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Диксон Хелен

The Pirate's Daughter

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«The Pirate's Daughter» - Хелен Диксон

She's Everything He Despises–And Desires…When Captain Stuart Marston meets, woos and then marries Cassandra Everson in Barbados, he is unaware of her real identity. And then the truth is revealed–she is none other than the daughter of his enemy, a notorious pirate who has terrorized the seas.Cassandra is unable to understand why her once passionate husband can no longer bear to be near her. When they're forced to spend days–and nights–together, it's more than obvious that Stuart still desires her. If only she can make him see that she's still the loving, steadfast woman he first lost his heart to….
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“When you married me I thought it was me you wanted.

“When you married me I thought it was me you wanted.

“Does it really matter who my father was?” Cassandra asked forcefully.

“In this case, yes, it does. Before this, to me you were one person—now you are someone else. I cannot reconcile myself to that just now.”

“I realize how difficult it must be for you and I do not ask for your forgiveness at this present time. But no matter who or what my father was, it does not make me less worthy. My feelings for you remain unchanged. Can you not feel the same? Must you despise me?”

Her obvious distress made Stuart go pale, and he moved as if to go to her, but he checked himself quickly. “Last night I was not aware of your disgraces when you so excited my desire. But since learning who you are I cannot help feeling that I have betrayed my brother’s spirit….”

The Pirate’s Daughter

Helen Dickson


was born and still lives in south Yorkshire with her husband on a busy arable farm where she combines writing with keeping a chaotic farmhouse. An incurable romantic, she writes for pleasure, owing much of her inspiration to the beauty of the surrounding countryside. She enjoys reading and music. History has always captivated her, and she likes travel and visiting ancient buildings.


Chapter One

Chapter Two

Chapter Three

Chapter Four

Chapter Five

Chapter Six

Chapter Seven

Chapter Eight

Chapter Nine

Chapter Ten

Chapter Eleven

Chapter Twelve

Chapter Thirteen

Chapter Fourteen

Chapter Fifteen

Chapter Sixteen

Chapter One

November 1671

T he time for the hanging of Captain Nathaniel Wylde, the notorious pirate, was set for twelve noon at Execution Dock on a bend on the north bank of the River Thames at Wapping. It was here that the gallows stood on the muddy shoreline near the low tide mark, the usual place for the execution of pirates who infested the seas. Once captured, they came under the jurisdiction of the Lord High Admiral, who was responsible for all crimes committed at sea up to the low-tide mark. Above that, all felons were dealt with by the civil courts.

The gallows was a simple structure of two wooden posts, made to look monstrous and sinister by a hangman’s noose suspended from the wooden cross beam. After the hanging the body would slowly become submerged by three consecutive tides washing over it, before being taken down and fitted into iron hoops and chains and suspended from a gibbet on the lower reaches of the Thames—as a dire warning to seamen who have a mind to fall foul of the law.

Colourful and exciting tales of the exploits of Nathaniel Wylde, the handsome, charismatic pirate, were talked of from the Caribbean to the South China Seas. A huge crowd had gathered on the shore, and some had taken to boats on the river, to witness his hanging, to see for themselves the man who was a living legend, captured by pirates while crossing the Atlantic to the Caribbean to start a new life following the defeat of the Royalists at the Battle of Worcester twenty years ago.

He had survived two brutal years as a galley slave with the Barbary Corsairs in the warm, sparkling waters of the Mediterranean, before escaping and capturing his own ship. With the lure of adventure strong in his veins and mastering the skills of navigation and seamanship surprisingly quickly, he proceeded to sail the oceans unchecked, preying on heavily laden merchant ships, and answerable to no law or code of conduct but the pirates’ own.

Unlike most pirate captains who were notorious for their ruthlessness and unspeakable cruelty, Nathaniel Wylde—unprincipled swashbuckler and undoubtedly a rogue—had acquired the reputation of a ‘Gentleman Pirate’ owing to the charm and courtesy he showed towards his victims, which tended to cloud the serious nature of the crimes perpetrated against them. His crew, although illiterate men, were unusual in the fact that they were not the typical miscreants as on other pirate ships, renowned for their foul language and drunken debauches.

