bunch of other tidbits from pirate lore. I'm also hosting giveaways throughout. I will be with Stella at Ex Libris today!
But let's get to today's teaser. For the previous teasers and to catch up on the story:
Bound by Decency, Prologue
Bound by Decency, Chapter 1
Bound by Decency, Chapter 2
~ 3 ~
As Cain stepped through the door to the main deck, a foul-breathed sailor skidded to an abrupt halt. He grinned, though he lacked the teeth to make it complete. “Cap’n! I was on me way tae fetch ye. Trouble be fast approachin’ on larboard.”
Every muscle in Cain’s body tensed at the veiled excitement in the seasoned sailor’s voice. He stepped the rest of the way outside, brows drawn tight as he looked over the rail. At the sight of a warship not more than five hundred yards away, he clenched a fist.
“Damn me,” he muttered. He grabbed onto the bowline, swung himself around the mizzenmast, and rushed up the short stairs to the quarterdeck where Drake stood at the rail, a brass spyglass lifted to his eye.
“You’re just in time for the fun, Cain. Seems His Majesty’s finest couldn’t resist a little bit o’ sportin’ at first light.”
Cain pulled the glass from Drake’s hand and lifted it to his eyes, though he didn’t need to look. The flapping Union Jacks off the main mast told him everything. Out of habit, he surveyed the hull, counting gun ports. Twenty coal black muzzles stared him in the face.
He lowered the glass and pulled in a deep breath. His mind worked quickly, calculating odds, debating whether to stand and fight or whether a speedy disappearance would be in their best interests. It made no sense for a single warship to draw so close. The Kraken outgunned her by twenty. Doubled her standard crew. Why would the Royal Navy foolishly enter such skewed stakes? Better yet, how had she found them? When he’d left the decks earlier, he’d seen only the single distant light.
“Shall I give the call to guns?” Drake’s question held the anxiety of a man sporting for a fight. “She’s easy pickin’s all by herself.”
With a slow shake of his head, Cain squelched Drake’s enthusiasm. “Let’s see what she’s about. She may pose no threat.”
Drake’s jaw dropped in disbelief. He recovered with a double blink. “Your mind is full of cotton, Cain. She’s right there for the takin’. We fire on her bow and bring her to her knees, I say.”
Exasperation rammed Cain like a stone fist. Though Drake’s skills at sea were exceptional and his argument well-suited to the life they had assumed, his logic held an error they could ill-afford to make. Cain thrust the glass back into his quartermaster’s hands. “Have you forgotten the cargo in my cabin? It’s not her death I seek. As certain as that warship sails in range, another isn’t far behind.” He looked once more to the approaching Navy ship. “We stand and wait. Maintain our course. She cannot possibly recognize us. Let us see what she’s about.”
“You’re cursed with this decency,” Drake muttered. He braced his hands on the rail and stared down at the sea. “What happened to Cain, the scoundrel who knew nothing but the fight?”
Cain didn’t bother with a reply. The man Drake referred to was stuck somewhere between Teddy, who had led a quiet merchant’s life, and a life of freedom Cain had once revered, but now despised.
The warship coasted another fifty yards closer. The waters between them crested and sloshed against The Kraken’s hull. A hearty bellow floated across the narrow expanse. “Boat, ahoy!”
Curling his hands into the rail, Cain looked to Drake. In the silence that passed between them, they shared the combined knowledge of more than twenty years at sea. Answering the call would doom them. They must commit to fight or turn their sails to the wind. Cain knew what Drake wished. What the men craved. Beneath the warship’s decks, they’d find enough supplies to keep them aloft for several more weeks. Coin aplenty, depending on how recently the Navy had set ashore.
Yet he didn’t trust the warship’s solitary presence. With word of his escape so fresh, several full fleets sailed in search. Too likely, it remained she had a sister somewhere near. One who would make her appearance on the echo of the first cannon blast.
“Boat, ahoy, I say! In the name of the King present yourself!” the warship demanded again.
Cain whirled toward the helmsman on the poop deck above. “Turn her west, hard to the rudder, now.” He grabbed an overhead line and jumped down to the main deck. “Hands to the riggings, make haste! Clear the braces, clew up the foresail, close-haul that spanker!”
At once, the crew flew into action. Amidst a chorus of protests, they hauled on lines, repeating his commands down the decks to the men near the bow. Cain stood amidst them, throwing his own back into the chore of bringing the boat hard to starboard. As he heaved on the rigging, and the bow began to ease around, he shouted once more, “Haul on every scrap of canvas—we’re changing course!”
