Read Her Pirate Master Online

Authors: Tula Neal

Her Pirate Master

BOOK: Her Pirate Master
9.12Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads
Her Pirate Master
 

by

 

Tula Neal

 

Copyright 2012 Tula Neal

 

All rights reserved.

 

Cover design by
HOT DAMN Designs
!

 

This book is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents are the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual events, locales, or persons, living or dead, is coincidental.

 

This ebook is licensed for your personal enjoyment only. This ebook may not be re–sold or given away to other people. If you would like to share this book with another person, please purchase an additional copy for each recipient.

 

Second Edition (Previously published as Daughter of Egypt)

 
Chapter One
 

Imi huddled in a corner of the wildly swaying cart, clutching the small ivory box with its delicate wood inlay to her chest. The new moon cast just enough light for her to see the shadowy shape of her mounted pursuers. They were gaining on her. She would never make it to the harbor at Anxur. How, in the name of the goddess, had the temple discovered its loss so quickly? Had the guards to whom she’d slipped the tainted wine somehow managed to shake off its effects already? But that was impossible. The man who’d given it to her had sworn its effects would last eight hours or more. Serious and open–faced, he’d given her no reason to disbelieve or distrust him. Was he not a devotee of the Great Mother whom she and her mistress served, and an exile like them, too? He had much to gain by the success of Imi’s mission and had acknowledged the fact himself more than once. Yet the riders thundering down the road behind her meant Imi couldn’t close her mind to the possibility of betrayal.

“Faster, Lucius, faster,” she yelled to the cart–driver.

In response, his whip sliced through the air and cracked down on the horse’s back. The cart flew over the cobbled road and Imi dared to hope they had a chance as the men on horseback dropped behind.

“Goddess, Lady of Light, mother of us all, keep us safe,” Imi whispered. She had no time to say anything else. The cart hit a rut on the road, and a wheel flew off. Imi screamed, scrambling to push herself even further into her corner. The cart careened from side to side. Lucius struggled to stay on his feet. Another jolt. With a cry of protest and anger, Lucius was thrown clear. His body hit the road with a solid thump. Imi shrieked and tried to stand, but the cart was falling apart under her feet. As if recognizing her peril, one of the dark riders pulled away from the others and brought his horse alongside the cart. She couldn’t see his face, for it was hidden in shadow. Did demons pursue her?

“Give me your hand,” the rider shouted, his words almost drowned out by the hoofbeats and the clattering cart. He reached out to her.

The cart shuddered and clanked. Imi closed her eyes and offered a quick prayer. When she opened them again, the mysterious rider was still beside her, but the moon had emerged from behind a cloud. Imi cried out. The man was no demon, but a Cilician, and his face . . . it couldn’t be. The moonlight had to be playing tricks.

“Woman, do as I say.”

Imi stared at him, trying to sort through a thousand different thoughts at once. The Cilician’s full, sensuous lips, the high–bridged nose, skin the color of almonds—she’d seen it all before. Seen him during the ceremony when the Ephesian high priest had offered prayers for the success of her mission. A man’s image had materialized in the tendrils of incense smoke that rose from the priest’s swinging gold censer. Imi had looked around surreptitiously but no one else appeared to have noticed anything unusual, so she had dismissed the apparition as a trick of the light, a result of her nervousness and excitement. Now she saw she’d been wrong. Though she still had no idea what it meant, the vision had clearly been no creation of her over–anxious mind.

Imi shrank from the rider. He could be friend or foe. She had no way of knowing. His Latin was thick and coarse, and his sun–dark skin argued against him being a priest, at least in Rome. Perhaps he was a temple guard then, one she’d not seen before, but surely only Roman citizens were allowed to fill that post.

More slats fell away from the floor of the cart, and she let out an involuntary cry.

“Come now, let go of what you hold and reach for me,” the man commanded.