Standing on the edge of the crowd stood Cassandra Everson, the hood of her cloak pulled well over her head—partly to protect her from the steady freezing rain falling out of a leaden sky, but more to shield her from recognition by the man, her father, who would soon become the focal point of the crowd’s attention when he mounted the ladder and prepared to breathe his last.

‘I wished to spare you this,’ murmured the tall, thin man by her side, his hand on the hilt of the dagger he carried at his waist, concealed beneath the folds of his cloak. ‘We should not have come here. I promised Nat to keep you away—not to let you see him die.’

‘I had to come. You, more than anyone, should know that. We will not have to wait much longer. It is almost time.’ She fixed her steady gaze on Drum O’Leary. His features were concealed by his cloak, for with a price on his own head it was imperative that he wasn’t recognised. Drum had taken a great risk in coming to the execution, but when he had arrived at Everson House in Chelsea to break the news of Nat’s capture and impending execution, against his wishes she had insisted on accompanying him.

Drum O’Leary was a fearsome-looking individual, an Irishman, an arch-villain, and to cross him was to court a dagger between the ribs. An old cutlass wound on his cheek pulled his mouth upwards slightly, causing it to be permanently fixed in a lopsided grin, giving him a sinister appearance. Outwardly Drum acted and spoke politely, but beneath that calm façade was a man who would show no mercy when crossed.

He had acquired the name ‘Drum’ while serving in the King’s army as a drummer during the Civil War. He was Nathaniel Wylde’s most faithful and trusted friend, and he had been by his side for twenty years. Forced to leave England after King Charles’s defeat at Worcester, they had both been captured and served as galley slaves together, but Drum had not been on board the Dolphin, Nat’s ship, when she had been captured, owing to the fact that he had been on the Cape Verde Islands off the coast of West Africa visiting his Portuguese wife.

A line of suffering appeared around Cassandra’s mouth and Drum was touched by the grief he saw in her eyes, which were so like Nat’s. Execution Dock was not a place he had brought her to without qualms.

‘Don’t worry, Drum. He will not know I’m here.’

Cassandra was insensible to the bitterly cold November day and the stink of foul odours coming from the river as she strained her ears and eyes, searching the road for the cart that would bring the condemned man to this awful place of execution, until, at last, she heard the hollow rumble of wheels and it came into view.

It had crossed London Bridge from Marshalsea Prison on the south bank where, after Nat had been intercepted off the coast of West Africa by an English privateer, a heavily armed vessel licensed by the Admiralty to attack and seize the Dolphin, he had been confined for the past three months. Having been tried and convicted of piracy at the Old Bailey Sessions Court, and unprepared to confess to his crimes, Nat had been sentenced to hang.

The cart was in a procession led by the Admiralty Marshal on horseback. Cassandra had not laid eyes on her father for nigh on fifteen months, but she recognised him immediately. His familiar mane of silvery blond hair was like blazing sunlight on this dismally cold November day. A heavy growth of beard covered his usually clean-shaven face, and his skin, turned golden brown by many years at sea and hardened to the texture of leather, had paled after his long weeks of incarceration.

Cassandra pulled the hood of her cape further over her face and gripped it together across her mouth and nose so he would not recognise her when the cart came close, for he would not want her to witness his final degradation and humiliation. When she looked on his beloved face, scalding tears burned the backs of her eyes and she almost choked on a lump in her throat which she swallowed down, angered by her own weakness, for it was not in her nature to cry.

When the cart reached the river side he climbed out, followed by the prison chaplain who had accompanied him, hoping the prisoner would see the error of his ways and repent of his sins before the end. He was given the chance to address the crowd but refused. Fixing his eyes on the gallows he strode forward, giving everyone watching the distinct impression that he was as eager to depart this world as he had been to enter it.

There was a swagger to his gait and a carefree dignity, for as he had lived his life so he would meet his death, tall and unbowed, his pale golden hair flowing free like the dancing pennant of his ship, the Dolphin, and as imposing as a tall poplar clothed in shimmering leaves of summer glory. Villain and blackguard he might be, but at his moment of death he exuded an air of panache which could bring a macabre smile to the lips of even the most hardened, sanctimonious spectator.

