Chapter 21: Dead Men Tell No Tales (Part 1 of 2)

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Although he makes a valid point, I have a nagging suspicion that Cade’s also purposefully trying to get me off the deck. Unfortunately, I’m in no place to argue with his authority, so I begrudgingly head to Leonor’s cabin.

Several hours and countless dresses later, I feel silly about my initial hesitation. Now that she’s had time to get used to my existence, Leonor finally starts to treat me as person, instead of an obstacle to her happiness.

Just when I'm starting to warm up to her, however, she ruins it with one flippant remark.

I'm almost finished trying on her entire wardrobe of colorful, lacey, and often low-cut gowns, when Leonor steps back and puts her hands on her hips. "You surprise me, Ana. I didn't think a plain girl like you could look this lovely. I suppose it's true that you just have to dress the part and act like you belong. Then again, you've been doing that for several weeks now, so it should be easy for you."

I grit my teeth and ball my hands into fists at my side.

Would everything be ruined if I smacked her for that insult?

I take a few deep breaths to calm myself, but I’m now even more convinced of the woman’s similarity to her daughter. Not only are they both engrossed by their own looks, but they also know how to use it to their advantage to hurt others.

At least this time, I partially benefit from this awful display of vanity.

When we’re finished, I’m all made up to go to the finest ball of the year. As I stand alone in my room pinning my tricorn – now artfully adorned with a colorful ostrich plume – onto my fancy up-do, I’m almost convinced that I can pull off the upcoming deception.

When a knock sounds from outside the cabin, I take a big breath before answering. “Come in.”

“Oh my God.” Cade stops in the doorway.

He’s wearing a black jacket and gray breeches along with his usual white shirt and worn knee-high boots. One single cutlass hangs at his side and his hair is pulled back with a leather strap, as usual on more formal occasions. For the time since we've met, he's also wearing a hat, which makes him look even taller and more authoritative.

“What is it? What’s wrong?” I look down at the ruby-red dress and straighten the skirt’s billowing fabric.

He walks up to me and takes my hands in his. Lifting one up to his lips, he presses his warm lips to my skin. “Nothing. Nothing at all. You look absolutely breathtaking.”

I feel my face blush. “It’s not too much?”

He slowly looks me up and down again. “No. In fact, I believe something’s still missing.”

I glace at myself again. Although my attire isn’t as lavish as the one from the Dutch shop, it’s certainly more eye-catching. The short sleeves drape slightly over my shoulders, creating a low neckline. A bit of white ruffle peeks out from under the red fabric, both at the top and at the hem. The tight bodice – laced at the sides – is made of dark leather, creating a strong contrast to the silky textile.

While this fashion may be considered scandalous in the conservative courts of Spain, Leonor assured me such daring designs are all the rage with the more liberal elite in the South American colonies.

I frown. “Whatever more can I add to all this?”

Cade’s eyes narrow and a smile plays across his lips. “Have you been paying attention at all, darling?” He cocks an eyebrow. “Turn around.”

As soon as my back is to him, I hear a faint clattering. He reaches across my body and drapes a heavy necklace across my bosom.

“Oh.” I gasp as the cold metal touches my warm skin. Peeking down, I touch the jewelry as the man behind me fastens the clasp.

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