Never! Imi clutched the small chest even closer. A temple guard would have asked her to hand over her box and shown no concern for her. The stranger’s demand brought fresh questions and fears to her mind. Could he be an assassin sent by the queen? Was that why his face had appeared in the scented smoke? But Cilicians were enemies to the people of the United Lands. Would the queen trust such a one? Imi would put nothing past her mistress’s sister, and it was possible that the goddess had sent the vision as a warning. The queen had no compunction about sending dangerous men to slit the throats of her enemies or to plunge a dagger in their chests. If this Cilician was such a man, then all was undone, his concern was nothing more than a sham, meant to lull her into a false ease. He would save her from the runaway cart only to make sure of her death with a knife in her breast. She had failed her mistress and her country. Imi could have wept in frustration.

Another jolting lurch snapped her head back. With a muffled oath, the man urged his horse forward as the floor of the cart finally gave way. Imi flung out her hand, trying to hold on to something, anything, but the cart had completely disintegrated. The last thing she saw before she collapsed was the man stretching out to grab her horse’s reins.

*****

 

Seleucus cursed as the cart fell apart and the woman crumpled to the cobblestones. Forgetting about the runaway horse, he wheeled his own about and galloped back to her just as some of his companions drew up. They pulled their horses up short as he jumped to the ground.

“Is she alright, Captain?” Sahman, his first mate, asked.

Seleucus didn’t answer. He bent over her to make sure she breathed. Contenting himself on that account, he concentrated on gently feeling her limbs, checking for any broken bones. He noted with amusement that she still clutched her box to her and was tempted to try wresting it away to determine its contents but decided against it.

“She has suffered no injury I can find,” he said finally, still crouching beside her, wishing he could see more of her face than the scant moonlight allowed. How slender she was, he thought.

“Do we take them with us?” asked the cook, Ali.

“The man.” Seleucus had forgotten about him until Ali spoke. “He too is uninjured?”

“No, captain,” Sahman answered. “He landed on his arm when he was thrown, and I believe it is crushed or perhaps broken. At any rate, unusable right now. We put him in the cart with the others.”

Seleucus nodded as he thought hard. They had twelve captives already and had taken a fair amount in jewels, talents, gold and silver jewelry, amphorae of olive oil and wine, bolts of rare silks from the East. In addition to the horses, they’d needed to steal two carts to carry everything. It was a pretty good haul. Better than he’d dared hope when he’d planned the venture. The Romans had gotten lazy and complacent after Pompey’s great defeat of his brethren just a few decades ago.

He looked down at the unconscious girl at his feet. She had spoken excellent Latin without a hint of any accent, regional or otherwise, but her skin was tawny and she had the thick, inky hair of an Egyptian or Syrian. He wondered where she was from and where she was going. Her robe was of smooth Eastern silk, a favorite material among the Romans, but rich Roman women, the kind who could afford such silk, traveled out of the city in heavily guarded litters, not in carts and not at night.

Sahman cleared his throat—a subtle reminder that time was getting on and they must needs ride on quickly if they were indeed to sail at dawn as they planned. To arrive late at the harbor was to risk discovery and capture.

“We’ll leave the man in the town at Sosia’s house,” Seleucus said.

Sahman nodded and rode back to meet their own oncoming carts.

“The girl comes with me,” Seleucus continued.

The men exchanged leering glances as he picked her up and carried her to his horse; she still gripped the box.

“Giving up your taste for the blonde girls at Glycera’s?” asked Ali. Glycera was once a beautiful Athenian hetaera who had run to fat. She now lived off the earnings of the young slave girls she obtained from as far away as Galicia. Glycera’s girls were trained in all the arts of pleasuring a man, and her house was the preferred haunt of Seleucus and his men when they were in Athens.

“When in Rome, one must make do with what Rome offers,” Seleucus responded, giving his men the kind of answer they expected. He laid her gently across his horse’s back and vaulted lightly up. The horse whickered and threw his head, nervous. Seleucus calmed him and pulled the mystery woman up so that her head rested against his chest. The scent of lavender rose from her hair and wafted to his nose. How clean and good she smelled. He took a couple deep breaths, but this was no time to indulge himself. Behind him, he could hear the rattle of their stolen carts, their drivers urging the horses on as quickly as they could.

