Read Looking for a Hero Online
Authors: Patti Berg
my own special hero
Satan's Revenge creaked and groaned as mountainous waves pummeled theâ¦
A monstrous wave rose from the belly of the ocean,â¦
“Are you okay, mister?”
The dizziness had gone, but Black Heart woke from aâ¦
Kate shielded her eyes from the glaring sun, looking outâ¦
What the bloody hell? This was not St. Augustine! The womanâ¦
“Oh, my precious ones. I've been worried half out ofâ¦
For long hours he tossed and turned, his body aching,â¦
Kate sipped hot cocoa at the kitchen table, wishing sheâ¦
He'd wanted to kiss her. All the way home, asâ¦
For long hours Morgan stood in the dark, hidden amidâ¦
Standing at the window, Kate slid a finger along herâ¦
Kate stood on the front porch, waving good-bye to Bubbaâ¦
It was well past midnight when Kate uncurled her bodyâ¦
Kate punched, clawed, and jabbed, trying to free herself ofâ¦
Somehow Kate slept, waking once with her head nestled againstâ¦
Kate climbed through the hatch, and stood in a dazeâ¦
Kate opened her bedroom window, letting in the sounds ofâ¦
The knock came unexpectedly, waking Kate from storm-tossed dreams ofâ¦
St. Charles Street was quiet, except for the sounds of Thomasâ¦
Kate sat on the darkened balcony outside her bedroom, theâ¦
It wasn't much of a noise, but he'd heard itâ¦
Nikki's car sat at the end of the walk. Morganâ¦
Morgan pivoted, but his attempt to get away from theâ¦
Time, the avenger! Unto thee I lift
My hands, and eyes, and heart
and crave of thee a gift
A long, long time agoâ¦
creaked and groaned as mountainous waves pummeled the heavily armed vessel. Salt water and hurricane-force winds buffeted the sails and shredded the canvas, while the warship listed, bucking and twisting in the brutally churning sea.
Black Heart listened to the clash of thunder, the crackle of lightning, the howl of the hurricane, and the rapid beat of his own empty heart.
Death will surely come this night
, he mused, laughing darkly
at his fate. Drowning was a hell of a lot better than swinging from the yardarm, and a far sight more desirable than having his body bound in chains and put on display until it rotted.
'Twas obvious his band of cutthroats felt the same. Gripping the wheel, he watched as one by one the crew abandoned ship, jumping to a certain death in the tumultuous waters below. To hell with the lot of them. Not one man out of fifty-two was brave enough to stay on board and let the Devil determine his destiny.
In spite of his anger, he turned to the heavens and prayed, “God have mercy on their souls.” And then he silently asked forgiveness for himself, afraid that this prayer, like all his others, would blow away with the wind.
Thunder rang out as another wall of water smashed against the ship. The mizzenmast groaned, wind battered the ragged sails, and broken rigging whipped about the quarterdeck like a school of writhing eels.
Black Heart fought for balance, wrapping an arm around a spoke of the wheel as he ground his boots into the slippery deck. He was exhausted from fighting the storm.
was tired, too. She'd never suffered such a brutal attack, not from man, God, or the Devil. She'd never felt a cannonball in her hull, or a fire in her hold. She'd never lost a manâuntil today.
She'd been his life for the past six years. She'd outraced privateers and the Royal Navy's warships. She was his family, his comforter. If they
couldn't make it back to his island, he'd spend eternity with her at the bottom of the sea. “I'll not abandon you,” he whispered.
A contemptuous laugh broke through the din of the storm, and out of the corner of his eye, he saw the flash of a curved steel blade. Black Heart pivoted as the cutlass slashed through the air and struck the wheel just inches from his hand.
God forbid! Thomas Low had escaped his shackles.
The bloody bastard sneered as rivulets of salt water coursed down his face. “'Tis time you die,” Low hissed.
Black Heart drew his cutlass and skillfully blocked the next blow of Thomas Low's sword. Steel clashed hard against steel as Low struck back, then parried the next thrust of Black Heart's weapon. “We'll go to hell together,” Black Heart laughingly tossed back. “I can't think of a better way to spend eternity than watching you burn.”
Low's brows furrowed in anger. “There will be no hell for me, not this day nor any other,” he snarled, swinging his cutlass fiercely at Black Heart's elusive body.
Black Heart swung, catching the steel of Thomas Low's blade, sending it high in the air, then down to the slippery deck. He lunged, the tip of his cutlass grazing Low's throat, drawing a drop of blood that washed away instantly in the downpour. He coaxed the frightened man backward, pinning his quivering body to the mizzenmast.
“I'd planned a slow death for you,” Black Heart
threatened. “Something equally as vile as what you inflicted on my family, but I've tired of this game of chase we've been playing.”
