By – Lisa Kessler
“Pirates, or privateers as they sometimes called themselves, were actually very democratic. Everyone got a cut and the entire crew elected their Captain and Quartermaster…”
The tour guide’s voice faded as Skye Olson made her way toward the stern of the ship. She didn’t come onboard to listen to pirate stories. Growing up in Savannah, she’d heard all of them before, even the faint whispers of the pirate spirits that still walked among them. She was grateful every day that she couldn’t hear the dead.
She’d have to move away.
But the past few weeks had her thinking along those lines anyway. Catching glimpses of the future was her trade, she’d grown up with the sight, but somehow she’d been blindsided when she discovered Curt had been living a double life.
The deceit, and her lack of foresight, had shaken her to the core. How could she offer guidance to her clients if she couldn’t even protect herself?
She stared down at the Savannah River. The water was always changing, just like the boats that had come and gone from this port for centuries. Was it telling her to cast her sails to the wind and get a new start?
Last year she never would have imagined pondering that question. Indecisiveness used to be foreign to her.
She twisted the ring on her finger until it slid free. The engagement—the entire relationship—had been built on lies. Expensive, costly lies. She gripped the ring tight in her fist. She’d left her shop this morning determined to toss it into the moving water.
“Tour’s up on the bow.” A tall shadow fell over her.
She didn’t take her eyes off the river. “I know, thanks.”
His boots thumped on the deck behind her. “I wasn’t givin’ directions.”
She sighed and glanced over her shoulder. Her gaze traveled up his body, way up, to focus on his dark eyes. “I just need a minute.”
He shook his head, crossing his tan muscled arms over his broad chest. “Plenty of minutes are available with the tour. This area’s off-limits.”
He was just doing his job, but her tolerance for men was at an all-time low at the moment. “I’m not going to touch anything.”
His eyes moved to her feet and back to her face. “Seems you already are.”
Heat burned in her cheeks. “What is it with you men thinking you can just make a law and judge us when we question it?” She jammed the ring in the pocket of her jeans. “I’m sick of your shit. So if you want me to move, you’ll have to do it yourself.”
He raised a brow. “You finished?”
His calm only fueled the tempest inside her. “No, actually, I don’t think I am.” She matched his posture: chest out, arms crossed. “My family’s been in Savannah since it was settled. I know the pirate stories, and I didn’t buy a ticket for a tour and ‘swearing in’ ceremony under the pirate mast. Forgive me for wanting a few minutes peace with the Savannah River.”
He pointed to a sign.
Area is for Crew Only
A spark lit in his eyes. “If you’d been sworn in, you might be able to sway me to let you stay.”
She blew out a frustrated breath, her hands falling to her sides. “Look, I just wanted to toss my engagement ring into the river without getting arrested for littering. I figured no one would see me from up here.”
He relaxed his stance a little. “Must be an idiot to allow a fiery lass like you to get away.”
“Please don’t get flirty.” She rolled her eyes. “I’m not in the mood.”
A hint of a smile curved his lips. “Wasn’t flirtin’, just stating a fact.” He glanced over his shoulder. “Speaking of facts, you should pawn the ring. Feedin’ gold to the fish won’t cure heartache.”
“Sage wisdom from a guy working on a pirate ship for tourists.”
His jaw tightened, but he didn’t take the bait. “Time to rejoin your tour.”
She chuckled. “Whatever they’re paying you for security, it’s not enough.”
“It’s my boat. My rules.”
She lifted her hand to shield her eyes from the sun as she peered up at him. “You own the Sea Dog?”
Skye took a step back toward the railing. He couldn’t be much over thirty, if that. And the massive Spanish galleon ship had to be worth…more than she’d ever seen. “Wow. You come from old money?”
He tightened the knot on the bandana covering his head. “Something like that.” He tipped his head at the main deck. “Tour’s almost over.”
“Fine.” She narrowed her eyes. “Thanks for nothing.”
She stomped across the deck to the tour group, taking satisfaction in the clunking of her boots on the hard wood. Men and their freaking toys. The masts snapped above her head, pristine without a single rip or tear.
Okay, so this was an incredibly well-loved, amazing, historic toy, but still.
She crossed the gangplank after the tour, glancing over her shoulder just in time to catch the hottie pirate climbing up the riggings toward the lookout at the top of the mast. Sweat had his period appropriate shirt glued to him like a second skin.
God bless him, his back and shoulders were so chiseled, Michelangelo would be jealous.
Forcing herself to stop staring, she dropped the ring into the river from the plank. Not nearly as dramatic as she’d envisioned, but the deed was done. She was moving on.
Cold sweat sent a shiver down Colton’s back as he lifted the spyglass. She had violet eyes and a fiery heart, just like the sorceress had predicted. Her reading failed to mention it would take two hundred years for the woman to cross his path.
He watched her move down River Street until she vanished into the crowd. He put the spyglass down and leaned his forearms on the railing. He’d given up waiting for her within a few years, and decades later forgot the witch’s prophecy altogether.
But the second the trespasser with auburn hair and violet eyes looked up at him, the old woman’s voice echoed through his mind, like she’d been lurking in the shadows as the centuries passed, just waiting.
A woman with violet eyes will signal the beginning and ending of your life.
He wasn’t even sure what it meant. He couldn’t die, and he while he technically still existed, he wasn’t sure it was really living. The only time he experienced the breathless rush of being alive was out on the open sea with the waves pitching the ship. Those moments when Davy Jones breathed on the back of his neck were brief reminders of what his life had been.
Back when dying was still an option.
