Calanesaea

Calanesaea

New Providence Island, Bahamas 1785


Reece entered the local tavern and saw his shipmates sitting at the corner table. His first mate was conversing with a native and he eyed them both suspiciously as he ordered a drink and joined them. "What are you up to now, Diego?"

"Nothing of importance, Captain. Xavier and I are merely having a friendly chat."

Reece glanced over at his helmsman. "Shall I take a guess?"

"This time he’s bartering for a speechless beauty,” Miles said with a smirk.

The native leaned over the table. “She is the most stunning creature with skin like a China doll and sapphire gems for eyes. A night with the sea nymph is worth at least ten gold coins."

Diego frantically rummaged through his purse. Within seconds, he was tossing gold coins on the table along with his new sword, sheath and favorite black silk cape.

“You’re not going to see the girl first?” Miles asked.

“A speechless beauty, Miles,” Diego said, beaming from ear-to-ear. “Think of the possibilities!”

"Come morning, you’ll be kissing my feet,” Xavier told him as he gathered his treasures. “Meet me at the docks in an hour and I’ll bring her to ya."

But a woman stood behind him gripping her bone-thin waist. "Oh, no ya won't! My man's drunk and talkin' crazy. There ain't no girl."

"Get home, Pilar!" Xavier shouted, but she didn’t budge. Furiously, he dropped the items in his hands, grabbed Pilar by the shoulders and started shaking her. "The girl’s been hiding in the root cellar too long! It's time she earned her keep!"

Reece stood up and caught Xavier by the scruff of the neck. "That’s enough. Why don’t you peddle your wares someplace else. My first mate changed his mind anyway.”

Diego’s grin turned mortified. “I did?”

“Yes, you did...” He let the native go and watched him scamper away.

But Pilar still stood there. “Are you the Captain of the Danika?” With his puzzled nod, she let out an excited yelp. “We’ve been waiting for you to come. My father needs to see you right away."

Reece glanced around, uncomfortably. "I'm afraid you’re mistaking me for someone else, Miss."

"Please, sir. The sea nymph is in trouble and needs your help."

Diego beamed. "My sea nymph? Then she doesexist! What a stroke of luck, Captain. Here is your chance to redeem yourself.”

Reece ignored him. “My friend here is far better at rescuing damsels in distress. Just make sure he’s back on my ship by dawn or we'll leave without him.”

She clasped her hands together, pleadingly. "Oh no, it must be you, Captain. My father will tell you her story. You must come."

Diego lifted a brow. “My dear Captain...” And for the next ten minutes he badgered Reece with detailed descriptions of every favor he’d ever done for him since the day they met. "And do not forget the Governor's ball. You were too busy to escort your lovely fiancée, so I hurried to your rescue and…."

Reece growled as he got up from his chair. "Enough! Let’s get this damn thing over with."

As the four of them made their way down a dark alley, crossed a rickety bridge and trudged through a field of thorn bushes, Reece’s temper grew hotter. Pilar kept yapping in his ear about the sea nymph, some ridiculous curse and how thrilled her father would be to see him. By the time they climbed the stairs and stood on the porch of the lopsided hut, he’d had enough and decided to head back to his ship, but Pilar was tugging on his arm, pulling him inside.

“Pa, the Captain of the Danika is here!” she announced to the old man sitting in the corner of the small room.

Irritably, Reece replied, “As I told your daughter, she’s mistaking me for someone else.”

“Nay, I can see you are the one,” the old man said firmly. “You carry the scar on your face and you’ve got the eyes of a lion, like the book says. The sea nymph will be in good hands now.”

“Where is she?” Diego asked, glancing around the room yet still not brave enough to enter.

Ettore let out a weary sigh, leaned his head back and closed his silver-glazed eyes. “Her name is Calanesaea. She is the youngest and most beautiful daughter of Nereus, God of the sea. But her wicked uncle put a curse on her. He stole her voice and ordered the serpent to hold him prisoner. You must kill the serpent, Captain, and set Nereus free."

