Liam’s stomach was growling by the time Jameson came below decks. Hew as wearing a scowl on his face and carrying a bucket and an armful of linens.
“It’s about time someone remembered I was down here,” Liam growled. “What’s with the bucket?”
“Captain says you have to clean up before dinner,” Jameson growled back. “She won’t dine with smelly sailors, she says.”
“She wants me to bathe just to eat?”
“Aye, sir, and she sent me down with clean clothes, too.”
“Clean clothes and a bath? I think I’d rather starve.”
“Her ship, her rules, sir.”
“So she’s told me.”
“She’s waiting, sir. And if she has my hide lashed because you kept her waiting, you can forget that pint o’ rum I owe you.”
“I hate losing a good pint o’ rum far more than bathing. Hand it over.”
Jameson handed the captured captain the bucket and clothes and stood a respectful distance away. Once Liam was as respectable as he was ever going to be, Jameson unlocked the manacles and led him back to the captain’s cabin.
Dinner aboard the Siren Song was served in a manner to rival any table in London or Paris. Captain O’Malley’s steward had cleaned and rearranged the cabin to accommodate the mistress’ guest. Linens, china, crystal, and sliver adorned the table. The steward lit the last of the candles and decanted a bottle of fine red wine when Liam entered. As the steward was seating the bewildered captive, the captain entered from an adjoining chamber. Gone were the practical trappings of a pirate captain able to hold her own among the men of her crew. The mistress of the Siren Song was dressed for dinner in a rich velvet gown and gold brocade bodice. Her wild raven hair had been pinned up, exposing the long line of her neck and the graceful curve of her shoulders. Around her neck was hung a handsomely crafted emerald necklace, as dainty gold earrings swung merrily from her ears. No lady in all her finery could match Captain Grace O’Malley for her beauty. And no man could defend himself against it.
“I think I like you better in your sailing clothes. At least I understand the rules of engagement under those circumstances,” Liam said as she seated herself across the table.
“Are you telling me that you do not understand the rules of good manners at a civilized table?”
“Since when have I ever been civilized?”
“Fair enough.” Turning to her steward she added, “you may begin serving.”
For a time they sat quietly and ate. Liam very carefully followed her step by step through the courses. Although not a word was said, the strategic contest was begun.
“You catch on quickly, O’Shea,” she smiled.
“Your ship, your rules, m’ lady.”
She raised her glass to him, “well said.”
“Would it be rude of me to ask at this point why I was shanghaied?”
“As I said before, I’m not certain I can trust you.”
“Then why involve me and my crew at all?”
“Because Captain Shireland has managed to secure the protections of the British Royal Navy. I cannot protect myself from her and them all on my own,” she was loath to admit.
“So I became a necessary evil,” he smiled.
“It is to your benefit to stop her as much as it is mine.”
“Maybe . . . Maybe not. Thus far she’s left me well enough alone.”
“And how would you calculate your benefit if you knew that the British agreed to this happy little arrangement with the scheming captain of the Ocean’s Whore because she assured them that she could bring them your head on a platter? It would seem you’ve been taking a great deal of taxable goods off the colonial market lately.”
“Hell truly doth have no fury like a woman scorned, then.”
They both lapsed into thoughtful silence as they picked at their meal. Liam had no doubts that if Captain O’Malley had gone to the effort to track him down and take him, that things were very bit as dire as she had indicated, knowing her, more likely far worse than she let on. She really had left him with no other choice but to offer to aid her and her men in any way he could.
As he looked up to address her, he noticed her glass was empty. The steward had left the cabin to get their next course from the galley. “Would you care for another glass of wine, m’ lady?” he asked, breaking the silence.
“Yes, thank you.”
Liam rose and retrieved the decanter of wine from the steward’s serving table and did his best to pout out just as the steward had. Just as he had the glass half full, he allowed his eyes to wander. They landed on the pair of full creamy mounds rising from her bodice. That steward was not only one of the luckiest men aboard ship, but he must have also had nerves of cannon iron to carry out his duties with such distractions, Liam thought to himself as he allowed the wine to overflow her glass.
“O’Shea, there is nothing to see there that is worth wasting such fine Italian wine,” Grace broke into his reverie.
“Sweet Mother Mary and all the saints,” Liam muttered to himself, “I’m sorry, Grace. Did I spill any on you?” He started to reach for her lap to check when she slapped his hand away.
“Really, Liam, do you think I would fall for such a juvenile lubber’s trick?”
