He didn't react. She pinched him again. She pulled her hand back when she heard the sound of another man coming down the stairs. It was obviously the leader of the pirates, for one of his men called out to him that it was high time they all had a taste of grog before getting on with their work.

One of the other villains rushed across the wardroom and opened the door to her cabin. He went inside, then came rushing back a scant second or two later. The infidel was holding one of her gowns in his hands. It was her light blue dress, her very favorite, and the filthy man had his hands all over it.

She vowed she'd never wear that gown again.

"We got us a woman on board, Captain," the foul man called out.

Their leader stood with his back to Sara so she couldn't get a proper look at his face. She was a little thankful for that reprieve. His size alone was terrifying enough. The man stood shoulder to shoulder with Nathan.

The captain let out a low, disgusting snicker that made Sara feel as though there were bugs crawling all over her skin. "Find the bitch," he ordered. "When I'm finished with her you men can each take a turn."

Sara put her hand over her mouth to keep herself from gagging.

"Ah, Captain," another man called out, "she'll be dead afore we get our chance."

A round of snickers followed that remark. Sara wanted to weep. She'd heard all she wanted to hear about their foul plans. She pinched Nathan again. Harder. She nudged him, too.

He finally gave in to her request. He moved like lightning. He turned into a blur when he rushed toward the two men standing in front of their cabin door. Yet even as he was moving he threw his knife. The blade found its mark between the eyes of a villain lounging by the steps. The shot from his pistol brought down another infidel.

Nathan slammed his shoulders into the two men blocking the door. The force of the blow sent both infidels inside. Nathan followed them. He made short work of the battle by knocking their heads together.

Jimbo used his head to fell the pirates' leader. His hands were still tied behind his back, and the hit only knocked the captain off balance. He was quick to recover. He clipped Jimbo on the side of his neck and shoved him to the floor. The captain kicked him aside. It wasn't a terribly accurate kick, though, for the leader wasn't really watching what he was doing. His full attention was centered on digging the pistol out of his pocket.

Nathan had just started out the doorway when the leader raised his pistol. There was venom in his voice when he hissed, "You're going to die slow and painfully."

Sara was too outraged to be afraid. She skirted her way around the screen and silently moved to stand directly behind the villain's back. Then she pressed the tip of her pistol against the base of his skull. "You're going to die quick and easy," she whispered.

When the leader felt the touch of cold steel he went as rigid as a day-old corpse. Sara was pleased by that reaction. So was Nathan, she noticed. He actually smiled.

She smiled back. Things weren't looking so very bleak, she thought. Still, she didn't know if she'd be able to kill the man. It was a test she didn't want to fail. Her husband's life was dependent upon her courage, after all.

"Nathan?" she called out. "Would you like me to shoot between the ears or in the neck this time?"

That bluff worked nicely. "This time?" her victim strangled out.

It wasn't good enough, though. He was still pointing his pistol at Nathan.

"Yes, this time, you stupid man," she said. She tried to make her voice sound as mean as possible, and thought she'd succeeded rather well, too.

"What's your preference?" Nathan called out. He deliberately leaned against the side of the doorway, giving the appearance of being very relaxed.

"The neck," Sara answered. "Don't you remember the mess it was cleaning up after the last one? The stains didn't come out for a week. Still, this infidel seems to have a smaller brain. Oh, you decide. I'm ever obedient."

The leader's hand fell to his side, and his pistol dropped to the floor. Sara thought victory was secure, yet before Nathan could get to the man he suddenly whirled around. The back of his fist slammed into her left cheek in an awkward move to knock the pistol out of her hand.

Sara heard Nathan's roar. She staggered backwards, tripped over Jimbo's big feet, and promptly discharged the pistol. A howl of pain followed that sound, and her enemy grabbed at his face.

It seemed to take her a long, long time to fall to the floor. Everything was in slow motion, and her last thought before she let her faint overtake her was a horrifying one. Good God, she'd shot the villain in his face.

Sara awakened a few minutes later. She found herself in bed with Matthew and Jimbo both leaning over her. Matthew held a cold cloth to the side of her face. Jimbo fanned her with one of the charts from Nathan's desk.

