One year later
Alejandro corrected the main sail with the help of his first mate, yanking on the rigging. The smell of salt blew in steady surges through his hair as the sun beat down. Life was good, for now. He possessed loot from a conquest, transporting it from its previous hiding place. As soon as it was safely re-hidden in Swallow Cave, the intriguing natural cave system off the tip of Varadero, he could relax, for no one would dare enter the fabled caverns. Then he could pick up his next shipment in Havana for legitimate pay to keep up his guise of a seafaring merchant.
The port of Santiago de Cuba was growing larger as the Sea Mistress sliced through the water, its tropical trees and cliff side village promising comfort. Unfortunately the view of a commodore’s ship also continued to grow on the horizon, approaching them. He sighed. It really was a pity that such a bright afternoon could be marred by this inconvenience, but after a few moments of small talk and a search by the commodore’s men, Alejandro would deflect this seaman like any number of others.
He looked up to see his merchant flag in place, his crew dressed in decent, if not worn, sailor’s tunics, and knew by all accounts he appeared to be a respectable businessman. Now if only Ronaldo, his newest crewmate, could keep himself under control. He watched the man in question below him and shook his head. Keep your distance from this commodore and your mouth shut, Ronaldo, he thought, willing the defiant crewman to look his way for the warning. The man, a criminal by every account, did look up, and Alejandro gave him a shake of the head and a stern glare.
As the other ship drew closer, he donned his weathered tricorn hat, concealing his sandy hair save the ponytail that hung down below his neck, and assured himself that his tunic was tucked into his breeches. Lastly, he donned his long brown overcoat with five-inch cuffs adorned with a swirling of brown embroidery, leaving the coat open and allowing it to hang over his sword dangling from his belt at his left side. Knowing his appearance was in the rights, he strode across the deck and up the companionway to the bowsprit to wait for the approaching ship to draw up beside him.
The commodore, he noticed, stood in much the same fashion as Alejandro, at the bow, but with one boot propped up on a carton as well so that his chest looked puffed and his stance looked posed for a painting. No doubt they taught their leaders to stand in such a pompous fashion at commodore school, Alejandro thought with an outward laugh at his own jest. Every single one of the arrogant seamen he had met had stood in such a fashion, as if each one owned the ocean, attempting to intimidate the smallest fish and biggest tempest with their authority.
“Silly pawns of the crown. It will never work,” he muttered.
“Ho there!” the commodore called as the two ships began to glide beside each other, the wood of the vessels creaking and the frothy water churning in protest between them. “What be your business, señor?”
They passed one another and Alejandro began to walk the length of the ship again, his knee-high boots clopping loudly, skipping down the steps with a good-natured smile as the military crew began tossing ropes onto his deck and climbing across.
“Buenos dias,” Alejandro replied, arriving down to the deck just in time to greet the man as he landed in front of him. “My men are in need of a good meal and some entertainment. We’re putting into port this night and will be on our way in the morn. I have a delivery to make and a payment to receive.”
“Your name, sir?” the commodore required.
“Captain Filipe Villanueva de Rosa, at your service,”
“And what sort of delivery is this?”
“Home goods. From Spain, sir.”
“Home goods?” The commodore, in his blue coat embellished with brass buttons and a cravat of white, cocked his brow and removed his plumed hat to pat his sweating brow with a kerchief. He turned to his first in command and gave a nod, and the man motioned to his mates, fanning out and going below deck to the stores of the ship.
Alejandro produced a letter and handed it over for inspection with bejeweled fingers. “Si, a set of china, some fabrics from Barcelona, and some aged cheese, for Governor Santa Maria, sir. The order was placed nigh a year ago. We’ve been at sea for two months with the completed order. I’m glad to see land, as are my men. The fruit has long been eaten, and as you can imagine, jerky and biscuits have long lost their appeal.”
The commodore frowned, still looking at the letter, and Alejandro watched the man’s expression, his posture, the way he moved his head covered in a powdered wig, to determine the source of that frown. “Sadly, one is always behind on news when they are traveling, I am afraid.” The man rolled the letter up and handed it back. Alejandro felt relief. So the officer was not suspicious about the phony letter of safe passage he had forged and used many a time. “The governor and his family were set upon by a mob a year ago, probably not long after you sailed to fill your order. Slaughtered, the lot of them, and the bastards razed their mansion. The king has been sent official reports and an investigation has been launched, but there were no witnesses left alive.”
