A Penchant For Pirates

Chapter 24

Again, Ray had awakened dull witted. She had slept well but found it difficult to clear her mind. Kevin had her sent down in the holds to check the accuracy of the manifests. Alex and Nick joined her after the morning meal. Crates were opened and checked against the documentation she had written. A specific crate fascinated Ray until Nick gave her a nudge and whispered for her to move along. The crate was filled with fabrics. It had silks, velvets, laces, and satins. Nick caught the expression on Alex's face as Ray studied the fabric. Although Alex knew Ray was of the female persuasion, he hadn't told Ray. Ray was still under the impression that the only people who knew of her secret were Brian and Nick. Movement above them and a creak of the ladder made both Nick and Alex go on alert. Nick moved Ray along to the next crate. Coming around the crate, she now stood in front of Kevin.

"Are you almost done? You left my cabin early this morning." Kevin eyed the crate that Ray was inspecting.

"Almost Sir," Ray focused on working, not the man speaking to her.

Kevin watched A.J. move about, he now stood in front of a crate of fabric trying to hide a small smile. "You still have J.C.'s docket to do." Now Kevin wanted Ray in the other hold out of his way.

"It's done Sir," Ray went to the next crate and waited for Nickolas to pry the lid off.

"Done? How so? The mid-day meal has yet to pass." Kevin was slightly off kilter, What time had the child left his cabin?

A.J. rubbed his eyes, "Aye, the boy is done. He woke me before sunrise."

Kevin laughed, "Oh I bet J.C. was none too happy about that."

Alex chuckled, "J.C. is doing fine."

"I would hope so from all the commotion that comes from your cabin." Kevin laughed and walked towards Alexander.

Ray and Nick ignored the two older men and worked steadily to finish. This didn't stop them from eavesdropping on the conversation.

Kevin could tell he was being disregarded by the youngest members of his crew; but he also knew that both of them were listening. So far, Kevin had ignored Ray since the argument yesterday. He was content with her sleeping in his cabin under his watchful eye. His lust for her grew hourly but he was handling it by staying away from her. "Alex, is J.C. ready to give her answer to me tomorrow?"

A.J. hoisted his body up on crate and sat. "I think she is going to say no."

"We can change that, no worry," Kevin watched Ray's back tense. The child didn't like the conversation. "You will marry J.C. irregardless of her answer. The two of you can spend time by yourselves on the Lady J, if you wish?"

A.J.'s laughter bounced off the timbers of the hold. "I don't think it will be that easy but I'm ready. I love my J.C. but she can be handful."

"I thought she would skewer me with the dirk," Kevin smirked.

"She probably would have if given the opportunity," Alex paused. "Kevin, she will not like this and I wonder if it is the right thing to do."

Kevin stared for a moment at the backs of Nick and Ray. "Nick what do you think Alex should do?"

Nick's befuddled face stared back at Kevin. "I don't know," Nick waved his arms around.

"Ray, have you any thoughts on the matter?" Kevin thought maybe he could get a rise out of her.

"I think J.C. should marry Alex only if she wants to," Ray didn't look at him when she spoke. Kevin had asked her and she answered.

"Look at me when I'm speaking to you boy," Kevin's voice had a new tone. He watched Ray slowly turn towards him. "What if he is concerned about her safety and welfare?"

"That doesn't mean that he should marry her. They should marry because they are…."

"I think they should do what they want to do," Nick wrenched Ray's hand and spun her around so she wasn't facing Kevin.

"I'm glad that you have said your thoughts," Kevin ground out; he had almost had her snared by her showing her feminine side. He didn't need her to finish the sentence knowing that she thought they should marry for love. Disgruntled, Kevin turned to Alex. "Wed her and bed her, make it legal! Make her yours! When you see what you want, you take it. It works for me," Kevin jumped up the ladder instead of climbing it.

Nick was cringing and Ray just stared at him, then she whispered to Nick. "I didn't do anything, he asked. I think I should make a raisin cake."

"Ray, don't worry about Kevin. He's a little off these past few weeks. I love J.C., J.C. loves me. We are going to marry whether she wants to or not. I want to protect her." A dirk landed between his feet as he stood next to the ladder. Alex laughed and looked up towards the opening of the hold. The sunlight was streaming in and there was no mistaking the red-headed lady dressed in man's clothes staring down at him. "I love you J.C.!" A.J. laughed as he scurried up the ladder.

"He's the one that might need protection," Nick pulled the dirk from the wooden floor and placed it in the waistband of his pants.

Ray said nothing to Nick. There were moments when Nick could speak up against the Captain but he wouldn't do it. "Do you think they should be forced into a marriage?"

"Considering how we found J.C. this time, yes I do." Nick didn't hide his feelings in front of Ray.

Ray headed up the ladder, stopping mid-way. "You are very much like him," she stated and continued up without him.