Colton scrambled over the wall of the crow’s nest, ignoring the tourists on the shore cheering and taking videos with their phones. No one climbed riggings anymore. It was a lost art once engines replaced the winds of the gods.
Milestones like that widened the separation between him and the people of this era. A buzz from his pocket surprised him. His grip slipped on the rope. He slid for a couple feet, the ropes burning his hands as he caught himself.
“Fuck,” he growled.
Damned cell phones. He’d resisted them for years, but now that he’d opened his ship to tour groups, it was a necessary evil.
He hooked one arm on the rigging and jerked the cell out of his pocket. “Yeah?”
“Colton? It’s John.”
He frowned. John hated cell phones even more than Colton did. “Something wrong?”
“Eli was driving to Atlanta to meet the Captain about our counter proposal to his hotel plans for Savannah.”
“Yeah, I remember.” Colton glanced over his shoulder at the gawking tourists and growled. “Can this wait? I’m a few feet above the deck at the moment.”
“He was in a car accident.”
Colton groaned. “So we’ll get him a new car.”
“Ye don’t understand.” His true lineage leaked into his voice. “His injuries aren’t healing, Quartermaster.”
Colton frowned, glancing at the raw skin on his palm. “What do you mean, not healing?”
“He was air-lifted to the hospital. I’ll meet you there.”
Colton stuffed the phone in his pocket and monkeyed down the last few feet of the rigging and dropped to the deck. His head was spinning. He stared at his unhealed hands.
Could this damned curse finally be coming to an end?
After checking the anchor line and locking down the helm, he crossed to the mainland. He needed to talk to the rest of the crew. Now.
The drive was a blur. Colton jogged from the parking lot into the hospital. At the information desk, he struggled to remember Eli’s last name.
They changed them every fifty years or so.
“I’m looking for…Eli McShane?”
The woman behind the desk checked her computer and peered up at him with an obviously well-practiced gentle smile. “He’s on the fifth floor. Room 523.”
“Appreciate it, lass.” He was halfway to the elevator before he noticed his slip. For the most part, no one would ever guess he wasn’t born in 1985 like it stated on his driver’s license, but when he was stressed or angry, his years aboard a pirate ship often colored his speech.
The lights flashed overhead, counting the floors. He glanced down at his hands. They were still raw and they ached.
For years, he’d prayed for this day, but now that it might be staring him in the face…The woman with the violet eyes appeared in his mind. He didn’t even know her name.
The doors parted, offering him a respite from his own thoughts. He followed the sign and rounded the corner to 523.
“I’ll be damned,” he whispered.
Eli was unconscious with wires and tubes running everywhere. Pins poked through the cast on his right leg, and his face was covered in cuts.
John looked up at him. “Worse than cannon fire.”
Colton pulled his eyes off the patient to the others. John rested his elbows on his knees, concern lining his dark eyes. He’d been the noblest boatswain Colton had ever sailed with. He was also the one who sent Eli to Atlanta.
“Wasn’t your fault, John.” Colton shook his head. “Eli always drove those fast cars like a man who couldn’t die.”
“Might be changin’.” Over by the window, One-Eyed Bob held up a bandaged hand. “Cut my finger slicing tomatoes. Nearly bled out waitin’ for it to heal.”
Bob was the best damned cook on the seven seas, and a fine pirate. Now he owned his own restaurant.
Colton nodded. “Something’s not right, that’s for damned sure.” He glanced at Eli and back to the others. “If Eli never delivered our proposal, you figure the Captain is already in Savannah?”
John straightened up in his chair with a shrug. “Probably. He’s a tenacious dog when he sets his eye on a treasure he’s got no right to.”
“Fuck.” Colton shook his head. “He’s only got one property left to claim.” He ran a hand down his face. “Okay. I’ll see if I can find him. What’s the word on Eli’s injuries?”
John looked over at Bob, then back to Colton. “They figure he sat in that car overnight with head trauma. Can’t tell us if he’ll be the same Eli if he wakes.”
Colton blew out a breath and approached Eli’s bedside. He covered the younger man’s hand with his. “You hear me, gunner? It’s your Quartermaster. I expect you to get your ass back to the land of the living so you can help us figure this out. If the curse is ending, it’s not starting with you. Understand?”
He squeezed Eli’s hand and went back to the door. “Call me if he opens his eyes.”
“Aye.” John nodded, his gaze locked on their fallen friend.
One-Eyed Bob followed him out to the hallway, keeping his voice hushed. “Maybe we need another hit of the cup. We could bring it to young Eli.”
Colton froze, his eyes narrowing while his voice was barely a whisper. “You would seriously take another drink from that cursed cup?” He pointed toward Eli’s room. “That boy in that bed looks to be three and twenty, but you and I both know he hasn’t been young in centuries.” Colton shook his head. “Until we know his wishes, you keep that grail hidden.”
“Aye.” His good eye was still bright green, his body perpetually elderly. “Given the choice, I’d like another swallow.”
Colton’s eyes widened. “Haven’t you grown weary of this world? Every day it leaves us further behind.”
One-Eyed Bob grinned, exposing a new bridge of straight white teeth. “Aye, but cooking never stagnates. New food, spices, and machines. Why would I allow myself to fade away?”
Colton ran a sore hand down his face. “Don’t you ever get lonely, old man?”
He swiped the air. “I got plenty of ladies, Quartermaster.”
“Flesh is always plentiful, but what happens when a warm body in your bed is no longer enough?” This conversation was getting him nowhere. “Watch Eli. I’ll handle the Captain.”