Alejandro rubbed his chin thoughtfully. “Slaughtered you say? ’Tis tragic news, and ’tis also tragic for my shipment. A payment of good faith was made with the order, but the rest has yet to be collected. Of course I have paid for it in full and now need to be reimbursed.”
“Perhaps you will be able to put the goods up for auction, or find a local merchant to purchase them.”
“Indeed, perhaps,” Alejandro replied. “The cheese is fine and the textiles are the height of fashion. No doubt the ladies of notable breeding here will wish to purchase them. For despite the sad news, I have need to pay my crew.”
The commodore nodded, feeling at ease with Alejandro’s friendly nature and smiling blue eyes, and replaced his hat to his head. “True, Captain Villanueva de Rosa. True. Men need to be paid for honest work.”
Honest work. Alejandro wanted to snort with laughter. He hadn’t been honest about a damn thing in several years. He had fooled the navy sod like many navy sods before him. Ah, but they were always so gullible despite their pomp and arrogance.
“José,” Alejandro called. “I’ve just been informed that the governor has been killed.”
“What about the men’s wages?” his first mate replied, jumping down from the rigging and arriving at his side, a twinkle in his eye.
“I am aware,” Alejandro continued with the benefit of the commodore’s ear hearing the exchange. “Once the commodore is satisfied with our business, I’ll send you into Santiago de Cuba to determine the market there or see if there’s an auction. We need to unload these goods and return to Spain.”
The first mate, José, nodded and turned to see the navy crew rising up from below deck one by one through the hatchway.
“Everything is in order, sir,” the first in command spoke to the commodore. “Three barrels of china packed in straw, two barrels of drinking water, more of jerky and biscuits, several crates of textiles and sewing supplies. Their captain speaks the truth.”
“And what of cheese?” said the commodore.
Okay, so navy sod or not, the man had a sharp memory. “Ah,” Alejandro lifted a finger. “I don’t store it below deck, sire. My men are a good sort, but when one is at sea for any length, real food can be tempting no matter the rules. It’s locked in my study. Allow me.”
Alejandro led the way astern and up the companionway. Turning a ring of keys in the lock next door to his cabin, he ushered the commodore in. In the corner sat a crate. With a metal bar, Alejandro pried up the lid. Within the bunches of straw sat several rounds of cheese stacked one on top of another.
“I have seen enough, señor,” the commodore said with a wave of the hand, ducking out of the room.
He strode back down the deck while Alejandro relocked the apartment and joined them. Satisfied, the commodore nodded, his hands behind his back.
“My apologies for the inconvenience. As you know, pirates lurk in these waters. French and English buccaneers and Spanish traitors. We cannot be too careful. Aside from a rash of robberies, the razing of the governor’s mansion weighs heavily on us and we will continue to patrol these coastal waters. If ever the culprits can be found, we intend to be the ones to drag their sorry arses’ to the courts in chains where the brigands can be executed.”
“I understand,” Alejandro smiled. “Tell me, who is suspected of such a dark deed?”
The commodore again lifted his hat to dab at his sweat. No doubt the woolen coat he wore was suffocating. “No one can be sure, for they left no witnesses. It could have been those blasted Arawaks, but considering little gold or silver has been found in the wreckage, indicates it was sought after and the natives do not seem to understand valuable minerals. Nor would they be fool enough to revolt against their encomiendas. It could mean their hands getting chopped off. It’s likely pirates. There has been a spate of such atrocities in the past years.”
Alejandro nodded. “We’ll be vigilant. Muchas gracias.”
“Buenos dias,” the man replied, and soon they were re-boarding their ship, withdrawing their ropes, and departing into other coastal waters.
It was important to fool the bastards, for the commodore held the wind gage and had an advantage should he need it. Alejandro looked up at the sky again. In the distance he could see storm clouds brewing. They should get to port quickly. These spring storms often blew by, but sometimes produced destructive winds that broke masts and capsized vessels. And his men did indeed need to indulge their bellies as well as tend to other neglected needs. Life at sea made men restless for female companionship and every port offered a brothel or two. A well-worn woman was not in Alejandro’s taste, but most of his men harbored no scruples when it came to that, so he would indulge them.