Nick sat on the crate for some time thinking. Everything seemed to stream through his mind at one time. Ray had almost clued Kevin in on her this time. "Marrying for love, there is no such thing. Everything is arranged." Soured for the day, Nick made his way to the galley from the hold. Ray had begun the officer's meal for the evening. Nick watched her carefully maneuver pots, "Is your arm feeling better?"

Ray glared at him. He sighed loudly. "I'm sorry I just think that is what is best for them. She could get captured again, raped, who knows what could happen."

"So all of the men aboard this ship have decided what is best for the female?" Ray's voice laced with sarcasm came back at him.

"It's Kevin's way, I can't help that," Nick started to whine back at her as he worked next to her.

"Does anyone ever think to question the Captain's mind set?" Ray's shrill echoed off the pots.

"Not if they want to live to talk about it," J.C. entered the galley.

Ray dropped her head, just what she needed more trouble.

"Ray, I have resigned myself to the fact that no matter what, I will have to marry Alex. A.J. won't tether me to him, even if Kevin wants him too. Kevin gets overly protective when it comes to women. I think he feels responsible for Isabella's death. Isabella was a different woman, much like us. Kevin gave her the freedom that she craved and she left this world, and in turn, left him." J.C. sat down and waited to see if Ray was going to admit or deny what she had just inferred.

Ray's eyes dropped to the floor. "You should marry Sir Alex because you love him and want to. The Captain shouldn't force you."

The word deny flipped over in J.C.'s head. "You heard me Ray, I know what you are. You had better hope that you are far away from Kevin when you are discovered." J.C. stood and looked at Nick. "You boy had better run for your life," J.C. held her hand out.

Nick swallowed hard and handed J.C. back her dirk that she had thrown at A.J. when they were in the hold. Even if Ray was ignoring it, he was not going to make that mistake. "Don't tell," he asked quietly.

"Tell?" J.C. smiled. "No, I don't think I will. I plan on being far, far away by then." J.C. winked at Ray.

"But Sir Alex won't leave Kevin," Ray's eyes lit up.

"Hmmm, I know. But I'm not taking Alex with me." J.C. heard the noise in the corridor pressing her index finger to her lips she winked at both them.

"Hello my sweet beloved," A.J. made a mocking bow towards J.C. Standing up, he reached for her and she stepped away.

Kevin laughed as he walked by J.C. and swatted her on the backside. "Please don't make tomorrow difficult on all of us." The Officers filed in to take their seats.

J.C. tossed a few obscenities at him as Kevin dropped in his seat. Kevin's eyes quickly traveled to Ray who had her back turned to him. His eyes raked over her body from the top of her head to the back of her legs and trailed back up again. Dropping his eyes, he turned to his cousin quickly. "You've done a fine job with Ray, Brian. He should be up to taking lessons tomorrow. Don't you think?"

Brian recognized the hardened look Kevin was wearing. Kevin was going to make Ray's life a pure hell. He was in a dilemma at this point and could no longer lie. Ray was healed and by the way she was wielding the cast iron kettle, he would look like damn fool if he said otherwise. "I would think so," he answered quietly.

The pot was dropped on the table and boiling liquid spilled out, a little to close to Kevin. He jerked his hand away before the scalding stew landed on his hand. "Beware boy and tread lightly."

Nick needed to tell Kevin what J.C. was plotting. If he spoke his mind at the table, he would incur the wrath of J.C. and he would guess by Ray's feelings on the subject, hers as well. If he outright told Kevin that J.C. had a plan of escape, he would be back in Kevin's good graces. Looking at J.C., he wondered if he did inform Kevin if he would survive the night without J.C. slitting his throat.

Ray stood off to the side until a chair next to Kevin was kicked out from underneath the table. "Sit and eat with us since you're staring at me like you have poisoned my food." Kevin eyed her to be sure that what he had spoken was taken as a command and not a request. Kevin moved the stew around checking for raisins, God he hated those infernal things.

Grabbing a dish, she ladled the chicken stew on her plate. She sat away from the table with the plate in her lap. The plate was pulled from her hands and the chair dragged back under the table with a boot, whilst she was still sitting in it. The plate banged on the table. "I said eat with us, not next to us."

Nick sat across from Ray and was sure he heard a few words escape her lips and he frowned. By the cock of his head, Kevin had heard them as well. Just as Kevin opened his mouth with what Nick thought was a reprimand, Nick opened his. "I think you should marry J.C. tomorrow instead of waiting. If she says yes than we can start cooking tonight. Ray and I would have more time to prepare a true wedding feast. If we get too close to port than we have to get ready to dock."

Ray's eyes rolled around in her head as she looked at Nick. Ray shook her head at him from side to side, "We'll have time, she needs the time to …." Ray knew Nick had understood what J.C. had told them just a bit ago. She was going to try and escape before they were married. "Prepare," was the only word that could come to mind.

