"Yes, certainly," Pierre agreed. "A small fortune for that bit of fluff."
Sebastian paused. "Leave the woman out of this. You have your shares. Our transaction is completed."
"But I feel as if I've pulled the short stick," Pierre whined. Then he smiled. "I'll pay you for her, Phoenix." He opened the purse Sebastian had just given him. "How much?"
"She's not for sale," he bit out, his forehead beading with sweat. The situation was rapidly slipping from his control.
The barmaid came by, setting two overflowing mugs on the table.
"Celia," Dominique purred. "Your sister works at the inn, non?"
She eyed the pirate warily. "Aye."
"Hmmm. What tidbits did she share about the guests? More specifically, what did she say about the wom-"
Sebastian drew his knife and stabbed it into the table with such fury the wooden surface cracked down the center. "There will be no more discussion of the woman!" he snarled. "Forget you saw her, forget you heard of her, forget she exists." He grabbed the startled Pierre by the back of the neck and slammed his face into the table. The Frenchman stared wide-eyed at the knife, which was only a hair's breadth away from the tip of his nose. Sebastian bent over him. "Have I made myself clearer this time, Robidoux?"
"O-of course!" Pierre gasped.
Sebastian shoved him to the floor with a grunt and yanked his blade from the ruined table. "I've finished here."
He backed out of the tavern, his heart racing. Turning, he ran to the Seawitch. The alert was given as he hit the gangplank, and the crew leapt into action. They cast off, catching the faint evening breeze and moving with torturous sluggishness from the quay.
He didn't relax until the island was a mere dark shape in the vast ocean. It wasn't finished, he knew. The Robidoux brothers would make trouble, for when Pierre was upset he would not cease his harping until Dominique took action. And Dominique Robidoux was a man to be reckoned with.
Sebastian made his way to Olivia's cabin and undressed silently. He slipped between the silk sheets and curled around her sleeping back. At the first touch of her skin, he became erect and fully aroused, aching for the comfort of her body. He lifted her leg over his hip and she roused, but made no protest. He dipped his hand between her legs, feeling his thick cream coating her sex and inner thighs. Like the beast he was, he found deep satisfaction in the primitive claim.
"Do you wish-" she whispered.
"No." He buried his face in her hair, inhaling her scent. "Yes. But you're sore. I can wait."
"I don't want you to wait."
"But you will. Soon enough you'll be begging me to cease my constant demands."
"I'll never tire of you, my lord," she assured him in a sleep-heavy murmur that caused him to press against her with a groan. Olivia spooned against him, nuzzling her luscious derriere against his enflamed cock with a trust that left him breathless.
His stomach clenched. She'd entrusted him with her life, and he'd endangered it already.
He had to put as much distance between them as possible and at the soonest opportunity.
"Who is she, Dominique?" Pierre asked, staring after the vanishing ship.
"The Countess of Merrick. What would you wager that Phoenix has gone to ransom her for a fortune we won't get our share of?"
"I don't make bets with you. You always win."
Dominique smiled. "And we'll win this time too."
"How so?" Pierre asked curiously.
"You'll see, brother. You'll see."
Sebastian stepped onto the deck and turned completely around before spotting Olivia. Sitting on a barrel at the foredeck, she looked pensively over the water. He deliberately made his steps heard so as not to startle her. He smiled as she lifted a bottle to her lips and drank from it. "Care to share, love?"
She passed him the wine. "How was your dinner with the captain?"
"I'm not certain. I was distracted."
"Oh? With what, may I ask?"
"With visions of you, naked in bed, eating supper without me."
"As if I would ever eat naked," she scoffed. "And in bed no less. I, for one, do not relish crumbs on my linens." Her mouth curved in a contented smile. "Do you never think of anything other than sex?"
"Certainly. Just this afternoon I wondered what you were doing in the West Indies."
Her smile faded.
It was the first time either one of them had broached the subject of their pasts. There had been a silent agreement between them to live only in the moment, but they approached England far too quickly. Soon they would present themselves to the world as Lord and Lady Merrick, yet they were hardly more than intimate strangers. He knew her body in minute detail, but her past and visions for their future remained a mystery.
Olivia sighed. "My father maintains a plantation there."
"And you prefer it to London?"
"I enjoy the freedom."
Sebastian frowned. There was something she wasn't telling him. "And what of the Season? You are a diamond, my love. Your popularity is assured."
Even as he said the words, his gut clenched. Men would swarm around his wife like bees to honey, her marital status making her even more desirable. The thought of other men drooling over Olivia while he was at sea made him murderous.
She looked out over the water, avoiding his gaze. "In the past, I've enjoyed the Season. I simply didn't feel up to it this year."
There was more, he knew, but Sebastian hesitated to press her further. Their time on the ship had been idyllic, and he didn't wish to ruin it. Harsh reality would intrude soon enough. "And now that you've wed, do you intend to make England your home?"
That comment brought her gaze back to his. "Of course. Your home is my home now."
"My home is at sea."
Olivia nodded her agreement without hesitation, causing a sharp pain in his chest.
What had he expected? That she would cry and beg for him to remain with her? Hadn't he capitulated merely to sate his lust, with the added bonus of acquiring the wife and heirs his cursed title demanded? Simply because he'd found his desire unquenchable and his need of deeper origin than he'd realized, did not mean his wife was experiencing the same.
He placed his hand on her shoulder and absently stroked the side of her throat with his thumb. "I shall visit you often." He felt, rather than heard, her deeply indrawn breath.
Olivia leaned into him. "How often is 'often' to you?"
"I should pose that question to you, sweet," he replied, passing the decision to her, while in truth he knew he would crave her and seek her out like a thirsty man would water. "We are in this marriage together."