“The commodore bought the scheme then?” José remarked, remaining at his side to watch the navy vessel grow smaller.
Alejandro nodded and slapped José on the back. “Si. Hook, line and sinker. You played your part well, mi amigo. I expected your mouth to break out into a smile as broad as an opera singer’s arse when I relayed the commodore’s news of Governor Santa Maria’s passing.”
José chuckled, the matching scars on his right and left cheek crinkling as he did so. “Si. I had to swallow a grin.”
“Ah, well. It worked out, but I could still kill you for murdering his entire household. Likely the manhunt would not be so all consuming had you limited your revenge to just the governor.”
“I’d just as soon not have his dirty spawn walking the earth either, sire.”
Alejandro let the old argument go for now, but José had caused him a hurricane-sized headache by his slaying rampage. Officials were hell bent on searching under every rock for the culprits. Hell, this commodore, had he looked any closer, would have found every damn piece of Santa Maria’s gold. “We need to get to Varadero so I can re-hide the loot. I want it off my ship.”
José nodded and wiped his scarred face, then went back to his business. José had more a right than many to take comfort in the governor’s demise. The man from Spain who had installed himself in the governor’s mansion no more than a year and a few month’s previously, had punished José wrongfully for a crime he had not committed, ordered his wife raped by his henchmen and then himself with José bound and gagged as a spectator, and then disfigured the man by cracking his whip against each of his cheeks. Not long after, José’s wife had gone mad and flung herself into the ocean, making José a widower.
That was how his first mate had come to him. Lusting for revenge. Alejandro had long since lost his scruples and when the opportunity presented itself, he allowed José this revenge against the Spanish overlord who had ruined his life. Considering Alejandro had yet to meet anyone who sympathized with the governor, it seemed, Santa Maria had few comrades.
José’s story was not the only one like it. Governor Santa Maria had made a reputation for himself as a hard man before leaving Spain, a fist of authority that would crack down on any man like a giant gavel who he dared to think had broken a law. And corrupt as the man was, he had made many an enemy with his authoritarian tendencies, often shirking a trial to declare guilt before it could be proven. No common person would miss the man or his offspring for that matter. A son and a daughter. Both slain. No doubt those fruits had not fallen far from their family tree. Yet still, the governor’s family had been innocent, and guilt Alejandro had long since tamped down worked its way into the back of his mind.
Arriving in the bustling port, dock workers hastened to his vessel, the Sea Mistress, named so for the generously endowed mermaid upon the bowsprit, and worked to secure it. His crew swung about the ship in a choreography so familiar it was innate, handing in the main sails upon the yard arms, securing the trappings and hatches. One by one the crew climbed over the rail to the dock to make their way onto land with jovial chatter in anticipation of a good meal, bedding, and bath, the bath being optional. After securing his cabin, Alejandro did the same, clasping the frogs of his wind-beaten leather overcoat as he walked.
In town, he could hear music, a festival of sorts. His hopes brightened at finding an auction. He began hiking up the steep incline to the village sitting on terraces overlooking the busy port. He passed the fish market, a baker, many a street vendor, a wine merchant. He noticed the shanty apartments stacked on top of each other in various colors, women beating out washing, a mix of indigenous features on some of the faces, and then noted the sign for El Barco, a piece of wood from no doubt an old ship with weather-worn paint creaking back and forth in the breeze.
The establishment was clearly a whorehouse. Not only were several of his men ducking inside, but a handful of raggedy women with equally squalid children slouched on barrels or piles of rope netting, their hair tied up in tangled messes, their makeup unnecessarily thick, and their legs parted to indicate their search for coin as they harassed the passing men. Alejandro shook his head and moved beyond it into what seemed like the town square. How any man could find pleasure betwixt legs that had swallowed so many a man’s seed sent a shudder of revulsion through him.
