The scene - the battle on board the Smiling Jack is underway. Spaniards have overrun the ship, but Finn isn't surrendering without a fight...
Available from Samhain Publishing
© 2008 by Kimberly Nee
A swarm of dark-haired men, all brandishing swords and pistols of their own, rushed across the foredeck. They shouted to each other in a lyrical, foreign language as they dove into the fray. Minutes later the deafening clang of steel against steel reverberated across the open decks.
Everywhere she looked, Beauregard's men engaged in merciless battle with the dark-haired men. Unsure of how to approach, she watched in horror as men she'd toiled alongside fell. Sticky, dark blood oozed over the salt spattered decks.
A shadow fell over her and she came face to face with one of them. The man towering above her was one of the fiercest looking men she'd ever seen—tall and broad, with a thick black beard hiding the lower portion of his face. His hair was long and black, a straggly mess about his shoulders.
Her hands remained surprisingly steady as she lifted her cutlass. It'd been a stroke of good fortune that she'd discovered the weapon, as well as a dagger, buried at the bottom of a trunk in the hold. By keeping both secreted beneath the wardrobe, she prevented Beauregard from confiscating them, and by watching the others practice, she managed to learn a few simple defenses. Of course, practicing them in the cabin, whenever the opportunity arose was not nearly as good as receiving proper training.
Though it was the first time she'd ever raised a weapon with the intent of inflicting harm, she didn't hesitate, lifting the blade even as she forced her eyes from the bloodstained front of the man's tunic. Only the sun's glint off the devil's blade broke her daze.
He thrust. Finn dodged the blow, swinging around to block his rebound. The jolt tore up her arms when their blades met with a deafening clang, and she tightened her fist about the handle to retain control.
Her blood chilled at the low chuckle rising from his parted lips. "Ah, bueno, muchacho. Most impressive you are."
She deflected another blow. It was too easy, too simple. The man was not taking their battle seriously. Nay, he sported with her. Any moment now he'd run her through without hesitation. Still, it did not stop her from grunting in reply, "And most brazen…you are."
Back and forth, thrust and retreat. Finn danced with her opponent, her confidence growing with each deflection, with each of her opponent's back steps. The bubble burst, though, when the tip of the devil's blade nicked her shoulder. She gasped, though there was no pain at first, but a hot sting replaced the numbness. She bit back a pained hiss as Ennis approached her attacker from behind. Ignoring her wound, she thrust in unison with Ennis, running the devil through.
The man howled as both blades sliced clean. He dropped to his knees. He teetered for a moment, his blade clattering onto the deck as he released it. Ennis jerked his sword back, and the man toppled over backward. A sharp yank to free her steel and her relieved sigh became a horrified gasp as another man stepped up behind Ennis. He yelped and Finn saw the tip of a sword pressed into his side.
"Ah, I commend you, lad. So young, and yet, such fight, such spirit. I feel it only fair to tell you that your cowardly captain is no more, so there is no need for you to remain defiant. His mistake is now yours and you might wish to lower your steel. Unless, of course, you wish me to run this one through."
His English was smooth, but the lyrical lilt of his words sounded very much like the man she and Ennis slaughtered. Spaniards, no doubt. She'd crossed paths with only a few, but that lilt was one she'd heard before.
She opened her mouth to argue, but saw the Smiling Jack's captain lying crumpled against one of the bulwarks, clearly dead. Beauregard must have emerged in a drunken attempt to defend his ship and been run through. Her stinging shoulder forgotten, her surprise gave way to bitter regret. To surrender would mean surrendering her ship. Anger bubbled forth for a moment, but was quickly replaced by icy fear as she glanced up into the coldest eyes she'd ever seen—dark gold surrounded by thick black lashes.
Like his shipmates, he was dark-skinned, with a heavy fall of raven black hair tumbling to his shoulders. Unlike most of the others, though, this man sported no beard, but a neatly kept mustache instead. He towered above Ennis, holding one shoulder to keep Ennis in place, while pressing the tip of a lethal-looking blade into his side.
Where most of their invaders wore battered, buff-colored breeches and equally battered, stained white linen tunics, he was dressed entirely in black. Black leather boots blended into black breeches, which then blended into a flowing black shirt. His shoulders were broad, his chest was broad, but his body narrowed into slim hips and long legs. He wore no baldric, but a leather scabbard fastened around those narrow hips.
The scabbard, of course, was empty, as he held the finely-honed weapon in his left hand, its tip poking into Ennis's side. Unlike the broad-bladed cutlass, this weapon was narrow, forged to a sharp point.
She looked up to see Ennis's eyes squinched shut, and she cleared her throat. "Leave him be. I will, of course, lower my weapon at once."
"A fine idea, to be sure," the Spaniard growled, his eyes never leaving hers. "But a far better one would be for you to set your blade down slowly and boot it my way."
Another yelp from Ennis and the amber-eyed marauder chuckled. "By all means, think it over, lad. But be warned, for every second which passes, my blade sinks deeper into his flesh."
Ennis's eyes snapped open, wide and glassy blue with fear. "Finn…"
"Worry not, Ennis," Finn replied in the calmest, steadiest voice she could muster, ignoring the warm trickle of blood at her shoulder as the sting returned. Flicking her gaze back to his captor, she nodded. "I will do as you ask, but you will release him first."
"Will I?" The Spaniard mulled it over, before nodding slowly. "Very well."
Ennis breathed a heavy sigh of relief as he lurched forward. Finn considered lunging at the Spaniard, but held back as she looked up to find him shaking his head at her. His eyes were cold, filled with silent warning as his gaze held hers. Her blood ran icy at his stare and it was over. She had no choice. She could not defeat the man if she tried. Her stomach churned as the realization swept through her. No choice. She'd lost her ship. And with it, her dream.
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