Sequel to Fire And Ice and Fire And Ice: New Beginnings
Disclaimer See Part 1
Constructive criticism is greatly appreciated, so feel free to drop me a line or two at email@example.com .
Morgana's eyes burnt with ill-suppressed anger as she looked at the woman who stood with her back to her. Not even a thank you for having saved her from Lillian. She turned slowly and hung the key on the hook.
“I hope you don't expect any gratitude from me.”
Morgana turned back and found the woman staring back at her with cold dark eyes. She shook her head slowly as she raked her eyes over the woman.
“Not from the likes of you, no.” she turned to leave, but the woman's voice stopped.
“Then why did you stop her?”
Morgana turned back again. “Because she loves her mate with all her heart and killing you without her partner's consent will destroy them, that's why.”
The woman's face pulled into a hate-filled sneer as she looked at Morgana. “Love? Hah! That viper doesn't know what love is.”
Morgana's eyes narrowed as she stepped closer. “You know her?”
Dark eyes darkened even further before the woman turned away, leaving Morgana feeling a chill going down her spine. Ireland was still a few weeks away and she couldn't shake the feeling of foreboding. She remembered the look in Lillian's eyes and the chilling warning to get the woman off her ship.
“What's your name?”
“Why would you want to know?” came the rude reply.
Morgana stepped closer to the cell as she felt her anger slip. This ungrateful, rude woman was really grating on her nerves.
“Because, until we reached the next settlement, I'm the only one to keep you from getting your throat slit.”
The woman turned to face Morgana, a mocking smile on her face.
“I don't scare easily.”
“And that's your biggest mistake.” Morgana's eyes flashed. “Lillian Scarborough is not someone you want baying for your blood. If she wants you dead, then she won't rest until you are.” Having had enough of the woman's presence, she quickly left the brig. Once outside in the fresh air, she took a deep, calming breath, realizing only now how upset she really was. Maybe she should've let Lillian kill her earlier. She felt eyes on her and scanning the deck, met the accusing stare of Lillian. What was she thinking getting involved? Now she had a woman who's attitude at the least, is going to get her killed. On the other hand she had a semi-reformed sociopath who wants to avenge her lover's attack. She needed Kris. With one last warning look at Lillian, she made for the Captain's cabin and her sanity.
As soon as she stepped inside, she almost vomited at the heavy scent of blood hanging in the confined air. Looking up from where she was bent over Seweeka's shivering form; Kris' hands were stained with blood. Oh no, what had she walked in on? Her legs shaking, she walked closer, pushing past the sweating cabin boy. Seweeka was deathly pale and her body was wrecked by shivers. She turned huge amber eyes at her spouse.
“What are you doing, Kris?”
“Saving … my … life…” Seweeka said weakly, before Kris could answer and opened her eyes. “Do not … she should not stop.”
Kris gently brushed Seweeka's auburn locks out of her eyes and then looked back at Morgana.
“The wound needed a good cleaning. Lillian couldn't do it for obvious reasons.”
Morgana looked at the small heap of bloodied cloths lying on the deck next to the bed and back at Seweeka. “I'd suggest you get rid of those before Lillian walks in here. She's not in the best of moods, as we speak.”
Kris glanced at the cabin boy who quickly began to gather the cloths and made for the door.
“You'll have to hide them, boy. The Captain is right outside that door.” She turned back to Kris after the boy had left. “I'm really worried?”
Kris looked at Seweeka who, mercifully, had slipped into unconsciousness again. “She is fine. I've cleaned the wound nicely.”
“I'm not talking about her.”
“Unless we get the prisoner off the ship, Lillian will surely kill her.”
Kris raised a blonde eyebrow. “Well, I can't blame her. The woman tried to kill her mate.”
Morgana sighed deeply and cocked her head to the side.
“That would be murder, querida .” She looked down at the pale face of Seweeka. “I doubt Seweeka would like it if Lillian killed the woman.”
“What do you want us to do then?”
“Get the woman off the ship and keep her away from Lillian.”
Kris turned narrowed ice blue eyes on her. “I understand what you said about murder and all, but why are you really doing this?”
Why indeed, Morgana thought. She'd just placed herself in the middle of a very explosive situation. She reached out and pulled Kris closer to her. At the touch of her wife's body against hers, some of the pent-up tension seeped out of her. She sighed deeply.
“I can't help but feel as if there's more to this than meets the eye. Our prisoner hinted today that she knew Seweeka.”
“She did? How?”
Morgana pulled back and looked into cool blue eyes. “In the biblical way, it seems.”
“That's impossible!” Kris looked down at Seweeka. “Is that why Lillian's upset?”
“That's quite an understatement, love.” Morgana bit down on her lower lip. “Lillian's livid. I caught her earlier busy throttling the woman.”
Kris shook her head. “Maybe we should just stay out of this, Morgana. That woman almost killed Seweeka.”
“I know, but don't you think it's strange that we land on a strange island and some woman just come out of nowhere and want to kill our friend? I can't help but think that there's more there and I think we need to keep her alive until we get to the bottom of it?”
