“You know who I am?” Of course he did. He had left the note on the table for her hadn’t he? Another shudder ran through her at the thought that he was able to gain such easy access to her house, her haven, her safety. She would never feel safe again. Something of her distaste must have shown on her face for he stepped into her body again effectively pinning her in place.
“When a beautiful woman starts asking around London after me, Viscountess, I make it my business to know.” A slow lazy smile spread across his face as he curled a strand of hair around his finger and leaned down to sniff it. It was an incredibly sensual movement and Ana felt incredibly guilty just for thinking that. Her lips that until that point had been on the verge of a wanton drool snapped into a grim line.
“I am not a beautiful woman Captain Blackheart. I am a married woman. A happily married woman and I have business to negotiate with you.”
Blackheart raised a disbelieving eyebrow. “Happily married?” He pressed his pelvis against hers in a slow grind. Ana’s body responded in the most visceral way and her face flamed with shame at its betrayal. Blackheart simply studied her at close range with a twinkle in his eye. “Then tell me Mrs. Grey, why are you coming to a pirate for help?” A good question. It wasn’t the first time tonight that she had asked herself that question.
“This mission is dangerous. I will not put my husband’s life at risk. Not for any reason.” Only she had put his life at risk. She was torn between throwing herself on Blackheart’s mercy or keeping that information to herself and praying that in this life or the next Christian might forgive her. For now she needed to act like her words were true. It might be the only way she could live with the outcome of tonight.
“Yet you would risk your own. How do you think your husband would feel about that?” How would Christian feel? Blackheart leaned in and sniffed along her jaw-line. Her body responded again to the sensual move and she was tempted to lift her knee into his groin, only he seemed to have preempted that move and widened his legs to spread her own even further apart. She catalogued his various moves in her head and made a decision that offense was her best defense.
Selecting what she felt was her only option Ana placed her lips against his ears and felt the shiver in his body as she talked. “My husband… Captain Grey…Viscount Trevelyan… would not. Like. This. I think he would kill you for touching what is his.” She paused for effect, allowing him to feel the smile that played across her lips. “That’s if I don’t kill you first.”
There was a sharp intake of breath at her lips on his ear before he chuckled. She breathed deeply as the Captain stepped away, releasing her suddenly. Ana eased away from the wall and slid into the centre of the room rubbing her wrists and wondering if she could now make a run for it. When she glanced at the door he stepped back further to wave her through.
“Be my guest, Viscountess. The door is locked of course. You can’t go anywhere.” She tried to keep her eye on him as he cut in behind her. A shiver followed his fingers as he lightly ran them from her shoulders down to her wrists before capturing them in his hands. Leaning in he whispered against her neck:
“If I were your husband I would tie you up and spank your bottom for daring to put yourself in danger.”
Breathing in sharply she spoke before she could censure her own words: “If you were my husband I would let you. Am I in trouble Captain Blackheart?”
“So much trouble, Anastasia.” The way he said her name reminded her of Christian. She whimpered as his lips touched her neck. Her traitorous body was responding yet again to his touch but her heart only wanted her husband. Tears welled in her eyes.
“Please don’t do that, Sir.” The plea was a whimper.
“Why not?” She heard the threat behind the question and swallowed down a sob.
“I love my husband.” His lips paused and she felt him smile.
“If you loved him you would not be here.”
“It’s because I love him that I am here.” Ana cried in earnest now. “I just wish he knew that.”
“I think he knows Anastasia.”
Just then a whistle came from above. “I have to apologize, Mrs. Grey, but I need to go on deck. I can’t leave you here unattended. He unbuttoned her cloak and let it drop to the floor. Then taking her hands again he moved her to the side of the bed. “Strip.”
Ana gasped, “What?”
“You heard me. Take that dress off, quickly.”
