Alphas of Black Fortune Complete Series

BOOK: Alphas of Black Fortune Complete Series
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Alphas of Black Fortune

(The Complete Series: Part 1-5)

By Scarlett Rhone

Copyright 2015 Enamored Ink

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Bound by Bears

(Alphas of Black Fortune: Part 1)

By Scarlett Rhone

Chapter 1

It was fortunate that they came upon the merchant clipper when they did, as the crew of the
Black Fortune
had been at sea for weeks with nothing to show for it. Such was often a pirate’s life, but it made men salty and malcontent, and above all it made them randy for a fight. Without an appropriate target, they often turned on each other, and the tension had been thick aboard the ship for days. Cressida had considered turning them back to port more than once, but arriving ashore empty-handed would not have won her any more allies amongst the crew, and Dox was already eyeballing her captain’s quarters covetously.

That her quartermaster wanted to oust her during the next vote was not something that overly bothered Captain Cressida Avery. A pirate’s life was by nature rife with uncertainties and betrayals, and that, she thought, was the price one paid for freedom. Better to see the battle coming at you with a brandished saber rather than be caught unaware by some drunken husband long after the fight has left your heart. And Cressida, for all that she was a woman doing what some might call a man’s work, was built almost entirely of fight. There was very little gentleness to her, and she had never favored it. Some might call her selfish, but she was of the opinion that had she been born a man, they would have called her
bold
instead. So even as she perceived that her crew was beginning to turn, she never let go the reins, never
once
let them see her falter, and refused to leave open waters until they’d gotten what they came for: namely, somebody else’s wealth.

She couldn’t really resent Dox for wanting to unseat her. After all, she’d had to unseat someone else to take the captainship for herself. Dox was weasely about it, though, and that she didn’t like. Going behind her back instead of challenging her openly. It was cowardly. But it also meant that he must not have had the majority of the crew behind him yet. He’d wait until it was an uneven fight, forcing those that stood by her either to vote in favor of removing her or die. That’s what she would do. That’s what she
had done
.

So it was bloody brilliant fortune that the merchant clipper came scooting across the horizon when it did. They had no way of knowing what sort of goods it carried, but that didn’t matter. The fight would invigorate the crew and even if the spoils turned out to be mostly worthless, the sport of it would lift their spirits. She ordered open sail and the
Black Fortune
, a corvette stolen from the Spanish Armada, as full-figured and quick to attack as any woman, was soon bearing down upon the clipper, her flag lashing in the wind: black and white, bones and the laughing skull.

The fight was short and satisfying. The clipper only had a crew of fifteen and they threw down arms once they saw the two dozen grimy-faced pirates grinning at them as they climbed the side of the ship. Cressida let Dox lead the attack and watched from the deck, elbows to the railing as the ship slid in alongside the clipper, cannons loaded and ready to rip the poor merchant ship to kindling if its crew resisted. Very few ever resisted.

It was a gorgeous day for it, too. Sunshine gilt the waves of the Atlantic Ocean, reflecting back a sky of vast, cloudless blue and filling a pirate’s mind with thoughts of gold and sapphire. It would have been unbearably hot had the air been still, but strong winds worked to their advantage, and had Cressida been a more superstitious sort, she might have said the day was fated for the
Black Fortune
. But though pirates were by nature notoriously prone to superstition, Cressida was not. She was far too pragmatic. They’d stalked the shipping lanes for weeks. Sooner or later a merchant vessel was
bound
to pass, and today was the day.

Cressida watched, eyes narrowed against the sun, as Dox slammed the merchant captain’s face into his own mizzenmast, shouting about booty and threatening to castrate the man in front of his entire crew. With a sigh, Cressida reached up, grabbing onto one of the ropes they’d secured from ship to ship to hold the vessels together, and hauled herself up onto the railing. From there, she stepped out onto the rope and walked, tightrope-style, from the
Black Fortune
over to the merchant clipper.