Kris gently caressed her cheek, making Morgana lean into the caress. The ice blue eyes smiled down into hers. “You're right as always, my love. We'll keep her safe until we reach the first British port.”
Morgana nodded and squeezed Kris tighter to her. She never doubted Kris' support, but knowing how Kris felt about Seweeka, she hadn't expected her Viking to give in so easily. “Thank you for your support.”
Kris leered at her. “You do know that it'll cost you, don't you.”
“You'll be richly rewarded, Viking. Now let's get that woman off this ship before Lillian snaps.”
Lillian was still seething when she pulled a chair closer to the bed, settling herself in for the night. Looking down at the pale face of her sleeping lover, she felt the almost uncontrollable rage she'd felt earlier, return with a vengeance. She felt hot tears of helplessness built up in her eyes and she didn't even bother wiping them away when they trickled down her cheeks. She had never been so afraid in her life of losing someone. No one has ever meant as much to her as Seweeka. No one. Not even her mother. She wanted to rip the woman apart for trying to take the most important thing in her life from her. Killing had always come easy to her. But contrary to what other thought about her, she never took pleasure in it. It was simply something which had to be done to rid herself of a threat. But today she wanted to kill for pleasure. She bent her head until her chin rested on her chest.
Lillian head snapped up and she quickly wiped her eyes. Seweeka was awake and looking at her with concerned green eyes.
“How are you feeling, my darling?” She sat closer and tenderly placed her fingertips against Seweeka's lips and then placed them against hers. “Are you having any pain?”
“Not too much, Seweeka,” murmured. “Why were you crying?”
Lillian rubbed her hand over her face before looking back at Seweeka. The green eyes were a bit more lucid now which was a good sign. “I'm scared.”
Seweeka's face softened at the quiet admission. “I will be back on my feet very soon, I promise.” She reached out a hand. “Join me on the bed.”
“No, I don't want to hurt you.”
“It hurts not having you close to me.”
Lillian swallowed hard and blinked away fresh tears. What had she done to deserve this woman? She quickly took off her boots and weapons and climbed over Seweeka to lie behind her. Carefully, she pressed her body again Seweeka's side and sighed as a feeling of utter peacefulness settled over her. She gently kissed Seweeka's cheek. “I love you.”
“I love you too. Now try to sleep. You look exhausted.” Seweeka reached for her hand and pulled her arm around her. “I will watch over you.”
For the first time in her adult life, Lillian Scarborough sobbed. As tears of relief, love and happiness fell from her eyes, she clung to the warm body of the woman lying next to her. She can't believe how she'd survived without this woman – without her love.
With a soft groan Seweeka opened her eyes and stiffened. Looming over her was the tall, dark frame of a stranger. Next to her, Lillian was fast asleep. She looked up into the cold dark eyes looking down at her. She calmly looked at woman.
“Why did you do it?”
Seweeka raised a brow. “What did I do to you?”
The woman shook her head. “Don't act the innocent with me. You betrayed me and our love.”
“I do not know what you are talking about. Who are you?”
“You know who I am,” the woman hissed vehemently.
Seweeka carefully lifted herself until she came to rest on her elbow. “I do not know what you are talking about, but if it is what you believe and you want to take my life, then there is nothing I can do about it.”
“Yes, this is more like you, you coward.” The woman sneered. “Now that there is no one to do your dirty work for you, you are not even going to lift a finger to protect yourself.”
The soft moonlight caught the shine of a blade as it arched through the air.
“NO!” Lillian screamed as she threw herself across Seweeka.
Seweeka felt the air explode from her lungs, coupled by the intense pain in her chest. Her eyes when they opened were wet as she tried to locate the reason for the sudden attack. Her eyes widened when she realized Lillian was lying on top of her, sobbing. With a shaking hand she reached for the tousled blonde head.
“Lillian?” When there was no immediate response, she called out again. This time, the blonde head lifted. Lillian's face was contorted in anguish as she looked down at her. “What is wrong, Lillian?” When Lillian just stared at her, Seweeka gently traced a finger down a wet cheek. “Please tell me what happened.”
She watched in utter confusion as Lillian turned and scanned the semi-dark interior of the cabin before she turned to look at her again. The dream was so vivid. Never before had she felt as helpless as she felt in the dream. She felt as if she was a silent bystander and at the same time as if she was inside Seweeka's body feeling the other woman's fear and resignation when the blade arched through the air.
“Are you okay?” she asked in a tremulous voice.
“Yes, I am ... except that you are crying and lying on my wound.” Lillian's eyes widened and she quickly rolled off her, apologizing profusely. With the weight of her chest and the pain subsiding slowly, Seweeka reached out to lover. “You are acting very strange.”
“I …” Lillian once again scanned the cabin. “I think I had a bad dream.”
Seweeka nodded, relieved. “It must have been a very unpleasant one to have made you cry.”
“Yes, it was bad.” Lillian cradled her face in Seweeka's neck. “And it was so real.”
