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                                                                                Love of the Sea
 

This story is dedicated to Laura and was written for her as I was fortunate to draw her name for the J7Faction Secret Santa gift exchange. At her request the story is being shared here on my site.

 

I stood on the quarterdeck over the captain’s cabin looking down at my first mate. He’d just come aboard the main deck with four new sailors. "I take it your mission was a success, Mister Bernard?"

 

"That is was, Cap’n. Four new deckhands to replace those we lost more’n a month ago."

 

We’d put into Port Royal only hours before but I was eager to set sail. Being in port this long made me twitchy and it wasn’t just because my crew and I were wanted for acts of piracy. The sea called to me as it had done since I was a child and the Storm Chaser allowed me to answer. My father had left the ship to me, but it was so much more than a keel and a mast and a hold. The Storm Chaser was freedom.

 

Nothing and no one had ever lured me from the sea. She was my only love. All these things contributed to my first mate recruiting the crewmembers in my stead. Looking on those scallywags now made me question that decision. Two wore dirty, ragged clothing with gaping rents that revealed hairy, unwashed bodies. The third new crewman had an obviously fake eye and was missing most of his yellowed teeth. The last buccaneer was tall, reed thin and looked like he’d blow away in a strong wind. He also wore a large brimmed hat pulled low. Even in the bright Caribbean sun his features were obscured and only a few strands of blonde hair were visible. It was not uncommon for pirates to crave anonymity so I chose to ignore it.

 

"Have you explained the code to our new sailors, Mister Bernard?"

 

"Aye. Showed ‘em where it was posted too, Cap’n Read."

 

Every man shall obey civil Command; the Captain shall have one full share and a half in all Prizes; the Master, Carpenter, Boatswain and Gunner shall have one Share and quarter.

 

If any man shall offer to run away, or keep any Secret from the Company, he shall be marroon'd with one Bottle of Powder, one Bottle of Water, one small Arm and shot.

 

If any Many shall steel any Thing in the Company, or game, to the Value of a Piece of Eight, he shall be marroon'd or shot.

 

If at any Time we should meet another Marrooner (that is Pyrate) that Man that shall sign his Articles without the Consent of our Company, shall suffer such Punishment as the Captain and Company shall think fit.

 

That Man that shall strike another whilst these Articles are in force, shall receive Mose's Law (that is 40 stripes lacking one) on the bare Back.

 

That Man that shall snap his Arms, or smoak Tobacco in the Hold, without a cap to his Pipe, or carry a Candle lighted without a Lanthorn, shall suffer the same Punishment as in the former Article.

 

That Man that shall not keep his Arms clean, fit for an Engagement, or neglect his Business, shall be cut off from his Share, and suffer such other Punishment as the Captain and the Company shall think fit.

 

If any Man shall lose a Joint in time of an Engagement he shall have 400 pieces of Eight; if a limb 800.

 

If at any time you meet with a prudent Woman, that Man that offers to meddle with her, without her Consent, shall suffer present Death.

 

"You there," I shouted, pointing to the man with one eye. "What was your last assignment?"

 

"Crow’s nest, Cap’n," he bellowed proudly.

 

My teeth clicked together hard enough to crack walnuts and for long moments it was a struggle not to laugh. I wanted to ask how he managed to be an effective lookout with no depth perception but I didn’t. It wouldn’t be appropriate for Captain Mary Read, terror of the Spanish Main, to show interest in a crewman’s personal life.

 

"Get ‘em to work, Dewey, and then shove off. I want to be in Portobelo in six days."

 

I dimly heard his response as I turned to take the steps down to the captain’s cabin. Attacking the Spanish treasure fleet as they traveled back to Cadiz was a favorite pastime. My crew had profited tidily at their expense though most of their treasures had been squandered at various taverns almost as soon as they were received. The life of a pirate was one giant bore of months at sea. That boredom was periodically interspersed with short bursts of excitement as vessels were boarded and pillaged. It was no wonder the crew spent their shares as soon as their feet hit dry land.

