Chapter 1: Share of the Bounty

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With the passing of each new day, I remember increasingly less about my life before becoming a pirate. In just under two months, the orphan girl from Panama pretending to be an admiral's daughter has – by the grace of God – turned into a gold-stealing thief betrothed to the former Pirate King, sailing to America with a vessel full of buccaneers.

Staring out the window at the frothy waves in the ship's wake, I smile at the memories. The silver brush in my hand – one of the many new gifts from my beloved over the last few weeks – glides through my dark tresses until it snags on a knot.

"Ouch," I mutter before untangling the obstacle with a sigh. This nightly ritual isn't the result of vanity, but necessity. I'm no longer a prisoner, nor even a guest on board the Phoenix Rising, but rather an accepted member of her crew. I mostly tend to my companions' ills and injuries, but I also help out wherever I can. These tasks – like scrubbing the deck, washing dishes, or mending sails – don't care that they leave my hands blistered or my hair an unruly mess after a whole day under a kerchief or hat.

"I thought you'd be in bed by now." Cade enters the cabin after his late-night shift at the helm. He's already undressing as he crosses the room with his long strides, tossing his gray jacket on the floor before unbuttoning his shirt.

These actions have been easier lately because his usual weapons – the dual cutlasses and pistols – are still safely tucked away in the wooden chest at the foot of the bed. There hasn't been a need for them since we set sail from the Bahamas in the company of more than a dozen ships from His Majesty's Royal Navy.

"I wanted to wait up for you, with tomorrow being the big day and all." I place the brush on the sill, but before I can turn toward him, Cade's already behind me.

"Are you still worried?" he whispers into my ear, and my breathing – as per the usual reaction to his nearness – accelerates.

 I close my eyes and lean into him, letting my body rest against his, as he wraps his arms around me. "You know I am, and I won't stop until we're sailing eastward again."

He sighs. "You do realize that your actions right now – no matter how noble they may be – will actually put us in more danger tomorrow?"

I try to face him, but Cade's grip is so tight, I'm forced to maintain my position. "How so?" I grimace while watching the moonlight bounce off the small peaks on the water's surface.

"You're a welcome distraction, don't misunderstand." He chuckles. "But if you wanted your captain to be fully rested and alert when we attack the Comte de Grasse's fleet at the Chesapeake tomorrow, then you would have done better to have been neatly tucked under those covers already."

I tilt my head to get a clearer look at his face. Just as I expected, he's smiling. "So, I'm the evil temptress, then?" I wrinkle my nose. "Perhaps you'd like to call me Eve and just blame all of your sins on me, sir?"

He squeezes me even tighter, pressing his bare chest against the thin fabric of my nightgown. "Aye. That would certainly make things easier, wouldn't it? But I'm afraid I'm going to have to take personal responsibility for all of my misdeeds. Including what I'm about to do now."

"Oh." My surprise slips out with a single syllable as Cade lowers his head and presses his lips against the base of my neck. I even jump a little as his whiskers – now grown into a full beard – scratch my skin.

He plants several more warm kisses upward toward my ear, before drawing away. "Forgive me, love. Just say the word, and I'll shave it all off."

I pivot around and touch his jaw line with one hand. "No, of course not." I shake my head. "It's just a bit of a tickle. I'm getting used to it."

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