“Do you want to tell me what it was about?” Seweeka asked gently, stroking the soft blond hair.
“That woman tried to hurt you again,” Lillian said in a voice muffled against Seweeka's skin. “I couldn't stop her this time.”
Seweeka listened quietly as Lillian began to cry again. What woman was she talking about? And what did she mean with ‘again'? She tightened her arms around Lillian. The only person who'd tried to hurt her lately was that …
“Was that a woman who tried to kill me?”
Lillian cleared her voice. “Yes.”
“Do you know why she attacked us?” Seweeka asked softly, puzzled by the new information. She felt Lillian struggling to move and loosened her hold. She watched as Lillian got out of bed and walked over to the table to light the lantern. She turned and slowly walked over to sit in the chair by the bed. Lifting herself so she could rest on her side, Seweeka studied Lillian through sharp eyes. She couldn't help but pick up on Lillian's sudden nervousness. “Why did she try to attack us, Lillian?”
Dark grey eyes met hers. “She … she believes that you and she … that you are … were … lovers.” Lillian quickly looked away.
“Lovers?” She asked incredulously. “I do not even know her.” Seweeka blinked when a soft smile formed on Lillian's lips. “Did you believe her?” she asked quietly, her eyes intense as they studied her lover. She noticed a slight stiffening of Lillian's shoulders before the Captain shrugged.
“She sounded very convincing.” Lillian said with a sheepish look on her face, her eyes avoiding eye contact.
Seweeka didn't know how to react to that. A dull ache settled around her heart at hearing her lover's admission, but she still wasn't sure how to react. She carefully lay back, staring at the ceiling. Maybe she should ponder on this a little more because Lillian still looked a little rattled by the dream. She might not know how to react to the fact that her lover suspected her of double crossing her, but she was sure that she'd want an answer later.
“I would like to meet her tomorrow. Will you take me to see her?” She turned to look at Lillian who was watching her with hawk like intensity. “Where is she?”
“On the Lilac Crest .” The grey eyes darkened. “She wasn't safe onboard.”
Seweeka's lips pulled into a small smile. “I thought as much. It is still early and you need your rest.
Morgana reached down and pulled the thick blanket over them both which had ended up at the foot end of bed during their vigorous love making session. Kris was already dozing when she finally settled herself in the Viking's arms. She sighed deeply and smiled. It was unbelievable how much she still wanted Kris. Even now after another earth-shattering climax. She wondered how long this honeymoon feeling was going to last … if it would ever dissipate. Kris was just as insatiable as she was. She moaned softly and threw her leg over Kris', bringing her wet sex in contact with her wife's strong thigh. Arching her back, she sucked in a long breath as her clitoris rubbed against Kris' skin. Immediately her body began to heat up with anticipation. She slowly lifted her head to see of Kris was still awake and smiled when she encountered a piercing blue gaze.
“Yes. I'll always want more.”
Kris smiled as she moved her hands down her back and cupped her derriere in her hands. Using her immense strength, she gently pushed her upwards, making Morgana moan in pleasure as the hardened nub made full contact with Kris' thigh. For the next half an hour, the only sound heard in the cabin was soft sighs of pleasure as Morgana was skillfully ravished and brought to a thundering climax.
“That was unbelievable,” she mumbled as soon as she was able to form a coherent sentence and watched Kris with smoldering eyes. “Just give me a minute and I'll take care of you.”
Kris shook her head. “I doubt I'll be able to wait another second.” Morgana squealed in surprise when Kris rolled her over on her stomach and straddled her. “Madre …!” she exclaimed when she felt Kris' wet sex sliding over her cheeks. She lifted her shoulders slightly when Kris flattened her chest against her back and hooked her arms under her shoulders. She closed her eyes, envisioning Kris' large body on top of hers as she thrust wildly into her soft derriere. She groaned at the erotic movement of Kris pulling her into her while at the same time pushing into her. With Kris' mouth close to her ear, she felt her passion escalate as the sound of the soft grunts coming from her wife.
Morgana hissed when the pace increased, the sound of flesh slapping on flesh filling the cabin. Closing her eyes she savored the feel of her wife strong body as she bucked on top of her. She could imagine the pale blue eyes, glittering with lust and the beautiful face pulled in a mask of hunger. That was the last thought Morgana had. Obviously nearing her climax, Kris wanted to take her down with her and had reached under her, rubbing her throbbing clit.
“Come with me, my love.” Kris rasped in her ear. The combination of the husky invitation and the warm breath on her ear was Morgana undoing and energetically rubbed herself against Kris' hand.
They both came amidst lusty cries of release.
Squinting through the cloud of gun smoke, she watched with cold eyes as the man toppled over, dead, even before he'd hit the ground. Long gone where the days, when she'd felt a small stirring of guilt after taking a life. Death was an integral part of her life. Turning away she tossed the smoking weapon at the man nearest to her.
“Clean it up.”