A man was playing a violin and a crowd of merry revelers were milling about, an old country dance from Spain taking place in the middle. He smiled wistfully, remembering his youth before his father cast him out of the home to fend for himself. On many occasions he had danced the dance with the sons and daughters of other nobles. It was a dance of courtship, a set of several couples forming a ring with men in the middle and women in their colorful skirts on the outside. Partners moved in a circle with their knees kicking up in time with the rhythm, holding hands, punctuated by a twirl of the women about the waist, fanning their colorful skirts. Then the women linked hands and rotated around their beaus counterclockwise while the men rotated clockwise in the middle, until they faced their partners again, followed by a mutual bow and curtsy.
He suddenly wanted to dance the dance. But he was no longer a noble and had not been for seven long years. In that time he had amassed an incredible wealth but still was drifting, searching, for what, he knew not. Certainly not a soul. He had lost his the first time he had killed a man. But one thing was certain. He could never go home again, would never. His birthright as the heir to his father’s estate was void and even if it was not, there was nothing in the world that would make him ever face his father again. The man was as dead to him as he was to his father, a prominent surgeon in Puerto Real, Spain.
After leaving home without a choice at age seventeen, he had toyed with joining the Monasterio de la Victoria, which sat a day’s journey up the coast just inland from Cádiz, but God had never spoken to him in the way it spoke to other young men he had known who became novices, and when his seventeen year old stomach could no longer bear his hunger and a ship needing sailors docked in the port, he found himself hired. But the ship had been anything but a merchant ship. Captain Negro Raton was notorious for plundering, and Alejandro was sucked into pirating with little choice.
But then again, what did it matter, he sighed as he reminisced. He was as good as dead to his family now, and family had meant everything. As he had begun to learn the medical ways of his father and prepared to enter the university despite hoping beyond hopes he could study astronomy, one silly prank had gone awry and the next thing he knew, his father’s surgery was on fire. He was cast out on his arse with a threat to never return. Eager to learn, therefore, he threw himself into the task of pirating. Negro Raton, a notorious, black-bearded scoundrel and his men were Alejandro’s new family and he learned a great deal within that year. And the beauty of it was that he got to examine the heavens, in fact, needed to know them in order to navigate the ship. It was not quite astronomy, but it was much closer to the mark than carving into ailing bodies.
Captain Raton took him under his wing as a son and when the man lay dying of an infected wound at sea, he declared Alejandro his successor, dubbing him “Captain Filipe Villanueva of the merchant ship, the Sea Mistress, or as our enemies will know him, The Dreaded White Hawk, the boy pirate of the Black Plague,” for everyone knew a pirate could never go by his real name lest he be discovered. And a pirate ship named after a sweeping illness carried an appropriate amount of fear. The only thing he could not fully stomach was the killing. The first time he killed a man, he was numbed with regret. It was wrong and he knew it, but over time he grew desensitized.
Having been given a fine education, raised in a bustling maritime city, Alejandro naturally had sea legs, which was good because the open water had become his home. As he watched the happy revelers in the square now, guilt tugged at him like it often did when something would catch him off his guard and remind him of the life he was forced to leave behind. No woman to court, no wife to take, no children to sire, and no medical studies to replace his father when he died. His father had placed the blame of the prank, carried out by many, squarely on his shoulders. The other boys were also to blame, but Alejandro was the surgeon’s son. He should have known better.
He shook off the melancholy and scoped out the crowd, looking at the shops lining the square. Surely there was a reputable dressmaker who could afford to take the fabrics off his hand. A bakery had its windows open and a tailor’s shop appeared to be busy with customers coming and going. A promising sign. But after inquiring at all the shops, he found no one who could afford to purchase his expensive fabrics, and it seemed they had recently missed an auction.
It was then that he saw a girl, nay, a woman, young, clinging to a scrap of a shawl, hidden near a stack of fishing traps in a darkened corner. Her posture indicated she wished to disappear into the shadow. And it would appear that she had disappeared from most, but he had always had a keen eye for the unseen, hence his name, White Hawk. White for his fairer hair, hawk for his sharp perception.
She was ever so slightly moving to the music and he wanted a better look at her mahogany hair and porcelain face like that of a Castilian doll. He pushed his way through the crowd. Her feet pretended to step in time, her eyes, a dark brown, and he noted that though appearing impoverished, she knew the steps to the dance, as he did.
