Mom leaned back against the desk, processing all I’d told her. Her eyes had gone wide somewhere in the middle of my explanation, falling to stare at the wooden floor as she listened, and hadn’t returned to their normal shape since. She looked so tense, so overwhelmed, that I feared if I touched her, she would shatter.
“Mom?” I tried softly. “Are you alright?”
She blinked several times, swallowing hard before she was able to speak. “Yeah. Yes. I just, um—“
“I know it’s a lot to take in.”
She snorted. “That’s an understatement.” She took a deep breath before she raised her eyes to mine. “So how do we get out of here?”
“Damn it, Lizzie, you’ve been here for months and you have no idea how to get out?”
“Well, if I did, then I wouldn’t have been here for months, would I?”
She narrowed her eyes at me. “Watch your mouth. I don’t care where—“
The door burst open and we both turned to see Catherine standing there. The bruises around her throat from where Carter had strangled her were now just pink rings, and her once filthy appearance had been scrubbed to perfection. I could clearly see the lady she had been before she’d been snatched away with Carter’s siblings.
I blinked at surprise at her. “I didn’t know you were still on the ship.”
“It does not matter what you did or did not know. Are you joining us or not?”
Joining them? I took in the rest of her appearance and realized she was dressed in a plain white shirt tucked into tight black pant. Not exactly the attire of someone just lounging about a ship. “Where are you going?”
She tilted her head, a smidge of smugness seeping into her expression. “Did Caspian not tell you? I suppose he felt you were much too delicate to be made aware—“
“Would you just spit it out, Catherine?”
She rolled her eyes. “Very well. I thought Caspian would have asked for your assistance on the present raid, but I see now that I was mistaken. I apologize—“
“Raid?” my mom peeped up, still staring at Catherine like she was the most bizarre creature she’d even seen. “What do you mean?”
Catherine laughed. “Not all of us are pirates, but surely I can’t be the only one who comprehends the meaning of that term?”
“I don’t underst—“
I cut my mom off, already moving toward the door. “Where is the captain?”
Catherine moved out of my way, sweeping her arm to point me in the right direction. I spotted Carter immediately where William was helping him strap a sword around his waist beside the steering wheel. I climbed the stairs to him two at a time, ignoring William’s disapproving gaze.
I stopped directly in front of Carter. “What’s going on?”
He winced as he tightened his belt, keeping his head bent, his hair falling over his badly injured face, trying to hide his expression. “Nothing you need concern yourself with.”
“Carter, you can’t do this. You can hardly walk!”
He peered up at me. “I can manage just fine. We need the funds, especially if we wish to find Stone.”
“Like I said, this need not concern you. You are to remain aboard the vessel with your mother and Lydia.”
I shook my head. “Carter, you can’t even see out of one eye and I’m sure you’ve bruised a few of your ribs. I can see the pain in your face. How do you expect to successfully rob an armed ship when you couldn’t even defend yourself against a fly right now?”
He glared at me, straightening up, clenching his jaw to mask how much he was suffering. “Elizabeth, while you are on board this ship, I am your captain. And as your captain, I order you to remain here while some men and I gather the necessary funds.”
I scoffed. “You order me?”
William stepped forward. “Disobeying a direct order is grounds to have you removed from the ship.”
I narrowed my eyes at Carter. “Is that your plan, then? Either I do everything you say or I’m gotten rid of?”
“It is not a plan. That is the rule on my ship. Failure to follow them will have consequences.”
The hardness on his face, the blankness in his eyes, was unfamiliar to me. It was like he had become a completely different person between the moment we kissed and now.
I tried to carefully tuck away my hurt and anger, looking at William. “You wish to protect your captain, right? Well, just look at him. Sending him in to fight trained soldiers in the state he’s in is only—“
“You keep assuming we are about to raid a dangerous opponent,” William cut me off. “Trust me, lady, your worry is not warranted.”
That gave me pause. I frowned. “I don’t understand.”
“We are simply in desperate need of funds. We are to obtain those funds in the easiest way possible. Despite what you may think of pirates, we are not stupid.”
“But if you’re not…” I trailed off as I saw the ship our vessel approached.
Or should I say, boat.
The tiny fishing boat bobbing helplessly in the water below us couldn’t have held more than four people total on it, but at that moment there was only one man on it and a little boy. Both of them had their hands up in surrender, trembling so hard I could see it from where I stood.
I looked back at Carter, appalled. “That’s the ship you’re raiding?”
A muscle ticked in his jaw. “Yes. Get out of my way, Elizabeth,” he said as he started staggering toward me.
“But those two people are completely—“
“I said, get out of my way.” The wealth of danger present in his gaze was enough to make me shudder. He didn’t stop walking until he stood less than an inch away from me. “Move.”
“This isn’t you. You’re better than this,” I whispered. “I know you—“
“No, you know Carter McLeod.” He grinned at me, baring his teeth. “Today you have the pleasure of meeting Captain Caspian Rogers. Now, get out of my way.”
I stared into his one good eye, the hazel having darkened and the shimmer having vanished. The man standing before me was a perfect stranger, one I had no interest in knowing. This was the man people feared, the one they told ghost stories about, the one whose name they seldom mentioned should he appear.
I stepped aside.
He limped past me, followed by a couple members of his crew. I ran to the banister to get a better view. Carter and his men repelled down a rope on the side of the ship, landing easily in the small boat.
I could see the man pleading with Carter, and his little boy was crying. Carter said something and the man handed him a small pouch, immediately backing away, keeping his son behind his back at all times.
Carter weighed the bag in his hand, turning to William and nodding. William took the bag of money and started to climb back up the rope. But Carter stayed on the boat, saying something else to the man who shook his head emphatically, gesturing to his little boy.
Carter knelt down so he was eye level with the boy. The boy nodded at whatever he’d said. Carter rose to his full height, saying something else.
I strained my ears to hear him above the spray of the ocean, but it was useless.
In the blink of an eye, so fast I almost thought I’d imagined it, Carter whipped his sword out of its sheath, the little boy screamed, and he slashed it across the man’s throat.