Drake joined the chaos, climbing down amidst the men. The glower he sent Cain made his disagreement known, but even he wouldn’t dare protest in front of the entire company. They would argue later, when no one could overhear the quartermaster take to task the captain.
The sails filled, rippled hard with the catch of wind. Behind them, the slower vessel turned to follow. Cain encouraged his men with another hearty bellow, and as The Kraken settled into her new path, he gestured to the bosun. “Stuart, mind your paces. Tell Reggie to prepare the stern chaser.”
The very last guns on the end of the ship, he would fire if necessary. A strike across the warship’s jib would slow her even further. But the noise would alert all nearby. He would make the call only as a last resort.
Anxiety constricted his chest. Never before had he run from a fight. In years past, he would have struck his colors in answer to the hail. Before a second call could come, the cannons would have rained.
Then again, never before had he carried human cargo worth a damn. While India was still Cain’s captive, she was also a woman. He could not bring himself to risk her life. He’d make this up to the men. Find a target they could easily overtake. Once he was free of India Prescott.
A cannon thundered. Near The Kraken’s stern, a splash pocked the decks. Cain vaulted onto the rigging. Hand over fist, he dragged himself to the yardarm above the decks to obtain a better view of their positioning. The warship lagged severely, now nearly six hundred yards away. A slow smile spread across Cain’s face, and he nodded to himself. “More sails, and with a will!” He looked back to the helmsman. “Steady as she goes, King.”
“Aye, Cap’n,” King returned with a wide grin.
Satisfied the Navy ship no longer posed a threat, Cain climbed down the net of braided rope. He surveyed the crew, insuring no man slacked in duty. His gaze met Drake’s dark glower. Cain drew in a deep breath. Once, he would have been equally as furious. Only cowards turned tail and ran.
He looked away. Shouldering past a seaman, he shoved through the heavy door that opened onto his private hall. At his cabin, he halted. India presented a more bothersome encounter than even Drake’s anger. Her deceit, her games, only made his head ache. He turned around and descended the main stairs into the crewmen’s deck below. Food would do his mind well. He hadn’t eaten since dawn the previous morning. On a full belly, he could confront both Drake and India.
Winding through rough-hewn tables, he made his way to the cook’s room and pounded on the timbers that supported the open doorframe. The scent of his favorite fish soup permeated the air. His stomach rumbled greedily. “Cleaver, hand me a bowl of that tarpon stew.”
The cook gestured a three-fingered hand at a large boiling pot. “Ain’t ready, Cap’n. All’s I gots is last night’s doughboys.”
Cain considered the lumpy, soggy leftovers of dumplings soaked in pork broth before he let out a disappointed sigh. Warm, the fare left little to desire. Warmed-over, it could scarce be called edible. His belly, however, demanded sustenance, no matter the type. “Very well. Throw a scrap of jerk on there too.” At least the salted pork would add flavor to the floury lumps.
Juggling his signature knife in one hand, Cleaver ladled out a generous portion. He tossed three thick slices of meat onto a plate, then passed them both to Cain. “Here ye be. Don’t let me hear ye complainin’ none.”
Cain took his meager meal to a long table and dropped into a sturdy chair. As he picked up his spoon, footsteps entered at his back.
“What in the seven hells was that about, Cain?”
Drake’s gravelly voice washed over Cain like buckets of ice. He dropped his spoon into the runny soup and leaned back in his chair with a mutter. “Can’t you see I’m about to eat?”
A scarred fist slammed into the table near Cain’s elbow. “I don’t give one single damn about your belly. My men agreed to aid your cause. They did not sign on to turn tail from a nonexistent threat.”
Anger simmered through Cain’s veins. He narrowed his gaze, meeting Drake’s baleful glower. “Last I knew, I was captain here.”
“Last I knew, the man I called friend was no coward.” Challenge gleamed behind dark grey eyes.
In no mood to fight with one of the few persons he could consider ally, Cain dropped his head to the back of the chair and closed his eyes. Through clenched teeth he asked, “Have you forgotten His Majesty’s ships do not tend to sail alone?” He opened his eyes and pinned Drake with a hard stare. “Have you become so accustomed to the simple spoils off the Bahamas that you cannot remember a ship of the line, stays with the line, unless they seek to bait and sink?”
Drake’s jaw worked in a fit of temper. But as silence settled around them, heavy and oppressive, the harsh glint in his eyes softened. He pushed his long unruly hair away from his face and lowered himself into the chair opposite Cain. “’Tis true I’ve come to take risks more often than not. But I didn’t save your sorry arse to become the laughin’ stock of my company. Tell me, Cain, what’s amiss with you? Did you grow to like a simple merchant’s life as Teddy?”