 

I did not fall into the same category. I had been educated in England until it became clear I would suffocate in such confined structure. My father recognized that and freed me of that personal prison. Still I remembered my education and knew I could not remain a pirate captain forever. There would always be someone out there ready to make their reputation by killing me. I was planning for that contingency.

 

I thought of the future often, usually while looking at the stars from the quarterdeck. Sometimes I thought I’d been displaced in time and really belonged in the far distant future. In that time ships wouldn’t merely float on the seas. They would sail between the stars. Until then I had to plan for now. Any booty I took that was not traded for food or put into Storm Chaser’s upkeep was carefully hidden away. Not even Dewey knew where I hid my treasures. He was my first mate, but he was still a pirate.

 

I closed and locked the door to my cabin. There were only six days, assuming we kept fair weather, before we would attack the Spanish vessels again and I needed a new strategy. Storm Chaser was smaller and more maneuverable than their heavy galleons but the Spanish were getting accustomed to my tactics. Paralyzing them with fear simply by hoisting the Jolly Roger was sure not to work this time.

 

******

"So you really think they have potential? Sometimes I question your standards, Dewey."

 

The first mate grunted in response while simultaneously shoveling more food into his mouth. Unlike most crews we didn’t subsist on hard tack. I had always insisted a well-fed crew was a happy crew and I kept a fulltime cook onboard. Dewey had been with me for years but still ate like someone was going to take it from him and substitute the long-lasting biscuits.

 

"Come on, Cap’n. They’re not so bad and they’re all pulling their weight."

 

"You didn’t put that one-eyed jack in the crow’s nest?"

 

"His name is Jimmy and no, ‘course not. Got him scrubbin’ decks ‘til he’s needed."

 

"That’s a relief. What’d you do with the tall, skinny one?"

 

Dewey chewed some more before he answered with food in his mouth. "Stretch is in the crow’s nest. That extra height should make ‘im a better lookout than most."

 

Spittle sprayed across the table as he spoke and I felt my appetite desert me. Dinner with the first mate the night before an attack was traditional but I didn’t have to like it.

 

"Stretch? That’s original. Does he ever take that hat off?" In five days I’d never seen the young man without it.

 

Dewey shrugged in response. He sopped the last bit of gravy from his plate with a chunk of bread and shoved the whole thing in his mouth. I sat back and sipped from my ale so I wouldn’t have to see his cheeks bulge with the effort to chew. After a moment he swallowed audibly and cleared his throat before asking, "Is the plan ready?"

 

"It is. I’ll go over it with everyone in the morning so it’s fresh in their minds. Pirates aren’t noted for having the best memories."

 

"Hah! Too true!"

 

Dewey sat back, belched loudly and downed half his tankard. I scowled my disapproval and felt the first stirrings of slow, simmering anger. He could act how he wanted with the crew but I expected a measure of respect be extended to the captain.

 

"I think it’s time we call it a night." I stood but subtlety wasn’t something he understood well.

 

"Somethin’ wrong, Cap’n?

 

"Not at all. I think it’s time we both got a good night’s sleep. I don’t want any mistakes tomorrow or someone reverting to the previous ways we’ve attacked because they can’t think straight. The Spaniards aren’t stupid and I’m sure they’ll be ready for anything we’ve tried before."

 

He finally stood up, his body remembering to stand when I did even if his brain wasn’t fully engaged. "If we didn’t attack them so often we wouldn’t have to worry about that."

 

His comment came close to insubordination and was something I couldn’t ignore. "Are you questioning the way I do things, Mister Bernard?"

 

When angry I never raised my voice. If anything my tone lowered to almost a growl. That tone from me was usually enough to make others tremble with fear because a lashing would soon follow if amends were not made to my liking. Dewey was no exception.