Walking along a boardwalk in front of shops, he circumvented barrels of wares and shopkeepers haggling with customers until he stood not but fifteen paces from her. She watched the dancers with longing, unaware of his assessing gaze. It was at this shorter range that he noticed a bruise on her jaw which he had at first dismissed as a shadow. Her skirt length indicated she lacked propriety, and as her shawl slipped, her display of cleavage confirmed that she was a working girl. And yet she danced the dance of a noble, he pondered. He had hoped to find a pretty woman, and it would seem he had found one.
He ducked out of his niche beside the last shop and arrived near her. Without thinking, he extended his arm.
“Would you care to dance?” he asked.
She jerked back to reality and stared blankly at him. When still she didn’t answer, he raised his eyebrows and nodded once, repeating himself.
“Dance? Would you give me the pleasure?”
She shook her head. “I shouldn’t be out there. I should go before I’m missed.”
He was struck by how delicate her voice was, how uncertain she sounded. He scrutinized her, the way her hands fidgeted with the ends of her shawl. Her words said one thing, but the longing in her eyes told him she did in fact want to dance. Finally, when he was sufficiently satisfied she was going to remain planted in place, he reached forward, took her shawl from her hands and gently tied it across her bosom to veil her virtues.
Then he took her by the elbow and nudged her forward. She walked with him, her eyes darting in several directions as if looking for a beast that might swoop down and snatch her. He was fascinated. Yes, he had hoped to find a woman, and yes, he had found a beauty, but something was not right. She was wary, skittish.
“A dance is all I ask, señorita,” he spoke beside her ear. “I can see you know the steps, as do I, but I have not danced them in many years.”
“A dance is all you want?” she asked, looking back up into his blue eyes the color of sapphires.
He heard the implication. Did he want to whore her too? He also heard the cultivation of her voice. She was no prostitute by choice. “Si, only a dance with a pretty maid,” he added. His answer seemed to make her relax an increment. “Nothing more,” he added to assure her.
So he would not get lucky with her, but it didn’t bother him. It had been a few months, but there was always a willing maid in the next port. This woman was mysterious, intriguing, and he was content to spend a few moments of his afternoon dancing with her until the storm moved in and forced him to find a room of his own.
He took her hand in his ringed fingers and cut into the circle of dancing partners, watching her lower her eyes so as not to look at the aghast glances cast at them both. They were not dressed the part, and while he cared not what the locals thought of him, he could tell the woman cared greatly. For some reason, he felt the need to assure her, if only to get the prize of seeing her eyes stare into his once again. He lifted her chin with the pad of his finger, watching her search his face for his meaning, and smiled.
“All will be well, señorita. Dance with me.”
She rewarded him with a smile of her own and began moving with the music. The movements were intimate even through it was only the skin of their hands touching. Then he spun her around by a coaxing hand on her slim waist. She wore no skirts to flare outward like the other ladies, just a drab grey skirt and black corset, but as they moved, she visibly relaxed, even allowed herself to close her eyes as he spun her. She knew the steps by heart and gracefully danced them like a well-bred lady. It made him smile with curiosity.
Then she linked hands with the reluctant women and moved about counter clockwise just as he did the same in the opposite direction until they stood face to face again. His smile was gone and he could only see her, looking carefree, as if her troubles had suddenly been shrugged away. His eyes dropped to her lips as he bowed and she curtsied. They were deliciously and naturally pink, as if still juicy from eating a pomegranate.
He was so unexpectedly taken with her, it threw him out of sorts, and the wrenching it caused his heart was profound, a staggering reminder that his life as a pirate was a permanent handicap for him to bear. There would be no loving a woman, no settling down, no offspring. His padre’s lineage died with him. And besides, he reminded himself, being beautiful didn’t make this guarded woman any less a whore, and he didn’t bed whores.
Yet still, he was lost in her eyes, just as she seemed to be in his, his periphery nothing but fog at sea with her as his only mistress, when suddenly a woman, older, and clearly an acquaintance of his dance partner grabbed her arm.
“Luna!” she snapped. “Luna! Jesus will be displeased! He’s searching for you as we speak!”
