Only a month after her punishing battle with HMS Spider, Peter’s Dihya had undergone a complete, even miraculous recovery. Shot holes had been re-planked, damaged spars replaced, and shattered railings and woodwork rebuilt. Having made their ship whole again, her crew was now eagerly about the task of making her beautiful. All standing rigging, fore and aft, had been rattled down, replaced as needed, set up, parcelled, served, wormed, and re-tarred. Her masts were re-stayed, and rust pounded off the chains, bolts and fastenings. Then the crew set about scraping the decks, polishing the brass, and painting − from the skysail truck to the waterways: hull black, gun ports white, yards black, mastheads and tops white, monkey rail black, white and yellow, bulwarks green. Under bos’n William Wiley’s sharp attention, crew members set about all the neat work: knots, Flemish eyes, splices, seizings, pointings, and graffings.
Peter had kept on the most skilled of the French crew he had recruited to replace the Americans he’d sent back with prizes; they worked with a ready will because they knew they had a captain who rewarded good work handsomely. The American crew members worked hard and enthusiastically for an even more basic reason: they were going home.
Peter and Fox were walking back to the ship at dusk after a meeting with Peter’s agents, the Montaudoin brothers, along the Rue de Ile Gloriette. Their conversation was shattered by a woman’s scream.
“Help! For the love of God, please, someone help me!”
“That’s an American voice!” cried Peter. He and Fox sprinted down the empty street to where it joined the long reach of the quay. Turning the corner, they saw a frightening scene: two men, ruffians by their dress, had accosted a woman and her male companion. He was lying on the ground, motionless. She was on her back, one man pinioning her shoulders and upper body, the other kneeling between her spread legs already unfastening his trousers.
“We’ll put a stop to that!” Peter barked to Fox, as he drew his sword, regretting that he had not armed himself also with a pistol. Fox’s weapon was simpler, but just as lethal: a length of chain wrapped within the scarf he wore around his neck. The swordsmen that had underestimated Fox’s power with that weapon had been surprised − moments before they were crippled − or killed.
The woman’s assailants, seeing the obvious danger approaching them at a dead run, abandoned lust for safety, and took to their heels, her accoster clutching his unbuttoned trousers with his hands. When Peter and Fox reached the woman and, what now was obvious, her companion, Peter bent over the man to feel the pulse in his neck.
“He still lives. Fox, fly back to the ship and bring back the doctor, a litter, and O’Brien and a squad of Marines!” As Fox departed on the dead run, Peter turned his attention to the woman. Even as she knelt tearfully over her fallen friend, and then looked up at Peter, he could see that she was breathtakingly beautiful, ebony-black hair framing an oval face that would awaken any man’s desire.
“We were going to meet someone’s boat and got lost,” she stammered. “If you had not arrived…” the rest of her sentence dissolved into sobs.
She and her companion had indeed dressed for a fancy affair; he was wearing evening clothes, well-made, Peter noticed. She was attired in the Empire fashion so au courant in Paris these days: a diaphanous gown, only just concealing the curves of her body, gathered below the bust. Her chest had been barely covered by the thinnest, most transparent wisp of silk, which had been torn away completely by her assailant, giving Peter a full, deeply erotic view of the most astoundingly beautiful, hard-tipped breasts he had ever seen. He turned his head away instantly when he realized she had seen where he was staring. He helped her to her feet, and assisted her as she pulled her evening cloak, now covered in mud and the mire of the quay, around her.
“My brother…?” she sobbed, as she clutched him, burying her face in his shoulder.
“With God’s grace he may yet live,” said Peter. As he instinctively patted her back to console her, he was uncomfortably aware of the taught body under his hands.
The shouts and pelting feet of the rescue party from the ship jolted out of his embarrassing thoughts. As O’Brien and his Marines spread out to secure the perimeter, not that there was any risk now of the ruffians returning, Doctor Evans attended to the fallen man. “He seems, by the blood in his hair, to have taken a sharp knock to the head,” he reported. “He’s still unconscious, but his breathing and pulse are strong. I would venture to propose no more than a serious concussion.” He ordered four of the Marines to lift the man onto the litter and take him back to the ship. Clutching the wounded man’s sister tightly, Peter followed them.