“I can’t risk you escaping and going to the authorities. I am trusting your sense of propriety and a strong rope. Now here let me assist.” He stepped quickly behind her and ripped her dress off leaving it in pieces on the ground. Ana sobbed as it fell off of her. Next her outer petticoat went the same way. Tears of humiliation rolled down her face as she trembled in her short stays and petticoat. He took her right hand and wrapped a rope around it before attaching her to the bed post. The knots he tied were deft and quick and she could tell, immovable. He glanced at her lower leg peeking out from under the thin muslin and then tossed a blanket over her. “You should be comfortable for a little while. I will return when I can and then we can discuss your business Mrs. Grey.” Before he left, he fingered her locket.
Outside the room Christian found the cabin boy. “Stand guard. If she tries to escape you must alert me. Don’t try to stop her. She bites.” He watched the boy’s eyes widen as his grubby face peered up at him. Then he nodded and positioned himself in a regimental fashion to the side of the door.
Ana sank down on the bed and tried not to cry. She had no idea what was taking the Captain’s attention but all she wanted to do was to secure his services and get off this damn ship. She ached for Christian and felt so ashamed of her stupidity. He had taken such care with her from the time that they had first met. She could see that all of his actions, ill-advised or not, were about protecting her. Even at the height of their passion he supported her and let her fly. Now she was more terrified than ever that she would never be able to tell him of her love.
A sudden movement swayed the boat and set her heart pounding. This was closely followed by the clanging metallic sounds of the anchor being raised. “Oh God. No! Please.” The overwhelming feeling of helplessness threatened to undo her. Pulling at the ropes she knew there was no way to disconnect herself from the wall. The rope was solid around her wrist. With her free hand she pulled the stiletto from her garter, which had been high enough up her thigh for him not to notice it under her short petticoat and began to sever the binding at her wrist. Although the rope was thick she continued to work for a few minutes until the rope finally fell apart, releasing her.
Checking the floor was pointless. He had ripped her dress so aggressively that it had been rendered in two. He had removed the cloak so there was nothing that she could wear to escape. Even if she didn’t care about being seen in her under garments, which she did, the bright white fabric would easily be visible in the moonlight. Blackheart wore nothing but black clothes; he might have what she required. She ran to the armoire and threw open the doors hoping to find something with which to cover herself.
What she saw in there caused her to step away and gasp. Three of her favorite dresses were hanging in the closet. Alongside them was a man’s jacket that she had often seen on her husband. Her hand reached out to stroke the fabric with disbelief. “Christian?” Backing away with a frown, she bit her fingernails in consternation before plucking up the courage to approach again and touch the clothes. Yes. Yes, she knew them all. Whirling around she allowed her eyes to fly about the space taking in all of the details. There! She walked to a tall wooden chest to the left and found other pieces that she recognized; his comb, his ring, a tie pin. Beside the chest was his cloak hanging on a hook with his cane propped in a stand that was secured to the floor. She picked up the hem of the cloak and breathed in the scent. Sandalwood and leather. Slowly she took the cloak in her hands and held it to her breast as she went back to the edge of the bed and sank down.
There was no other explanation. Christian, her Christian, was Blackheart. Her surprise gave way to relief and then anger. How dare he? Ana almost tore the cloak apart in frustration as she stamped her booted foot on the ground. Standing up she threw the cloak down on the bed and began pacing back and forth in front of the bed, marching out the beat of her temper as she worried her fingertips with her mouth once again. How dare he deceive her like this? He had planned this deception from the beginning. He must have left maps where she would find them, and the letter! Oh! He left the letter. And she had been terrified about strangers being her house. The cheek of the man! She turned and started marching around the perimeter of the room her fingers clenched into tight, angry fists. He had been waiting on the beach for her. He had orchestrated this from the start. A strategist he had said. She had married a master strategist and once more she had been his willing victim falling in with his plans all too easily. It was like the horror and realization of his manipulations the night of the ball all over again. How dare he? He knew how she felt about being trapped and he had chosen to manipulate her yet again!
