My heartbeat accelerates as we climb onto an empty cart. As we sit side-by-side on the wooden bench, Cade takes the reins. Snapping the leather straps, he urges the horses forward.
We take off with a small lunge and roll down the packed dirt road. Leaving the river and trees behind, we quickly find ourselves traveling between fields of sugarcane. The tall, green stalks sway gently in the breeze, creating a consistent rustling.
However, it’s not enough to drown out the sound of my own, frantic heartbeat pounding in my ears. My breathing also becomes shallow and rapid as I finally allow myself to consider the situation.
Why does the elder Kincade want to see me? Did he get word that the real Luciana survived the fire? We’ve taken twice as long to get here as expected. A ship on a straight course from Panama would have had plenty of time to bring such news.
If so, he already knows I’m an impostor and will want to personally question my true identity.
I squeeze my fingers into fists at the thought before shaking my head.
No, that can’t be it. It’s been the plan from the very beginning to bring me here. Cade more or less confirmed it during our first, nighttime swim. Whatever the reasoning, it existed even before my kidnapping.
Then what other interest does the erstwhile Pirate King have in me?
My eyes widen at a realization.
Perhaps he’s met Luciana before! He may want to personally inspect his son’s bounty before arranging for a ransom. Otherwise, Cade – who admitted his lack of enthusiasm about the whole affair – could have knowingly had someone impersonate the admiral’s daughter. In this case, if the elder Kincade knows what the girl looks like, I’m doomed.
I wring my clammy hands and take deep, measured breaths.
No, that’s also highly unlikely. Luciana would have told me of an encounter with a man such as Kincade . . . unless of course he was also pretending to be someone else at the time . . .
We’ve left the cane fields behind and are now riding through wide plots of tobacco. Native men and women are cutting the large, yellowing leaves and tying them into tight bundles.
My head is hurting and sweat rolls down my temples. I wipe my brow with the back of my hand and reposition myself in my seat.
“Not much farther now,” Cade says without taking his eyes off the horses, as if sensing my sudden apprehension.
Turning onto another road, we once again find ourselves on a tree-covered path travelling further into the jungle. The shade brings a welcome relief, but it doesn’t last long. I can see the sun shining brightly up ahead in what must be a rather large clearing. When the cart emerges from under the dense canopy, I blink in surprise.
Instead of the whitewashed, colonial plantation house I had imagined, we’re approaching the remnants of an ancient civilization. Made out of worn, stone blocks, the Pirate King’s residence consists of not just one building, but rather a whole city that time has forgotten.
The u-shaped layout contains several distinct, multi-story structures. Flowering vines creep up their sides, embellishing the otherwise gray walls with their purplish-red blossoms. Coconut palms dot the flat, grassy courtyard and a gravel walkway leads toward the most prominent edifice.
After driving the cart as far as the road allows, Cade stops the horses and helps me disembark. We walk through the eerily quiet space – there’s not another soul in sight – with just the crunch of the pebbles under our feet.
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Plunder (Pirate King #1)| ✓Historical Fiction
He just wants her booty, but she'll end up stealing his heart. After pirates kidnap seventeen-year-old Ana in a case of mistaken identity, the orphaned housemaid prepares for the worst. Instead, playing the wholesome daughter of a Spanish admira...