She went below as the doctor settled her brother in a hammock in the sick bay, then entered Peter’s cabin with him. She collapsed into a chair. He brought her a glass of brandy which she downed in a coughing gulp.
“My name is Peter Kirkpatrick” he said, painfully aware of the conflicting emotions raging within him, “captain of the American privateer Dihya.
“I am Lavina Blanchard, from New York.” She began, “I don’t know how to explain what…” she couldn’t finish the sentence.
“Well, you are among friends, now,” he said, offering her his handkerchief, which mercifully, was clean. “No further harm will come to you. I promise it.” She looked up at him with eyes as forlorn and vulnerable as those of a small child.
“I will have dinner sent in,” Peter stammered, his tongue struggling to fashion the simplest words. “And…” he looked at her ruined cloak, “perhaps we may be able to do something with your dress and robe. You must be exhausted. Please use my bed,” he pointed to his sleeping bunk at the side of his cabin. He wanted to say more, but the words fled from him.
When he returned with tea, toasted cheese, and cold meats, her clothing was piled neatly on his table, and she lay in his bed, covered with a blanket. Realizing that she was naked under the blanket and could hardly get up to eat, he took her clothing, promising to return when she had finished supper.
Leaving his cabin and mounting to the deck, Peter called for Fox, and the two of them made their way to the galley, ruled by Dihya’s cook, whom Peter had bought in Baltimore as a slave and instantly freed. Joshua had an extraordinary gift for turning miserable ship’s stores into food that seamen could eat, and even enjoy. He was also one of the wisest people Peter had ever known.
“Joshua,” he said. “After our guest’s hunger has being attended to, we have to see what can be done with her clothing that the wretches who attacked her destroyed. Can you see what might be done to clean these? And Fox,” he turned to his coxswain, “we have clever men with needle and thread among the crew. Once Joshua has restored her garments as well as can be done, find a man to repair her dress, will you?” He paused for a second, then added, “And let there be no noise or rudeness among the crew, or they will pay for it dearly!”
He waited by his cabin door for what seemed like an eternity, then knocked.
“Come in,” Lavinia said quietly.
She was back in his bed, the food plate emptied. With the blanket pulled up around her she looked more comfortable. Peter was no stranger to women, but the smiles of the women he had slept with were inviting, knowing, even cynical. Hers was completely open, transparent, and guileless.
She patted the bunk, inviting Peter to sit next to her. He hesitated for a moment, then joined her. “I wonder, Captain, if you served in your Navy?” she asked, once he had settled next to her, achingly aware of what lay underneath the thin blanket. “I ask only because my older brother Quentin, Quentin Detoille, is a naval lieutenant. Perhaps you know him? Peter searched his memory and drew a blank.
“My apologies, ma’am. I left the Navy in ‘05, and there are, I’m sure, a hundred new officers or more on the list.”
“He was aboard the President. When the President was taken by the British, he was sent to that beastly hell-hole Dartmouth with the other American prisoners of war. Now that peace between England and America is close to being arranged, my younger brother and I came to Nantes to hire a ship and take him, and as many other American prisoners as possible home, once it was safe to do so. We were to meet with the ship captain this evening, when….” She shuddered at the memory and sank back against the curved gunwale alongside Peter’s bunk, dabbing the corners of her eyes with the handkerchief Peter had given her. Her movement caused the blanket to drop from her shoulders. She caught it and covered herself again, in a quick, graceful gesture, just before it dropped to her waist.
“You’re safe with us now,” Peter blurted, to cover his embarrassment. She could not have missed his eyes following the blanket’s fall. “And I’ll make sure you can meet up with your captain tomorrow. It’s a fine thing you’re doing. The British have treated American prisoners in Dartmouth wretchedly.”