A cold fury washed over Cassandra as she watched the ghastly scene being played out before her eyes. She was angry and frustrated by her inability to speak to him, to say goodbye. Digging her fingers into the palms of her hands, she heard the words of the chaplain reciting the prayers as he followed her father across the mud. She was insensible to the stirrings of the crowd, which moved like a storm-tossed ocean, as she watched her father climb the ladder and the executioner place the noose around his neck. At that moment she felt as if she were dying herself. Drum stood beside her, as immobile as a figure of stone.

‘Give him courage to show no fear,’ Cassandra whispered, her life and soul concentrated in her eyes as they remained fixed on the condemned man. ‘Let this soon be over.’

Nathaniel Wylde seemed not to hear the chaplain asking him to repent of his sins as his eyes did a broad sweep of the crowd, suddenly becoming fixed and intent on someone standing apart. His expression froze, but then his eyes narrowed and a slow smile curved his lips as he raised his hand in a courtly flourish of a salute.

Curiously Cassandra turned and followed the line of his gaze, wondering what it could be that had caught his attention and caused him to smile at the moment of death. She saw a man who stood alone, away from the crowd, shrouded in a black cloak and wearing a tall crowned hat. She could not make out his features, but she could see he was as dark as her father was fair. She felt a strange, slithering unease. The man had an air of command she had never encountered before, not even in her father. Everything about his manner warned her that he was an adventurer.

As if the man sensed she was staring at him, he twisted his head towards her. The meeting of their eyes was fleeting, and before Cassandra could take stock of his features he turned quickly and walked away with long ground-devouring strides. The man’s self-assurance was infuriating. Feeling the tensing of Drum’s figure beside her, she tore her eyes away from the man’s departing figure and faced the gallows—just in time to see her father swing to his death.

A violent pain shot through her and she turned away. ‘It is done,’ she said through her breath to her companion, whose pain was as great as her own. ‘This is the darkest day of my life. Come. Let us be gone from here. I have seen enough.’

Together they walked away from the river, away from the crowd, and, although her body still functioned automatically Cassandra walked with blind steps, for her father’s death hung all about her.

Drum broke the silence. ‘I must return you to Chelsea.’

‘No.’ The strangling tension in Cassandra’s chest began to dissolve, and she drew a long, full breath.

Drum halted his stride and looked at her sharply, warily, waiting for her to continue, sensing she had something other than the execution on her mind.

‘I don’t want Nat to remain hanging on that rope for the tide to wash over him,’ Cassandra said, her voice quivering with deep, angry emotion, ‘for the crabs to eat at his flesh, and then to be hung in a metal cage at some point in the estuary for the crows to pick at. When the water covers him I would jump into the Thames and cut him loose myself if I could.’

Drum paused and looked at the lovely, spirited, unhappy girl. There was such a fierceness about her that he didn’t doubt her words. ‘There’s nothing you or anyone can do for Nat now.’

‘Yes, there is, Drum,’ she said, turning to look at him, her features swept clean of sorrow and a decisive hard gleam in her eyes. ‘There is one last thing. There is still his ship—the Dolphin.’

‘The Dolphin has been impounded and is moored further up river awaiting her fate.’

‘Then you must be the decider of what her fate will be, Drum. Get her back—and then she is yours. Does that not appeal to you?’ she said forcefully, trying to infuse some of her enthusiasm into the lofty pirate. ‘Imagine it! That is what Nat would have wanted.’

Drum stared at her incredulously. ‘Forget it. It’s not possible.’

‘Not possible?’ Cassandra argued heatedly. ‘Why, Drum, I’m disappointed in you. Since when has anything been impossible for you? Come, now. Do not tell me your spirit of adventure has deserted you,’ she mocked, with a smile to take the sting from her words.

‘Me and my spirit of adventure departed company when I heard Nat had been taken,’ Drum grumbled. ‘Besides, where will we find the men to sail her? Half the crew who were captured along with Nat have already been hanged.’

