Despite my reloading a corrected, full version of Bound by the Heart to Amazon, readers who attempt to download the newer file are often still being sent the corrupted version. Here then, to those loyal readers who are as frustrated as I am, is the missing Chapter Twenty-Eight.  Of course it had to be one of the most crucial chapters *sigh*

If you have a corrupted version, the Chapter Twenty-Eight in the book should be Chapter Twenty-Nine.  I can't apologize enough for the error of omission. I can only do my best to provide the missing content.

Chapter Twenty-Eight

An urgent clanging of the ship's bell brought Morgan bolt upright in the berth, instantly awake.Summer required a moment to rub the sleep from her eyes, and in that moment, Wade had pulled on his breeches, stamped his feet into his boots, and was out the cabin door.She dressed quickly and was not too far behind, amazed at how easily her stomach churned with fresh panic.

The gun ports were being opened as she reached the upper deck, the lashings were off the cannon, and the cork tompions were removed from the iron muzzles.Bright sunlight revealed the recent damage on deck and patches of new wood which were half complete.

Summer ran along the quarterdeck, searching in the Chimera's wake for the reason why Wade and Phillips and Mr. Monday were all up on the bridge, peering through spyglasses. Mr. Monday was talking to Morgan in a low voice; Morgan in turn was cursing, holding his glass steady on some point in the distance.At first Summer saw nothing but blue sky and dazzling turquoise water. Glare from the sun was bouncing off the surface of the sea, blinding her unpractised eye, but from the look on Morgan's face, she knew it had to be the Caledonia.

"Michael--?"She saw him by the rail and stepped up beside him."Is it--?" 

She did not need to hear his answer as a faint rumble, like distant thunder, reached the Chimera. She saw them then. Two small sets of sails low on the horizon.

"The Gyrfalcon fell back during the night," Michael said. "Captain Bull kept signalling that he was alright, that the sea was clear behind him, but then...when the sun came up...he just turned away and..."

Summer felt the deck tilt precariously and she had to grip the rail to keep from tumbling back. The Chimera was tacking sharply about.On Morgan's orders, Mr. Phillips shouted for more sail and Summer dragged Michael over against the bulkhead to stay out of the way as men rushed up from below to swarm into the rigging.

"Even at top speed it will take an hour or more to reach her," Morgan was saying between curses. "Can we squeeze out another knot or two?"

"We're fully rigged now," Mr. Phillips said. "There isn't an empty yard anywhere."

"We can lighten her. Put some strong backs on the winches and off-load those bloody crates of copper. Get some men in the stern and do the same with the barrels of water. Dump everything but the powder and shot if necessary, but I want three more knots within the hour."

"Aye, sir!" Mr. Phillips vaulted down the ladder and disappeared below.

"Dammit, Monday, I'll kill Bull myself when I lay my hands on him. Why the hell didn't he signal?"

"Mebbe he t'ink he givin' us a better chance to get away," Monday said. "Mebbe he know two ships woan make it."

Morgan's jaw tensed and he raised the glass again, sweeping it across the seascape. "Where the blood hell are we, anyway?"

"Bird Island's over there," Monday said, pointing west to a barely visible slash of purple low on the horizon.

Morgan took a deep breath and expelled it on an oath. Bird Island was a well known rendezvous point for smugglers and privateers, and was regularly patrolled by British revenue cutters. All they would need is some gun-happy British taxman joining the fray.

Morgan lowered the glass and turned to look down the length of his ship. She was battered and damaged, but she was still sound.

He saw Michael and Summer as they moved out to the rail again. "You had better go below, both of you," he ordered harshly.

"Sir?" Michael looked up and frowned. "You said I was part of the crew now."

"We're heading into a fight, boy. This is no time to play games."

Michael's cheeks flushed. "I know it is not a game, sir. But I recall you saying once that every man on board your ship had to pull his own weight; there would be no special treatment for anyone--including the governor's son. Well, sir, I am not the governor's son any longer. I am a full member of your crew. As such, I...I expect to be treated the s-same way. You won't regret hiring me on, sir. I vow you will not."