Her husband wasn't there. As soon as Sara realized that fact she tossed the coverlet aside and tried to stand up. Jimbo pressed her back down. "Stay put, Sara. You took quite a hit. The side of your face is already swelling up."

She ignored his instructions. "Where's Nathan?" she asked. "I want him here with me."

Before Jimbo could answer her he found himself sitting on the bed. Sara snatched the cold cloth away from Matthew and began to clean the cut in Jimbo's forehead.

"The woman's little, but she's mighty when she's riled, isn't she, Matthew?" Jimbo muttered, trying to sound surly. "Quit your fussing over me," he grumbled.

She didn't pay any attention to that dictate. "Matthew, do you think he's going to be all right? The cut doesn't look overly deep to me, but perhaps…"

"He'll be fine," Matthew answered.

Sara nodded. Then she turned the topic back to her other worry. "A husband should comfort his wife when she's been felled," she announced. "Anyone with an ounce of sense would know that. Matthew, go and fetch Nathan. By God, he's going to comfort me, or I'll know the reason why."

"Now, Sara," Matthew interjected, using his soothing tone of voice, "your husband happens to be the captain of this ship, and he's having to see to a few important… details right now. Besides, you wouldn't want his company just yet. The boy's in a killing rage."

"Because the pirates boarded his fine ship?"

"Because the bastard struck you, Sara," Jimbo muttered. "You were sleeping, Sara, after that hit, so you didn't get to see your husband's face. It was a sight I won't soon forget. I've never seen him so furious."

"That's nice to know," Sara whispered.

The two shipmates shared a look of true exasperation. Sara ignored the men, for she'd just remembered the mortal sin she'd committed. "Oh, God, I shot their leader in his face," she cried out. "I'm damned to hell now, aren't I?"

"You were saving your husband at the time," Jimbo interjected. "You won't be going to hell, Sara."

"He'll be… ugly for the rest of his days," she whispered.

"Nay, Sara, he already was ugly," Matthew told her.

"I wished you'd killed the bastard," Jimbo said. "As it is, you just shot his nose—"

"My God, I shot his—"

"You're getting her all worked up, Jimbo," Matthew muttered.

"Did I shoot that poor man's nose completely off his face?"

"Poor man?" Jimbo scoffed. "He's the devil's own, that one. Do you know what would have happened to you if—"

"The bastard's still got a nose," Matthew interjected. He gave his friend a dark scowl. "Quit worrying her, Jimbo," he ordered before turning back to Sara. "You just put a little hole in his nose, that's all."

"You saved the day, Sara," Jimbo told her then.

That remark did cheer her up considerably. "I did save the day, didn't I?"

Both men nodded.

"Does my staff know I…" She quit her question when they nodded again. "Well, then, they can't think me cursed any longer, can they?"

Before either man could answer that question she asked another. "What details did Nathan have to see about?"

"Retaliation," Jimbo announced. "It will be an eye for an eye, Sara. They were going to kill us—"

He never finished his explanation. Lady Sara let out an outraged gasp and ran out of the cabin. Both Jimbo and Matthew chased after her.

Nathan was standing by the wheel. The pirates who'd tried to take over their ship were lined up across the deck. Nathan's men surrounded them.

Sara hurried over to her husband's side. She touched his arm to gain his attention. He didn't look at her but kept his gaze directed on the leader of the pirates standing a few feet away from him.

When Sara looked at the man she instinctively took a step forward. The villain had a rag in his hands and was holding it against his nose. She wanted to tell him she was sorry she'd injured him. She also wanted to remind him that it was all his fault, for if he hadn't struck her, the pistol wouldn't have gone off.

Nathan must have guessed her intention. He grabbed her arm in a hold that stung and literally jerked her up against his side.

"Go back below," he ordered in a soft don't-you-dare-argue-with-me tone of voice.

"Not until you tell me what you're going to do to them," she announced.

Nathan might have been able to soften the truth for his gentle wife's benefit if he hadn't glanced down at her first. As soon as he saw the swelling on the side of her face his rage returned full force. "We're going to kill them."