She hesitated before speaking. "Should you decide to come home at least every six months, you will be able to ascertain if I am breeding or not."
Sebastian stilled. "Breeding." Good God. He could imagine it, picture it clearly-Olivia increasing with his child.
"You're hurting me," she whispered, her hand prying at his fingers on her shoulder.
"I'm sorry." Dazed, he handed her the bottle and began to rub the marks left by his fingertips. "You startled me."
"So I gathered. But it was you who said that one of my duties would be to bear your heirs."
Duty. Not pleasure. Heirs. Not children.
Suddenly there was a distinction between them, one that irritated him and made him restless.
He reached for her hand. "I should like to retire."
Turning, she searched his face. He could feel the air altering around them, shifting even as their relationship did. What was happening? Sebastian stood rigid under her scrutiny. What did she see in him with those dark eyes that bored right through him?
He was profoundly relieved when Olivia placed her hand in his and followed him to their bed, where heady pleasure and drugging forgetfulness awaited them.
Sebastian stared up at the ruby red velvet canopy and sighed with contentment.
Olivia's heated breath puffed across the head of his cock. "What are you thinking?" she asked.
He glanced down to where his wife lay prone between his legs. She'd spent the last hour in studious examination of his member, tracing every vein, caressing every bit of his hard length with her hands and mouth, purring her delight like a cat with cream. She made him feel supremely masculine; a man appreciated completely by his mate, her admiration a welcome salve after a lifetime of feeling insignificant. At least in this one endeavor, that of being Olivia's husband, he had not been found lacking. "You," he answered. "This bed. Our marriage."
She crossed her hands on his upper thigh and rested her chin upon them. "Do you have regrets?" she asked in a steady voice, even as her expressive eyes showed her worry.
He reached down to caress her tumbled hair. "No. Come closer."
Olivia rose to her hands and knees, her full breasts swaying as she climbed along the length of his body. She'd become quite comfortable with her nakedness over these last weeks, and he appreciated their growing familiarity.
She purred with pleasure as she draped her body over his. He reached up and pulled her hair to the side so he could nuzzle her throat unhindered.
"Tell me about your family."
He sighed. "They are a pack of vultures, sweeting. The entire lot of them."
"Surely there must be some members of your family whose company you enjoy."
"I was quite fond of my brother, Edmund."
She frowned. "What about your mother?"
He stared at the canopy again. "There is nothing I can tell you, other than she was very beautiful, and I know this only because I've seen her portrait. I don't remember her at all."
"How did she die?"
He slid his hands through her hair and cupped the back of her head. "I don't know that she is dead. She ran off when I still an infant."
"Oh, Sebastian." Having caught the bitterness in his voice, hers filled with sympathy.
He choked out a laugh. "Don't pity me, Olivia. I won't have it. I don't want it."
"I won't," she soothed. "I know how it is to grow up without a mother. You and I are so alike, in the most unexpected of ways." Her small hands came up to cradle his face. "Do you know why she ran away?"
"Marriage to my father would do it, I would say. You'll never have the misfortune to meet a colder or more vicious man."
"That is something I cannot imagine." Olivia fell silent, her fingertips drawing circles across his chest. "When was the last time you saw your father?" she asked finally.
He didn't want to think about the marquess. Ever. "Five years ago."
"Are you worried about seeing him again?"
Sebastian considered that for a moment. "I don't believe so. After all, I am returning with the bride of his choosing. He should have no complaints, at least none outside the usual, which entails everything else about me."
Olivia took a deep breath, the movement pressing her breasts more fully against his chest.
"Tell me what you're thinking," he urged when the silence stretched out.
She hesitated, then her natural forthrightness won out. "Would I have been your choice for a bride? Or did you-"
"Yes," he interjected, deducing the nature of her query. "If I'd been of the mind to be leg-shackled, I would most definitely have selected your fetter over any other. And no. What is between you and I has nothing to do with my father. If you think on it further, love, you will see that discarding you would have served my rebellion better."
She sighed and offered a relieved smile. "When will we arrive in London?"
"A week perhaps."
"That's all?" Her smile faltered, then faded completely.
Sebastian frowned. "Why so miserable, sweet?"
With a wriggle of her hips, she positioned his cock at her entrance and engulfed him easily, her passage slick with his seed.
His breath hissed out through his teeth as pleasure, searing and almost painful, coursed through his blood. "Dear God," he groaned. It was like fucking his way into a velvet fist, every time more astonishingly rapturous than the last.
"Do you intend to leave me immediately after we return?" Olivia rose up to a seated position, taking more of him into her body until the dark honey curls of her sex tangled with his black ones and he felt the warmth of her womb cap his erection. The visual and physical combination made him swell even further inside her, stretching her until she moaned.
"W-what?" He couldn't think.
She rose up on her knees and then slid back down along his shaft, killing him softly. "Will you leave me in London immediately?"
He caressed the satin skin of her thighs, his entire body consumed with fever. "No . . . I don't know . . ." He gasped as she rode him again. Lightning bolted into his spine and radiated outward. "What do you want . . . me to do?"
Olivia undulated around him, over him, against him, her fingertips swirling over his flat nipples. Damn, she'd become so familiar with his body, she played it with the skill of the finest courtesan. She knew just where to touch him, where to stroke him, to turn him to putty in her hands.
"I want you to stay with me, just for a short time." She moved again, slowly, caressing his throbbing cock with silken, drenched heat. Sebastian gritted his teeth, his back arching against his will. "There will be balls and luncheons in our honor, callers to our home. I don't want to endure it all alone."