With long, powerful strides she walked over to her horse and hoisted herself into the saddle of the large horse. Pulling on the reins she looked at the body of her latest victim. There was no stirring of guilt, but there was a tiny bit of satisfaction. He was the second in a long line of men whose blood would be shed before she found what she was looking for. Kicking the horse into action she galloped away, her mind already on the next man on her list.
A while later, she dismounted and tossed the reins of the horse to a scruffy looking man who avoided eye contact with her. She towered over him as she straightened her cape, looking at the majestic ship anchored in the harbor. She was relieved to see the Jezebel , her pride and joy. Hunting Matthew Collard had kept her on land longer than she thought it would and she couldn't wait to be back on the open seas again. She sighed with almost orgasmic pleasure as she thought of how it would feel to stand on the deck again with the wind tucking on her hair and the sun caressing her skin with long warm fingers.
She saw her first mate making his way over to her. For the first time in nearly six months a smile came over her lips. Seeing William was like coming home. He was the only bright light in her otherwise dark, cold existence. She waited until he reached her and they hugged warmly.
“Good to have you back in one piece, cousin.” His handsome face was lit up by a brilliant smile although his green eyes held a hint of concern. “Did you find him?”
“He's dead,” she said flatly. She watched as he swallowed and grimaced. “You knew what I was going to do to him once I've caught up with him, Will.”
“I know, Eagan, but it doesn't mean that I have to like it,” he said softly, his eyes trailing over her face. “This is not who you are.”
Hard green eyes stared back at him. “This is what is left of me now, William, and I don't see myself changing in the near future. We'll leave at first light.” She stomped away toward where one of her crew held on to her saddlebag.
Seweeka was breathing hard by the time she'd descended the stairs. Lillian and Morgana threw worrying looks her way she gave them a small smile. Seweeka held out her hand to her lover, knowing that she was still angry at her for wanting to meet the woman. Lillian reluctantly took her hand and pulled her closer.
“How're you feeling,” she asked softly as her dark grey eyes moved over her face.
“I am doing fine now,” Seweeka murmured and placed a soft kiss on Lillian's lips.
With a curt nod, Lillian led her over to one of the holding cells. Moving closer, Seweeka peered into the cell, watching as a tall shape unfolded from where it was sitting on a rickety cot. She felt Lillian stiffen as the woman lifted a hand to push back the hood which was hiding her face. Seweeka blinked at the look of pure hatred blazing at her from pitch-black eyes. The woman was beautiful with midnight black hair tumbling down her back. Mesmerized by the woman's captivating appearance, Seweeka stepped closer to the bars. She knew she'd never met the woman before. Lillian growled under her breath when the woman slowly, with almost catlike movements, came over to the bars. Close up she was breathtaking and Seweeka couldn't help but stare at the woman. She noticed that the woman was doing the same, the black eyes softening the longer they stared at her.
“You're different,” the woman murmured as she reached out a hand to touch her. Seweeka took a quick sideway step to block Lillian from reaching for the woman. She gasped when Lillian's momentum pushed her against the bars, jarring her wound and making her fold her arms over her wound. Instantly contrite, Lillian gently pulled her closer. Morgana also stepped closer.
“I'm so sorry, my love. I …” Lillian said gently, her voice breaking slightly.
“You don't deserve her, you idiot,” the woman spat at Lillian from behind the bars, startling them all with her vehemence. Seweeka took a careful step back, pulling Lillian with her, because even before looking at her lover, she could feel the waves of menace rolling off her lover.
Morgana quickly stepped forward warningly, her eyes narrowing as she saw the murderous rage in Lillian's eyes.
“What … did … you … say?” Lillian said haltingly, making Seweeka shiver at the lethal undercurrent in her voice.
“Only an idiot would hurt the woman they ‘supposedly' love,” the woman flung back, her black eyes gleaming with rage. “She may love you now, but she will never, ever belong to another as she did to me.”
Seweeka's mouth fell open at the woman's words. Lillian was right. The woman sounds very convincing, even she almost believed her. A deep roar sounded behind her and she quickly turned to face Lillian. She needed to get Lillian away from her, off the ship. “Take me from here, Lillian.”
“No, please don't leave.” The woman suddenly moaned; her eyes wide in panic as she looked at her. “I'm sorry for hurting you, but please stay with me. You love me even if you don't remember me. You love …”
Before Seweeka or Morgana could react, Lillian had surged forward, her hands around the woman's neck. Morgana was the first to snap out of it and reach for Lillian.
Kris paced the small interior of the cabin, her movements were jerky, an obvious sign of her distress. Sitting at the table drinking straight from the decanter, was Lillian. Her hair was disheveled from the countless times, she'd raked her fingers through it.
“What were you thinking?”
Lillian just sneered as she brought the decanter to her lips and took a healthy swig. “I wasn't thinking.”
Kris stopped her pacing and turned cold blue eyes on the half-drunk Lillian. “How could you do that to Seweeka?”
A flash of anguished crossed Lillian's face before she lifted the decanter to her lips. This time she held it to her lips and kept on swallowing prompting Kris to step in and yank it away from her.