‘That may be, but there must be scores of out-of-work seamen and dockers living among Wapping and Rotherhithe’s rat-infested streets and alleyways who would be willing to join you—for a price.’

‘Aye, and a high one at that if you want them to assist in stealing Nat’s ship from under the nose of the authorities.’

‘And Nat’s body. Find someone to recover it at high tide when it’s submerged by water. Let the sea be his final resting place—not some gruesome gibbet at Tilbury Point, for all to see and gloat at. Were I a man I would do it myself,’ she said, her eyes blazing with the fighting spirit of a rampaging firebrand, ‘and see to it that all those responsible for bringing Nat to this suffer the same fate.’

Drum regarded her with disdain. ‘You are loyal, but misguided, and very much like Nat.’ Deep in thought, he began to pace to and fro, for it would be no easy task to carry out beneath the eyes of the night watch. Once his mind was made up to do as she suggested, his attitude changed radically. After weeks of lassitude he had something to focus on, a goal, and he would pour all his energy into achieving it. ‘There are some I know hereabouts who remain loyal to Nat.’

There was something in his voice that made Cassandra’s heart beat afresh. ‘So you will do it?’

‘Aye—I’ll do it—but it will be a desperate, dangerous undertaking. Let’s hope that providence favours us and the heavy cloud remains, making it a moonless night.’

‘You’ll succeed. I know you will. Oh, how I envy you. There are times when my life spent at Chelsea stifles me. How I long for the kind of freedom my father enjoyed. It was kind of you to think I should know of his plight, and kinder still to risk coming to tell me.’

At this time Cassandra didn’t know how she would cope with a world without her father in it. She had few friends, and cousin Meredith had been in Kent visiting her paternal grandmother for weeks now. When she was at home, fond though Meredith was of Cassandra, the house and garden and entertaining her brother John’s friends were her passion—and the extent of her interest. A terrifying vista of emptiness lay before Cassandra. On the plus side John was on an island in the Caribbean. She fixed Drum with a steady gaze as a wave of recklessness came upon her, and she said bluntly, ‘Take me with you.’

Drum ceased pacing and looked at her as though she’d taken leave of her senses. Her words set his mouth in a thin line. ‘Out of the question! What you ask is absurd.’ His voice began to rise and he checked it. ‘Women don’t belong on pirate ships,’ he told her firmly, unable to hide his opinions where women and ships were concerned.

Cassandra’s eyes widened with pleading, and she smiled in a way that had never failed to melt Nat’s heart.

‘And don’t look at me like that,’ Drum growled, hardening his heart against the coercion of her smile. Such sentiments spelt his ruin. ‘I’m not like Nat, who you could wind round your finger like a strand of cotton.’

‘Please, Drum. There’s nothing for me here. Time and again I’ve sworn to leave when the opportunity presents itself—and this is it. Following Nat’s last visit—a visit that was witnessed by our neighbours—some people have come to know who I am, and they’re not kind. They call me names, the favourites being that I am a bastard—a pirate’s spawn—and there are worse.’ There was an edge to her voice that hardened her tone. ‘Oh, my Lord! How I hate those people. Until then I hadn’t realised the extent of John and Meredith’s protection.’

Drum checked the words of sympathy that rose to his lips. She had no need of them. There was nothing self-pitying in her, in the anger that flamed on her cheeks and set her eyes on fire. Beneath the serene grace was a soul craving excitement and adventure, a spirit struggling to be set free. Drum shook his head, his brows drawn together, for it boded ill, he was certain.

‘Nat wouldn’t thank me if I put you in danger. Do you think he would have allowed you to leave your Cousin John’s protection?’

‘Domination,’ Cassandra countered coldly. ‘I love John and Meredith dearly, but the kind of life they plan for me—married to some man I would never set my cap at—fills me with dread.’ Secretly she dreamed of marrying a man who was dashing and handsome, bold and with a sense of adventure—a man like Nathaniel Wylde.

Drum squinted at her sideways. ‘And what makes you think life on the high seas is a playground? Although I suppose the tales Nat filled your head with would have you think so.’

