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Before ten minutes had passed the sounds of combat died away and hundreds of footsteps seemed to pound the deck. Celia remained in the cabin, longing to open the door and see what had happened. But all she could do was wait with terrified anticipation.
She stiffened with alarm as heavy feet walked the length of the companionway and the door rattled. "Locked," a voice growled. Celia jumped as a blunt object crashed against the other side of the door, splintering the fine paneling. Swiftly she readied the gun to fire. Another sharp blow, and the hinges creaked in protest.
Celia used her palm to wipe at the cold sweat on her face. She raised the barrel of the pistol, pressing it to her temple. At the touch of the metal to her skin, thoughts raced through her mind. If Philippe had died, she would not want to live. And if she did not use the gun on herself now, she would face a horrifying fate at the hands of the sea bandits. But something inside rebelled at the thought of pulling the trigger. She took a deep breath and steadied her hands.
The door crashed open. Frozen, she stared at the two men who stood there, both swarthy and unkempt, their matted hair held back with kerchiefs, their faces sunburned and stubbled. The shorter of the two held a cutlass in his hand, while the other clasped a bloodstained boarding pike.
Dropping his cutlass, the small but sturdily built man stepped over the sill at the bottom of the doorway. He licked his lips and watched her with keen eyes. "Put it down," he muttered in a thick American accent, gesturing to the gun.
Celia couldn't utter a word. Now, her mind insisted, end it now ... But her arm lowered to her side. In a flash of self-hatred, she realized she was too much of a coward to take her own life.
"I'll stake me share of th' spoils now," one pirate said to the other. His mouth split in a yellowtoothed grin as he walked toward her.
Automatically Celia raised the gun and squeezed the trigger, feeling as if some force outside herself was guiding her actions. The bullet that should have ended her own life buried itself in the man's chest. A crimson flood spread over his unwashed shirt. Blood spattered everywhere, and Celia heard herself scream as the body crumpled at her feet.
"Little bitch!" Enraged, the other pirate grabbed her and threw her against the wall. The pistol fell from her hand and clattered to the floor. Her head hit the hard surface, and she halffainted, sinking into a world filled with gray mist. She moaned as she was dragged through the companionway and up to the main deck, where she was dropped to the yellow planking. The ship rang with the sound of voices, and barrels and boxes being moved across the deck. There was a strange smell mingling with the scents of salt water and sea air.
Blinking hard and pushing herself up to a sit ting position, Celia saw one of the pirates drop a crate of chickens, some of the live cargo taken aboard to allow the crew of the Golden Star occasional rations of fresh meat. The crate broke open and the frightened birds scuttled in every direction, causing an outbreak of laughter and swearing. As she looked at the scene around her, Celia put a hand to her mouth, afraid she was going to be sick.
There were bodies everywhere, with gaping holes, partially severed limbs, and glassy stares. The deck was coated with blood. She recognized some of the Iifeless faces ... the ship's Cooper, always so cheerfully busy with his hoops and staves; the sailmaker; the cook; the boy who had served as tailor and cobbler; some of the officers with whom she and Philippe had shared meals. Philippe ... Frantically she crawled toward the bodies, desperate to find her husband.
A booted foot shoved her back to the deck. She cried out in pain as a hand tangled in her hair and jerked her head back. Motionless, she stared into the cruelest eyes she had ever seen. The man was smooth-shaven and darkly tanned, his jaw thin, his nose a decisive point in a sharp-featured face is hair was dark reddish-brown, pulled back in a neat braided queue. Unlike the othersof the boarding party, he wore well-made clothes that had been tailored to fit his wiry body.
"You cost me a good man," he said in a crisp voice. "For that you'll make amends." He inspected her slim-hipped, small-breasted body with an asexual glance. She tried to push down the hem of her gown, which had ridden up to expose her bare feet and calves. He smiled, revealing a jagged line of teeth. "Yes. You'll serve as entertainment for my brother André." His hand tightened in her hair, bringing tears of pain to her eyes. "André needs a steady supply of women. Unfortunately they never last long with him. "
One of the pirates approached them. He was a stocky young man with heavily developed arms and chest. "Captain Legare, the best of the cargo should take well nigh an hour to unload. Not much gold, sir, but some fine dry goods, cinnamon, brandy, oil in jars --"
"Good. As for the remainder of their crew, lock them in the hold. We'll set fire to the ship when we put away for the island." Legare shoved Celia at the young man. "Bind the wench and put her in with the spoils. We're taking her with us. And tell the men not to touch her. She's for André."
At the mention of the Star's crew, Celia had begun to struggle. "There are some still alive?" she gasped.
The young man dragged her away, seeming not to hear her.Only With Your Love. Copyright © by Lisa Kleypas. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.
Excerpted from Only with Your Love by Lisa Kleypas
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