“What do you do with a drunken sailor,” the men sang with full voices and even fuller mugs. “What do you do with a drunken sailor,” they clanked their ale and jeered one another. Wee Willy Fitzpatrick sang proud and clear—his fine Irish tenor filling the pub, “What do you do with a drunken sailor, Earl-eye in the morning!”
A serving wench set a fresh pitcher of ale on their table and Gandy Gargoyle (so-called for his maimed face) smacked her soundly on the arse. “Singin’ ‘ere wench!” She jumped, startled, and then smacked him back. “You’ll be keepin’ them hands ta ye self, ye will, or you’ll be pullin’ back a bloody stub!”
The men folk laughed at the exchange and took a healthy swig of their brew. Then they broke into a round for the chorus (they really take their singing seriously, you see). “Way hay and up she rises, Way hay and up she rises, Way hay and up she rises, Earl-eye in the morning!” They were really going now—the other patrons cheering them on with drunken glee.
The shrill scream broke the sea shanty and the pub filled with boos. A short dark woman pounced on the pirate’s table jabbing the blade of her cutlass against the throat of their Captain. A small bead of blood trickled down his neck and he dared not breathe. “Dearest, Darling Lass”—he began, but she cut him short. “Spare me!” Rage boiled in her pretty features. So he gave her his trademark grin and winked, “Naw Missus, tis I should be sayin’ ‘Spare me!’” He gently pushed the blade away from his neck with his forefinger. “I can see you’re plenty angry,” he soothed, sliding from the table carefully as she kept the sword aimed at his person. It was clear she meant business.
Old McNally laughed into his brew, “Ye stepped in it now, ye did! Shoulda nailed her better Capin’” Captain Leary grinned, a true rogue he was, “Don’t be thinkin’ she’s at her best humor now, McNally.” The old man roared with laughter his rotten teeth growing more yellowed by the minute. “That’s when it’s best, me boy! Toss her in the hay and ride her till she smiles!”
“Old man,” she drawled, “Captain Scallywag shan’t be riding anything but the plank.” Her hard brown eyes met Captain Leary’s nervous green ones and he took a step back. “Now, Bess, my Bonny Bess, you can’t mean that.” She smiled sweetly at him, “Can’t I, Love? You left me on that Island with a note—six lines and a bottle of rum. Was I meant to find solace in that? Or just to drink away the memory of your face?”
Gandy raised his mug, “A bottle of rum seems quite generous to me!” She glared at him and he settled back quietly into his chair. Captain Leary tried again, “You’re a lover, Bess, a lovely Latin lover, you can’t mean me any harm.” She sneered in his handsome face hating each line—yet somehow still loving him—and loathing herself for it. “You forget, my pet, I don’t just make love. I also make war.”
Her quiet declaration fell like stone in the now silent bar. Leary gathered his thoughts quickly. “Games then, you like games!” She laughed the eerie cackle of a woman scorned. “You betrayed me for the last time, you black-hearted scoundrel! I’ll not play another game with you. I’ll see you as shark bait first!”
Now Leary was terrified. As well he should be. He swallowed hard and began to sweat. He understood her ire, knew it was justified even, but he needed a path to freedom. He couldn’t tell her that she suffocated him or expected more than he could give. These things would hurt her. It was kinder to cut her loose.
Still…the rise and fall of her breasts were captivating and he found himself staring, stiffening. He shook his head, knowing that he needed to stay in the present else become a dead man. She seemed to frown a bit and he could tell that she’d thought of something. “Not a game then, what else, Sweet Bess? What else might soothe ye?”
She smiled and his blood chilled. She licked her lips slowly, “A wager.” Leary cocked his head and stared at her, “What kind of stakes?” She was truly grinning now, “The highest stakes. Winner takes all.” She walked toward him the cutlass dipping to point at his chest and he found himself pressed against the wall. “We’ll have us a dual, you see,” she continued, “and if you win I’ll sail off with my crew never to darken your bed again…” Her voice trailed off and she looked at a spot just past his shoulder.
He encouraged her, “And if you win, Bess, what then?” She smiled and he could see tears in her eyes. “If I win, sweet pet, you’ll come be my Captain, my lover, my best friend, and there’ll be no more of this nonsense. You won’t run off sans explanation anymore.”
Leary zeroed in on her flushed face. “Ye would travel half ‘round the world to chase a man who doesn’t want you? Ye’d force him into a dual with stipulations you know he doesn’t willingly agree to? Why Bess? You’re a lovely lass and could find another…ye needn’t debase yourself so.”
