01. The End

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Caribbean Sea, 1671

White-hot pain ripped through Bronte's back as she crashed to the deck. Chaos erupted around her. She tried to push herself up but her arms did not comply; pain radiated from Bronte's shoulder, down her arm, and through her fingers. Warm, sticky blood ran freely down her back. There was more shouting and then-another gunshot split the air.

It all seemed far away; her mind seemed fractured. She closed her eyes. Scuffling footsteps sounded near her head.

"Well? Is he dead?" Capt. Bertrand asked.

Was she dead? Bronte had imagined death to be a little less painful.

"He's dead all right, Captain. No more worries from that one."

"'Tis a shame. He was a good sailor." The captain's remorse sounded genuine.

"Aye, but he had it coming, Captain. Pete was more trouble than his skills made up for."


Bronte rolled over with a groan.

Pete was dead.

Her head cleared and the day's events crashed over Bronte. Pete-caught stealing. Pete's flesh laid bare for punishment. Blood soaking into the thirsty deck.

Her blood.

And it was her back that screamed in agony.

And Bronte remembered why.

All the ship's company had gathered to bear witness to Pete's punishment. Bronte, disguised as a man named bearing an officer's title, had been standing dutifully at her captain's side. The quartermaster had begun to tie Pete to the mast, but Pete had grabbed the quartermaster's pistol (foolishly left in his baldric primed and ready) and aimed it at Captain Bertrand. Bronte had spotted it quicker than the rest and had thrown herself at Bertrand, knocking him to the ground.

The bullet, meant for him, had burrowed into her flesh.

The fresh wound now burned.

"Look to the first mate!" the captain ordered.

Sickness gripped her stomach; Bronte moaned as well-meaning shipmates converged on her. Through the haze of pain, she realized they meant to take her to the surgeon. They'd find out her secret. If that happened, worse was in store for her than a bullet.

As they dragged her to her feet she tried to push them off. "I'm well enough-I don't need the doc. Lemmee go."

"Easy now, Mr. Farrow."

She struggled harder. "Leave me! That's an order!"

They ignored her and continued propelling her toward the ladder leading down to the surgeon's cabin.

She wouldn't go.

She shook herself free. Two steps-and the world spun as she crashed to the deck again. Beside her, Pete's dead eyes stared into her own, a bullet-hole in his forehead. Someone grabbed her legs and another put hands under her arms. Bronte screamed when they lifted as renewed pain drove through her right shoulder. A black door promising release appeared, and she escaped.

Bronte awoke in a haze. She lay on her stomach, her cheek pressed against hard wood. Unfamiliar smells, sharp and bitter, wafted over as she struggled to consciousness.

She was in a small room. A lamp, hung overhead, swayed, illuminating a sparsely furnished cabin. Movement from the corner drew her attention and she tried to raise herself. Pain, like a hot torch, shot through her back and shoulder, and she dropped back to the table with a moan.

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