Reece shot Diego a deadly glare.

"Three years ago, two English ships were fighting off our coast,” Pilar quickly told them. “One boat sank. The islanders searched for survivors, but they all drowned.”

"I hardly think the English would sink one of their own ships,” Miles stated. “Since we were at war with England at the time, it makes more sense that an American ship was involved."

Ettore gripped the arms of his chair. "They were both English ships!"

"I suppose the Gods told you this?" Diego asked flippantly.

“Nereus told me in my dreams. He is God of…”

“The sea...” Diego finished for him. “Yes, I think we heard that part.”

Pilar went over and lovingly sat beside her father. "That night Pa dreamt a girl from the sunken ship washed ashore and I found her the next day on the beach. We’ve been keeping her hidden ever since.” She retrieved the book from her father’s lap and handed it to Reece. “This was in her pocket. It tells her story.”

Reece flipped through the water-marked pages and suddenly their rantings made sense. “This is a book on Greek mythology. These are tales, fictional writings."

Diego finally stepped forward. “Perhaps the Captain would be better convinced if we could see the young woman for ourselves?"

"What makes you think our Captain is the keeper?" Miles asked.

Ettore pointed his index finger toward the ceiling. "He rules the morning star."

“I see..." Miles said thoughtfully.

Reece glared at him now. “You see what?”

“Our ship's name, the Danika, is Slavic for morning star. Well, the full definition is, the morning star that awakens the cock to crow."

“It was my mother's maiden name, Miles." He handed the book back to Pilar. “It’s time to leave.”

Ettore panicked. "You fought the three-headed serpent before, Captain! The scar on your face is proof. But you lost your brother and your nerve and the serpent lives."

Reece froze at the doorway.

“It’s not by chance you came to the island on your last voyage. The Gods chose you to protect her. You must kill the beast or Calanesaea will die.”

But Reece bolted out the door with his shipmates close behind.

“She is your deliverance, Captain! Free her and you free yourself from the shackles of guilt!"

Reece trampled through the tall thorn bushes and stormed across the bridge. Diego kept spouting his apologies and even offered to buy drinks the rest of the night. Yet, by the time they reached the tavern, Reece had lost interest in drinking, socializing…and even living. So, he left them there and headed back to his ship.

All was quiet at the docks, except for the thunderous commotion in Reece's head. Still shaking, he gripped one of the wooden posts for support and stared out at the moonlit waters, unable to stop the hideous sounds and images from crashing through his mind.

The nightmare was back again. And so vivid in his mind, he could hear Johnny's screams and smell the stench of his burning flesh. He had fought viciously against the bastard who tortured his friend. A blade sliced his cheek during the battle, yet that only heightened his anger and his desire to rip the heart out of his beastly foe. But the horror of hearing his friend’s agonizing cries sent him in search of Johnny instead. And when he found him, he forgot all else except dousing the flames, releasing Johnny from the noose and fleeing the scene hoping there was life left in him.

He brushed his hand through his hair, trying to rid himself of the memories.

Ettore was a crazy old fool, spouting off some ancient tale as if it were current news. Perhaps a girl did wash ashore, but the scar on his cheek, the name of his ship, and his sudden decision to dock in New Providence on his last voyage home were merely coincidental and irrelevant facts that the old man managed to fit into his mythological tale.

Still, the other similarities stung him. Johnny may not have been killed by a three-headed serpent, but the knife used to murder him looked like one. And Reece had lost the battle, his nerve and his best friend who’d been like a brother to him since birth. So, the old man’s tale wasn't so far off. Ettore was even right about the guilt. It haunted him constantly these past three years, confronted him at every turn and deprived him of sleep every night.

The warm tropical breeze blew strands of tawny, shoulder-length hair across his face as he looked back toward the village. If Diego knew what was on his mind right now, he would never hear the end of it, not from him or Miles. And what was the point of talking to the old man again? What could he possibly gain from listening to more stories about sea nymphs and serpents?