“It's been no game. I want what you stole from me.”
Black Heart lightly fingered the golden links around his neck, smiling as he touched his most precious treasuresâhis sister's cross, and his mother's wedding ring. Low had taken the cherished band once before, but never again.
A resounding roar bellowed directly overhead and a bolt of lightning flashed down from the darkened sky, striking the broad side of his blade. Shock ripped through his hand, up his arm, through his entire body. He jerked backward, his fingers still gripping the handle of the vibrating cutlass. He tried to breathe, but he couldn't suck air into his lungs. His heart ceased its beating, and pain exploded through his chest.
Once more he heard Thomas Low's mocking laughter. He looked at the man he hated and watched helplessly as Low pressed a boot against his stomach and sent him crashing into the railing.
Low swept his sword from the deck and advanced. There was nothing Black Heart could do. He had no strength to defend himself.
“This ship is mine now,” Low declared. “I'll take those items you wear around your neck, too.”
The word screamed in Black Heart's mind, but it never had a chance to cross his tongue.
Lightning skittered across the sky, and one
strong bolt struck the topmast. Low stumbled away as the yardarm and sail toppled down to the deck and smashed just inches from Black Heart's legs. The rigging snapped and squirmed between the two men, and Low stood back, proud, victorious, his arms folded across his chest as he sneered.
Black Heart knew he was trapped. There was no escaping now. All he could do was muster what little strength he had to thwart the blows of unrestrained blocks and tackle while he glared hatefully at the man who mocked his plight, the man he should have killed years before.
“I'll not rest until I see you dead,” Black Heart shouted through the squeal and groan of the cracking mizzenmast.
An evil grin crossed Low's face, and he ducked out of sight as the towering mast careened toward the stern.
Black Heart had little time to react. He raised his arms and cushioned the blow of the powerful pole as it smashed violently against the side of his head.
Fighting for consciousness, trying to ignore the pain, he grabbed the mast and held on tightly as it slid across the deck. It whipped back and forth and at last broke free of its rigging and sails. In one wild sweep, the mast hurtled over the side of the ship, carrying Black Heart with it into the turbulent depths of the unforgiving Atlantic.
I had a dream which was not all a dream
Into the presentâ¦
monstrous wave rose from the belly of the ocean, churning and foaming as it sped toward the strand. The teeming water crashed into the shore, tossing a bedraggled body mercilessly onto the beach. Salt water swirled over and around the man's legs, chest, and head, and slowly his limp, nearly lifeless fingers reached out and clawed at the sand to keep him from being dragged back into the cruel sea.
Black Heart gasped for air, crawling inch by inch up the familiar beach as he fought the pull of the ocean and the push of the hurricane winds which wanted to claim his last ounce of breath. But he refused to give up.
Stabbing the cutlass he hadn't relinquished to the sea into the sand for leverage, he struggled further from the water, then used the sword as a crutch to pull his weary body up from the ground. His legs wobbled beneath his weight. He'd exhausted most all his strength fighting for life in the raging Atlantic. He had little energy left to make it to shelter, but he'd find the power somewhere.
The wind blasted him from all sides as he pressed against the storm. Shielding his eyes with his hand, he could make out the grove of palms where he'd sought refuge many years before. Further inland was the fortress of rock, shell, and mud secluded in an oasis of moss-draped cypress, wind-twisted pines, and palmetto palms. If he could just make it to his hideaway, he could rest. There was rum stashed inside which would quench his thirst. If he drank enough, it might also numb the throbbing ache in his head and force him to sleep.
When he reached the palms that bent as easily as blades of grass in the wind, he wrapped his arms around a prickly trunk. Resting his cheek against the surface, he waited for the howling storm to calm. He prayed for just one moment of peace, one minute of rest.
Instead, nausea overwhelmed him and a dizzying array of colors swirled before his eyes as the earth spun around and around. Pain pulsed at his temple. He didn't need to reach up and touch the
spot. He could easily envision the swollen, blood-clotted gash beneath his hair. The wound should have killed him. Hell, he should have drowned in the angry sea, but he was too stubborn to die. And he'd be damned if he'd meet his Maker, or the Devil himself, before wreaking revenge on Thomas Low.
'Twas that vengeance that drove him onward. Taking a deep breath, he pushed away from the tree and stumbled as he fought the wind, the bite of drifting, pelting sand, and the palm fronds and cypress branches that flew helter-skelter through the air.
Suddenly he halted. The pain in his body swept to the center of his heart as he surveyed the ravages before him.
Dear God Almighty
. Like the rest of his life, his home had been destroyed. Portions of the roof were gone and the walls looked as if they'd been blasted by cannonballs. The place where he'd hidden from his enemies was now just a skeleton, only a meager frame of the stronghold he'd built with his own two hands.