Stopping at the middle of a wall, she smacked her hand hard against the wooden panel flinching only a fraction as the jarring pain sparked up her arm and the picture frames that lined it jumped out. He was arrogant and pigheaded and… and… and… her heart still wanted him. But he would pay for this. Oh yes, he would pay. Why could he not have just offered his assistance and stopped this ruse? Did he think that she would not tell him what she knew? Only, when she stopped to think that particular thought, she knew she wouldn’t have. She hadn’t offered the information when she had the opportunity out of stupidity and pride. And he knew that, too, because he knew she hadn’t trusted him. In fairness, she hadn’t known how to. After all, he’d been distant since their marriage, his emotional temperature running hot and cold. She hardly knew him which was fairly obvious since she had just found out her husband was a notorious pirate!
Trying to run was out of the question. There was no point. She was safe wasn’t she, if Christian were indeed Captain Blackheart? She had no need to risk her life by trying to leave. And if he had a plan, then perhaps she owed it to him to let it play out. There was a possibility that in doing so she would prove to both him and herself that she could trust him. She had already admitted to herself that she loved him. Was trust, complete trust, so hard to imagine? She could berate him when he walked through that door, attack him for his deception. That would be satisfying but it would not prove anything. Allowing him to take control of this situation through whatever plan he had formulated, surely that would demonstrate to her, and to him, that she could truly trust this husband of hers. And maybe, just maybe, that would change everything.
Glancing around the room she tried to take in the surroundings again but this time using her husband as her lens. This was his room, as much as the beautifully decorated bedroom at the house, as much as the sparse cabin on the Ruby Queen. This room would reveal more to her about this side of her husband that she did not know. Walking over to the cross, she examined the manacles. The wood was highly polished and she noted the smooth patina as she ran her hand over it. He took care fo this piece of equipment, but what was it for, besides securing prisoners? Surely, he would have a cell of some sort, below decks. Why have this in a captain’s cabin?
Turning away she walked back to the wall and started to examine the series of miniature pictures that hung on the wall. They were framed copper plate engravings which looked pleasing at a distance but when Ana moved closer her mouth dropped open. Good heavens! The figures, carefully embossed in exquisitely fine detail, were couples engaged in all manner of sexual activity. On one, the woman lay back her legs spread wide, while the man’s face was pressed into her private parts. Another showed a woman on her hands and knees, while the man pressed his erection into her from behind. The next showed the woman straddling the man as he sat cross legged on the floor, a clear connection between her vagina and his penis. And yet, another, showed the woman kneeling on the floor in front of the man with his penis in her mouth.
Covering her own mouth Ana was quite certain that she must be blushing from head to toe. She knew she shouldn’t but she found herself moving from one image to the next, turning her head this way and that, as she studied the images. Frowning at one point, she wondered if what was represented was even possible, and her body warmed at the thought. Did Christian like this? Did he want this from his sexual partners? Did he want this from her? Heat pooled at the juncture of her thighs and her belly tingled with anticipation. Breathing rapidly she closed her eyes for a moment and imagined, allowing her hands to brush over her breasts, her stomach, her thighs. A noise outside the door, someone coughing, had her stepping away from the wall of images quickly.
She returned to the bed and sat on the edge trying to process everything. Her husband had tricked her into coming aboard the ship. The same husband who was an honored sea Captain in His Majesty’s navy, was also, apparently, a notorious pirate. A notorious pirate who, it seemed, might to use her body in ways that might reflect those images on the wall. And as much as the thought terrified her, it enticed her as well.
Ana was horrified at her reaction. She who had eschewed all thoughts of sexual engagement should be appalled at her own curiosity, but she was finding it impossible. She wanted to know. She wanted to experience what she saw in the pictures. And she wanted to experience it with Christian. Could he allow her that? Would he be disgusted at her desire for the experience? Ever since her mother had started to get sick she had been terrified of her own passions and urges. She had read so much of the latest medical thinking about her mother’s condition and she knew about hysteria. But then her mother had started to lose her memories a little more every day, and they had had to hide her away in the country to stop the doctors from admitting her into an asylum. One of the papers Ana had read had expressed a link between hysteria, sexuality and the mania that described her mother’s symptoms. Ana had been terrified ever since, determined that she would never marry. Now she was married, she loved her husband, desired him to touch her. She glanced toward the images, wanting Christian to do some of those things to her and she was terrified, not of him, but of herself.
