Chapter Eight

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If there was one thing pirates loved to get their hands on more than treasure, it was an excuse to have a good time. The marriage of a first mate was a rare and beautiful reason for the crew to gather on the sunset-bathed beach and partake in shameless merrymaking.

Barton's personal stash of rum was flowing freely amongst the men. Our host, ever gracious, had wrangled some local island residents with musical talent for entertainment. The crew happily drank and danced the night away under the palms, toasting the beaming bride and groom.

Though I tried hard not to get caught up in the excitement, Keith spotted me loitering on the fringe and wandered over.

"Not having a good time?"

I shrugged noncommittally. Keith tugged on my arm, urging me towards the gaggle.

"Come have a dance," he encouraged. "It'll take your mind offa things." He jerked his chin towards Dark and Raoul, deep in conversation over the rims of their cups.

Allowing myself to be led into the circle, I narrowed my eyes at Keith. "How do you know what I'm thinking of?"

He grinned wolfishly. "Did the cap'n do something untoward? Or have ye realized you're too good fer him?" The pirate's eyes widened theatrically. "Does this mean you're available? Wait 'til I tell the lads."

"What?" I sputtered. "What kind of rumours have you been hearing?"

Keith laughed. "The lads and I have a bet going y'see. But don' worry, my money's on you and the cap'n."

"How comforting," I said sourly.

Keith grasped my hand and spun me in a quick circle. "Most of the time when the captain's vexed, it's over you."

He slid his arm around my waist, pulling me in close to him. I looked back at Keith's amused face. "We disagree sometimes," I said carefully. I swatted his arm away. "If anything, he vexes me."

Keith chuckled. "Aye, but ye'll forgive him. Just don't do it too quickly, eh? I have some bets to win."

"How do you know I'll forgive him?" I asked, raising an eyebrow.

Laughing, he replied, "He may be a stubborn, pig-headed, lovelorn fool, Zaina, but I know you love him. Breaks my heart to say it, but it's true."

I stifled a chuckle. "Sorry about your heart."

Keith grinned. "I'll get over it. Can't say the other lads will when I take their money on top of it all though..." He rubbed his chin thoughtfully. "If ye could give the cap'n a well-deserved slap or two, put on a good show, it would help me out," he added with a wink.

I laughed. "I'll see what I can do, Keith."

Thanking him for the dance, I tried to escape before anyone noticed I was without a dance partner. Unfortunately, I was asked for dance after dance by my fellow crewmen, all of whom made more than a few overt jokes and teasing comments about my relationship with Dark.

It was true that things had been frosty between us in recent days, but did rumours of our doomed relationship really persist so fervently among the other pirates?

Wanting to banish my pessimistic thoughts, I half-ran away from the next dance offer, sheltering myself in Raoul's formidable shadow. Without a word, he passed me a cup. I took a long sip.

"Thirsty?" he asked. I noticed that his eyes never wavered from his surroundings. He was ever vigilant, looking for any disruptions.

"Mm," I mumbled. "Too many dances."

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