“That's enough. Pedro is outside to take you to the Siren . “
Pain-filled grey eyes looked up at her. “And Seweeka?”
Kris lifted the decanter to her lips and took a sip. She really hoped that Lillian came to her senses and not let jealousy spoil the one good thing that had fallen in her lap. Wiping her mouth with the back of her hand she looked at Seweeka, finding stormy grey eyes watching her.
“I don't know about Seweeka, Lillian. You did tell her to stay away from you.”
“I … I don't know what got into me.” Lillian's speech was slurred and Kris saw tears well up in her eyes. “She doesn't love me.”
Oh, please Odin, don't let her cry. She wouldn't know what to do then. “Did she say that?”
Lillian averted her eyes. “She didn't have to. She kept quiet when that … that woman said all those things.”
Kris shrugged and took another drink. She was the last person to give out relationship advice. Instead she held out the decanter to Lillian.
“That doesn't mean that she doesn't love you. Maybe you need to talk to her.”
Lillian chuckled, a brittle sound that grated on Kris' nerves. “She hardly looked at me when we left the brig.”
“Well, you could try and see what happens.”
The hand shot out repeatedly, slamming against the wooden wall. Only when it was numbed by the pain did she cradle it against her chest and slowly slid down the wall until she was sitting flat on her derriere. Her hand hurt like hell, but at least it was distracting her from the hollow feeling in her heart. After what had transpired earlier, it was evident that something was wrong. She'd thought she'd known her lover well. Or did she only know the side of her that she wanted her to know. Was she truthful when she said that she didn't know her? Or did she just not remember? Maybe she was injured and had lost her memory. She remembered her grandfather Lone Wolf, falling from his horse once and losing his memory. All of it … and the illness lasted for quite some time before his memories were restored. Could that be what had happened to her lover? After all they'd been through it was unconceivable that they could not be together. She had a vision of her when she was but ten summers old and it took another ten summers before she finally met the other half of her soul. They promised each other that nothing would keep them apart … not even death. But then she was betrayed, carried away in the dark of the night by her soul mate's orders. She was cast away like a used piece of cloth. She felt the anger and bitterness begin to churn in the pit of her belly as she recalled their tender pledge.
“I will love you for as long as I draw breath and even beyond, my wild flower.”
Those were the treacherous words that came from her lover's lips. She felt warm tears coursing down her cheek as she relived more and more moments such as those.
“You are my heart, Mimi, and without you and your love I am but nothing but a drifting ship. I will perish without you.”
This time, the dark woman sobbed softly as she remembered the reverence in those odd smoky green eyes as her lover had uttered those words. They had made love afterwards, her name like a litany on her lover's lips.
Curling up on the cold floor, she cried and cried until her sides began to hurt and her heart … or whatever was left of it, splintered in a million pieces. It was on the cold floor of the brig, with her heart splintered and cast around her, that Mimiteh made another pledge. Her pain will be avenged.
The cabin was dark as Lillian walked inside and closed the door behind her. Her head was still ringing from the large quantities of rum she had consumed, but not even that had helped to ease the ache in her heart. After four months together, it was near impossible to think that she would sleep without Seweeka's warm body curled around hers. She walked over to the table and lit the lantern. As soon as the cabin was flooded with light she turned to look at the bed. No Seweeka.
Frustrated and hurt, she tore the clothes of her body and fell face first on the bed. Sleep was not going to come quickly tonight, if ever. Feeling the chill of the night on her naked body, she grabbed the corner of the thick blanket and pulled it over her. After leaving Kris' cabin, she'd scanned the deck of the Lilac Crest , hoping to catch a glimpse of Seweeka, but she was nowhere to be seen. Maybe that was for the best for now. Seeing her would've probably made it more difficult to come to this cold cabin. Unhappily, she settled herself in for the night.
The wind had picked up, blowing chilly streams of salty seawater onto the deck, but for the woman standing alone and motionless at the railing, it didn't matter. Her face was hard as she looked out over the swelling ocean. By tomorrow night they would make land. Her hand slowly moved to the hilt of her sword. Another man would be dead before she set sail for the Americas in a fortnight's time. Jonah Hertford's time was running out as well as all the places to hide from her.
Kris' eyes sharpened as she followed the shadow stealthily making its way across the shadowed deck. Moving her hand to the hilt of her dagger, she carefully followed the intruder. She sidestepped the dark puddles of water left by the midnight visitor's drenched clothing. She jumped slightly when she felt a soft touch on her hand.
“Let her be, Kris.” It was Morgana.
Morgana shrugged and pulled the Viking into the nearby light cast by an overhead lantern. Her amber eyes were warm as she looked at her wife. “About two nights ago I was taking a walk on the deck when I saw her climb over the side of the ship. She just stood there looking in the direction of the cabins before she dove overboard and swam back to the Siren .”
Kris threw a quick glance over her shoulder to where she could make out the silhouette of Lillian as she stood at the door leading to where the guests' cabins were located.