“Not at all, m’ lady,” he reverted back to formalities. “My mind was elsewhere.” To quickly cover himself, he added, “how did you know so much about my recent activities, anyway?”
“Simple, Captain O’Shea, I have found that a few gold coins are much better spent on eyes and ears anywhere I may make port than on rum and pleasurable company. As a matter of fact, more often than not, information now comes looking for me.”
“What I cannot seem to get at any price, though, is the kind of detailed information that would only be found aboard the Ocean’s Whore.”
“You mean the kind of information that would convince the British authorities that a certain ally was double crossing them?”
“And you have designs on how to get such information?”
“Have you ever known me not to have a plan?”
“No doubt at all that you are the finest schemer your fair sex ever purported to be, but have you thought it completely through?”
“Watch it that you don’t turn your bow right into a storm, O’Shea.”
“My apologies, Captain, if I have run afoul, but I do recall many planning sessions full of passion and energy, give and take. I was merely endeavoring to recall those days, mistress.”
Captain O’Malley drew a slow calming breath. She had missed those days herself of late. The strain of operating her normal business and avoiding her new enemies was taking a toll on her. She had begun snapping at anyone that got in her way like a foul humored sea turtle. She needed to unwind and relieve some of that tension.
“If I may be so bold, I do recall a trick or two that always inspired you,” Liam purred as his brogue grew thick. “Often times a pleasant distraction from the thoughts tumbling through your head is just the thing to sort them all out,” he continued as he began to pet her hand that was resting on the table.
She closed her eyes and drew another deep breath. She did not move or speak to stop him. He trailed his fingertips lightly up her hand, across her wrist, and all the way up her arm. She did not move, but sat there very still, eyes closed, taking in every slight sensation. He stood up and walked around the back of her dining chair, making certain not to break the physical contact he had established. Drawing his fingertips up her shoulder and onto her neck, he began to stroke and massage the tight little muscles he found there. Her warm sweet scent lingered around her like the heat of a candle flame. One deep breath of her stirred his desire for more than just a chaste gentle touch. With both hands resting on her shoulders, he bent down to her and kissed the base of her neck. A soft sigh escaped her. He trailed kisses and nibbles up the column of her neck into her hairline and then back down the to the other shoulder. As a measure of tension left her body, her head lolled forward and to one side. She was becoming warm clay to be molded in his hands.
The pile of warm hair atop her head drew his attention. He ran his fingers from her neck up into her hair along her scalp. To his rough and calloused hands, it was like a soft pile of fine silk ribbon. He gently pulled out each little pin he found as he stroked her head, until it all came tumbling down in a cascade of midnight waves washed in the shimmering moonlight of a cloudless night. She released a deeper sigh and relaxed her back against the chair.
Then he took a firm grip of her chair and turned and pulled her away from the table. She looked up into his face, and he was lost in to mysteries of her hazel eyes. As he leaned closer to her face, she wrapped her small hands around his scruffy jaw and pulled his mouth to hers. They shared a long sweet kiss, before he pulled away from her.
He sat in the floor at her feet and removed her soft brocade slippers to pay homage to her feet. At first he just rubbed and caressed, drawing more of the long held tension from her body. As she relaxed a little more, he drew a foot up to his face and began to kiss her toes. Once he had satisfied himself with that, he hiked her heel up onto his shoulder and began to kiss his way up the inside of her leg from her ankle. As he worked he way closer to her knee, he continued to push and roll the soft velvet skirt ahead of him, exposing more and more of her legs.
The steward returned to her cabin and could hear her softly moaning on the other side of the door. He was loath to enter, but was carrying two large platters of fresh fruit and cream and could not return to the galley with them without explanation, so he quietly entered the cabin. To his mortal shame, he realized that he would not be able to traverse the cabin and set down the fruit without disturbing them. He feared he had no choice but to stand quietly in the shadows of the nearby bulkhead and wait.
Then the lady found her words again. “Oh, yes, that’s it,” she purred. “Oh . . . ,” and then she paused, for out of the sweet oblivion came a spark of thought. “Oh, yes, that’s it!” All the sudden she bolted upright. “That’s it, that’s it!” she continued to exclaim, even though Liam sat in the middle of the floor, disengaged from her and looking like a bewildered mess. Then she spotted the steward waiting in the corner of the cabin.
“We are done here. Please clear away the dinner and show Captain O’Shea to his quarters. I have work to do.”
And with no further words to either man, she stalked back to her adjoining cabin.
The steward just shrugged, put the platters down on the table, and lead Liam to his sleeping quarters down below.