“Ride now, men. Ride. We have a ways to go before we see our sweet ship again.” He clicked his tongue and nudged his horse. Soon they were again galloping along the road. Seleucus considered himself an excellent horseman, but the strain of keeping control of the horse while making sure the unconscious woman in front of him didn’t fall off was telling by the time they saw the outline of Anxur. Was this where the woman was headed, he wondered? Did somebody await her in the harbor city? If they did, they would be sorely disappointed because when his ship sailed, she’d be on it. She’d be a fancy little treat for whoever offered him the best price in Delos. Then again, if better light than that offered by the young moon confirmed her beauty, perhaps he would keep her around for a little while to amuse himself. He bent his head to inhale her scent again, and a small flame of desire stirred faintly in his loins.

*****

 

When Imi awoke, the first thing she thought about was the ivory chest. She sat bolt upright in the bed, her heart pounded and her head throbbed. The precious little casket sat on a small table near the door. Imi slid off the bed. Her head swam as she tried to stand. Goddess! Every bone in her body ached. Wine–dark bruises and swellings covered her arms. Her temples ached. She felt her head and thought there was a slight bump above her left ear. The events of the night before came surging back to frighten her. She closed her eyes, took a deep breath, and tried to clear her mind of pain and fear. She was alive and still in possession of the box. She staggered over to it and whispered her thanks to the goddess when she saw that its contents were intact. Only then did she look around and wonder where she was. Clearly a man’s bedroom, bare and unadorned as it was, with only one plain mirror and none of the powders and unguents women depended on.

The table opposite the bed held a long–toothed comb and an alabaster bottle, nothing more. Imi removed the stopper from the bottle and sniffed. Amber–scented cleansing oil. Hmm, at least the cabin’s owner cared about cleanliness. Imi crossed over to an armoire and peered inside. As she had thought, men’s clothes. On another nearby table she found a mirror and a razor.

Just then, the door opened. A tall, olive–skinned man with piercing eyes strode in, immediately making the room feel much smaller. It was the mysterious horse–rider who’d accosted her on the road from Rome, the man she’d first seen in tendrils of gray, aromatic smoke. Imi shivered and wrapped her arms around herself.

“How do you feel?” he asked her.

“Wh . . ?” Her tongue was as gritty as if it was coated in sand. She cleared her throat and tried again. “Who are you?” she countered. “And where is Lucius?”

“Your cart–driver?”

She nodded and pressed her fingers to her temples even as she wished the throbbing would stop.

“His arm was broken so we left him.”

“On the road?” The news startled her. “You just left him on the road?”

“We took him to a healer known to us in Anxur and left him with her as perhaps we should have done with you.” He raised an eyebrow at her, his expression both curious and concerned.

Imi flicked her hand in dismissal. Her hurts did not matter.

“Lucius is my escort.” A woman travelling alone was easy prey for brigands, slavers, and con–men.

“I would guess that is why he did not wish to be parted from you, but he had no choice in the matter.”

No choice? She glared at him furiously, all her aches momentarily forgotten.

“You had no right to interfere with us! We are lawful travelers!”

“Really?”

Just one word, but he imbued it with such doubt and amusement that Imi thought it best not to belabor the point. Who knew who he was or what he knew!

“I must leave now,” she said, summoning an imperious confidence she was far from feeling.

BOOK: Her Pirate Master
9.12Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

Other books

The Parting Glass by Emilie Richards
The Family Hightower by Brian Francis Slattery
Scott Pilgrim 03 by Scott Pilgrim, The Infinite Sadness (2006)
Did Not Survive by Ann Littlewood
The Ghost Writer by Philip Roth
Islam and Democracy: Fear of the Modern World by Fatima Mernissi, Mary Jo Lakeland
Secret Signs by Shelley Hrdlitschka