Their mutual trance popped. The mysterious prostitute that had been in his grip a fraction of a second before suddenly jumped apart from him like he was scalding and grabbed at her shawl in fear. His eyes furrowed as he watched a slender hand reach unconsciously to her bruised jaw.
“You must come!” the other woman urged, a fake redhead who had most definitely seen younger years.
“My basket!” the woman named Luna exclaimed, searching around her feet when she suddenly realized it was still tucked in the shadows where she had stood before the dashing stranger with blue eyes and sandy brown hair – perhaps it was dark blonde – had succeeded in distracting her.
She hastened back to retrieve it, kicking away a mouse that had climbed atop it to dig through the towel that covered a wedge of cheese and other goods, and was just about to run away when Alejandro noticed a burly man with a greasy black ponytail and a scowl on his brow marching towards her. Alejandro began to move forward, sensing that the other man meant ‘Luna’ ill but he was not in time. The other man reached her as she twirled around with her basket, grabbed her arm, and smacked her hard aside the cheek.
A yelp escaped the young woman, her hair shaking loose from its pins and her basket scattering across the dirt. Alejandro felt his fists ball at his side.
What the hell was wrong with him? He didn’t care about others. He had minded himself and his crew quite well for years. It was unfortunate for women like her, but it was the way of things. This man was her boss and she was clearly not supposed to be doing anything other than running a quick errand. He had never been exceptionally emotional. So why did he feel completely and utterly pissed? Because, he told himself. It’s your fault she’s in this state now. She refused you at first and yet you insisted on a dance.
“What do you think you’re doing?” the other man growled in her face. “I own you. If you think to go and sell your favors elsewhere, dancing for all to see, and then cut me out of the profits you had better think again.”
She held her cheek, standing helplessly amongst the toppled food as bystanders took notice and moved on with their business. No one would try to intervene, and Alejandro found it angered him more. But why? When had he ever extended himself for others? No one cared about prostitutes. They were expendable, he told himself as he began to stride forward again when ‘Luna’ transformed in the most unexplainable way before his eyes.
“But He-soos,” she crooned, a sultry tone to her voice and a flirtatious smile tugging at her delectable lips, a smile, Alejandro noted, that was enough to make any healthy man run hot. “I was only drumming up business.” She walked two fingers up his chest until they ended with a caress of his cheek, and glanced up at him with her doe eyes. “For you of course.”
A disgusting smile broke out over his face, and he looked over at Alejandro for the first time. “Is this the fellow?”
‘Luna’ turned in his direction again, but he could see her coy demeanor vanish with one quick glance into his eyes. It irritated him. Did she actually like this other man? Was the twinge in his chest…jealousy? For some unexplained reason, he had felt a connection in the brief minutes they held one another. She had said hardly a few words to him and yet, he wished that connection could have remained forever.
She turned back to the man named Jesus and her smile sprang to her lips again. “Si, señor. That’s the one. And I can promise you he will visit me later. He was ever so infatuated.”
She chanced a look back at Alejandro and he saw sorrow in her eyes. Then those rose lips of hers mouthed two silent words. Forgive me.
It was an act. An act of survival. She was doing what she had to do so this man wouldn’t strike her again. It hit him as quickly as did his irritation a second before. He knew within that second he needed to rescue her from hell. Already the handprint upon her cheek looked bright red. A maid like her wouldn’t last long if her boss continued to handle her in this way.
He made up his mind. If she would play, he would too. He made a bold perusal of her figure with lazy, wanting eyes and sidled up beside her. Certainly sizing her up took no effort at all. “I admit I’m weak for such fine horseflesh,” Alejandro remarked. “But if I am to ride a mare, I need some assurances it will be worth my coin. Is the whore any good?”
“Ah,” Jesus grinned with a jovial laugh. “She’s one of my best. My customers say it’s like fucking a virgin. Show the man your titties so he can see if they are to his liking.”
Alejandro could see humiliation bloom in red splotches on her cheeks and chest as she began to reach to her laces. In his experience, prostitutes usually didn’t redden with embarrassment over baring themselves. Perhaps she was humiliated to do so in front of him, not the public. Could it be she liked him?
“There’s no need,” Alejandro said, reaching into his pocket to pull out a leather purse. “How much for the night?”