 

He stumbled back a half step, almost tripping over a chair leg. "N…no, Cap’n. I’m quite satisfied. Couldn’t imagine a better cap’n to serve under. I didn’t mean nothin’!"

 

My face felt like it had been carved from granite. I didn’t want to let this go. I’d already been putting up with his disgusting lack of manners and this latest insult had pushed me too far. I wanted to see him tied to the foremast and lashed until he lost consciousness.

"Please, Cap’n! I should’ve thought before I spoke."

 

"Yes," I agreed icily. "You should have."

 

"It won’t happen again!"

 

Dewey was holding so tightly to the edge of the table that his fingertips had gone white. A bead of nervous perspiration tracked down his cheek. I let him stew with fear for several long seconds before I finally responded in a low, deadly voice. "No, it won’t. Have the crew assembled on the main deck at first light, Mister Bernard."

 

"Aye, Cap’n!"

 

"Was there something more?" I asked when he continued to gape stupidly at me.

 

"No, Cap’n!"

 

"Then why are you still here?"

 

"Oh! Sorry, Cap’n. Leavin’ now!"

 

Dewey backed hastily toward the exit, obviously worried about turning his back to me. He practically fell through the doorway, closed the door so hard it bounced open, the closed it again much more carefully.

 

I was seething in anger but smart enough to know my ire was partially fueled by nervous anticipation of the coming day. I let go of my anger with difficulty, drawing several deep breaths and releasing them slowly until I was in full control once more. A walk on deck under the stars was usually enough to help clear my head to focus on a coming attack and I decided it was the right thing to do after the encounter with my first mate. I grabbed my cutlass and slid it through my sash before I walked out onto the quarterdeck and turned aft. Regardless of what generated my ire I realized Dewey had crossed an invisible line. If he were guilty of any further transgressions, even a minor one, he would have to be disciplined. If I didn’t my crew would lose respect for me and I would risk mutiny.

 

The quarterdeck on the ship was mine; it was my territory where I could go to get away from the crew without actually stepping onto land. At night my crew even extended me the courtesy of having the stern for my traditional pacing. The skeleton crew swarmed over the remainder of the vessel ensuring Storm Chaser was ship-shape for the upcoming skirmish. I could hardly see the sailor high overhead in the crow’s nest and as I looked up the stars caught my eye. They were especially clear and bright. My attention was so captured that at first I didn’t realize I was not alone. It was the humming that gave it away. There below me at the rail of the stern stood a tall, lean figure. Even in the gloom I knew who the sailor was that had invaded my private space. The hat gave it away.

 

The buccaneer leaned with both forearms against the gunwale and stared without moving down into the water. The sea rushed against the hull, but the voice was clear and pure and unmistakably female. I’d never looked at her before, never really looked at any of the new hands, but now I wondered how her gender could have been missed. The moon was full and almost directly overhead. It clearly illuminated the feminine curves beneath the billowed white shirt. How could the crew who slept cheek by jowl in the forecastle each night be unaware? There was no question the rest of the crew didn’t know. Having a woman on board was considered the height of bad luck unless that woman was the captain.

 

Her voice was soft and lilting and I was captivated by it to the point where I actually forgot about my first love. The sea took second place against the siren song I was listening to until the young woman also realized she wasn’t alone.

 

She turned with a start, shrinking instinctively back against the rail into a fighting stance. When she identified her unexpected visitor as the captain of the Storm Chaser she immediately lowered her face until she was once again obscured in shadow. Slowly and quietly I descended the mast step onto the deck. She seemed to pull away even more until she appeared an apparition, but I had not seen her move. My eyes narrowed as I thought of what to say.

 

This woman was clearly a master of disguise to have hidden so well among the crew for six days. She moved with grace, but not like a dancer. Her movements were dangerous, sinuous. Should she choose to dispatch me I would be hard pressed to defend myself and I was no slouch in a physical contest. I knew I would have to take care in approaching this situation.