But the gutting reminder that his nemesis still lived without any repercussion urged him to find out more, even if it was a coincidental tale. So, he pushed himself away from the post and headed back to the village.

Warily, he approached the hut and stood on the broken porch. The wooden planks tipped unevenly beneath his feet while the top of his head brushed against the overhang. He waited there, still wondering what the hell he was doing and what he hoped to gain besides an earful of nonsense and another vivid account of his own nightmare.

When he knocked on the door, it fell open. He hadn't considered the late hour or the good possibility everyone was sleeping, although the lantern inside was still flickering. He cursed himself again for such a fool notion and leaned forward to pull the door shut, yet he stared at the bamboo structure instead. The wooden door latch had been hacked off and lay at his feet.

Curiously, he peeked inside. The furniture was overturned and scattered. He caught a glimpse of Pilar huddled on the floor in the corner. He went inside, thinking she’d had a fight with Xavier and was hiding from him. After the scene at the tavern, he doubted it was the first time her husband tried to beat her. But as he approached, he saw a dark splattering of blood across the wall behind her.

He bent down and touched her wrist. She was dead, stabbed in the chest several times. He grabbed the lantern and entered the adjacent room looking for Ettore, but instead he found Xavier sprawled across a blood-soaked cot. He returned to the living area and noticed a trail of blood that led him to the pantry where Ettore was lying on the floor.

The old man saw him and struggled to talk. “I beg you, sir. Find her. Take her away before they kill her..."

“Where is she?”

Ettore gasped for breath. “The sea is her covert..." and his murky gaze rolled away.

Reece stood up, not knowing what to do when he noticed an opening in the floorboards beside him leading to a cellar. He climbed down the narrow stairwell. It led to a cold and clammy room no bigger than the pantry. He looked around and knew for sure that the girl existed. There was a small cot, a chair and reading table. The girl had been hiding here, he realized, and with Ettore near the opening, the old man had obviously dragged himself through the kitchen to warn her.

Chased by the old man’s words, the bloody massacre and his own godawful memories, he snatched the book of myths and ran to the seashore to search for the girl. Yet, when he stood on the sandy beach with the moon shining brilliantly overhead and lighting the seascape, his vision cleared and his heartbeat slowed to a more normal pace. It was then he realized the absurdity of his plight. The shores wrapped around for miles and she could be hiding anywhere on the beach, in a cove, behind rocks or not even near the water. And there was still a good chance she didn't exist. The room in the cellar could have been used as a quiet refuge for the others.

And even if he did find her, what did he intend to do with her? No way in hell was he going to follow through with the old man’s request and take her with him. This was his last voyage. From here, he was heading directly back to Boston to sell his ship to the highest bidder and begin a whole new life on land. Certainly, he felt badly about the murders and the gruesome way those people died, but he didn’t owe them anything. He never should have gone back there in the first place.

With a hopeless sigh, he gave up his efforts and headed for the docks. Along the way, he put the events behind him and concentrated instead on their trip home tomorrow.

In four weeks, the Danika would sail into the docks in Boston Harbor with a warm greeting from his friends and family. Myrna, his childhood sweetheart, would be waiting for him and two months later, he would walk her proudly down the aisle, buy a modest home in the country and take charge of her father’s lumberyards. During the day, he would work hard to maintain the success of his father-in-law’s business and every evening he and his wife would relax on the porch together, talking about absolutely nothing of great importance. And eventually his past would be forgotten.

When the lanterns on the pier grew brighter, he glanced down the beach one last time. All remained quiet and deserted, so he tucked the book of myths into his pocket and continued. Within a mere second, he turned around again and someone stood directly behind him, wearing a long, hooded cloak.

“Are you Calanesaea?” he asked.

She nodded.

"Do you know what happened at the house? Did you see the man who did it?" With her silence, he remembered she couldn’t speak. “I arrived too late to save the others.”