She considered his words as she had always done. She weighed them and answered him clearly, “Is it debasing oneself to fight for love? To know in your heart of hearts who the one is for you and seek him out? I think not. No, my pet, I’m not debasing myself. I’m pointing out the lies you’ve told yourself.” She maneuvered him into a chair—still at the point of her sword—and carefully lowered herself onto his lap. She angled the weapon to rest lengthwise below his chin and brought her lips to his. He could feel her breath upon his mouth and he remembered the taste of her kiss. But she didn’t close the gap between them. She teased him with the promise of her lips—wet and willing against his. It was sheer agony. He moved to claim her mouth, but she pulled back.
Satisfaction gleamed in her brown eyes and she slowly moved her hips, stroking his hardness beneath his clothes. “You want me, too, Love. I dare say…that’s the problem. You want me more than you’re comfortable with. When you dream up a crazy scheme…who do you run to with it? Hmm? When you want to bellow, “poor Captain Leary,” who do you moan to? When you see me you get stiff and can barely keep your pants on. Nay, the problem isn’t that you don’t want me. The problem is that you do.”
She leaned in and brushed his mouth with hers. She stroked the soft skin of his lips with hers…once…twice…then opened her mouth and let him taste her tongue. She let him explore the recesses of her mouth, the texture and taste of her filling his head. He forgot about the sword resting against his chin, forgot that she was devil incarnate, and forgot that she meant to trap him in her lair. His hands roamed of their own volition seeking out and memorizing her curves. They slid over her warm body and trailed down to squeeze her arse. Sweet Jesus, the wench could kiss!
She pulled her mouth away, breaking the spell, and made ready to dual. Her form was exquisite as she took a fighting stance. “Do we have a dual then, Captain Brat?” He sighed and reached for his own cutlass with a feigned flourish. “Seems a pity to waste such effort on a dual…my Bonny Bess…what say you that we take our exertions to the bedroom instead?” Her rich laughter rang out clear and strong, bringing a smile to McNally’s weathered cheeks. The old man had known a lass like her once. A complicated creature with more fire than a man could handle…well, most men. Her words interrupted McNally’s reverie. “Nay, my pet. I’ll not service your loins just to have you spurn my affections again. No, we settle this matter once and for all. Take up your sword!”
The patrons sipped their ale enjoying the show. They watched with avid interest as metal clashed and sparks flew. Bess parried to the right, dodging the Captain’s thrust and he jumped up on a table. He reached up to grasp the iron chandelier, candles flickering as he swung over to another table. Bess went after him, cornering him once more. She disarmed him with a deft twist of her sword. Leary looked at her in surprise. He hadn’t expected her to be so adept. She’d counted on that. “How?” She smiled brightly, “How did I disarm you? My pet, I’m a female pirate. I’ve got to be ten times the pirate as a man, else my crew would mutiny. Now about our wager…” She held up his sword by the hilt. “Do you admit defeat?”
His crew watched in stunned silence as their beloved Captain Leary hung his head. “Aye, Bess, sweet Bess. Ye bested me, there’s no doubt.” She positively beamed and handed him back his sword. She looked around the bar noting the slack-jawed expressions of all, save old McNally. The old man winked at her. She winked back. “You all are witnesses. You hear?” The men grumbled into their ale as she claimed her prize. She led Leary from the pub, hand in hand.
Sometime later…she felt the mattress give as he slipped from under the covers. She sat up, holding the sheet to her bare breasts. “What are you doing?” He turned and bowed, naked, save for his Captain’s hat. “Well I’ll be shovin’ off now, Bess.” She sprinted from the bed, dropping the sheet in her haste. “But we had a wager! I won!” She clutched at his shoulders in disbelief.
He stroked her face with his knuckles, smoothing her dark hair over her shoulder. “Yeah…but I lied.” He leaned in and kissed her shocked mouth. “You are a sight, though. If I were a blacksmith I’d gladly stay and bed you more. But I’m a pirate and the sea’s my only mistress.” She collapsed on the bed like sinking lead. Her lips felt numb where he had kissed her. Fresh tears spilled down her cheeks. “But I won…” She swallowed hard and looked at his blurry features. “You’ll come back to me. You always do.”
Leary smiled softly as he dressed. “Not this time, my Bonny Bess. This time’s the end of it, I think.” She felt suddenly very small and lost. Her heart broke in her chest and she half expected to see blood pour out of her frozen limbs. She watched the door close behind him. Her voice cracked as she spoke to the empty room. “Yes…but you lie…” She covered herself with the fallen sheet, her resolve growing as her body warmed. It wasn’t over, not yet.