Drum was right. Cassandra had fallen beneath the spell her father wove. The stories he had regaled her with had been more potent than the strongest wine. But she was neither deceived nor disillusioned by them and had long since decided that the dashing heroes of Nat’s tales were outlaws, careful to keep well ahead of the law.

‘Nat’s life was fashioned by his own hands,’ Drum continued. ‘We were alike. Our souls fed on the same spirit of adventure and a desire to succeed in all we set out to do. Nat was a man of fire, who thought nothing of life if it held no challenge—and such consideration he felt for his daughter was a twist of character you would not expect in such a hardened rogue. But I knew him too well to interpret it as weakness.

‘Regardless of the risks, he was drawn back to you time and again like a lodestone, and there were times when it almost cost him his life. I loved Nat like a brother, but that doesn’t change the fact that he was a notorious pirate with a well-deserved reputation for villainy.’

The colour slowly drained from Cassandra’s face. Drum saw it and forged ahead, refusing to spare her, determined to get it out in the open and make her see Nat for what he was. Too much sentimentality was unthinkable.

‘You’ve convinced yourself Nat was practically a saint, who could do no wrong. The truth is he was much closer to a devil than a saint, and everyone knows it. You were naïve enough to believe his boast that he would never harm anyone.’

‘He was still my father and I loved him,’ Cassandra remarked defensively.

‘You loved an illusion, an illusion you created out of the tales he spun because you were innocent and idealistic.’

‘I know that,’ she said, fighting to control the wrenching anguish that was strangling her breath in her chest, ‘and blind, gullible and stupid. But I refuse to believe that the man my mother fell in love with was all bad. He was my life, my king, and the sea was his own special realm into which I have always dreamed of being initiated.’

‘Love blinds you. There’s much you don’t know about Nat.’

‘I know, which is why I want to feel what it is like to experience a little of what he did.’

‘And risk capture—even death?’

‘Yes. Please, Drum, take me with you.’ Her eyes implored him to comply. ‘I don’t fear the consequence of my actions. I don’t care if I die tonight or tomorrow or in the weeks to come.’

Drum looked at her, and then away again. ‘That is why I want you to stay here, for the same reason.’

‘Cousin John is in the Caribbean at this time on Company business. Meredith is in Kent visiting her grandmother and isn’t due back for ages yet. I’ll leave her a note explaining where I have gone. She’ll be angry, I know, but I’ll be halfway across the Atlantic by the time she returns to Chelsea.’ She dismissed her cousin without a second thought as she concentrated on the reckless, foolhardy plan forming in her mind, which was beginning to take on a positive shape.

‘You have it all mapped out, don’t you?’

When the good side of Drum’s lips turned down in censure, Cassandra’s resolution to stay calm faltered and she fixed him with a fierce stare. ‘I’m not so chicken-livered that I will faint on finding myself the only woman aboard with a shipload of men,’ she said, voicing her impatience. ‘Besides, if they respect Nat as much as you say they did, as his daughter I’ll be safe enough.’

‘I expect you would.’ Drum raised a brow in mock reproof. ‘I was considering your sensibilities.’

‘Then don’t.’ Drawing a deep breath, she controlled the urge to shake him. ‘I shall go to Barbados—to John, which is where he will be for the next twelve months at least. Oh, Drum—’ she sighed when she saw doubt cloud his eyes ‘—I want to feel the deck of the Dolphin beneath my feet—to feel the pull of the wind in my hair and smell the sea. I want to know how it was when you sailed with Nat. You of all people should be able to understand that.’

‘Aye, you’ll know how it was when you feel the deck heaving beneath your feet. Not many people can stand the motion of a ship’s deck. You’ll be sick right enough.’ Despite his exasperation over her stubbornness, Drum was filled with admiration for her courage, but the rigid, unyielding expression on his scarred face as he looked at her revealed none of this.

Cassandra met his stare, equally resolute. ‘If I am, I’ll get over it. When we reach Barbados the Dolphin is yours to do with as you please.’