He watched the girl dig her bare toes into the sand and spin away from him. She was trembling as she held her face in her hands. It appeared she was crying although no sound emerged from her and he was at a loss. Going to the authorities would throw suspicion on him, and she would be unable to answer their questions or defend his part in the murders. And since she was apparently hiding in the root cellar, he wondered if anyone else even knew about her.

He heard voices in the distance and glanced up. He saw two men jump down from the docks and rush toward them. He frowned thinking the bodies had been found and the authorities had followed him here. Several stories ran through his mind, none of which made any sense, especially not the truth, so he hid the girl behind him, protectively. But he recognized the men as members of his crew and sighed with relief. They stopped short when they saw him, apologized for intruding and ran back the way they came.

Reece was ever more aware of the girl now. She had roped her arms about his waist and clung to him tightly. He attempted to turn around to face her, but it took careful prying and she refused to release her grip.

He frowned in confusion. The girl had just witnessed three brutal murders and barely escaped death herself, so why the hell had she approached him on the beach? For all she knew, he could have had something to do with the murders. That puzzlement led him straight to the next, and he wondered how she found the courage to confront him, yet she refused to show her face. And his thoughts stopped there.

Gently, he pulled the hood off her head. As he did, she glanced up at him and he lost his breath as he stared into her wide blue eyes, made brighter and sparkling from the moonlight and her tears. She was absolutely stunning with fair and flawless skin, arched brows and shimmering black curls bouncing to her waist. Yet, her bottom lip quivered as though fighting for courage, and tears streamed down her cheeks.

Silently, he lifted her slim figure into his arms and carried her to his ship. Along the way, he thought of nothing else except her arms wrapped trustingly around his neck and the heady fragrance of her hair. It was an intoxicating aroma and in such drastic contrast to the stench of his memories, he wondered if the other would ever come to him so vividly again.

He shoved his cabin door open and carefully laid her on his bed. She was still shivering, so he collected extra blankets, wrapped them snugly around her and watched her fall fast asleep.

Finally, he poured himself a glass of rum and sat in his chair. He never once questioned his reasons for bringing her aboard since that was as puzzling to him as her reasons for allowing him to. And none of it really mattered. He'd made up his mind. He was going to uphold Ettore's last request and take her with them.

II

Reece made his way across the top deck studying the masts, the forecastle, the bulwarks and every member of his crew as they scurried around getting the ship underway. He made sure the boom was secure, checked the rigging and joined Miles at the helm. The first half-hour after leaving port was the most treacherous, but together they carefully navigated the rudders through the deadly coral reefs surrounding the island. Then, the vessel glided across calm waves under steadfast, southerly winds and cloudless skies.

On his way toward the stairwell, he motioned to his cook and the heavyset, elderly man limped toward him. "I need your help on this voyage, Barney. You'll get paid extra."

Barney’s furry white brows sprang upward. "Sure, Captain!"

Reece led the way down the steps yet he stopped short in front of his cabin door and just stared at the structure. He knew Barney, like the rest of his men, would jump to the wrong conclusions and start raking him over the coals for bringing a girl on board without giving him a chance to explain his reasons, even if he could come up with any that made sense.

Barney grew impatient and shoved the door open. "Christ all mighty!" He yanked the door shut and a wooden button popped off his shirt. "You...you gotta girl in there, Cap’n! Jesus, a girl on board is bad luck, ain’t that what you're always tellin’ Diego? And I thought you were supposed to get hitched when we get back to Boston. How the hell are you gonna explain her to Miss Myrna?”

"Hold on, Barney.” Reece laughed uneasily. “I have good reason for bringing her with us. At least I thought I did last night. She's a young girl...a child, really. She lost her family and has nowhere else to go."

"So, you bring her on board with fifty sex-starved seamen?" he asked with his jowls wiggling around. "Have you lost your cotton-pickin' mind? She's gonna cause all kinds of trouble when the crew hears."

He pushed the door open again to stop Barney's complaints. The tactic worked and they both entered the room, silently.

