Once Upon a Pirate – Merry Farmer

Lady Lettuce Marlowe—or Mrs. Pigge, as she preferred not to be called—was awakened suddenly, not by the incessant rocking of the ship that had been her home for most of the miserable five weeks of her married life thus far, but by the boom of cannon-fire and the bloodthirsty shouts of unfamiliar male voices. She rolled over on the thin pallet on the floor and pushed herself groggily to a sitting position. Countless bruises all over her body ached with the effort—some of them new, but most of them inflicted by the hands of her new husband—and misery hung heavily on her shoulders and penetrated into her bones. She blinked, unable to fully steady herself with the constant motion of the ship and the pervasive sense of the surreal that her life had descended into. Had she truly heard cannon-fire? Were the shouts that seemed to be growing closer merely a manifestation of the nightmares that plagued her? They couldn’t be any worse than her waking hours. As if to underscore the point, Pigge shifted in the relatively large and cozy bed their small cabin contained, grumbled something indistinguishable, and snorted. A moment later, another blast of cannon-fire sounded. “Wha—?” Pigge exclaimed, pushing aside layers of warm blankets and soft pillows as he sat in the bed. “What’s going on?” He twisted, straightening his nightcap, which had gone askew, and squinted into the darkness of the cabin. “Where are you, you worthless whore?” he growled. Letty sucked in a breath that sounded like a sob and scrambled into the corner, pressing herself as far into the shadows as she could. If the past few weeks had taught her anything, it was that nothing good came of her husband waking up in the middle of the night. At best, she’d been treated to bitter blows and insults. At worst…she didn’t want to think about the worst.

All she knew was that she’d wept with joy when her monthly courses had started just under a week ago. Miracles happened after all. Another blast sounded, illuminating the tiny cabin long enough for Pigge to spot her, cowering in the corner. “Get over here, whore,” he snapped. “This is all your doing, and I know just how to make you pay.” His voice took on the lascivious tone it did whenever he was about to force himself on her. But instead of the inevitable pain and humiliation she’d come to expect from him, the ship pitched suddenly with a sickening thump. The snarling cries and shouts grew louder as the thunder of dozens of pairs of boots drumming across the deck above them sounded. “Pirates,” someone shouted from the hallway outside of the cabin. “We’ve been boarded by pirates! Arm yourselves and beware.

” A shiver shot down Letty’s spine, but it wasn’t the sort of fear she would have expected while under attack. Instead of terror and dread, hope throbbed through her. “Don’t just stand there, bitch,” Pigge shouted, throwing his legs over the raised side of the bed. “Light a lantern. Find me a weapon. Make yourself useful.” Letty jumped into action, not because Pigge had ordered her, but because lighting a lantern and searching for a weapon was the wise thing to do. Her hands shook as she felt her way to the table where the lantern had been left the night before, and when she struck a match to light it. The cannons had stopped firing, but a new, softer light of dawn peeked through the cabin’s single porthole. By the time she lit the lantern, Pigge was out of bed, scrambling through his trunk to find clothes.

Letty rushed to the trunk as well to find something more suitable than her thin shift to wear, but Pigge pushed her aside, sending her sprawling to her backside. Bitter resignation twisted her stomach, but she ignored it as she crawled to her feet once more. The contents of the trunk weren’t much better than what she had on anyhow. Pigge had sold most of the fine gowns she’d brought into the marriage with her, claiming that she wouldn’t need clothes for the role he had in mind for her. There was only one thing she’d managed to smuggle aboard that she cared about. She darted toward the small cabinet that she’d discovered built into one of the cabin’s walls, wrenching open the door. Inside lay a book, or rather, a third of a book. Its pages were already battered and dog-eared, but Letty considered it her most prized possession. It was a third of the book The Secrets of Love, and her last remaining connection to her dear sisters, Imogen and Alice, who each owned the other thirds of the book. Whatever happened, she would rather die than be without her last, tenuous connection to the only two people who had really loved her.

Before she could so much as touch the book, the cabin door banged open. “In here,” a rough voice growled. “There’s to more of ’em in here.” “No, no!” Pigge whined, cowering before the grubby man in an instant. “Spare my life. I can pay you. I’ve got more money than—” He wasn’t given a chance to finish his groveling. The pirate grabbed him by the front of his nightshirt and yanked him into the hall. Letty had no time to react before a second, equally rough man marched into the room, thrust a shoulder into her gut, and hefted her over his back. She shrieked before she could stop herself, then burst into shaking so violent that she could hardly move as the man carried her out into the tiny hall, then up to the deck.

