Chapter 18: Smooth Sailing (Part 2 of 2)

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The path ends at the bottom of a long set of steps leading up to a large, wooden door. At the base, however, is a tall pile of black boulders. A steady stream of crystal clear water – likely fed by an underground aquifer – trickles over them into a small pond below.

Cade places a hand under the liquid and fills his palm. Spreading it on his face, he washes off the dust and sweat.

Although unprompted, I follow his example. The act is not only refreshing, but it also helps me gather my thoughts. I now know what I must do; I just don’t know how to do it.

As I wipe my hands on the folds of my dress, my companion plucks a nearby white orchid and sticks it behind my ear.

“What’s this for?” I lightly touch the sprig.

He shakes his head. “Must I have a reason?”

My head says yes, but my heart is saying no. Before my mouth can pick between the two, the door above us opens.

“Captain Kincade. Welcome home,” a local man dressed in European clothes says in heavily accented English.

Cade grabs my hand and pulls me along. Ascending the stone steps, he returns the greeting when we get to the top. “Arturo, my friend. How have you been?”

“Bien, gracias.” The man steps aside, letting us enter. “We waiting for you both, señor. Let me announce arrival.” He turns and hurries down a long corridor.

It takes a moment for my eyes to adjust to the relative darkness. By the light of the numerous torches pinned to the wall, however, I soon make out colorful tapestries, carved, wooden side tables, and wrought-iron chandeliers decorating the space.

I suddenly feel like I’m inside an English castle – or as I would imagine it to be – rather than a converted South American temple.

Cade guides me down the hallway and our footsteps echo off the walls until we get to another closed door.

“We really don’t need to wait for formalities.” He reaches for the handle. “Let’s just get this over with.”

My heart’s beating in my throat and I can barely catch my breath, but I manage to get a single syllable out. “Wait.”

He turns around and cocks an eyebrow.

I’ve been holding in the truth for so long that I don’t need for him to question my resistance. The words just pour out of me. “I’m not Luciana.”

Pausing, I search his face for any type of reaction, whether it’s surprise, anger, or perhaps even disbelief. However, he just stares silently. Only the heavy rise and fall of his chest reveals the man’s increasing interest.

Before I can continue, the door creaks open and Arturo steps out. “You may go in, señor.”

“Give us a minute,” Cade waves him off and the servant scuttles off with a brief, “Si, señor.”

My mouth has now gone dry, but I force myself to swallow. Kincade still doesn’t address me, just nods.

Taking a deep breath, I tell him everything. “My name really is Ana, but I’m part of the Mercado household staff. Luciana is my best friend and looks a lot like me, so I lied to save her life. I wanted to tell you the truth earlier, but you said you needed the gold from the admiral to keep your deal with your father.”

I take a small step toward him, but Cade pulls away. I need to make him understand – and perhaps even sympathize – so I reveal the rest.

“If Luciana died in the fire that scum Willie set to Mercado’s estate, we can easily fool the admiral into thinking I’m his daughter long enough for him to pay the ransom. What I’m afraid of – God help me – is that she survived and your father somehow knows it. In that case, you need to convince him he’s been misled. Otherwise, if he suspects I’m an impostor, he’ll condemn you for failing and God knows what he’ll do to me. However, if we’re given the chance to continue the charade, I know you’ll get your gold. Luciana cares enough about me to convince her father to pay you something for my return. It won’t be as much as he’d give for her, but you won’t leave empty handed. But remember, I need you to swear to your father I’m Luciana, no matter what news he may have of her true fate. ”

Cade has remained emotionless through my entire monologue and now I stand breathless, waiting for his reaction.

“Well?” I urge when after a few seconds he still hasn’t said a word.

Instead of speaking, he raises a hand.

Squeezing my eyes shut, I wait for the inevitable blow. When it doesn’t immediately come, I peek through my lashes just as the captain lowers his arm.

With a sigh, he shakes his head. When he speaks, his voice is strong, but distant. “From the moment I met you, I’ve wished you weren’t just a bounty. My hopes soared every time you did something I couldn’t imagine a sheltered, rich Spanish heiress would do. Perhaps I wasn’t just projecting my desires onto you, but that you really were someone worthy of my affections. I even hinted at my suspicions and foolishly gave you multiple opportunities to confess. Do you remember that, Ana? But it seems like you didn’t trust me enough. Not even after everything we’ve gone through together.”

He takes another step backward and runs his fingers through his hair. Out of all the reactions I would have expected – from disbelief to anger – this wasn’t one of them.

I had always thought of myself as the victim in this scenario. I didn’t dare imagine that my lie would hurt the Pirate King of the Caribbean.

Dear Lord, I hope I can still make it right.

“I couldn’t tell you until I had a way out for both of us.” I approach him, putting a hand on his chest. He doesn’t draw away, but remains as solid as a statue. “Of course I trust you, but I also feel like I know you well enough by now. Had I told you earlier, I’m certain you would have let me go, even if it meant not getting your gold. Now you have to trust me, Cade. With your help, I can fool your father and convince him to make the exchange in Panama. God willing, we’ll get something out of Mercado. You’ll return with the loot and your father will be none the wiser about exactly how you managed it.”

Cade puts his hand on mine and gently squeezes. His heart beats rhythmically under my palm as he speaks. “You say that with such confidence that you almost have me convinced. I am afraid, however, there’s one, rather important complication.”

I open my mouth to ask him to elaborate, when a woman’s voice rings through the adjacent door.

“What’s behind this delay? I’ve patiently waited five years, but how much longer do I have to be without my sweet daughter?”

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