Morgan's eyes had narrowed during the brave speech, and now they widened in an expression warning that he was dangerously close to the edge of his patience. "Hired you?"

"Yes, sir. I should expect to receive a share in the prize when we capture the Caledonia."

The midnight blue eyes flicked to Summer. Instead of finding support, he was met by a proud smile and a similar calm defiance.

"Mr. Monday," he growled. "Take your new powder boy below and explain what his duties will be."

Monday chuckled, leaped down onto the main deck and grabbed Michael by the scruff of the neck.

"Thank you sir!" Michael cried. "You won't be sorry."

"Mr. Cambridge, we put men to death for even looking pale on board my ship," Wade said. "You may be sure I'll not be sorry about anything. Do we understand one another?"

Michael gulped, but nodded and was led away by Mr. Monday.

"As for you--" Morgan's attention shifted back to Summer --"I will deal with your peculiar sense of obligation when this is over." 

"He only wants to help. And so do I."

"You can help me by going below and staying out of everyone's way." His voice softened when he saw how the harshness of his words caused her to flinch. "You can help me by looking after Sarah and Roarke so I don't have those two worries on my mind."

"Aye, Captain," she said softly. "But only if you promise to come for me when it's over."

"I will always come for you, Summer."

"Is that a promise, Captain?"

"Unto my last breath, it is, by God." 

She smiled and held his gaze until the last possible moment, breaking away only when another rumble of thunder rolled across the deck.

 The Gyrfalcon was reeling under the amount of shot raking across her hull. The upper deck was caught in a terrible deluge that rained iron and fragments of lead from exploding canisters of grapeshot. The dead and dying were strewn about the bloody planking, and the defenders had withdrawn to the shielded lower gun deck where, incredibly enough, the crews were still maintaining a steady reply to the Caledonia's onslaught. The battle was two hours old, already twice as long as Winfield had confidently predicted it would take to destroy the privateer.

Bull Treloggan refused to leave the bridge of his ship. He roared as many oaths across the span of ocean separating the two ships as his cannon hurled shot. Twice he had to drag bodies away from the wildly spinning wheel and take control of the helm himself. Five, six, ten shots from the Royal Marine sharpshooters zinged close to his head, and three times his body was thrown to the deck as eighteen pounds of iron blasted into the planking around him. When the smoke cleared, he merely threw his head back and bellowed louder for the insult, mocking the aim of the British gunners, cursing their training, cursing their lack of nerve for standing off and firing from the longest range their guns could reach.

He was bare-chested, and his skin shone from the rivulets of blood where flying fragments of wood or iron had sliced into his flesh. His face streamed sweat; his beard glittered; both hands were burned raw from loading and firing overheated cannon.

He blessed Stuart Roarke each time he heard the deep-throated explosions from the brace of sixty-four-pound carronades his son-in-law had mounted in the stern and bow. They had already worn a dent in the Caledonia's arrogant striped hull, and had slashed her masts and rigging so that the warship's maneuverability, which was lumbering at best due to her size, had been vastly reduced. Like the bird she was named after, the Gyrfalcon made use of her lightness and greater speed to sweep in and attack, fall back, and attack again. Until the cracked mainmast had been blown away, and until most of her sails had been ripped from the spars, Bull had not stayed in position long enough for the British gunners to fix their aim. They wasted two out of every three shots and because they relied on their long guns, half their massive firepower went unused.

Unlike the decking Roarke had specially reinforced to withstand a pounding, the Caledonia was catching every heavy shot the Gyrfalcon spat at her and was suffering damage on all decks. Twice the sixty-four pound balls smashed through the upper decking and sent the guns below tipping out and into the sea.It did nothing to impede the constant eruptions from the deadly broadsides, but it struck a proud chord in Bull's heart to see the mighty panther feeling more than just the annoying bite and scratch it had expected.

The Chimera came in fast before the wind and reduced to fighting sail as she sidled into position. Bull's crew cheered feverishly as Wade commenced heavy fire from all of her guns. He did not attempt to run in close, but chose to stay back in an attempt to lure the panther away from the wounded falcon. Winfield took the bait, and the white-and-navy-clad officers on the Caledonia's bridge could be seen re-directing the helmsman to bring her about and line her guns on the new arrival.