She’d always had exceptional balance. Not only a gift but a skill she’d honed over time, particularly useful to a sailor if one could learn to maintain balance not only on the stillness of land but also at sea. The rocking of the waves, even in gentle waters, could be hard to accustom oneself to, but Cressida knew the roll of the tide down in her bones. Her knees bent and straightened with each swell and ebb, arms out to either side with hands open, fingers splayed to catch the wind as she walked swiftly from ship to ship.

As she hopped down to the clipper’s deck, her pirates quickly parted, clearing a path between her and Dox and the clipper’s captain. Dox was at least two heads taller than she, a sturdy man with thick bones and ropes of muscled flesh, a full, dark beard and cruel eyes. Cressida would’ve thought him handsome if he wasn’t so dense most of the time. And dirty. That was one aspect of pirate life that Cressida had never grown accustomed to. She still managed to bathe at least a few times a week, like a civilized person.

“I’m handling this, Captain,” Dox growled, without even looking at her. He squeezed the captain’s throat in one huge hand until the man’s eyes started to bulge.

“What are you threatening him for?” Cressida sighed. “You have him, you have his crew, just search the bloody ship, Dox.”

“What if he’s got hidden treasure aboard somewhere?” Dox snarled.

The captain tried to speak, but Dox’s grip was prohibitively tight, so all he managed to do was gurgle a little. Still, it was enough for Cressida to understand.

“No hidden treasure,” she translated, smacking Dox in the arm. “Let him down. Put the crew in their own brig and search the ship.”

Dox turned to glare down at her, his big brown eyes fierce. It had been a year but he still wasn’t fond of taking orders from her. She purposefully avoided giving him too many, preferring to let him do his job since he was good at it and capable, but on occasion there just wasn’t any getting around the fact that she was the captain, and he had to do what she damned well told him to. She arched her eyebrows at him.

There was a long, tense moment as Dox stared back at her. The other pirates fanned out a little around them, shifting uncomfortably, the only sounds those of the ships creaking and the wind bustling against the sails, and the clipper captain’s labored breathing against Dox’s fingers.

Then, with a soft grunt, Dox let the captain go, shoving him to the deck, and went stalking off towards the stairs that led below.

“I’ll sack the captain’s quarters,” he muttered. A few of the others broke away to go with him and Cressida bit down on another frustrated sigh. He had cronies now, it seemed. That did not bode well.

Cressida bent down and grabbed the clipper captain’s elbow, hauling him up to his feet as he coughed and wheezed toward normal breathing again.

“Th-thank you,” he gasped at her.

She shrugged, uninterested in gratitude, and crooked a couple of fingers at Hanky, her boatswain and at least until now as loyal as any of them. Tall, dark-skinned and lanky, he ambled over at her beckon. “Round them all up,” she instructed. “And lock them in.”

Hanky nodded, his abundance of dreadlocks, held back from his face by a yellow handkerchief, bouncing. “Aye, Cap’n.”

Cressida could have left them to it then, to gather what was left of the clipper’s crew and sort through the merchandise on the ship, but instead she chose to linger on board. Unusual for a captain — but then, she was an unusual captain. Not soft and motherly, but not
truly
ruthless either, she walked a tightrope here as well, perhaps to less effect. She wasn’t murderous like so many pirate captains, but she refused to be what anyone might call soft. She tried to be even and firm, a sharp enough contrast to Dox’s cold, greedy temperament. It didn’t always work. But she was still the captain and that was all that mattered to her.

She hefted up the hatch that led down to the ship’s supply hold, peering into the dark, dank pit, but it was impossible to really see what the clipper carried from that vantage. Instead of taking the stairs down, which would have put her in Hanky’s way and probably Dox’s as well, she just sank down to a seat on the edge of the hatch and swung her legs over, slowly lowering herself down into the darkness.

Not unlike the cargo hold of every seafaring ship she’d ever been on, this one stank. Her boots were ankle-deep in bilgewater and she figured the clipper must have been at sea for more than a few months to have taken on this kind of rankness. She stepped out of the square of sunlight spilling in from the deck, easing around the barrels and boxes stacked high. This wasn’t their precious cargo, though; these were their supplies to live. Limes and salted beef, grog and hard biscuits and beans. The limes were rotten and the beef had gone to maggots. The beans were all but gone, and Cressida realized that these men must have basically been starving already. There were miles and miles of rope, too, canvas for patching sails, and other tools the ship’s carpenter would need to maintain the ship on a very long journey.