 

I strolled up beside her and rested my forearms against the rail as she had done earlier. From all appearances the sea mesmerized me and I let my gaze rest there, watching the swells for as far as possible in the night. Eventually she joined me, resuming her earlier position though I could sense the tension in the whip-thin frame.

 

"A little unusual for a lady to be impersonating a pirate."

 

"Who says I’m a lady?" Her voice was soft and held a trace of humor. It actually made me smile and glance askance at her, but still I could see little of her features.

 

"Don’t tell me you’ve come aboard to make your fortune? Obviously you’ve done well concealing your gender, but you can’t expect that to go on indefinitely."

 

One lean shoulder raised negligently in an offhand shrug. "Maybe I wanted to sail under the famous Captain Mary Read."

 

"And maybe you’re a liar. Tell me why I shouldn’t put you off the ship at the first opportunity."

 

"Because you like me."

 

"Like you? I don’t even know you!" I exclaimed in disbelief. Her audacity was incredible, but secretly I had to admit she was right. There was something about her that I found fascinating. Her scent was clean and sweet and I felt the first stirrings of desire.

 

"Not yet, but you want to."

 

I took a frustrated breath and decided to try a different track. "If I admit that will you tell me why you’re aboard my ship?"

 

She was briefly quiet, thoughtful in her response and I appreciated her even more. "I’m here to represent the King of England."

 

"You cannot possibly be serious." For the second time in thirty minutes my voice had dropped to its lowest register.

 

She lifted her face to look at me and the moon illuminated her features softly. Even in the darkness I could see she was beautiful and I felt the air leave my lungs. The color of her eyes was less substance and more shadow, but the fire that burned in them drew me in and threatened immolation if I didn’t look away. It was too late. I was already lost.

 

"May we retire to your cabin so that we may speak freely?"

 

"There’s no one else here," I pointed out, realizing how well educated she was.

 

"One can never be too careful."

 

That was a sentiment I couldn’t argue with and I was dying to know what she really looked like with that hat off. Something told me she wouldn’t come out of her disguise at that moment even had I threatened her with hanging.

 

"Follow me."

 

The journey was short and not for the first time I was pleased to have the stern to myself at night. I entered the captain’s cabin. She followed and closed the door behind her before locking it.

 

"Well?"

 

"It is well known by the British Admiralty that the Storm Chaser attacks the Spanish fleet while sailing under a pirate flag."

 

"And they’ve put a bounty on our heads, is that it? You’re a spy."

 

"No! Quite the contrary. The Lord High Admiral sent me to study your tactics so that they may also successfully attack the treasure fleets."

 

"You? A woman?"

 

A slow smile curved very full lips, but that was the most I could see of her features with the hat obscuring my view. "Who better than a woman should I be discovered by a woman captain? It is also well known that you…appreciate the female form."

 

"Is that so?" I asked, struggling not to blush and wondering what she thought of my proclivities. Still, there were more important things than this attraction. "Did the vaunted Admiralty have a contingency plan should you be found out?"

 

Rather than be thrown off by my sarcasm her smile grew. "Yes. In that case I should try to bring you round to our side."

 

"What’s in it for me? For my crew?"

 

"I don’t care about your crew, but for you?" She reached out to touch my cheek and the contact was like steel encased in velvet. "For you the bounty on your head will be lifted. You will continue attacking the Spaniards under a letter of Marque as a British privateer, but seventy percent of your take will go to the Crown."

 

"What! That’s outrageous! Get out of here this instant and pray I don’t reveal you to the crew!"

 

She threw her head back and laughed in delight. Stunned I could only gape at her until she could control her mirth and respond. "I told him you’d say that. The Lord Admiral’s counter offer is that you submit ten percent of your total take and crush the Spanish dogs whenever he commands."

 

"How’d you get him to come down to ten percent?" I asked, curious in spite of my misgivings.