He smiled when he saw Calanesaea sitting in the wooden chair, prim and proper, like an obedient schoolgirl waiting to be called upon. Her long, black curls fell over her shoulders with wisps straying from a thin bandeau tied around her forehead. Her yellow dress, pinned up at the sides, revealed a copper sateen underskirt, but her clothes were faded, tattered and worn, picked apart through the years and held together with several ragged patches. Her toes curled under as though trying to hide the fact that she didn't have a pair of shoes, and she stiffened when she saw Barney.

He knelt beside her and again he lost himself in the deep blue of her eyes. "Everything probably seems frightening right now, but you're safe and I think you'll find Barney pretty good company, if you can dodge the buttons flying off his shirt."

Her face brightened with this remark and he imagined if she ever did smile, it would illuminate the room.

"Barney, I'd like you to meet Calanesaea. She's a little nervous and won't be conversing much. Just do the best you can to get her what she needs for food, drink and whatever else. And for God’s sake keep her down here until I break the news to Diego."

"Whatever else? Damn it, Captain! I…I mean, dang it. We ain't got the supplies to keep a young girl happy." Reece headed for the door with Barney chasing after him. "How the hell...er...I mean, how the heck am I going to keep her down here if she doesn't want to stay?"

"I'm sure she'll be as obedient as the rest of my crew.” He closed the door behind him, leaned against it and sighed. That was the easy part. Now it was Diego's turn, and he didn’t know how he was going to get through it. Not only would he have to admit venturing back to the house last night and bringing the sea nymph with them, but he would also have to make damn sure Diego kept his distance from her for the next month.

He saw Diego and Miles at the helm. After a few deep breaths, he headed toward them at a turtle’s pace while mulling over different tactics in his mind. When they noticed him, he forced a smile. "I have something to tell you both."

Diego threw his hand up to stop him. "If it has anything to do with swabbing decks or polishing the galley floor, I refuse. I was on my hands and knees apologizing to you last night, so you have no right to punish me for my error."

He laughed a little too hard. "I’m not going to punish you, my good friend. As a matter of fact, what I need to tell you is a rather humorous story, although it’s tragic, too."

Diego crossed his arms and leaned back against the railing. “A humorous, yet tragic story? My, this does sound interesting.”

But the minute he mentioned returning to Pilar's last night, both Diego and Miles pounced all over him, ridiculing him for even considering the notion and refusing to give him a chance to explain. So, he quickly moved the story along and both men finally fell silent as he described the bloody scene. Then, he repeated Ettore’s last words.

Diego's eyes lit up. "Did you find her?"

"Well, it was more like she found me.”

"Dear God, I cannot believe this! She was the woman of mydreams, Captain, yet you meet her instead? Go ahead. Tell me what she looked like and I pray to the heavenly Father above that she was a bitter disappointment. It would serve you right for stealing her away from me and not finding the courage to tell me until we were miles away from the island."

"Did she see the killer?" Miles asked. “If she can identify him, he might have a plan on killing her, too. Did the authorities offer her protection?”

Reece was losing his nerve now, and he wished he didn’t have a whole lot more to tell them. "I didn't exactly take her to the authorities."

Miles scowled at him. "Did you at least take her to a relative or a friend's house and explain the situation to them?"

"Does a relatively new friend count?" He let out a painful groan and cut to the chase. "She's aboard ship."

Diego gasped. "Aboard what ship? This ship? Dear God, she is here? On the Danika? Please, Captain, tell me this is not one of your sorry jokes."

“It’s no joke.”

Beaming from ear to ear, Diego spread his black cape wide and bowed to him. "I am in your debt for all eternity. From this moment forth, I am your humble slave to do your bidding without question or complaint."

"I didn't bring her along for your pleasure, Diego. As a matter of fact, I'm giving you strict orders to stay as far away from my cabin as possible until we reach port."

Diego tipped his head. "Your cabin? And I called you my friend. Everywhere we went women were falling at your feet, begging you for a bit of attention, and you foolishly turned them away. Now you snatch my sea nymph right out from under me and claim her for yourself? What about that impeccable honor you are always boasting about? What about your loyalty toward your trusted friends? What about poor, unsuspecting Myrna?"