Wade's big twenty-fours were loaded and fired without a visible break in the clouds of smoke. The Caledonia met the challenge vigorously with her thirty-two pounders, heavier guns but not as accurate against a fast-moving target. The Chimera cut in and out swiftly, frustrating the British gunlayers, who worked furiously to correct their aim.

Eventually they won some measure of success and Winfield praised his men as he saw Wade's foresails hanging in tatters. He continued to stalk the privateer instead of taking the sure kill against the crippled Gyrfalcon, a decision which had his officers straining to keep their tongues in check. But Winfield had seen an opportunity to cross Wade's bow and deliver a broadside straight down her throat, similar to the one that had so unnerved the gunners on the Northgate. He ordered every gun double-shotted and ran up extra sail, bringing the Caledonia close enough he could almost see into the gallery windows.

Wade had correctly predicted Winfield's intent and pulled sharply up into the wind, ordering his headsails backed so that his ship glided to a near halt in the water. Instead of ending up in front of the Chimera as planned, Winfield found his broader, slower ship presented head-on to Wade's port battery. The privateer's gunners blasted the length of the Caledonia, managing five scorching rounds before Winfield could correct his fatal miscalculation.

Both ships veered onto parallel courses, firing as fast as their guns could be swabbed, loaded, and discharged. Wade sheered off again and crossed behind the panther's stern, this time ordering chain-shot and incendiaries up against the masts and rigging. Several shots slammed through the gallery windows, shattering the elegant gilded trim and sending glittering sprays of exploding glass out into the sea. Moments later, yellow tongues of fire snaked from the gaping wound, along with clouds of black smoke. Similar destruction was wrought on deck and in the sails, the incendiaries smashing open on impact to douse the canvas and spars in oil that only needed a spark to catch fire.

The Gyrfalcon, meanwhile, had limped up to cross the panther's bow and resumed pouring into her with the awesome power of the carronades. With Wade passing along the Caledonia's port side and Bull shearing along her starboard beam, they caught the warship in a deadly crossfire that turned her decks into shambles and blew away the braces and spars that held her sails aloft. The yards gave and fell like axed trees, dropping men and canvas into the sea. One of her heavy guns was blasted from its carriage and windmilled across the breadth of the ship, carrying the bloody pieces of five men with it.

The Chimera tacked away at the end of the run, giving the crew a chance to clear away the smoke and debris. The Gyrfalcon followed Wade's lead, peeling away from the Caledonia's wake and ploughing drunkenly through the wash.

On board the British ship, the crew frantically tried to mount fresh canvas while the officers screamed for makeshift repairs. In the sudden lull of battle, all that could be heard was the hiss and snap of fires, and the cries of the wounded.

Winfield walked the length of the maindeck, kicking and berating the gunners who were slumped over with exhaustion. He shrieked at the men lying dazed against the bulkheads. He barked hoarse curses at his midshipmen and ordered them to whip the crew if necessary, to beat them into fighting form again.

Some of the men, already discouraged, went below to the storerooms and broke into the kegs of rum. Even the lowest gun deck had been penetrated by American shot, and the British seamen--poorly fed and liberally treated to the lash--were in no hurry to pull together just so they could die at their guns. They had all heard the story of the Northgate's defeat and for the first time, they began to believe their own black panther would be next.

As for the officers, they were appalled by the staggering losses they had sustained so far.Eighty of her four-hundred-and-nine man crew were dead or wounded.They had expected to blow apart a pair of crippled privateers and instead were hard-pressed to hold their own against two brilliantly commanded fighting machines.The Gyrfalcon, despite being sorely damaged, looked as unready to haul down her colors as she had when she first thundered in on the attack.The Chimera, sleek and powerful, could already be seen hoisting fresh sail and preparing to commence another run.

Winfield's jaw was set. His face was ruddy, shiny with sweat, and his eyes glittered like two shards of blue glass as he presided over a hasty council of war on the afterdeck.