He turned back to his crew before giving her his order again. "Go back to our cabin, Sara. It will be over in a few minutes."

She wasn't going anywhere. She folded her arms in front of her and stiffened her posture. "You will not kill them."

She'd shouted that command. She'd gained her husband's full attention, too. And his wrath. He looked like he wanted to kill her.

"The hell I won't," he countered in a low growl.

Sara heard several grunts of approval from Nathan's men. She was about to repeat her disapproval, but Nathan took the bluster right out of her when he suddenly reached out and gently touched the side of her face. He leaned down just a little and then whispered, "He hurt you, Sara. I have to kill him."

It all made perfectly good sense to him, and he thought he'd been very reasonable by taking the time to explain his determination to her. She didn't understand, though. The incredulous look on her face indicated as much.

"Do you mean to tell me that you would kill everyone who has ever struck me?" she asked.

He didn't care for the censure in her voice. "Damn right," he muttered.

"Then you're going to have to kill half my family," she blurted out.

Lord, she really shouldn't have said that, she realized. He looked bloody furious again. Yet his voice was surprisingly mild when he gave her his answer. "You give me the names, Sara, and I'll retaliate. I promise you. No one touches what belongs to me."

"Aye, m'lady," Chester bellowed. "We mean to kill every last one of these bastards. It's our right," he added.

"Chester, if you use another blasphemy in my presence, I'll wash your mouth out with vinegar."

She gave the seaman a hard glare until he nodded, then turned back in time to catch Nathan's grin. "Nathan, you're the captain," she said. "Only you can make this important decision. Since I'm your wife, I should be able to sway you, shouldn't I?"


Oh, he was a stubborn one, she thought. "I won't have it," she shouted. The urge to stomp his foot was fairly overwhelming. "If you kill them, you're no better than they are. You'll all be villains then, Nathan, and since I'm your wife, I would also be a villain."

"But m'lady, we are villains." Ivan the Terrible made that statement.

"We are not villains," Sara announced. "We are all law-abiding, loyal citizens of the crown."

Sara's distress finally penetrated Nathan's fury. He put his arm around her shoulders. "Now, Sara—"

"Don't you dare now-Sara me," she interrupted. "Don't use that condescending tone of voice, either. You aren't going to be able to soothe me into allowing murder."

He wasn't in the mood to soothe or discuss, but he knew he was going to have to get her to go below before he unleashed his anger full force. He thought about ordering Jimbo to drag her down the stairs, then changed his mind and settled on an alternative plan of action. "Democracy will rule in this instance," he announced. "I'll put it to the vote of my men, Sara. Will that appease you?"

He was fully prepared for an argument before she gave in and was quite surprised when she immediately nodded. "Yes, that will certainly appease me."

"Fine," he replied. He turned back to the crew. "All those in favor—"

The hands were already going up into the air when Sara interrupted. "Just one minute, if you please."

"Now what?" Nathan growled.

"I have something to say to my staff before this vote is taken."


"Nathan, did I or did I not save the day?"

That question caught him off guard. Sara pressed her advantage. "Jimbo said I saved the day. Now I would like to hear you admit it, too."

"I had a plan," Nathan began. "But… hell, Sara, yes," he added with a sigh. "You saved the day. Happy now?"

She nodded.

"Then go below," he ordered again.

"Not just yet," she replied. She turned and smiled at her staff. She couldn't help but notice how impatient the men looked. That didn't deter her, however. "You all know that I was the one who untied Nathan," she called out. She realized that statement not only sounded like a boast but also made her husband sound a bit incapable. "Though, of course, he would have… untied himself if I hadn't beat him to the task, you see, and he did have a plan—"

"Sara," Nathan began in a warning tone of voice.

She quit rambling, straightened her shoulders, and then said, "And I shot the leader, though I'll admit to you that I didn't mean to hurt the man. Now he'll carry a scar for the rest of his days, and that should be enough punishment for anyone."

"It was a paltry hit at best," one of the men called out. "The shot went clean through his nostrils."