“It's been a week and still they haven't made peace.” Kris turned back to Morgana. “It's worse than I thought.” The blue eyes were somber. “Shouldn't we help them?”
“Where do we start? Seweeka spends more and more time down the brig with Mimiteh and Lillian …” Morgana shook her head. “She refuses to come to the Lilac Crest unless it's dark and she can stalk Seweeka like an obsessed hunter.”
“Maybe the first thing to do would be to try and get them alone somewhere. We should reach land in the day or two. Maybe we can come up with something.” Kris smiled. “This is also our last stop before we encounter the Royal Fleet.”
A slow smile spread over Morgana's face. “You are such a romantic, darling. No wonder you swept me right off my feet.” She laughed softly. “Come let's go someplace we can talk.”
Kris threw a last glance at where Lillian stood before she followed her wife.
Lillian's breathing hitched when she heard voices nearby and tried to press her body flat against the door. She couldn't make out the voices, but it didn't matter. Being caught here would raise unnecessary questions which she didn't feel she was ready to answer. She heard footsteps and sighed in relief. Just a few more minutes and then she would leave. The first night without Seweeka had been hell. She'd lain awake the whole night, haunted by the hurt look in Seweeka's eyes … a look she put there with her stupid tongue.
“Let her go, Lillian.”
“Why?” Her eyes were cold as she'd watched for the second time in twenty four hours how the woman's eyes nearly popped out of her head. “She tried to kill us, Seweeka, and now she's trying to plant doubt in our minds.”
Seweeka had reached for her arms and gently stroked it. “I know, but this is not how we are going to get to the truth. Please let her go.”
Reluctantly, she'd dropped her hands. “This is the second time that someone stopped me from killing you. I doubt you would be so lucky the third time.”
The dark eyes were hate-filled as they'd look at her, but they softened slightly when they move to rest on Seweeka. Seweeka too was staring at the woman strangely. That was when she felt a deep rage fill her and combined with her jealousy, she was blind. She turned to Seweeka, the closest person she could lash out at.
“What are you not telling me?”
She saw a look of shocked hurt cross over Seweeka's face, but it was quickly replaced by an unreadable expression. “What do you mean by that, Lillian?”
“Yes, Lillian, what do you mean?” Morgana snapped at her and Lillian laughed, a hard bitter sound.
“This whole situation is too bizarre to not be true somehow.” She turned hard grey eyes on Seweeka. “Why don't you deny the fact that you are not who she says you are? What are you hiding?”
“Nothing,” Seweeka said softly.
“Well …” she looked at the woman she loved, knowing that was she was about to say would hurt and that that was her intention. “I think you're a liar and unless you start telling the truth, I want you stay far away from me.” She had stomped out of the brig, her stomach rolling at the intense look of pain she'd seen on Seweeka's face.
Two days later and two horrible nights later, she was still lying awake at night, haunted by her callous words. Two nights ago she was chased from the cabin by her guilt and loneliness. Then it chased her off the Siren and it was only once she was standing on the deck of the Lilac Crest that she realized what she was doing. But the loneliness was bearable, standing on the deck of the ship that held the woman she loved.
And tonight here she was again. It was only when darkness fell that her heart's disobedience became apparent. It was then only when it warred with her brain and took control of her body. She shivered as the cool breeze cut through her wet clothes. These two days had made it clear that her heart had one master and that it wasn't her. Now as she stood here, a few feet away from where Seweeka was, she could feel her heart become at ease with itself.
She missed Seweeka and she wanted her back in her arms. But how was she going to do that? All this was new to her, even the pain. Pressing her hand against the door, she sighed softly. Tonight was going to be another sleepless night for her. Maybe she could use those hours to look for a solution.
Just as silently as she'd appeared, she left.
The port was buzzing with action. Being the closest port to the raging war zone between the English and the Spaniards, it was filled with soldiers, merchants, and women. Kris' eyes scanned over the ships moored in the harbor. A few were familiar to her, but just as many were not. She felt presence next to her and smiled at Seweeka. Since her fight with Lillian the woman was withdrawn and smiled even less now.
“While we wait for the others, maybe we could try and find rooms for us.”
“Yes, we can do that. Are you sure Morgana will not need our help transporting Mimiteh?”
“No,” Kris said shortly.
“Then we should go now and hope we find any rooms. This place is crowded.”
They carefully made their way through the throngs of people, over open, stinking sewers and drunken sailors. Kris spotted a sign, the Cocks Den. She could already see Morgana's reaction if they were to find rooms available there. She turned to Seweeka with a big grin on her face, only to find the redhead to be surrounded by a group of sailors. She hadn't even noticed that the redhead wasn't next to her any longer. Stepping closer, she frowned when she overheard one of the men addressing Seweeka.
“We were listening out as you asked us to, Cap'n, but we could find nothing.”
Kris stepped closer and watched as the men's demeanor changed at her presence. They eyed her warily as she glared at them. She glanced at Seweeka. The redhead had a confused look on her face as she looked back at her.