"Sir, the wounded--"

"The wounded will be seen to in due time. Another hour, no more, and they'll have a brace of prize ships in their possession to take the sting of their cuts away."

Bennett's artillery officer stepped forward. "Sir, the crews on my eighteens are being decimated. Another cross-fire like the last one and you will have no upper battery to speak of. There is simply no protection;they are fully exposed. The gunwales and rails are gone;most of the carriages are either dangerously loose or knocked clean away."

"Sir, the rigging lines are hopelessly snarled--"

"We carry more lines, do we not?" Winfield spat.

"Yes, sir, but with the steering sails gone--"

"I need steerage, Mr. Turner and I need it now! Without it we might as well sit here and invite their shells aboard!"

"The men are splicing, sir, but I need time--"

"How much time?"

"Sir, the fires--"

Winfield balled his hands into fists. "What about the fires, Mr. Halpern? Surely you are not going to tell me we have run short of buckets or water?"

The young midshipman stammered as he looked around the circle of gritty faces. "N-no sir. But the aftercabins are all ablaze, including your own.I need more men to keep the fires from spreading. The last rounds they put to us carried some incendiaries."

"Have we nothing to respond with?" Bennett demanded of his gunnery officers.

"We have explosive shot, yes, sir. But the mortars are gone."

"All of them?" Winfield could scarcely believe what he was hearing about the condition of his fine black panther.

The gunnery officer broke in again. "Whoever is directing their fire knows the layout of our decks and where we have the weakest defences. He's firing by divisions and concentrating on the twenty-four pounders. There is no question that we are damaging them in return, but it still remains that both privateers are managing five rounds to every two of ours."

"Excuses!" Winfield screamed. "Do you hear what you are giving me? Nothing but excuses! I want us in close. I want us to take the battle to him now!"

Captain Emory Ashton-Smythe saw the horror of the Northgate's last half hour replaying itself before his eyes. "Wade cannot afford to let you take the battle to him, and he knows it. He will keep you tight, he will keep you in a cross-fire until you have nothing left to fight with. The time to make a move is now, when both of his ships are tacking...we can peel off and make a run for Bird Island."

"Run? You advise run?"

Ashton-Smythe wiped a bead of sweat off his cheek, only to find it was blood. "Your panther is on fire, Commodore. Half of your guns are useless; your wounded are drunk and pleading for quarter. To continue the battle will mean risking another third of your crew. Neither of Wade's ships is in condition to give chase; he will use the respite as we do, to affect repairs and limp home to fight another day."

"By God," Winfield sneered. "Glasse was right. You are a coward, sir. A gutless, spineless coward and a disgrace to the uniform you wear."

Ashton-Smythe looked down at his soiled uniform, at the filthy bandages on his arm and thigh, then at the bloody shambles of the deck stretched out before them. "Call it cowardice if you will, Commodore. I simply consider the lives I can save are worth far more than a gold stripe and an admiral's berth."

Winfield's eyes flashed their hatred as Ashton-Smythe offered a curt salute and turned to leave the bridge. Bennett reached down suddenly, grabbing at the hilt of his saber and withdrew it from the sheath. He lunged forward, aiming between the captain's shoulder blades, but one of the junior officers jumped out and pushed Smythe clear as the point of the sword was driven deeply into the wood of the bulkhead. Two more officers leaped forward, wrestling the sword from Winfield's hands, while others placed themselves as a shield between the Commodore and the stunned captain.

"Unhand me!" Winfield demanded, shocked by this further outrage against his command. "Unhand me at once or I will have you all stripped of your ranks before the day is done!"

His officers stared at one another aghast, none of them certain what to do next. To disobey was to mutiny; to release him was inviting possible murder. They all shared a deep respect for Ashton-Smythe. He was a fine officer who had simply found himself in an untenable position. They also shared a deep-rooted fear of the naval judicial system. Mutiny in wartime could only result in death, regardless of the provocation.

"My God, sirs....look!"