Peter had noticed the wedding ring on her left hand. The next question popped out of Peter’s mouth without his having even thought about it. “And, if I may inquire, your husband?”
“An army officer killed at Lundy’s Lane,” she replied bleakly. Then to break the mood, added, ”What of your family?”
“My mother, God bless her, still lives in Philadelphia. My father, like your husband, died in battle. He died at Yorktown, just weeks before the end of the war in 1781.”
“So you must have grown up without a father. I’m so sorry.” She said. “Have you other family?”
Peter laughed at the thought of the answer. “Well, yes. An amazing half-brother Henry, whom I never knew existed until I met him, quite by chance − or miracle − when I served with the American expeditionary force in the Tripoli War ten years ago. I’m not at all sure I can describe him to you. I dare say his life has been like a novel by Fielding or Smollett, or as likely by Laurence Sterne, but written with a pen dipped in blood.
He is not ashamed to acknowledge it, nor now is my mother, so I can tell you he was the bastard child of an English nobleman. Henry was raised by the Mohawk Indians and fought as a teenager against our American army in the Revolution. With England’s defeat, he left America forever with a price on his head. He became first a British spy, then a leader of Arab cavalry against Napoleon, then a secret agent, and at times an assassin for hire. I owe him my life and treasure him as a brother. I’ve never met a more remarkable and courageous man.”
“And where is he now?” Lavinia asked.
“I would imagine living among the desert tribe of nomads in North Africa whom he has adopted as his family. He is married to an equally amazing woman, named Dihya, after whom I’ve named my ship, and has a young son to care for.”
“I would think such a man would find it hard not to be still in action, now that Napoleon has returned and the wars started again.”
Peter laughed again. “If he tried to leave retirement now, Dihya might threaten to kill him. No, I suspect he has traded in stirrups for slippers and his sword for a walking cane. His days of adventure, are, I think, behind him.”
“But yours are clearly not. He must be proud of you.”
“I’m grateful to think that he is,” Peter said.
She looked up at him, as if, Peter thought, she were seeing him for the first time. “You are a good man,” she said. “Bless you.
Lavinia picked up his left hand gently, and traced the lines and calluses on his palm. “You have strong hands,” she said. Then she brought his hand to her mouth, pulling him closer, and kissed it, at first tenderly, and then, as she ran her tongue over his index finger, more urgently.
She stared at him. Her blue-green eyes, deep, shimmering, begged “Kiss me.”
Their first kiss was a gentle, tentative conversation, tongues seeking each other with questions: “Are you asking me…?” “I want you to.” “Are you sure?” “Yes. Yes!”
The next few moments were a feverish blur of lips and tongues and ripped-off clothing. The small voice in Peter’s head that said “Don’t do this” was bludgeoned into silence by the fury of his passion. He couldn’t even remember when he entered her, but he cried out when he climaxed, far too soon for her.
Then she slid down, took him in her mouth and started doing things he never imagined lips and a tongue could do, hardening him from the edge of his rectum to the tip of his cock. It felt like a piece of steel. He thought for a second, “My God, what a lucky man her husband must have been,” then all thought vanished. She shifted to take him inside her. Twice – three times – he lost count, she brought him to the moment of climax, then pulled him out, released his tension with her fingers, then slid him back inside to start again. Finally, she was ready, and looked up at him. “Now,” she said. Her eyes clouded as she went deep inside herself and then they both gave themselves over to the waves of pleasure rolling over them.
Consciousness returned. Time had passed. An hour? Fifteen minutes? Lavinia rose to her knees, and then straddled him. With a shake, she released her hair so it fell over his face like a tent. Lavinia was looking at him with an almost frightening intensity, the way a lioness in heat might look at a lion. She sat back up and rocked back and forth over him until she was able to pull him inside her. She rode him with heat and, groaning with each thrust, holding him tight inside her. She must have climaxed several times. Finally when he came, they both screamed.