That was when the full impact of everything going on around her hit. The bloodthirsty shouts had stopped, only to be replaced by the wailing of her fellow female passengers…and some of the male ones as well. The deck swarmed with unfamiliar men. Her mind conjured up the word “pirates” to describe them. They had the male passengers corralled at one end of the ship and the women at the other end. Men raced up and down the narrow stairs leading below at both ends of the ship, calling out their discoveries in terms of cargo, valuables belonging to passengers, and passengers themselves. It was utter pandemonium. The man carrying Letty put her down at the edge of the weeping, shaking, wailing cluster of women near the fore deck. “Stay put,” he ordered before marching back into the chaos. Letty hugged herself as the humid, night air swirled around her bare legs.

In spite of the heat, her shift felt feeble. The other women didn’t seem to look much better. More than half of them were in their nightclothes. A few were fully dressed, including Lady Malvis. The horrible woman looked just as terrified as the rest of them. Her usually pale complexion was so white she seemed to glow in the faint light of dawn. Her eyes were round and her lips pressed tightly together. Lady Malvis only held Letty’s attention for a moment, though. Behind the cluster of frightened women, a different sort of drama was unfolding. “I didn’t order this,” a man said in a frustrated voice.

“Whether you ordered it or not, the ship was right there for the taking,” a second man argued back. “How could I simply let it sail on by? It’s clearly a merchant ship.” “What kind of ship it is doesn’t matter,” the first man said. “I did not order the attack. I haven’t handed the ship over to you yet, Dick.” The second man, Dick, made a derisive sound. “If that’s the way you feel, you should have retired years ago, Captain.” He spoke the title with a sneer. The captain pulled himself to his full, considerable height. “It’s not too late for me to have you keel-hauled.

” “I’ve handed you a prize,” Dick argued. The captain didn’t reply. In the growing light of dawn, Letty could make out his features. He was easily over six feet with a full head of blond hair and fierce eyes. His frame was broad, and firm muscles bulged in the sleeves of his simple linen shirt. He wore a waistcoat but no jacket and boots that came up to his knees, showing off thick thighs. If Letty had to guess, she would have said he was in his forties, which didn’t seem at all the age at which one would retire from piracy. Not that she knew anything about piracy. Either way, the captain looked more like the aristocratic men she’d known her whole life, though perhaps fitter and tanner, as though he was used to hard work. The man named Dick was younger and swarthier, with dark hair and a thick beard.

He looked far more like the pirates that had lived in her imagination. She instantly distrusted him. “Insubordination will not be tolerated,” the captain told him. “Whether The Growler will be your ship by next week or not.” “But Martin,” Dick tried to argue. “But nothing,” the captain said. He sighed heavily and rubbed a hand over his face. “All right. We’ve taken the ship, we might as well get on with it.” Letty sucked in a breath as the two men broke apart.

The captain looked in her direction. Their eyes met. Letty was ready to shrink from him the way she’d shrunk from Pigge every time he raised a hand to her, but to her surprise, the captain sent her a sheepish look. Sheepish. A pirate captain. Almost as though he were apologizing for the inconvenience. A moment later, he marched away, heading on to whatever tasks pirate captains had when they had just captured a ship. Letty blinked, watching him for a moment in confusion. He passed one of the stairways leading below deck. The stairway was unguarded.

She peeked around her. The women were unguarded as well. Though, to be honest, it hardly seemed necessary to set a guard over a cluster of terrified women. Oddly enough, Letty’s terror had dissolved. The captain’s strange apology had given her strength. She saw her opportunity and she grabbed it. Moving as fast while drawing as little attention to herself as she could, she darted toward the stairs and scrambled below. She breathed a sigh of relief when the relative darkness of the narrow corridor that ran the length of the ship enveloped her. The darkness meant she could make her way back to the passenger cabins at the back of the ship without drawing notice. The deck immediately below the upper deck held what passed for living quarters for the crew and a few passengers.

The aft portion of the deck was made up of a handful of small cabins leading to the captain’s cabin, which stretched along the back of the ship. The center of the deck was more open, with swinging hammocks that had been abandoned and left hanging during the attack. Pirates scrambled back and forth, searching through personal belongings and the few trunks and crates that were stored against the walls. They were too occupied to stop Letty as she crept back toward her cabin. If she was about to be carted away by rapacious, pillaging pirates, or if they planned to throw her overboard, she didn’t want to go without her portion of The Secrets of Love. The lantern she’d lit was still burning on the table when she slipped back into the cabin. With its light, she could see her way across the room to the cabinet where the book was stored. She pulled her book out, clutching it to her chest. “How I miss you,” she whispered into the empty cabin surrounded by muffled noises and activity. “If this is the end for me, then goodbye, my dear sisters.