The Chimera and the Gyrfalcon had completed their turns and were gathering headway to make another pass at the Caledonia.

One by one the anxious faces turned to Bennett Winfield. The two men pinning his arms loosened their grips and stepped aside. The artillery officer took a step forward and stood ramrod straight before him.

"Your orders...sir?"

Bennett tugged the wrinkles on his uniform smooth and glared a promise at each of the six ashen faces. He delayed his answer long enough that the first salvos were unleashed from the approaching privateers and tore into the hull of his ship. He barely flinched as a shower of splinters fell around their heads.

"Mr. Turner. How long will you need to give me steerage?"

Turner moistened his lips. "An hour, sir. I can give you fighting tops and fores in an hour."

"Get your crews on it now. Scavenge if you must, but give me steerage! Captain Smythe, since you have already had some practice at it, you may have the dubious privilege of lowering the colors to half-mast and sending up a request for a parlay. We shall see exactly how warm the water is."


Mr. Monday was set to roar for the gunners to fire a third volley, when he saw the Union Jack flutter down the mast, joined by a white flag run quickly up to meet it. He spun on his heel and cupped his hands around a shout to Morgan Wade, who had replaced a fallen gunner at one of the barrel-shaped carronades. Wade fed the hefty forty-two pound shot into the smoking muzzle, tamped it down flush against the wadding, then gave the powder-man the thumbs-up signal before he stepped the well-advised five feet away from the gun to brace for the explosion and recoil.

His ears, like those of the rest of the gun crew, were ringing from the repeated concussions and he did not hear Mr. Monday's shout. It was one of the other men who tugged at his sleeve and pointed to Monday first, then to the flags on the Caledonia's mast.

Wade leaped over some debris to stand beside Mr. Monday. "What do you suppose he is up to now?"

Mr. Monday wiped impatiently at a gash on his forehead that was sheeting blood down his temples onto his neck. His hands were burned and scraped, as were Wade's, and one of the gleaming white teeth that created his fearsome grin had been broken off level with the purplish gums. He grinned anyway and shook his head to clear the blood out of his ears.

"Mebbe he have enough?"

"Aye, and maybe it will snow in the islands next week."

Mr. Monday scowled and pointed to where the Gyrfalcon was drawing close up behind the Caledonia. She was moving sporadically under the windage of two partially rigged masts. Bull had also seen the flags and was having difficulty holding position as he waited for a signal from Wade. He would either have to commence his run or fall away and circle around for another pass.

Which could be precisely what Winfield was hoping for.

"Stand the gunners down, Mr. Monday, but keep them alert.Mr. Cambridge!"

"Aye sir?" Michael stepped forward, his face and hands stained black from carrying gunpowder cartridges. His shirt was as black as his face, stiff with grease and ash.

"Relay an order to the helm. Tell Mr. Phillips to signal Captain Bull to peel off and hold position on Winfield's flank."

"Aye, sir!" he cried, and scampered off. 

Ten minutes later, with all guns hissing quietly as they cooled, there was still no sign of movement on the decks of the Caledonia. The Gyrfalcon had fallen back. Any man who was not working feverishly on jury-rigging repairs was crouched by the cannon, quenching their thirst from water buckets and eating biscuits while they had the chance.

More colored flags burst out suddenly on the mast of the Caledonia. It was a request for safe passage for a gig to approach the Chimera. A reply was run up the Chimera's mast and minutes later a small boat rowed out from behind the warship carrying four oarsmen and three uniformed officers.

Morgan rinsed the sweat and grime off his face and raked his fingers through his hair to smooth it back. He donned a clean shirt Michael brought him and was tucking it into his breeches when Mr. Phillips appeared at the foot of the ladderway.

"Commodore Winfield is requesting permission to come aboard. He has two of his officers with him."

"Invite them aboard, Jamie," Wade nodded.