Picking up Christian’s cloak she held it to her face and inhaled. A feeling of safety descended upon her. She hugged the cloth close to her body allowing its warmth to calm and comfort her. Could she move past her fears of intimacy? It was too late to annul their marriage and now that she had acknowledged her feelings she wasn’t sure that she could. And she wanted him to touch her, craved his touch. Charisma and sensuality flooded from his fingers to her skin every time he came close to her. Even when she had thought he was Blackheart she had been sorely tempted by him. Touching her jaw, she recalled his whispered words, so close to her she could feel his hot breath. His body, pressed hard against hers, igniting fire in her core. She hadn’t given in to that desire but she had been sorely tempted. That temptation had revolted her to the point where she had even considered fighting back to preserve what she had with Christian.
Ana dropped her hands to her lap and stared at the pictures again. She hadn’t given in to her urges. She had wanted to fight for her love. Maybe, just maybe she was stronger than her mother. Oh, God, it was such a risk. Allowing him, nay, encouraging him to touch her like that. Or for her to touch him. Remembering him lying shirtless on the bed, she pictured her mouth on him, kissing his chest, his stomach. Licking his… oh! The heated flush caused her to wipe her forehead. If Christian knew what she was like, what she was really like, would he stay with her? At least the leaving would be his choice because knowing what she felt now, about him, she knew she could never be the one to walk away. But if he liked those images, then maybe, just maybe he would allow, or God forbid, even enjoy her passions.
Ana gulped in air steadily as her thoughts raced. She had no idea how she would do it, but she would have to find the right moment, if it presented itself, to make her intentions known. Fanning her face with her hand, Ana squeezed her thighs together, trying not to squirm. Her breathing became labored and she was torn between lust and terror. The panic that was threatening to overtake her was quashed at the sound of footsteps galvanizing her into action. As they neared she ran across the room and replaced the cloak on the hook. Returning hastily to the bed she wrapped the remaining rope around her wrist and sat huddled on the bed pulling the covers over her half naked body. Turning her face into the pillow she waited to see what might happen next. The doors opened and then closed. Boots sounded on the floor slowly, steadily approaching her.
“Mrs. Grey, are you well?” Ana looked up at him slowly. The concern was genuine and very, very dear. She schooled her features and nodded her head before turning her face away again.
Christian’s years of service had honed his instincts and he knew something had changed the moment he walked back into the cabin. At first, he had looked at her lying still with her eyes closed and had become concerned that these adventures might have caused her headache to return. On closer examination, he saw her features showed no distress. No pain, no fear, no anger. No, she was too calm by far. Anastasia, his Anastasia, was a spitfire when trapped. She should have tried to escape. That was why he had stationed a man outside the door. Only here she was sitting meekly as if awaiting his next desire. No. Something was definitely awry.
“You aren’t going to let me go are you?” She tried to put a quiver in her voice. The fear wasn’t quite reaching her eyes so Christian surmised that this too was his little wife misdirecting and misleading. He had to admire her plan whatever it was: “Eventually, if you behave yourself. Then I will return you to the husband you love so much.” Her eyes shot to his. That was better, more in line with the reaction he expected. He was laughing at her and she wanted to kill him. He supposed he deserved that and he might have to be on his guard in case she attempted just that very thing.
“Please don’t make fun of me. I am a new bride and inexperienced at being a good wife. I have so much to learn. But I love my husband. I truly do.”