 

She walked toward me and suddenly I felt as though I was being stalked. The image of a jungle cat was back in my mind, though I refused to back away. When a mere breath separated us she spoke in a low, intimate tone. "I can be very persuasive."

 

I had no doubt of that! "Assuming everything you say is true, why should I agree to this outlandish proposal? Storm Chaser rules the sea now and if I should refuse such a generous offer the bounty on my crew would remain the same."

 

"Ah, but I haven’t completed my offer."

 

"What more could there possibly be?"

 

That soft smile again before she replied. "Me."

 

I swallowed hard and for the first time since she began speaking of the British Crown she had my full attention. The offer was tempting, but there was something about it that disturbed me on a fundamental level. "The Lord High Admiral of Britain wanted you to offer yourself to me?"

 

"No, that was my idea. I’ve watched you since I’ve been aboard, Captain. I see the way you isolate yourself from the crew. I feel how alone you are."

 

"You feel sorry for me."

 

Suddenly I felt cold and moved to turn away. I was extremely attracted to her and I had been alone for very long, but I would not accept her comfort out of some misguided charity. She stopped me with a hand on my arm.

 

 

"Never. I feel…drawn to you. When I look at you, I feel."

 

I opened my mouth to refuse her and was surprised by what I heard. "I never deal with someone if I can’t see into their eyes."

 

There was no hesitation. She reached up to remove the hat and dropped it onto the deck. I felt my hear stutter at the vision that was revealed. Hair the color of an angel’s wings shone in the candle glow. Her skin was like fresh cream even after days in the salty sunshine and when I looked into her eyes I found a new life. The sea had always been my first love but in that instant I knew I had found my destiny. Her eyes were the blue of the sea when the day was clear and the waters calm. In them I saw truth as well as something I had never seen in another’s eyes before; desire.

 

"You never told me your name."

 

"Anne. Anne Bonny."

 

I thought it perfect, just like her. "Very well, Anne. I’ll give you my answer after our success on the morrow."

 

Anne’s chin lowered and she glanced around the cabin. Unlike my first mate she understood a dismissal when she heard it, but she was searching for a reason to stay. I wanted her to find one. Although I wanted her I did not want to appear too eager. I was still captain and had an image to maintain.

 

Her eyes fixed on an old steamer trunk that had been shoved against the bulkhead. The chest was a gift from my mother while I was still a child. She had illusions I would marry well and the chest was meant to contain the trappings needed to be a good wife. I kept it for sentimental reasons, though the items inside were not of the domestic sort.

 

Anne reached out and her fingers gently caressed the engraved initials on the lid. The touch seemed sensual and I shivered slightly imagining those fingers being drawn over my sensitive flesh.

 

"M. E. R.," she read softly. "What is the ‘E’ for?

"

"Elizabeth." The response was out before I thought about it and now she knew more about me than anyone ever had.

 

She turned to smile at me and this time I could see how the expression lit her eyes. Before I realized what she was doing she had grasped my arms and pulled me toward her. Her lips covered my own and for a moment I was too shocked to react. She didn’t seem to expect a response and drew away after only a heartbeat.

 

"Goodnight, my sweet captain; at least for now. Perhaps tomorrow you won’t send me away."

 

She released me and walked out the door, closing it quietly behind.

 

"Perhaps," I said when she could no longer hear.

 

*****

A fair wind promised to fill the sails when needed and Dewey had the crew assembled before the first ray of dawn broke the horizon. My eyes spotted Anne among the crew with her hat firmly in place and a smile threatened to curl my lips. Fortunately I stood above the crew on the quarterdeck and they wouldn’t notice from a distance. I didn’t need to think about Anne’s offer; I knew already I would accept. I had known as soon as she proposed it though I thought it better not to apprise the crew. The potential for mutiny was too great if they found out they were actually serving those who had oppressed them.

