Chapter Four

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Dark took out the chair behind Barton's desk; the polished surface was swept tidier than a church. He deposited his numerous ledgers and account books without care for the previous spotlessness. Settling down to business was easy in the quiet, dimmed office. The only sounds were the hushed whispers of the sea behind him, out the open window. Dark almost swayed in his chair out of habit, unused to an office on dry land.

With the help of the scant light provided a candle, and the dying glow of the sun as it slid beneath the ocean, he perused page after page, figure after figure. The captain didn't raise his head until several hours had passed and the long overdue task was nearly complete.

Massaging his stiff neck, Dark stood up. The usual oceanic chorus was quieter now, more serene. Dark walked to the window, peering with suspicion at the sky. The great black canvas stared back at him, stars winking innocently. Even so, a chill slithered down his back; a sailor's premonition. A sea too calm was a dangerous one.

Dark forced himself away from the window and back to his work. It was highly likely they would not be able to move from Refuge Cay anytime soon. If that were the case, Dark would have to arrange for the crew to be taken care of in the interim. His focus had been on other tasks as of late.

He chuckled to himself. What a shoddy captain he was turning out to be, putting off the business of running a crew to chase a ghost across the Caribbean. But that ghost has been laid to rest at last, he reminded himself.

In the despair of certain death and the confounded thrill of escape that succeeded the battle at the fort, Dark had heard of Grimm's death only after he'd recovered from his injuries. It had given him no small gratification to hear that Sykes had been the one to finish his old enemy. Perhaps now Sykes's demons could be laid aside, too.

Absently, he reached inside his coat pocket for his flask. His fingers brushed something crisp and delicate in his coat pocket. He knew without looking what it was as he drew it out into the light.

Taking a speculative swig of the flask, he unfolded the piece of parchment on which Grimm had inscribed his mysterious contract. Sykes had returned it to him after his escape from Port Royal, unable to decipher its meaning.

Staring without seeing at the blank page, its hidden letters appearing phantom-like in the candlelight, Dark's thoughts drifted.

Death had lurked over his shoulder since the day he was born, waiting for the chance to reach out and snatch away any spare bit of happiness he managed to carve out of a wretched life. He'd always lived in the world of the low-born and desperate. Zaina had made him want a life worth having. The distant dream of happiness with her had kept him from losing himself to Grimm's lies and illusion. She had kept him hoping that his life could be more than common.

He wondered cynically if he would have resisted his fate had he been facing it alone. Hanging from the end of a rope was an expected end for a pirate. Yet he hadn't been alone. Zaina had been at his side. He'd felt that cruel, icy hand close on her, filling him with an agony that morphed into terrible rage.

Dark ripped his gaze away from the page, folding it up and roughly shoving it back into his pocket. He took a deeper taste of the flask, the alcohol burning, clearing his mind. The container was still tipped to his mouth before he realized it was empty. With a disgusted sigh, he tucked it away.

"Ye always were a lush."

The habitually friendly voice was tinged with coolness again. Dark rose from his seat, straightened his coat. Sykes leaned against the doorframe, half-consumed in shadow, refusing to step into the room. Into the fading light.

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