Bennett Winfield stood inside the gangway, the plumes of his bicorne ruffling smartly in the breeze. His face was without expression; his hands were held at ease behind his back. One booted foot was poised slightly ahead of the other, hinting broadly at impatience and disdain. The pale blue eyes scanned the length and breadth of the Chimera, settling on the faces of the sweaty gunners, noting damages, types of shot. He glanced up to examine the condition of the sails and rigging lines, skimming over the men perched high in the yards holding muskets at the ready. Lastly he noted the Chimera's captain striding along the deck, as battered and bruised as his ship, yet seemingly as invincible. 

"You have done a remarkable job of holding together," Winfield said, ignoring any need for formalities. "Two battles in as many days. Decatur will be overjoyed."

"He has been known, on occasion, to smile over lesser news."

Bennett looked away. "I understand my wife is still on board. I should like to see her and speak to her--alone if you don't mind."

"That will depend a great deal on whether she wishes to see you," Morgan said, crossing his arms over his chest. "And it definitely will not be alone."

"Nevertheless, I should like to see her, if only to assure myself she is still alive and well, and to offer her the opportunity to return with me to the Caledonia."

Wade's mouth curled at the side. "What makes you think she would want to do that?"

"What makes you believe she would choose to die on board this ship?"

Morgan studied the spotless, clean-shaven, arrogant face for a long moment, then called quietly over his shoulder. "Mr. Cambridge?"

Michael stepped smartly forward. "Aye, Captain?"

"Will you please deliver a request to your sister to join us in my cabin? Tell her Commodore Winfield...begs her indulgence."

Michael looked up at Wade and whispered. "Does she have to?"

Morgan noticed the spark of anger in Winfield's eyes, and smiled. "Not if she doesn't want to, lad. Gentlemen--"he held out his arm as an invitation for the rigid, white-lipped Englishmen to follow him to his cabin. "Mr. Monday, will you join us? Mr. Phillips...keep a sharp eye, sir. I want to know if anything on that ship moves."

"Aye, sir!"

Once inside the greatcabin, which was remarkably undamaged, Wade indicated seats for the officers while he crossed over to his desk and settled into the leather chair. He took a cigar from the humidor and handed the tin to Mr. Monday to pass to the officers. Winfield waved it away along with the offer of brandy.

"I believe it has become apparent, Wade, that we have the destruction of your ships within our grasp."

Morgan's teeth appeared in a broad white slash. "I was under the impression it was the other way around."

Winfield smirked."Come now. You really don't think you or your ships are in any shape to continue, do you? I have seen the condition of your deck. I have come aboard in good faith to offer civilized terms of surrender. End it now, while you still have a crew able to take advantage of His Majesty's generosity."

"I have sampled your Majesty's generosity once before, and found it greatly lacking. As to my crew, I imagine they are in about the same condition as yours. My gunners estimate at least a third of your cannon have been silenced and you've barely enough sail aloft to hold her steady."

"We will be steady enough to finish you, Wade, make no mistake."

Morgan exhaled a thin stream of smoke. "There is another alternative, you know."

Winfield arched a tawny eyebrow.

"It's a little old fashioned, I grant you, but we would save a hell of a lot of innocent lives. Just the two of us, Winfield. Any method you choose."

Winfield's eyes glittered as he contemplated the proposal. He was an expert swordsman, and his reputation as a marksman had earned him several accolades over the years. He had participated in four duels, all to his credit.It would indeed be a pleasure to feel the blade pierce into Wade's flesh, to kill him slowly so that he might savor the memory for years to come.

The door to the cabin opened suddenly, forestalling any answer. Summer stood there, her pale face surrounded by messy wisps of hair that had worked free of the tail gathered at her nape. She was wearing a shirt and breeches but despite the use of an apron in the surgery, there were spatters of blood on clothes, on her skin, in her hair, even on the incongruously dainty green satin slippers she wore.

Bennett's officers stood to attention instantly, but the commodore's rise was more leisurely. His gaze moved slowly down her body. "Summer. Thank God you are safe."

She dropped her hand from the door latch and walked slowly toward him, stoppingclose enough so that when her hand came up and struck the side of his face, there was no warning and no way to avoid the slap.

"That was for Michael," she spat. While Winfield's face was still turned away, she moved aside and addressed Morgan. "You wanted to see me?"