 

The plan was simple and quickly outlined. Storm Chaser would hide just outside the windward islands off Portobelo. Our usual strategy was to attack while farther out to sea, but this time I wanted to take advantage of the natural rock formations of the islands. As soon as we spotted them Dewey would hoist the Jolly Roger. The skull and crossbones wouldn’t paralyze them with fear, but it might be enough to cause them to hesitate. That brief pause would give me time to swing alongside the vessel for Anne to open up with the long guns.

Canon fire would rip apart the hull and throw our enemy off their feet. My crew would swing over on ropes and immobilize our foe. They were under strict orders not to kill unless absolutely necessary. Normally I wasn’t overly concerned about such things; my crew needed an outlet for their boredom after all, but I had information that women and children were being ferried with the load of treasure. I would not allow innocents to be harmed.

 

Even from a distance I could feel Anne’s disapproval when I moved her from lookout to the cannons, but this was not up for debate. I wanted her safe. In the crow’s nest she would be exposed. The firing mechanisms for the cannons were concealed safely inside the hold and she would be protected from small arms fire.

 

"Once we have taken control of their vessel Mister Bernard, Stretch and myself will go for the treasure in the cargo hold," I said, carefully using the name by which Anne was known to the others. "The rest of the crew will ensure that no one is able to prevent us from taking our rightful booty. Questions?"

 

No one dared.

 

"Mister Bernard, get everyone into position."

 

The crew scurried to obey my commands while I manned the wheel. Storm Chaser responded easily to my hands and slid behind the cliff without a scrape. The sails were furled though the crew was prepared to raise them again in an instant. Now it was time to wait.

 

The sun came up steadily until it burned down upon us. Behind the cliffs the wind was noticeably absent and sweat left a steady trail down my spine. Below me the crew waited at their stations, silent and unmoving. Pirates were not known for their patience and I hoped the Spanish would arrive soon. They tended to be very precise and it was that precision that made them such a convenient and predictable target. Twenty minutes later there was a cry from the crow’s nest. Thomas had spotted the Iberian sail as it cleared the headlands.

 

"Hold fast!" I shouted. "Not until the bowsprit nears the other side of the cliffs!"

 

Steadily they came. From my vantage point I could see them once they crossed into range and I gave the order that sent my crew into a flurry of activity. Immediately the mainsail was hoisted along with the Jolly Roger. As I spun the wheel and brought the ship out of hiding my men scurried to the side of the ship with grappling hooks and rope at the ready.

 

Successive fire from our three canons was perfectly timed and massive holes appeared in the side of the galleon. The mighty ship seemed to tremble as wood and metal exploded into the air. From where I stood at the ship’s wheel I could see Anne had aimed for our adversaries’ canons and struck a direct blow. All of them had been disabled with one volley.

 

A fierce grin took possession of my face as I watched the rest of the crew carry out their assignments like a well-oiled machine. Hooks were thrown and men swung across the chasm between vessels. The clash of steel sang out and my blood thundered in excitement.

"Ernie, take over here!" I shouted at the pirate closest to me so that I could join the battle.

 

Before his filthy hands could reach the wheel I was running across the main deck, cutlass in hand. The ships had drifted close enough that I easily leapt over the one-meter gap. Somehow Anne was beside me and I realized she must have waited for me to make a move before she deserted the now useless canons.

 

"Dewey! Make for the hold!"

 

He heard me halfway across the wide deck even through the shouts and clash of swords. All three of us started for the lower deck, my crew efficiently covering us from the enemy. It struck me we hadn’t seen a single female or child and I wondered if they had been sent to their quarters when the skull and crossbones was spotted.

 

Dewey threw open the hatch and we hurried down the steps into the hold. Most of the Spaniards were on the upper deck fighting my crew so we encountered only two sailors in the hold. I was already congratulating myself for a well-orchestrated attack when a woman’s scream split the air around us. We hesitated in the short corridor before we all veered toward the sound of distress. In less than a second we were through a small doorway. What we found caused my blood to run cold before it began to boil in rage.

