The guard’s grip on my bicep bit into my skin and I winced as he dragged me further into the trees of the backyard. He held his sword in his other hand like he expected me to attack him at any moment, and his eyes switched between scanning the foliage for a young girl and glaring at me.
I stumbled as he jerked me forward. “I am not going to run," I said. "You needn’t be so rough.”
“No talking, whore,” he snapped, his fingers digging harder into my flesh.
“Could you stop calling me that?”
“If you do not like the name perhaps you shouldn’t have worked so hard to earn it,” he growled.
I scowled at him. “I am not—"
“Only one type of woman is allowed on a pirate ship and only a very special type of woman is allowed to remain on a pirate ship. You are the captain's personal whore, are you not?”
My hands fisted at my sides and my jaw clenched so tightly I thought my teeth would crack. I was two seconds away from exploding on the guard and it took everything in me not to say what was on the very tip of my tongue. “Aren’t you frightened?”
He snorted. “Of a woman? No.”
“Not even of what being seen with this woman could do you to your reputation?” I grinned at the uncertainty on his face. “I am sure your wife wouldn’t like to hear you dragged Captain Caspian’s whore into the backyard.”
He stopped walking. “I would stop speaking if I were you. You are nothing more than a child. You know nothing.”
“It seems like I know more than you th—"
He pushed me against a tree and I yelped at the impact. Then he pressed close against me and snarled in my ear, “If you are trying to frighten me with ruin, then perhaps I ought to take it from you. After all, if you plan to destroy my reputation, I should at least get something out of it, shouldn’t I?”
My eyes widened as his arms caged me against the hard bark. I pushed against his chest, but it did little to phase him. Shaking my head emphatically, I whispered, “Wh-what about what you said about sins?“
“This is punishment for yours.” He threw his sword to the ground and grinned at me. “Not one to taint my soul.”
“I’ll scream,” I threatened.
“Be my guest.” He undid his weapons belt and tossed that alongside the blade.
Suddenly, his eyes flew wide open and I didn’t know what had happened. The blue of eyes seared into mine, but he stood frozen, totally unmoving. Slowly, I glanced downward to see the arrow that impaled his throat.
He coughed, blood bubbling over his chin, before his eyes rolled back and he dropped to the ground.
I had no idea where the arrow had come from but I took off running back the way we’d come, hiking the skirts of my uniform as high as I could.
Another arrow came sailing by my head and I shrieked, ducking as low as I could but I didn’t stop running. I pushed myself harder and faster, hearing my blood thumping in my ears.
Another arrow whistled through the air and I flinched again. My dress got snagged and I screamed as I tumbled to the ground, slamming into the hard earth. Not wasting a minute, I stumbled back to my feet and tried to take off again. But I couldn’t move; my dress was still stuck. Cursing, I turned around and saw that an arrow had pinned my skirt to the bark of a tree. I pulled and yanked at the arrow, but it was not going to budge. Tugging at my skirt instead, I tried to tear free, but the maid’s dress must’ve been made from tougher cloth than I thought.
A twig snapped. Very, very close to me.
I froze, staring, waiting for the murderer to show himself.
Hazel eyes flashed and Carter sauntered out into the clearing, a bow in his hand and a quiver slung over his shoulder.
My knees nearly gave out in relief and I gasped in breaths as my heart tried to stop galloping in my chest. “You bastard!” I shouted, grabbing a tragically small rock and chucking it at him.
He dodged it easily, an amused smile on his face.
“You could’ve killed me!”
“No? At least five of them almost hit my head! Why did you keep shooting after you hit the guy?” I pressed my trembling hand to my heart as the adrenaline began to fade.
He shrugged. “This seemed more effective.”
“At what? Giving me a heart attack?” I shook my head. “You couldn’t have just yelled out like a normal human being?”
He jumped out of the way of another stone I threw, actually chuckling at my obvious fear. “I am truly sorry if you were—"
“You aren’t sorry for a damn thing. And when did you learn how to use a bow and arrow?”
“I am well versed in several different ways of killing people.”
I took a deep breath, no longer hearing my pulse in my ears, straightening my spine, narrowing my eyes at him. “You’re still laughing at me.”
He pressed a fist to his mouth in a terrible attempt at hiding his grin. “No, I’m not.”