Christian had to turn his back on her and walk to the desk. Her continued declarations of love made his heart leap and there were two problems with that. She might just be acting, giving the performance of her life in order to save herself; but the more she declared it the more he found himself, wanting to believe her, fool that he was. Yes, this was very dangerous ground indeed. His beautiful wife had the power to crush him under her dainty foot and he had to be very careful that she never knew it. He ran his finger across the desk considering his next move.
“You said you had business to discuss, Mrs. Grey. I suggest we get to it. My interest in you and your husband is wearing a little thin.” He loved hearing the declarations of love from her mouth but he was more than a little disappointed that they had never been said to him as her husband. He asked too much of her but it didn’t change how he felt. That disappointment might be the very thing that saved him. It was best that he change the subject.
“I need to show you something but I need both my hands.” He looked over his shoulder at her. God she was still tied to his bed and didn’t that thought take his breath away. He tamped down that particular urge. If she was not likely to trust him as a husband and lover then tying her to his bedpost while he ravaged her was not going to advance his cause. Doing it as Captain Blackheart might be expected behavior for ladies who read far too many Gothic novels but it wasn’t his style to do so without consent. And the thought of Ana consenting to being tied to his bed had him unable to stand. He sank to his chair hiding the evidence of his lustful thoughts behind the desk while he got himself in order.
“How can I trust you not to run away?” He leaned on the table and picked up an apple from the bowl. Slowly he began peeling it with his dagger. She should have been frightened by the move. Instead he had to reign himself in as her breath hitched and she licked her lips. She raised her eyes to his.
“Hasn’t your ship set sail?” a defiant challenge behind her words.
“Yes, but you could still swim to shore.” He sat back and propped his boots on the table placing one on top of the other. This time she bit her lip and he smiled. God he loved it when she did that. He had such an urge to bite her lip himself. Instead he sliced a piece of apple and popped it into his mouth.
“I don’t swim.” This surprised him enough to stop chewing. She seemed to do everything else with ease. Of course most young ladies of the ton didn’t swim but as a young girl who was raised largely in the country he had expected she would have that skill.
Resuming chewing he quickly swallowed before asking, “Really?”
She didn’t answer for a second then she dropped her eyes and shrugged. “Yes. I can swim. I apologize for my lie. You could tie my feet instead.” Oh, God forbid. She was challenging him and he loved it. He smiled as he placed the barely eaten apple back in the bowl before licking the edge of the knife clean.
“You should be spanked for your lie Anastasia.” As soon as the words left his mouth he knew he should never have brought up spanking. The image of her bottom softly rounded and pink from his hand loomed large in his imagination and it took every ounce of control not to let that thought go straight to his cock.
“You keep saying that but only my husband will ever have that right.” She sounded demure but her words went straight to his groin. She would consent to him spanking her? He resisted a groan.
Crossing the cabin he quickly cut the rope. Rubbing her wrist he checked to make sure that she was not too chafed by the fibers. Seeing nothing to cause concern he was about to raise her from the bed when he chanced a glance at the rope as it hit the floor. The minx had cut it and had been holding it secure in her hand. He smiled and walked her to the chair. She moved willingly, obviously deciding that cooperation would make her life easier.
“I beg your pardon?”
Saying nothing more, he sat her in the wooden chair then went to the wall to remove another skein of rope. Ana watched the dexterity of his fingers as he teased out the rope then bent to tie first one leg then the other to the wooden legs. The fastening was neither too loose nor too tight but she knew it was secure. He tested the knots then stood to face her. Sitting back on the table, he folded his arms.
“Now, what is it that you wanted to show me?”
Ana reached for the locket and removed it. Opening the clasp carefully, she removed a rolled parchment and spread it with her fingers.