Despite his misgivings, Drum gave a twisted grin and a wicked, twinkling gleam shone in his eyes. ‘I would give a thousand pieces of eight to see your cousin’s reaction when you arrive on Barbados unheralded.’

Cassandra sensed he was weakening and seized the advantage. ‘Then you agree to take me?’

He laughed quietly and rubbed his chin, his expression resigned. ‘You have a persuasive tongue—but I don’t like it. I still say a woman has no place at sea. If I do succeed in securing the Dolphin, your presence on board will be a complication. You are an innocent and as such will need vigilant protection. I don’t relish the role of knight-errant being forced on me. God willing we’ll encounter fair weather that will enable me to deliver you to your cousin before too long.’

As they walked on Drum’s eyes were bright with anticipation as he became infused with Cassandra’s enthusiasm. She was Nat’s daughter all right—tall, graceful and lithe, as slender as a wand and as agile as a faun. There was an arresting quality about her face and an inner vivacious light shone from her eyes, showing a passion for life—fire and ice. Her mind was strong, her manner bold and determined—a legacy of Nat’s.

‘There’s one thing we must speak of. Your father amassed great wealth over the years. The authorities have been unable to lay their hands on it. Only myself and the remaining members of the crew know where it is to be located. What is to be done with it?’

‘As to that, I want none of it. It can sink to the bottom of the sea or be given to the authorities. Do what you will with it, Drum. It was obtained illegally and by force. I did not condone Nat’s way of life—and I have to confess that oft was the time I wished it had been different.’

‘His way of life was set from the day he seized the Dolphin.’

‘That I know. Undoubtedly he was a villain—bold and decisive, and he cut a dashing figure—although his daring deeds made him a charming one, and the scale and brilliance of his villainy elevated him to the rank of one of the most notorious pirates that has ever lived.’

‘Aye,’ Drum agreed with a touch of sadness. ‘It did that.’

Tears clouded Cassandra’s eyes, dampening her lashes. ‘He always made me feel ten feet tall, Drum, and I loved him dearly—pirate or not—to my grief and shame. But he never hurt me so I cannot speak ill of him. When I was thirteen years old and my aunt died and he came to see me, the times I spent with him were the happiest of my life.

‘Until then, my life under Aunt Miriam’s dominance had been a complete misery, and she never let me forget the stigma of my birth. There was never a day went by when she didn’t remind me I was her dead sister’s bastard child. Everything I did I did out of a sense of obligation, but, on getting to know Nat, everything I did was to please him, out of love. Now, come,’ she said, walking on with a new spring to her step, the crowd behind them at Execution Dock beginning to disperse. ‘What about these recruits? I must return to Chelsea to get some things and instruct the servants, and in the mean time you have much to do.’

Drum was of a mind to object, to insist on her remaining at Chelsea, and he would undertake the task of finding men who would be willing to take the risk of releasing the Dolphin from her moorings, men who would know how to keep their mouths shut for a price, but he remained silent, knowing the futility of uttering any protestations.

There was only one man who could tell Cassandra Everson what to do—only one man she had wanted to please, who she would ever listen to. But he was hanging from the end of a rope at Execution Dock. It would take an exceptional man—the like of Nathaniel Wylde—to master her, to tame Nat’s illegitimate, wilful daughter. It would have to be a man who loved her, a man who could not be swayed by the false promise of a coercive, dimpled smile.

Captain Sir Stuart Marston strode away from Execution Dock with a profound feeling of relief that it was done. At last he had seen his foremost enemy suffer the punishment he deserved.

On the restoration of Charles II to the throne of England, Nathaniel Wylde had ignored a Royal pardon to surrender himself and continued taking and plundering ships bound for the West Indies. Initially, having no love of Cromwell’s protectorate in England, he had preyed only on Parliamentary ships, but over the years, as his enthusiasm for piracy flourished and his gains became richer, in his greed and lust for more it had come to matter little what flag a ship sailed under if her cargo was worth the taking.

It was almost a year ago that Stuart’s elder brother had been on one of the ships bound for Jamaica to visit his uncle who owned a plantation there, when his vessel had come under attack from pirates. In a heavy mist the heavily laden merchant vessel, having sailed wide of the convoy in which it was travelling, had stood little chance of outrunning or outgunning the two pirate ships—fast single-masted sloops with forty guns between them.