“Carter!” I yanked at my skirt again, the arrow still firmly lodged in it. “Get me out of this so I can properly kick your ass.”
A laugh burst out of him before he could stop himself, the sound something I hadn’t heard since we were children.
I blinked. No, not since we were children. Since he had been a child with Elizabeth? Yes. Yes, that was right.
“I’m sorry, Liz,” he said, obviously trying to keep his laughter inside, “truly I am, but…if you had seen your face—"
“Yes, yes, I’m sure my terror was hilarious.”
For several days, he had treated me with nothing other than cordiality—and sometimes not even that. Yet, here he stood, teasing me as if we were the closest of friends just goofing off in the garden of our luxurious home. That behavior, more than any of his threatening, dangerous behavior, set me on edge.
Slowly, he sobered, wiping at the smile on his face like he could erase the light moment he’d just had. “I’m sorry, I just—" He cleared his throat. “I am sorry, Elizabeth.”
“You should be. Now, would you help me?” I gestured to the arrow again.
“Is my arse still in peril of kicking if I approach you?”
“I suppose that’s a risk you’re going to have to take.”
He clenched his jaw to keep from laughing again, but his smirk was still in place as he came toward me, his long legs crossing the distance quickly, the twigs and grass crunching beneath his boots. He didn’t stop until he was less than an inch away from me, the laughter still glittering in his hazel eyes, the warmth of his body sinking into mine. “Well, go on, then,” he said in his low voice. “Do your worst.” There was something in his gaze now, something other than just humor. There was a test in them, a challenge.
And I wanted to win.
Slowly, very slowly, I reached my hand out, placed it on his chest. He stiffened slightly, but didn’t move. Meeting his hazel eyes, I slid my hand up, over his shoulder, my other hand cupping his stubbled cheek, feeling each and every twitch of his muscles at my touch. I wrapped my arm around his neck, never breaking eye contact, matching the rhythm of his breathing, pressing my body to his. I raised onto my tip toes, bringing our lips closer and closer and closer…
I grabbed an arrow from the quiver on his back and pressed it to his throat, just barely nicking the skin there, a very tiny river of blood running down.
Although his body didn’t move, his jaw didn’t clench, his eyes didn’t widen, he didn’t maneuver out of my embrace, his voice was impressed. “You cut me,” he stated.
“I believe I did, Captain.”
He cocked an eyebrow. “You are stronger than her.”
“Lady Gallagher.” He studied me, his eyes burning into mine. “Well done.”
Those two words held a wealth of meaning in them reflected in his now stoic expression, in the way he still held perfectly still in my arms, in the way he didn’t drag his eyes away from mine, in the way he allowed me to keep the arrow poised at this throat. It gave me the courage to whisper, “I want you to train me.”
“I want you to teach me how to use a sword or shoot a gun or aim a bow and arrow or handle myself in a fight. You’ve done it before. I want you to do it again.”
He didn’t say anything, studying me like he wasn’t sure if I was serious.
“I need to know how to defend myself.”
He stayed silent another beat before he spoke. “Yes,” he said, “you do need to know.”
I lowered myself down from my tip toes, dropping the arrow away from him. “So you will help me?”
He backed away from me. “I shall consider it.”
I smiled. “Thank you.” I pointed at the arrow that was persistently holding me against the tree. “Would you please get rid of that thing now?”
“No, I don’t think I will.”
I paused. “Are you serious?”
“If I remove it, you will continue running about like a chicken without a head.”
“Yeah, to try and find your siblings!”
“But if I leave it,” he spoke over me, “I will at least know you will not have gotten yourself into trouble.”
“That is ridiculous!” He was smart to back away from me. If he had been even remotely close to me, I would have strangled him. “You need my help! Unless—have you found them?”
“They are my only family. I know exactly where they would be hiding out.”
“If I found them, do you think I would be alone right now?”
He didn’t have to be so snarky about it. “Where is the rest of the crew?”
“We’ve split up in our search.”
“Well, then, let’s go. Just get this arrow and—"
“Shh!” He was looking into the trees like he had heard something, squinting hard.
I waited a beat and when it was obvious nothing was there I started speaking again. “Come on, C—"
A scream echoed from somewhere deep in the trees.
I met Carter’s eyes and saw he was about to take off, to just leave me there. “Don’t you dare,” I warned.