The grin on Jesus’s lips turned greedy. “Five pieces of silver and she’s yours until dawn. Just no wrecking her fetching face.”
Of course not, Alejandro thought, removing two silver coins and spying the bruise upon her jaw. You’re doing a fine job by yourself.
Without warning, he tugged ‘Luna’ forward by her corset with his finger. He dropped the coins into her cleavage, letting his finger caress the rise of one soft breast as he retracted it. “Consider this a good faith payment, wench. See to it you remain unspoiled until my arrival. I don’t take kindly to other men’s messes.”
She nodded but wouldn’t meet his gaze this time. In fact, she seemed icy, all gentleness towards him gone. But as she stepped back, Alejandro grabbed her arm and scolded her like a child. “Ah, don’t think to take my money and run, wench. Where do I find you?”
Her mouth opened but no sound came out. The bloom of embarrassment had consumed her entire face.
“El Barco,” said her boss. “I’ll give her away at night fall if you haven’t arrived yet.”
“I look forward to it,” he replied, and at that, the young woman chanced one more glance at him. But her eyes were blank, and the next thing Alejandro knew, she was being marched away without her scattered items.
He walked in the opposite direction with false purpose as if on an errand, yet his mind was running in different directions. He warred with going back for Luna’s basket, knowing that if he brought it to her, it might set off Jesus’ suspicions about his intentions. So the woman was a prostitute at that trashy place, El Barco. And if her cold demeanor when they had parted was any indication, she thought him at first to be better than her boss, only to realize he was no different.
Her face, that blank stare, as if she had nothing to live for remained in the front of his mind all afternoon. He had wanted nothing more than to assure her that he meant her no ill but doing so would have shown his hand to Jesus. That man would probably sell his sister’s body for sex if it meant he would gain some coin. He knew that if he had shown the woman any sympathy, Jesus would have been suspicious.
His stomach growled, distracting him for the moment, and he ducked into a different tavern to consume a meal and devise a plan, removing his hat as he found a table and politely refused the woman who offered herself along with his food. His men often jested about his gentlemanly ways, saying White Hawk, the boy pirate, was always so polite he probably apologized to his victims before dispatching them. But he would keep his manners and leave them to their poorly ones. He had been raised to be a gentleman even if he was one no longer. Who would suspect a man who removed his hat before dining as the most dreaded pirate plaguing the seas?
He took a mouthful of fruit. Heaven, he thought, as the juice of the orange squirted down his chin and through the gold on his fingers. He hadn’t been lying to the commodore about the men’s need for fruit. Lying about most else, si, but not that. As the son of a physician in a major Atlantic port city, he had witnessed many a case of scurvy on their doorstep. And yet as he took another juicy bite, his mind conjured a vision of the young woman with smooth skin and mahogany hair named Luna eating an orange, her doe eyes looking at him from beneath her lashes as she sucked on the rind, droplets of juice dripping onto her creamy bosom.
The simple action seemed so sensual when he envisioned it, the juice running down her chin, her tongue sliding along the edges of her mouth to lick it, he suddenly realized he was sitting at the table in the busy tavern staring at the wall like an imbecile, his mouth parted and his orange hanging limply in his hand. God, he needed a good lay if any of this was an indication. Who lost their entire train of thought over an unknown woman hypothetically eating an orange?
He sighed. If he were to rescue her, they would have to leave right away in case her brute of a boss should search for her, and he had no doubt he would. The woman was fine, unblemished aside from the bruise he had left on her, and in short, had not been in the business long. He was certain Jesus enjoyed capitalizing off a beautiful woman men claimed felt like a virgin. Jesus would definitely launch a search for her. Despite having plenty of women to spread their legs, men like Jesus wanted control above all else. If she broke from him, his obsession would not be sated until he recaptured her and ensured she was too broken to ever attempt to leave again. But the Pirate White Hawk wanted that virgin, and though his conquests were related to capturing wealth rather than women, he was never denied what he decided to steal.
He sighed again, exhaling long and low as he resumed eating his orange, then his stew and bread. His men would be pissed at him for certain. They had just arrived at port, but this woman was coming with them. Which meant they would not be staying long in Santiago. Not long at all.