Only a handful of those on board had survived to tell the tale, and Stuart had learned that the captain of the vessel that had led the attack was Nathaniel Wylde, and that after removing the cargo he and his cohorts had left the stricken ship and nearly all those on board to sink to the bottom of the sea. News of this sinking had shocked the Admiralty and public alike in England. Driven by a need to avenge his brother, Stuart had approached the Admiralty and been granted his wish.

He was issued with a privateering mission allowing him to seek out Captain Nathaniel Wylde with his ship, the Sea Hawk, to arrest and bring him back to London to stand trial for his crimes—an unusual concession, for such licence was usually issued to a Royal Naval vessel, but the ships of the Royal Navy were needed in the long-running fight with the Dutch.

After drawing Captain Wylde out of his lair in the Gulf of Mexico, Stuart had hounded him across the Atlantic to the coast of West Africa, which had fewer hiding places than the islands of the Caribbean.

Wylde had put up a fierce fight, but eventually Stuart and the seamen under his command had managed to capture the Dolphin, her captain and half her crew. Along with his ship, Nathaniel Wylde had been brought to England in chains and hanged.

In possession of a feeling of deep satisfaction that he had avenged himself on Captain Wylde for the death of his brother, Stuart proceeded towards the Pool of London where the Sea Hawk, chartered to a private English mercantile company, was moored.

He had only one more mission to the West Indies to carry out for the Company before he was to retire from the sea and settle down to a life of ease at Charnwood in Kent, home to his family for generations, where he would satisfy his mother’s desire that he find himself a wife and provide her with grandchildren and an heir.

Absently his thoughts turned to the tall, slender young woman he had observed from a distance watching the execution of Nathaniel Wylde. There had been an intense look of concentration in her eyes, which had turned to open curiosity when they had met his. Each had briefly assessed the other with an unwavering stare, and the woman’s steady gaze had taken on an iron nerve. It was the measure of a woman confident of her own worth.

Her eyes had been the only feature exposed, but he recalled the long strand of pale gold hair escaping the confines of her hood. It had drawn his gaze like a moth to a flame, for it was the only bright feature to lighten the dreariness of the day until Nathaniel Wylde had appeared, and his own mane of hair had shone to equal that of the woman’s.

It was then the truth burst on him—that the young woman he had seen could in all probability have been Wylde’s daughter. At first his brain refused to accept it and he smiled at his foolish, fanciful thoughts, for not by any stretch of the imagination could he visualise a man’s daughter coming to watch her father hang. However, recollecting tales told by mariners that Nathaniel Wylde had a daughter of spirit and great beauty, and that she lived with relatives somewhere in London, perhaps he was not mistaken in his suspicion after all—and with Wylde’s blood in her, she would feel neither distress nor out of place at a hanging.

The more he thought about it—having observed her as Wylde had mounted the gallows, he had seen her knuckles showing white from the force with which she had gripped the hood of her cloak across her face, and recollected how both she and her companion had gone to great lengths to keep their features concealed as they remained hovering on the edge of the crowd—the more possible, the more probable it became that the woman he had seen was indeed the pirate’s daughter.

He could have turned back and denounced her companion, who was undoubtedly one of Wylde’s associates, but for some reason unknown to him he hired a hackney to take him to his ship, eager to put the unpleasant episode behind him and slake his thirst and eat his dinner in the warm comfort of his cabin, reluctant to condemn another man to the same gruesome fate as Nathaniel Wylde.

But the following morning he had grave misgivings and was compelled to examine his failure to turn back and denounce the man when the bosun informed him that, unobserved, the Dolphin had slipped quietly from her moorings in the dark of the night and was last seen heading down river towards the sea—a woman, with pale blonde hair flowing down the length of her back and dressed in breeches, her feet planted firmly apart, standing in the prow of the ship.

When the tide had receded it was also revealed that Nathaniel Wylde’s body had been cut free of the hangman’s noose at Execution Dock.


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