 

A pirate, clearly one of my men judging by his clothing, was unaware of our sudden presence disturbing his ‘sport’. The woman he had pressed against the corner was not so oblivious and the plea for help in her eyes cut me to the bone. In a split-second I surmised the scurvy dog had attempted to reach the treasure hold before me but had been distracted by the young lass.

 

Ann was a blur as she crossed the room. She grabbed the ruffian by the scruff of the neck and threw him against the bulkhead. He was on his feet in an instant with his sword in hand but my cutlass at his throat persuaded him to surrender.

 

It was one of the new deckhands, the one missing an eye and most of his yellow teeth. Jimmy.

 

"Did Mister Bernard not acquaint you with the Chaser’s code?" Anger caused my voice to tremble slightly. "No one on my crew forces himself upon an unwilling soul."

 

""I was just havin’ a bit of fun, Cap’n!"

 

"Fun? Is that why you’re down here instead of topside as ordered? You sought to avail yourself of the treasure."

 

He didn’t try to deny it and I was tempted to run him through on the spot. He deserved it and would be punished but I refused to traumatize his victim further by forcing her to witness such a scene.

 

Anne had taken the young woman by the arm and escorted her to the hatch. "Return to your quarters. You will not be further harmed."

 

The woman left and we were alone to deal with the pirate. Overhead the sounds of fighting had faded and I knew my crew was in control.

 

"Mister Bernard, take him to the Storm Chaser’s hold and clap him in irons. Stretch and I will see to the treasure."

 

"With pleasure, Cap’n Read." Even Dewey was disgusted by the man’s actions.

 

Two steps from the hatch Jimmy made a break for freedom. He kicked Dewey’s feet out from under him and sprinted for the exit. Anne never allowed him to reach it. From behind I could see the point of her sword punch through his body as she ran him through. Seconds later he dropped to the deck amidst a spreading crimson stain.

 

His death meant nothing to me. "Leave him for Davey Jones. We’ll clear the cargo holds, set the crew adrift in the longboats and fire the ship." It was not far to land and I knew they would be rescued when the next Spanish vessel passed. By setting them adrift they would not be able to mount a counter-attack against my crew.

 

Dewey nodded his agreement and we left the pirate staring sightlessly into the abyss.

 

***

 

The celebration aboard the Storm Chaser that night was ferocious. Pistol shot occasionally echoed over the sea and from my cabin I could hear laughter. Inside my quarters Anne and I were wrapped in a warm cocoon of blankets and flesh. Sweat dried slowly in the aftermath of our loving. My head was pillowed on her chest and I listened to the sound of her heartbeat.

 

"You know you don’t have to hide your gender aboard my ship. My crew will accept you."

 

"Or they’ll walk the plank?" Anne’s voice was filled with amusement and I smiled as she threaded long fingers through my hair.

 

"Maybe. At the least you’ll have to move into my cabin. You can’t possibly continue to bunk down in the forecastle." It was a big leap for me; I’m unsure if Anne realized how big.

 

"Does that mean you accept my proposal?"

 

"If I can at least plunder the Crown’s enemies."

 

"I am sure the King will not protest."

 

"Wonderful." The bounty on the ship, my crew and me would be lifted; at least that levied against us by England, and I would have Anne in my arms.

 

She surprised me by asking another question. From the hesitation in her tone she wasn’t sure if she should. "By asking me to move in may I assume you…care for me?"

 

I knew what she was truly asking but was not yet prepared to discuss my feelings. The first time I looked in her eyes I saw the blue of my first love; the sea. Now I found my true one there as well as my future. I knew that our fates would be forever twined; even unto the day when sailing ships traveled between the stars.

 

"Let’s talk about it later. Right now I’d really like it if you would be silent and kiss me."

 

 

The End

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