“Six years ago Lord Ethan Kavanagh was working for the home office in London. He was sent on a mission to France to retrieve one of our most successful spies. All was going well and Lord Ethan was able to get his charge out of Paris. But on the road to Calais they were ambushed. They killed the agent and threw Ethan in a Paris jail. Several attempts to free him have met with failure and in the last three years no attempts have been made. Something in the home office seems to have changed and Ethan is no longer important to them. We know that because when the French authorities started a policy to rotate their foreign agent captures every few months the home office lost track of where he was being held. Lady Katherine has tried several times to get action but no one is willing to help. They simply don’t know where he is and they don’t care.”
Christian listened to the ‘official’ version of Ethan’s movements. This is what anyone making inquiries from the home office might have discovered. The reality was something a little different and although Christian did not know the whole of it, he did know that the decision not to pursue Ethan was a decision that was made to cover someone much higher up the chain. If he ever found out he would likely kill the culprit, but he was not ready yet to reveal what he knew to Ana, reasoning that at this stage it might be better that she didn’t know the intrigues that went on within the hallowed halls of Whitechapel.
“I don’t see how I can help.” He had perched on the edge of the table and was gripping the edge rather more tightly than he intended. He willed himself to relax.
“A few weeks ago Lady Katherine received intelligence that we believe to be genuine. This.” She handed him the paper. “It is the current pattern of movements between jails and the dates that they take place.”
“This is all very well. But if you don’t know where he was to begin with how will we know where he is being moved to next.”
“Ah, my husband believes that he may well be in Brest and the information from our informant indicated that this might very well be true. If this is correct then in three days they will move him back to Paris. That will be our best opportunity to rescue him.”
Christian whistled. This was the information that they had been searching for and his little Ana had it all along. What’s more she and Kate had worked out from this page of scrawl what it all meant. He was more than impressed. And she was right. If the information about Brest was correct then they really did have 3 days. Contrary to what he had told Ana, he would have stormed there tomorrow after landing and completely lost any element of surprise and with it any chance of ever getting Ethan out again.
“How do we know this is not a trap?”
The excitement in her face dropped. “I… I suppose that you don’t. But I trust the intelligence. I would stake my life on it.”
“Would you stake your husband’s life?” She looked him in the eye with surety and arrogance, something that he had never seen in her before.
“Yes. I believe that if I had trusted my husband with this information he would have known what it meant and would have successfully saved Ethan. However I haven’t asked him. I’m asking you.”
“What should I hope to gain from this venture?” He didn’t much care at this point but he still had a role to play. He looked at Ana willing her to reveal herself. Instead she bit her lip again.
“I have some coin. It is not much but I can try to get more.”
Now was the part that Christian had been waiting for. “I don’t want your money Mrs. Grey.” She looked dismayed. “But… while you are here on the ship you will allow me to do what I want with your person.”
“But my husband…”
“…isn’t here, Mrs. Grey. I am. And I hold your friend’s destiny in my hands.” He waved the paper at her and watched her flinch. Now she would stop the game either by declaring her love for her husband or by revealing that she knew his game. Either way was fine with him although he preferred the former as a matter of pride. He relaxed back in his seat and waited for her to finish the ruse.
Taking her time with her response, Ana frowned at the floor for a moment. His body had substantively relaxed and his easy manner exuded a belief that the outcome would work in his favor. Surely even as Blackheart he would not want her to betray him. What husband would? Ana peered at him through hooded lashes and in that moment she understood that he knew that she knew and he was merely waiting for an outcome he could live with. Well damn the arrogance of the man. He had started this game so he could damn well live with the outcome. And wouldn’t she enjoy teasing this out for a little longer. Oh yes, she would let him know in her own good time. In the mean time she figured she had three days to completely fray the good captain’s nerves. For once being a wanton was going to work in her favor.
Christian confidently steepled his fingers in front of his face absolutely sure of what Ana would do next. So a pin could have been heard dropping when she lifted her face and looked him defiantly in the eye.
“Alright Captain Blackheart, I will do whatever you desire.”
Christian’s heart pounded in his head and he had to stop himself from gulping in air. “Anything, I desire?” He enunciated each syllable, not believing that she would do this.
Her eyes met his. “Anything.”