Two years ago, had anyone asked Cain the same, he would have laughed in their face. Yet now, when he couldn’t sail the sea without looking over his shoulder, he craved what he had lost. He’d come so close to finding decency, to obtaining a worthy place within this world. To the life he hadn’t even realized he longed for.
Now, he had nothing but a past.
His appetite spoiled, Cain pushed the bowl aside. “I have confessions to gain from Miss Prescott and a traitor to hunt down.”
“That’s it, isn’t it?” A solitary golden hoop earring glinted as Drake cocked his head. “Can’t say as I blame you—you had the freedom of a rover and the security of lawfulness. We let you be, didn’t often trouble our former brother. There’s no shame in admittin’ you wish things otherwise.”
Uncomfortable with Drake’s keen perception, Cain rose to his feet. “I won’t find Richard any faster by sitting here flapping my maw with you.”
As he stepped past the table, Drake’s arm shot out. Strong fingers dug into Cain’s forearm. “What are you doin’ with the girl? I agreed to help you capture her. But the men mumble. The lackeys seem to think they’re deservin’ of the little chit.”
Cain shook off Drake’s grip. “I’ve yet to decide. She claims ignorance. I gave her this morn’ to think about it.” He looked over Drake’s head at the distant stairs, his mouth pursed. He couldn’t keep India aboard forever, and truth to tell he hadn’t particularly given thought to what he’d do with her once he learned Richard’s whereabouts. He didn’t dare risk the British coast again—certainly not after William Prescott learned of her kidnapping. Nor could he deposit her in the colony across the ocean. Dropping her over the rails would be the simplest solution, but he didn’t have it in him to kill a woman.
He frowned. Not a man aboard would understand that logic. If they heard him make mention he couldn’t stomach the though of bringing harm to India, they’d throw him over. He dropped his gaze to Drake’s. “We’ll take her to Nassau and leave her with Old Bess.” With a few words to the regal madam, Cain could insure India found safe passage to England. Another tidbit he didn’t intend to share. He would have laughed had he heard a rover utter such nonsense.
To better cover his despicable decency he added, “She can teach India how to…survive. Tell the men if they wish to have her, they will have to pay Old Bess’ price.” Which he would see that Old Bess set so high no man, save a king, could afford.
Amusement turned up the corners of Drake’s mouth. He chuckled low, shook his head. “Perhaps there’s a bit of Cain left in you yet. Only he would take a lady and turn her into a whore.”
Unable to resist a chance at goading Drake, Cain replied, “She will not be the first dove I have soiled. At least the ladies will have me.”
At the subtle insult to Drake’s long-time lover, Drake grunted. “I prefer a bit less virginal propriety.”
“Aye, you prefer the risk you might wake with a knife in your side.”
Relieved he’d satisfied Drake’s interest in his intentions, Cain left Drake to splutter for a retort. He mounted the stairs once more and turned for his cabin. This time, he wouldn’t be deterred. India would give him answers, or he would do as he promised and bind her in ropes. A bit of time in The Kraken’s belly, with the stench of bilge to fill her nostrils, would bring a swift recovery to her memory.
He let himself inside to confront the same chilly rush of air flowing from his windows as before. India huddled on the floor, her back against his bed. He stalked across the room. “God’s teeth, you’ll give us all the sickness. We have yet to reach warm waters.”
A soft moan answered his lecture.
He glanced down at her with a frown. She pulled the sodden blanket about her tighter and shivered. So she sought to feign illness, did she? Another trick that wouldn’t work. “I warned you not to play me for a fool.” He closed a second window. “You’ve been raised with ships. I don’t believe this game of illness. Have you gained your memory?”
“Please…” She wet her lips with a tantalizing sweep of her tongue. “I don’t know.”
Cain turned from the closed windows, leaned a hip against his desk, and folded his arms across his chest. “I grow weary of this constant circle. Tell me now, India, else I’ll find those ropes.”
She answered with a shake of her head. “The windows. Please…” Another shudder rolled down her spine, and she shrunk back against the heavy bed frame.
It was then Cain noticed the lingering stench in the air. He sniffed, wrinkled his nose. His gaze slid down India’s slender shoulders to the floor. There, tucked beside his bed, sat the chamber pot he’d dumped the night before. The odor came from the greenish bile within. Blast it all, she wasn’t fooling.