“Cap'n?” One of the men reached for his pistol and Kris shook her head.
“That would be suicide,” she said calmly as she too reached for her broadsword. A tense standoff followed before the man's hand moved away from his weapon. Kris relaxed slightly. “Do you know my friend?”
The men threw nervous glances at each other before they slowly nodded. “Yes. She's our Cap'n.”
Kris nodded and turned to Seweeka. “If you'll excuse us for a minute, I would like to talk to your captain.”
The men hesitated, looking at Seweeka. She gave them a curt nod and they turned and left, throwing cautious glances over their shoulders as they disappeared into the throng.
“What is going on here, Seweeka?” Kris asked slowly. “First it's Mimiteh and now this?”
Seweeka shook her head.
“I do not know why they approached me. Nor do I know what they were talking about.”
Kris looked into the direction the men had disappeared and back at Seweeka. There was something wrong and she was going to figure it out before they leave this place. Studying Seweeka she could see that the woman was unnerved by the encounter and decided to leave it for now.
“Let's go find the rooms and then we talk.”
They entered the Cock's Den and were immediately assaulted by the noise and smell of unwashed bodies. Kris had been in many places like this before, but she doubted if she'd ever get use to the smell. A petite blonde made her way over to them and Kris smiled.
“Viking.” The woman stepped closer and before Kris could react, the woman had her arms around her and kissing her deeply. “It has been too long.”
Kris carefully stepped away from the woman and looked at Seweeka who was staring back at her, eyebrows lifted high. She wasn't ready to explain to Seweeka about her past, especially her past with Julia. She was slightly surprised to find the blonde here. They'd met a few years ago in a seaport in the warm tropical Mediterranean.
“Uh … Julia, meet my friend …?”
“Captain Death,” Julia's hazel eyes were wary as they looked at Seweeka and for the second time in less than five ten minutes, Kris felt a feeling of uneasiness coming over her.
“You know her?” she asked carefully, her ice blue eyes were sharp as they rested on Julia.
Julia turned to look at her and nodded. “We've never met officially but she was in here last night and I overheard someone calling her Captain Death.”
Kris looked at Seweeka and swallowed. Where was Morgana when she needed her? She scanned the crowd. It was evident that their arrival hadn't gone unnoticed, because even above the din of the ribald song of the sailor, wary eyes were watching them.
“Do you have any rooms available? You do work here, don't you?”
Julia smiled lecherously as she looked Kris up and down, making the Viking want to hide behind Seweeka. “Yes, I work here now. The Sailor's Cross burnt down two years ago and I was luckily to find a position here when this inn was opened.” She looked at Seweeka, her eyes still wary. “But to answer your question, we do have rooms available. How many do you want?”
She saw mild surprise and then the relief on the blonde's pretty face. “Follow me.”
As they followed the serving girl to the stairs leading up to the rooms, Kris could feel eyes bore into her back. Morgana loved mysteries and would love to get to the bottom of this one.
Morgana's patience was running thin as she sat in the hot room, waiting to be attended to. She looked over to where a bristling Lillian was keeping watch over Mimiteh. She was surprised when the Englishwoman had offered to accompany the prisoner to the Office of the Lord Marshal with her. Now she complete regretted agreeing to it. Both women were staring at each other as if they couldn't wait to jump each other - not in the good way though. Looking at Lillian she could feel the menace coming off the woman. She truly prayed that Lillian wouldn't do anything stupid, especially not while Seweeka was still miffed at her. A door opened and a heavyset man shuffled in. Looking closer she could see breadcrumbs sticking to his beard and she shook her head. Here they were patiently waiting for him and he was stuffing his face. She gracefully came to her feet and bowed low.
"My lord, thank you for granting us an audience at such short notice."
The man puffed his cheeks as he looked them over. After a while he nodded and made his way over to the large gilded chair taking up most of the room. Seated, his eyes studied them again.
"What brings you here? It is well-known that Crown does not acknowledge piracy nor expects it subjects to fraternize with them."
Morgana bristled at the man's tone, but held her temper in check. If the Crown didn't condone piracy then she wondered what kept Lillian afloat. "We understand and respect the Crown's stance, milord, but it is in the interest of both parties to ensure that its subjects are protected," she said quietly. The man pulled his face in a sneer, but nodded, encouraging her to continue. "We bring before you a woman who has been apprehended on a deserted island."
"Which one is she," the man asked curtly and Morgana nodded in Mimiteh's direction. The man's face pulled in a scowl. "She's of the Americas."
Morgana nodded. "Indeed she is, but from what we've gleaned from her, she was abducted from British soil and humbly requests the Crown and your protection until she is claimed."
There was a long silence as the official studied Mimiteh. "What proof do we have that she is indeed who she says she is? For all we know she could be a simple slave trying to worm her way into the good graces of the Crown. It is common knowledge that more heathens from the Americas are exploiting Her Majesty's goodwill only to turn against the Crown later."