He raised his fist and his eyes to the darkened sky. “I won't let this defeat me. I swore revenge and I mean to get it, no matter what obstacles You or the Devil shove in my way.”
Thunder bellowed, and a heavy sheet of rain crashed down from the clouds.
I won't be beaten. I won't
He staggered through the main entrance, into an empty room. A cynical laugh rumbled in his
chest. Furniture he'd taken from Spanish galleons and the carpets he'd traded diamonds and rubies for while traveling in ancient lands were gone. Hammered gold platters and fine Chinese porcelain no longer graced the shelves of mahogany cabinets. The rock floors he'd intricately laid had grass peeking up through gaping holes, and fine white sand had drifted into dunes along the base of the walls and covered most of the floor. And the relentless rain poured through ragged openings in the roof to form pools on the ground.
There was no need to search further for his belongings. He knew he'd find only the same bleak emptiness.
How could all this have happened in just one short year away?
He shook his head in wonder. He thought he'd accomplished much on this latest voyage. Now he'd lost everything. The proof was in the island's empty harbor and in the crumbling ruins he was facing now.
None of that mattered, though. Once before he'd lost everythingâeverything but his life. He was still alive, he could rebuild, and he could again hunt Thomas Low. He prayed that his enemy had survived the storm. Without revenge, there'd be little left in his heart to keep him going.
He wound his way through the maze of rooms, while the wind howled through the battered rooftop and cracked walls, chasing him like banshees desperately trying to drag him to hell.
I'll not go easily
, he warned, as he sought the place where his massive four-poster bed once had
been. The heavy velvet drapes were gone, as was his leather sea trunk, and the Spanish dressing table and chair where he'd always sat to remove his boots. All the comforts he'd known before had disappeared.
Having nowhere else to lay his head, he collapsed against the rough shell and mortar wall and glared straight ahead.
This was the place he'd escaped to when the cruelty of life, when the horrors of all that he'd done in the past years had become too much to bear. This island where he'd buried his sister had become his home.
Now it was as empty as his soul.
He rested his head atop his drawn-up knees. He had to sleep. To heal. Tomorrow he'd rebuild his lifeâagain.
He closed his eyes. Like a lullaby sung by demons, the pelting rain and the whine of the storm dulled his senses. His eyes grew heavy, as did his breathing, and when he thought he'd finally sleep, he heard the faint traces of childish laughter.
His eyelids jerked opened.
Had Melody come back to keep him company?
Lord knows he'd prayed often enough for her to return.
He tried to calm his breathing and shut out the storm so he could once more hear the voice. And then it came to him.
“No, Mommy. You're telling it all wrong.”
a child, and the first taste of comfort he'd known in days, maybe even years, consoled him.
He turned to the gaping hole in the wall that
connected this room to the quarters where his infrequent guests had stayed, and placed his ear to the mortar, keeping completely out of sight so no one would know he was about. There was a price on his head, and many a man wanted the ample reward.
Laughter drifted through the opening, a sweet, warm voice wrapping around him like the finest of furs. A woman this time, not a child.
“Okay, let me try it again. Long John Silver swaggered into the inn with a great treasure chest under his arm. All eyes turned toward the door, and frightened men shivered in their boots when the man with a parrot on his shoulder bellowed,
âYo-ho-ho, and a bottle of rum!'”
“No,” the child stressed, and a grin touched Black Heart's lips at the sound of her frustration. “Long John Silver was the one with the peg leg. It was the old sea-dog living at the Admiral Benbow who sang those words. Don't you remember?”
“You know I always get them confused.”
“Then you should read the book again. Daddy read it to me
The voices were realânot imagined or ghostly. Sweet, heaven-sent voices. Still, he bristled at the thought of uninvited guests on his island. Where there was a woman and child, there was bound to be a man. He gripped his cutlass tightly in one hand and pulled his dagger from under his belt with the other.
Standing quietly on guard next to the jagged
wall, he listened for other voices, but all he heard was the incessant storm and a giggling child singing like a drunken buccaneer.
“Fifteen men on a dead man's chest. Yo-ho-ho, and a bottle of rum!”
Black Heart's lips angled into a smile. He hadn't heard a child's laughter in years. Surely this was all a dream, a delusion caused by the blasted blow to his head. And if so, he wanted the fantasy to continue.
“Why don't you let me tell
a story, Mommy? I know you like to try, but you don't have any imaginationânot like Daddy and me.”
Ah, a feisty little thing. He liked that in a child. He liked it in his women, too. But, bloody hell, ladies cowered from him now, and barmaids wanted only his booty.
What a sad state of affairs he'd brought upon himself, where he had to hide from the world, and seek comfort by spying on women and children.