"I'm not bedding her, Diego. Nor will you ever have that pleasure. She's a child, barely in her teens."

"Then why in God's name did you bring her on this long and lonely journey back to Boston?"

He braced himself for another battle. "We're not going to Boston. We're sailing for England." As expected, they both shouted at him again, nagging him with reminders that they didn’t dare step foot on English soil, not in this lifetime. The American Revolution may be over, they went on, but certainly not forgotten, and if they were sighted by the military, they would all be tossed into prison and left to rot.

He countered with his plan that they were simply going to drop her off in London and leave her in Blythe’s care until she was reunited with her family. “If she was aboard an English ship, someone is bound to know who she is."

During that moment of silence, he turned on his heels and retreated to his cabin, grateful that this ordeal was over. But both men were hot on his heels, badgering him with their objections. He grumbled to himself and glanced over at the helm. With both men trailing him, the ship was left floating on its own.

"Excuse me, Miles. I hate to bring up such a trivial matter, but would you either man the wheel or find a replacement before we drift too far off course?"

Miles panicked and shouted for Wesley to take the wheel. And they followed him to his cabin.

He wasn't happy about introducing the girl to too many people at once, since she still seemed jittery. But he hoped once this business was finished, the rest of the trip would go more smoothly. And he knew his first mate wouldn't rest until he at least got a glimpse of her.

Calanesaea was still sitting in the chair, but she nervously jumped to her feet when they entered.

Diego stumbled backwards, pressing his hand over his heart. "My God…she is even more beautiful than I imagined. Ah, Captain, you are wrong. Such a goddess cannot possibly be too young for any man." When he moved forward to greet her properly, she dashed behind Reece. Diego glared at him. "And yet, she feels safe hiding behind you."

He glanced around the room. "I wonder where Barney went. I told him to watch over her."

"I suppose he is sleeping in your cabin as well?" Diego asked.

Reece pried Calanesaea's hands off him and eased her back into the chair. "I'd like to ask you a few questions. We were wondering if you saw the man who killed the others last night. If you did, we might be able to send word so he can be apprehended."

She lowered her head and fiddled with the frayed seam of her skirt.

"Ettore said you've been staying with him since they found you on the beach. Can you tell us where you're from...are you from England?" He rephrased his question when he realized they were too complicated for her to answer without speaking. But she seemed to have drifted off into her own little world, tugging on the loose threads hanging there and not paying him any mind at all.

"Apparently, she doesn't want to tell us anything," Miles said. But as soon as he spoke, she stopped what she was doing and looked up at him.

“You seem to have gotten her attention, Miles. Perhaps you'd have better luck getting answers from her."

Miles slowly stepped forward. "I'm glad to make your acquaintance, Calanesaea. My name is Miles Granger. The only reason we're asking these questions is to see if we can reunite you with your family. They must be heartbroken thinking you were lost at sea. Ettore said your ship was from England. Do you have relatives living there?"

Her gaze dropped to her lap again and she resumed twisting the threads around her finger.

"Is she also deaf?" Diego asked.

"She's probably just scared," Miles said in her defense. "After what happened, how can she trust anyone?"

Reece’s light eyes remained fixed on her as a different question nagged him. She might not trust anyone fully, but she trusted him enough to come on board last night. Still, he didn't understand why she refused to answer such simple questions when they were obviously trying to help her. She just sat there entwining those strings around her fingers in some innovative fashion.

But the threads suddenly pulled free and the seam of her skirt fell apart, revealing the thin chemise underneath. Her mouth dropped open in horror, and her fingers were tied so tightly together, she couldn't untangle the strings fast enough to close the flaps of material and conceal herself.

He burst out laughing and retrieved a large box from the closet. "Before we left port, I purchased clothes for you, Calanesaea, along with other accessories." He was still chuckling as he set the container in her lap. "I'm not in the habit of buying women's clothing, so I hope they fit."