Cressida made note of the food and supplies, sloshing her way towards the hold’s exit ladder, which would lead her up to the cargo hold, where the real spoils would be found, if there were any. As she climbed, though, she heard Hanky’s familiar voice calling, “Captain! Captain!” from the opposite end of the cargo hold, above and across the ship from where she was climbing. She rolled her eyes and shouted, “Yes, on my way!”

Above the supply stores, the cargo hold was at least dry. And Cressida was relieved to see, as she got to her feet and started moving between crates and piles of goods, that there were at least a few treasures to be found. One gorgeous handwoven carpet from the Orient, and she could smell some exotic spices. This ship was not a typical merchant ship at all; it had been to the East and back, which for such a small vessel was rather remarkable. She couldn’t help but wonder why anyone would send a clipper all that long way. It didn’t have the room for all the goods and treasures a real merchant would want to bring back—bolts of silk and barrels of tea and saffron, ornamented weapons and a slave or two.

“Captain.” Hanky sounded nervous. As Cressida came around a tower of crates, she saw why.

Speaking of slaves.

He was chained to the floor, but standing, heavy irons shackled to his wrists and links piling to either side of him. He was filthy and half-naked, covered in the dirt and grime of the lower decks, wearing nothing but a tattered pair of trousers. He squinted against even the pale lattice of sunlight dappling the cargo hold from the open grate and porthole door, and Cressida thought it must have been quite a while since he’d been above. As she approached, she saw him lunge at Hanky, the chains snapping fully taut to hold him, and she could have sworn she heard them creak as though they might actually break.

“What in the hell?” she asked.

Hanky stumbled back, well out of arm’s reach, expression astonished. “Captain, he damned near bit Hale.”

Cressida stepped past Hanky and folded her arms, eyeballing the slave as he strained and huffed, still leaning against his irons at the very end of their lengths, less than a foot away from where she stood. Hanky slinked tentatively up alongside her, still a half-step back.

Close up, she could see why someone might risk being bitten to keep this slave. Underneath all the dirt and despite the malnourished state of him, he was gorgeous. She could make out naturally warm caramel skin and strong muscles that had been weakened by starvation and sea travel, a lithe frame built for speed. Long black hair fell into exotic eyes that curved sharply, shaped like teardrops, and even as he glared at her, Cressida dubbed them
golden-green
in her own mind, because she couldn’t decide which color they actually were. From different angles they were even both. His face was narrow and hungry, cheekbones prominent, nose long and slightly flat, lips curled back against his teeth in a snarl. Despite that, Cressida found herself wanting to wipe the grime off him with her own hand towel, inch by delicious inch.

The slave snapped his teeth at her and Hanky took another step back, but Cressida held her ground.

“Does he speak English?” she asked Hanky.

“Yes,” the slave replied, and his coin-bright eyes met hers. She arched an eyebrow at that bit of boldness. Enslaved, yes, but not a slave. She heard Hanky fidget beside her, but she didn’t break eye contact, and when the slave didn’t either, she took a step forward and right into his personal space.

“Captain,” Hanky said worriedly.

“Do you have a name?” Cressida asked the man softly.

The chains clanked as they went limp, and the slave eased back a little, his muscles still taut and his eyes still on hers. She took another step forward, pressing her advantage, and he actually took a full step back but didn’t look away. He wasn’t as tall as Hanky, only perhaps an inch or two taller than Cressida herself, and this close she could see in his eyes how he struggled with what to do, attack or give ground, submit or fight. His expression softened from the full rage she’d seen when he lunged at Hanky.

“Reza,” he muttered. There was an accent to his words that Cressida couldn’t place.

BOOK: Alphas of Black Fortune Complete Series
5.65Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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