"Well, I enjoyed seeing that." Wade chuckled and beckoned her closer. "The commodore made the request. He seems to think you are being held here against your will."

Summer smiled and slid onto Wade's lap. Her arms went around his shoulders and her fingers sank into his hair as she kissed him hard and full and deep on the mouth. When it ended, she touched her forehead to his temple and turned her face toward the three staring officers.

"The commodore," she said sweetly, "is mistaken."

Bennett, rigid with fury snapped at the other two officers. "Wait for me on deck."

They complied with a hasty shuffle of chairs and boots and indirect glances at Summer and Morgan Wade.

"Madam," Bennett said crisply. "I have come to take you back to the Caledonia. The child as well."

"No thank you, Bennett," she said, twirling a lock of Morgan's long black hair between her fingers. "We are quite happy where we are."

"Happy?You call this--" he waved a hand to indicate her dishevelled hair, the blood on her clothes --"cause to celebrate?"

"Being in love with someone who loves me? Yes, I celebrate it each and every day."

The angry flush crept higher in Winfield's throat. "I recall a woman seated in an English garden who once told me she did not want to leave the parties and jewels and happy flirtations behind for what she referred to as some humid little island. If this is another whim of yours, Summer, I guarantee the novelty will be a brief one."

"I am not the same woman you met in England, Bennett. I have grown up a great deal since then."

"Indeed, you have grown up. You've given birth to a bastard and become a bastard's whore."

Summer felt Morgan's muscles bunch beneath her and she curled her fingers into his hair with a tug, gaining his attention before he could leap to his feet. "No, please," she urged. "Let him say what he needs to say. Each vile word only proves I am exactly where I should be."

"You will die on board this ship, madam," Bennett said.

"But by my choice, no one else's."

"And the child? And your brother? Will you play God with their lives as well?"

Summer's own temper flared. "If I have nothing to go home to, Michael has even less, thanks to you and Father. You have managed to cheat him out of his birthright. You have beaten him and berated him, and I do not believe for an instant you would treat any of us any differently if we did return with you. You are not worried about my life, or Sarah's life, or Michael's future. Your only concern is your own career and in salvaging your own reputation."

Bennett sat back in the chair and laughed unexpectedly. It was a smooth, calculated laugh, and she had heard it often enough to feel the hairs prickle upright across the back of her neck.

"Indeed, I am, madam. To that end, I intend to do everything in my power to see that you and your lover add to that reputation immensely today. I have extended offers to you both. I strongly recommend you reconsider your answers before I return to the Caledonia. I will allow you your lives, the shell of one ship, and an escort back to Bridgetown as my prisoners. The alternative is complete and absolute destruction with no quarter given to you or any of your surviving crews."

Morgan slowly removed the cigar from between his teeth, the end of which had been ground to pulp from the effort it had taken not to simply shoot the bastard where he sat. "And if I tell you that you can take your offers and go straight to hell with them?"

"You will gain a moment's verbal gratification and nothing more," Winfield said evenly.

"I'll settle for that."

The commodore rose and tucked his bicorne under his arm. "You have heard my final offer, there will be no others forthcoming."

"And you are hearing my final warning: Get the hell off my ship while you still have skin on your back and are able to walk."

The pale blue eyes were like chips of ice as Bennett gave Summer and Morgan each a long, parting stare. He pushed the chair out of his way and strode to the door, yanking it wide as he went out into the companionway. Wade crooked his head to Mr. Monday to follow, then mashed out his cigar as if it was Winfield's head he was grinding. Summer tightened her arms around him and buried her face against his neck. The need for bravado drained from her body, leaving her limp and trembling, and afraid.

"You are quite a woman, you know," Wade murmured, wrapping her tightly in his embrace. "If I had the time to show you how much I approve..."

"You don't," she said, forcing a smile. "But do keep that thought warm, sir, for I would like you to show me over and over and over again."

He kissed her hard and fast before leaving the cabin. Summer remained standing by the gallery windows, her body outlined in the glare, needing several minutes to steady her knees enough to carry her back to her gruesome work below.