“Why don't you tell me one just like your father would have told?” the woman said, her words laced with a hint of sadness he could detect even without seeing her face.
“Okay, but it's going to be scary.”
The little girl giggled, sounding so much like his beloved Melody.
God, how he missed his sister's laughter, her smiles, the soft touch of little fingers in the palm of his hand as they'd walked the streets of London, he a respected young gentleman, she a child with bouncing black curls.
It seemed a thousand years since they'd shared secrets, since they'd sailed with their parents from England toward the West Indiesâsince he'd held Melody's limp, lifeless body in his arms and buried her in the midst of a grove of palms.
He shook his head, shoving that memory from his mind. Her death had driven him to vengeance; remembrances of her life kept him sane. And it was sanity he needed most of all now.
Pressing his cheek to the cool battered wall, he listened as the child in the next room cleared her throat, the same thing he'd often done when he'd sat down before the fire to begin one of his tales, with Melody snuggled in his lap.
“Listen up, matey,” the child announced, in a deep, exaggerated voice. “'Tis a vile story I tell you now, of the most infamous pirate to ever sail the seven seas.”
Warmth touched his heart as he sank to the floor, resting his weary head against the wall while he listened to her tale.
“Some folks say Blackbeard was the scurviest of pirates, but my story is about a buccaneer who was even worse. He had a big, ugly scar on his face and when he wasn't wearing his patch, his right eye hung from its socket. Some people say that he ate babies for breakfast and picked his teeth with their bones.”
“Don't you think you're exaggerating a bit too much?” the woman interrupted.
“No, Mommy,” the girl said innocently. “It's true. Cross my heart.”
A rumble of laughter caught in Black Heart's chest. He'd embellished many a tale to the delight of his sister, even to a drunken crew. He'd been the best of storytellers, and now it appeared he was meeting his match.
“Did he have
good qualities?” the woman asked.
“Of course not,” the girl said indignantly. “He was a pirate! His hands were grimy, his fingernails were broken. His pigtail smelled like rotten fish and his clothes were so dirty that even the ship's rats hated to get close to him.” Her voice lowered, and Black Heart scrambled up from the floor and put his ear close to the opening so he could hear her story over the ceaseless winds. “If you've heard anything good about this man, don't believe it.” Her voice raised again, and her words hit him loud and clear. “Black Heart was the wickedest cutthroat to ever set foot on earth.”
“Lies!” Black Heart shouted, but his protest was drowned out by a rumble of thunder. 'Twas one thing to embellish a story. 'Twas another to slander a man who'd once had an admirable name. He had half a mind to storm into that room and point out all of his sterling character traits, but nausea gripped him again. Swirls of darkness and light whipped around his head, and once more he rested his brow on the cool, damp wall.
The pain at his temple intensified, but he managed to peek cautiously through the jagged hole to see if the child who repeated such contemptible hearsay had horns protruding from her head.
He wasn't quite prepared for the sight he saw in the gloomy room. The storyteller chatted on and on as she cuddled in her mother's arms, dressed in scarcely a stitch. She was just a wee bit of a thing, with wide eyes the color of a tranquil sea, a turned-up nose, and a mass of blond ringlets. From the looks of her she should have a halo suspended over her head. A tilted halo. One that burned with Satan's fire.
“Aren't you leaving a few things out of your story?” the woman asked. “Like the fact that Black Heart robbed from the rich and gave to the poor?”
The child rolled her pretty blue eyes. “That stuff's no fun.”
But it's the truth!
Black Heart spouted inwardly, wanting to vindicate himself. He had to stay quiet, though. Hidden. A woman and child would not be on the island alone, and he couldn't risk being seen. Should their man return, a man interested in the bounty on his head, he would not have the endurance to fight.
Nay, he must remain silent. On guard. Watching his surroundings. The scantily clothed child. The inadequately attired woman.
Ah, the woman.
She had a damn fine face. One of the prettiest faces he'd seen in many a year. She had a mighty fine body, too, and he could see nearly every scandalously revealed inch. The child's head rested against her mother's bosom, a pillow of comfort if ever he'd seen one. Her plump round breasts came close to spilling out of the bright blue corset
she wore. At least he assumed it was a corset, the way it hugged her waist and belly. He'd never seen one quite like it. Naturally, he'd seen many a corset in his day, but this one had no bones to keep the woman's back stiff, no hooks or laces to cinch her body into an unnatural shape and make it difficult for her to breathe, much less talk or eat. Instead, the fabric glistened like the finest of silk, and it smoothed over an already slender body. A damn fine body!
And the face. A grown-up version of the child's, with fair skin, the pinkest of lips, wide eyes that, even in the gathering gloom, sparkled like emeralds. Her wavy hair was the color of honey, and it hung far below her shoulders, looking windblown, tousled, as if she'd just been making love.