” On impulse, she opened the book, leafing tenderly through its pages. The words that she’d come to know as well as Bible verses through the arduous weeks of her marriage stared back at her like old friends. “Love is worth fighting for. Indeed, love is the only battle worth fighting. When you find love, you must fight for it against all odds, even if it means ruination.” Letty laughed. She doubted she would ever find love, especially as the wife of a vicious toad like Pigge. But the words stirred something within her all the same. Against reason, they gave her hope. They made her feel as though— The door to her cabin banged open, and Letty nearly jumped out of her skin as the captain walked in.

He jolted in surprise the moment he saw her, as though he were just as startled as she was. “I beg your pardon,” he said, looking as though he would back out of the room to give her privacy. A split-second later, a scowl creased his brow. “Hang on. Aren’t you the one I saw up on deck just now?” Letty’s mouth dropped open but no words came out. How could she defend herself against a man twice her size when she was clearly somewhere she shouldn’t be? Her gaze fell from his questioning eyes to his broad chest—the top few buttons of his shirt were undone and his waistcoat wasn’t fastened properly, which exposed a tantalizing amount of skin and manly chest hair—to his narrow waist. She should have noticed the pistol strapped to his belt, ready for use, but instead her eyes were drawn to the bulge in his breeches. It wasn’t pronounced and vulgar, like Pigge’s usually was when he was entertaining ideas about humiliating her, but it was enough to hint that the pistol wasn’t the only weapon the captain carried. “It really isn’t safe for you to be down here,” the captain said, forcing Letty to drag her eyes up to his face. “My men are overexcited at the moment.

It’s been weeks since we’ve taken a ship. I’ve given them orders not to harm anyone yet, but it has been a while since any of them have had a woman.” His words slowed and his tone warmed, and his eyes lowered to Letty’s poorly concealed body. A thousand sensations hit Letty all at once. She knew full well what a man looked like when he wanted a woman. Lust was easy to interpret. But the way the captain looked at her was worlds away from the way Pigge feasted on the sight of her when he wanted her. Letty’s pulse quickened at the captain’s roving gaze. Heat infused her, leaving her wondering what it might be like to be shoved forward across the bed and taken without mercy. More disturbing still, she had the thrilling sensation that she might actually like it if the captain did it to her.

The captain cleared his throat and shook his head. “Sorry,” he mumbled. “Momentary lapse of reason. As I was saying, it’s safer for you to be above deck with the other women. I’ll decide what to do with you all once….” His voice faded as his gaze fixed on her once more. This time, he didn’t stay where he was. He stepped forward, reaching for Letty. In a heartbeat, his arms were around her, his hands sliding down her sides and around her hips to her backside. She tipped her head back and his mouth slanted over hers, stealing a kiss that was as deep as the night.

His lips caressed hers, and when she gave in to him—far too quickly—he traced the seam of her lips with his tongue before thrusting into her mouth. A need as paradoxical as it was intense racked Letty. It was all she could do to hold onto her portion of the book as he plundered her mouth in true piratical fashion. She’d never been kissed with such command before. It ignited every part of her, causing her breasts to feel heavy and her nipples to tighten. Her core seemed to turn molten as he squeezed her backside. It was as though she’d stepped straight from her nightmare into a wild, erotic dream. She’d always imagined pirates to be dirty and foul, but her pirate captain smelled of salt air and musk. Everything about him enveloped her. Until he jerked back abruptly.

“I’m terribly sorry,” he said, blushing like a schoolboy, not quite able to meet her eyes. “I don’t know what came over me.” He paused, his blush growing more pronounced as a more intimate version of the sheepish look he’d given her above deck lit his blue eyes. “No, that’s a lie,” he went on. “I know exactly what came over me. It’s been so long since….” He stood straighter, clearing his throat. “Never mind. As I said, it could be dangerous down here. Let’s get you above with the rest of the women so that we can sort this mess out.

” He stepped toward the door, gesturing for her to follow. Letty swayed forward, tingling from head to toe, still clutching the book to her chest. She had the disturbing feeling that she would follow the pirate captain wherever he asked her to go.

.

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