She lifted her eyes to meet his and thanked him with a timid smile, the first he's seen. But instead of illuminating the room, her glance shot a strange rush of fire through his veins. His face instantly grew hot and sweat dampened his brow. He backed away, worrying the others might see his fluster, but thankfully they were too busy admiring the gowns and praising his good taste.

Barney suddenly shoved the door open and whistled his way into the room carrying a tray piled high with beef strips, potatoes and cod cakes. His eyes nearly popped out of their sockets when he saw the crowd. He quickly spun around to make a hasty retreat, but Diego closed the door before he could escape.

"What have you there, Barney?" Diego asked.

Barney kept his back to them. “I was bringing her something to eat. I'll come back later."

"It appears to be a feast fit for a King,” Diego said, peeking over his shoulder. “Or a hungry sea nymph."

"I didn't know what she liked, so I fixed...well, a little of everything." He set the tray down on the table and called to Calanesaea.

After she grabbed a cod cake for herself, she offered one to Reece. He was touched by the gesture yet waved her away. Her dark brows furrowed together then, she wiggled the cod cake in front of him, insisting. When he took it from her, he watched her blue eyes dance around with glee. She pranced over to the tray again and made her way around the room, giving each of them a piece of fish.

When Diego received his, he wrapped his hand around hers. "In my country of Portugal, this delicacy is called bacalhau, and it is served with most meals. Since you are so fond of it, perhaps I will take you to my homeland one day."

She caught her hand back and darted behind Reece again.

Miles burst out laughing. “What ho! Have we actually found a young woman who isn’t fooled by our first mate’s charm?”

Diego glared at Reece again. "Had I been the one to rescue her last night, she would be running to me for protection."

Reece ignored him. He instructed everyone to return to their posts and told Calanesaea that he’d be back in a few hours.

After they left the cabin, Calanesaea snatched another piece of fish from the platter and sat down in the chair, smiling to herself. It had been three years since she'd tasted real, true-to-life codfish. It had always been her favorite meal and one of the things she missed most since she left home. That, and her father. Pilar had tried to please her by making a similar dish using yellowtails, but the fishy taste was too overpowering, although she always cleaned her plate so as not to hurt the woman’s feelings.

She adored Pilar and Ettore. Both had gone to great lengths to make her feel safe and at home. They had saved her life by finding her on the shore that day. And they kept her hidden from the British Governor and the heavy traffic of sailors coming in and out of port. They never asked who she was, why the ships had been fighting or if she had any family to contact. She had trusted both implicitly and regretted now her lack of honesty. Yet none of it seemed to matter at the time, not when she was safely tucked away on a remote island where no one could find her.

But Pilar and Ettore were dead, and it was her fault.

Quickly, she tried to push those ill thoughts aside. She thought about Miles, the tall, lanky one with a kind disposition, and grinned again. He reminded her so much of her cousin, William. Not in his physical appearance since Miles had light brown hair and hazel eyes while William held darker features. But the soft and gentle tone of his voice and his unobtrusive manner gave her a familiar sense of comfort.

Captain Reece Garrett entered her mind. She had dismissed Ettore's promises that an American captain was coming to rescue her, until he frantically summoned her from the cellar. As he lay there bleeding to death, he told her to search for the Captain of the Danika, a tall, strong man with eyes like a lion, for he would protect her now. She nodded her head yet refused to leave his side. But she heard voices and those two vultures appeared in the doorway. It was too dark to see their faces, but one was holding an axe dripping with blood. She dashed away through the night shadows, heart-broken and crying.

Someone from her past had discovered that she was still alive and they were trying to kill her, just as they nearly did three years ago.

Tears welled in her eyes as she tugged on the gold chain around her neck to release the small gold ring from beneath her blouse. She missed her father terribly. Everything had happened so quickly she never had a chance to tell him how much she loved him. She studied the intaglio seal imprinted on the finger ring and the inscribed French name underneath. Then, she closed her eyes and silently repeated her vow. One day, she would gather the courage to return home and avenge her father's wrongful execution.