"What does J.C. need to prepare for?" Kevin was directing his question to Ray. "A.J. has bedded her before, there will be no wedding night jitters. Of course, if A.J. has a problem with performing his husbandly duties and consummating the vows."

Ray's face burned as red as blood sun. Her eyes were wide, she needed to tell herself to breath.

"I beg your pardon," A.J. looked angrily at Kevin. "I don't really think that will be a problem."

Nick needed to save Ray from Kevin, as Kevin's arm came across the table. His Captain knew something was amiss and it would be easier to scare it out of Ray. "J.C. plans on leaving and she's not taking A.J.," Nick blurted the words and then ducked behind his Captain. The dirk flew through the air only to be latched onto and knocked to the table. The knife made a thunk noise as it landed and wobbled slightly on the large boards that made up the table.

Ray's face registered horror as she saw Nick physically hide behind Kevin. Kevin grabbed the knife and tossed it back to J.C. causing J.C. to back up as the dagger stuck in the table in front of her with sheer accuracy and precision. "You will stay and we will talk," Kevin glared at J.C. "Won't we Alexander," Kevin's fierce stare never left J.C.'s face.

J.C. swallowed hard, she should have known better than to trust Nick. Now she would reveal his secret. Before she could speak a word, Alex grabbed her hard and yanked her out of the galley and up the stairs. No screaming, no words, nothing was heard.

"Thank you Nickolas," Kevin nodded as he poured ale into his tankard. "I wish for you to sleep in my quarters tonight for your own protection. J.C. is upset with you."

"I understand sir," Nick made nothing of the comment but he did push his plate away. Now feelings of guilt and not being a friend were instantly plaguing him. He had served J.C. up as an offering to protect Ray and himself. "I'll be back, I need some air."

Nick's stride was uneven, as he left Brian, Howie, Kevin, and Ray in the galley. He wandered up on deck and frowned.

"Ray, I want you to try and handle the clean up yourself tonight. Nick needs some space. He broke one friend's confidence for another; that is never an easy task." Kevin tossed his napkin in his plate. Standing up, he sighed and left the galley.

Brian and Howie were left with Ray and both unsure of what to say. Ray sensed the uneasiness and began the conversation as she picked up the plates that were abandoned. "Is he going to go speak with Nick?"

Brian and Howie nodded a yes to her. "Why would Nick tell Kevin of J.C.'s plans?"

Howie wanted no part of this conversation. The truth was that Ray's secret was going to be divulged at the table, and she didn't realize that J.C. intended on being the one to tell Kevin. Howie envisioned a huge battle and J.C. somehow slipping away unnoticed. "I need to go check on the Lady J and her crew. If J.C. had a plan to slip away, then we need to make some changes." Howie trotted out of the galley and up the stairs calling for some of their own crew.

Left alone, Brian spoke to Ray. "Nick respects Kevin like a father, the father that he never had. What J.C. was about to do would have angered Kevin even more if he found out that Nick knew and didn't warn him. J. C. is not above saving herself in all of this. She was about to tell Kevin what you really are."

The plate slid to the table, "Why?" Ray sat, now she was worried if J.C. would keep her secret.

"Because she wants to marry A.J. but she wants to continuing sailing."

"A.J. should go with her then," Ray scrapped the plates for the cats that would crawl all over soon.

"Alex won't leave Kevin. Kevin wants them to marry because he thinks everyone should be married and protect their women." Brian gave Ray a grin when she smiled at him.

"That is insane, women can protect themselves."

"Most women can but small boys can't. I want you in my quarters as soon as you are done. You are going to learn to load this." Kevin held a small pistol in his hand. He had left as fast as he appeared.

Brian let out a soft mutter of the word, "Close," and left.

Ray struggled with a few pots until the largest was lifted from her hand. Turning she smiled at her confidant. "Are you feeling better?"

"Yes," the shaggy blonde wagged his head at her. "I'm sleeping on the floor in the cabin tonight. Kevin and I talked, I feel bad, but I didn't want him to find out that I knew and I didn't tell him."

"What will happen when he finds out what I truly am?" Ray whispered her question.

An arm dropped around her and squeezed her. "We won't worry about that. I just hope it's on land when he does."

A puzzled face with long lashes and a cute nose stared back him. She didn't ask him but he knew what she was asking. "So I can run as fast as I can, because he is going to hurt me like he never has."

"Maybe I should tell…"

"No!" Nick barked back at her. "We're almost home. We might get through this and he will be none the wiser."

"Nick," Brian ducked his head in the galley. "All hell is breaking lose in A.J.'s cabin. Kevin just went in there. Hurry up and get back to his cabin before he decides to beat you for fun."

Nick rushed around the galley as a confused Ray stood watching him. "He wouldn't?"

"Oh yes he would!" Nick grabbed her hand and dragged her as fast as he could to the Captain's quarters.

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