Morgana sighed deeply. For that she didn't have an answer. She turned to Mimiteh who glared at the man defiantly. She knew that she was supposed to give her up as a felon, but after a long talk with Kris last night they'd decided instead to present her as a victim and hope that she would be able to find her way from there. No matter what they were both of the same mind that there was more to the woman than meets the eye. Getting her under the protection of the Crown was the least they could do to ensure that she had a chance to find whoever she was searching for.
"She is fluent in English, milord. That alone, I believe, should hold merit." Morgana tried one last time. "This port is a popular stop for most travelers and placing notices around is sure to bring news about her identity."
The Lord Marshall studied Mimiteh again before his eyes travelled to where Lillian stood. "Captain Scarborough, do your correlate what is being said here?"
Morgana's eyebrows shot up. Lillian hadn't made it known that she knew the Lord Marshal. She wondered why. Could that be the reason Lillian offered to accompany them? Was her presence here going to ruin their plans? Morgana threw a glance in Mimiteh direction only to find the woman's face pulled into a cold, blank mask. Morgana felt her heart sink. What was she thinking allowing Lillian to come her with them?
"Yes, Henry, it is all true what is being said." Stormy grey eyes met Morgana's. "I, however, think that it would not serve any purpose to keep her locked away until she is claimed." Lillian's eyes narrowed. "I would like to request she be released into my custody."
Morgana threw a cold look at Lillian, but the Englishwoman was looking at the Lord Marshal, who was now sitting at the end of his chair, his eyes suspicious.
"Do you know of anything that you are not telling us about, Lillian?" The Lord Marshal's eyes were sharp as they came to rest on Mimiteh. The woman's defiant glare made the Lord Marshall's eyes narrow even further before it turned back to Lillian.
"No," Lillian said calmly although her eyes were hard with anger when they met Morgana's. "Give us a few days to see if we can find out anything about her and if not we can bring her back here. But no, she is not a danger to the Crown in anyway."
The man relaxed a bit, but his eyes still flitted back to Mimiteh. He turned to Morgana. "I will allow Captain Scarborough's request. You have a week to find out how she ended up on that island, but I want you to promise me that you will report back to me if and when you find anything. If she's found wandering around unsupervised, I will have her arrested." he said as he heaved his bulk out of the chair and shuffled out of the room. When the door closed behind him, Morgana turned Lillian.
"What are you doing?" she snapped.
Lillian shrugged. "I'm trying to help her."
Morgana felt a flicker of anger spring to life in the pit of her stomach. Lillian was lying and she hated being lied to. "I know you are planning something, Lillian, but I want you to know that as of this moment Mimiteh is under my protection and I'm warning you that if anything happens to her while in your custody, you'll have to deal with me." She walked to the door where she turned to give Lillian a hard look. "This is not an idle threat."
Morgana bristled as she made her way over to the harbor. In a way she can completely understand Lillian anger and lust for vengeance. She herself felt like wiping out a whole village just to get to Kris. But she couldn't shake the feeling that everything that happened since the arrival of Mimiteh was just a misunderstanding. Just as she reached the docks, she saw the huge frame of Soren making his way over to her.
"The Captain found accommodation for you at the Cock's Den and she's requested that your luggage be taken there."
Morgana's eyes narrowed slightly. The Cock's Den? A slow smile formed on her face. Kris' humor was greatly appreciated, but her presence would be even more so. She turned on her heel and went back the way she came.
Just as they stepped out of the Lord Marshall mansion, Lillian felt a body slam into hers and she instinctively reached for her pistol. She scowled down at the man staring back at her, wide-eyed. Before he could open his mouth to say anything, she held up her hand.
"Save it. Now get the hell out of my way."
The man almost fell over his own feet as she tried to get away from the Amazon with the deadly eyes.
"You do have a way with people."
Stiffening at the unexpected voice, Lillian slowly turned to skewer Mimiteh with a withering stare. "I don't remember asking you for your opinion." She reached for Mimiteh's arms and frowned when the woman shook her hand off. "Please do not try my patience."
The other woman's dark eyes glowed in anger as she glared back. "You asked for me to be entrusted in your care," Mimiteh snapped. "It doesn't mean that I have to like it. So don't expect any obedience or gratitude from me."
Lillian never would've thought that she could dislike the woman even more than she already did, but she did at that moment and she had to keep herself from slapping the defiant look off the woman's face. But she couldn't and probably wouldn't. Mimiteh was her only chance of getting Seweeka back. She'd lain awake the whole night last night, missing Seweeka desperately and trying to think of a way to win back her love. That was when she'd thought of Mimiteh. She'd known that Lord Henry Winston was appointed Lord Marshall of the small sea port, New Hastings. It was soon after his appointment that a mutiny aboard a French merchant ship spilled over into the sleepy port threatening his authority. Lucky for him she was docked there too and with the help of the small contingent of soldiers and her crew, they managed to contain the pillaging.
Now looking at this infuriating woman, she realized that Henry was indeed a man of his word. Still staring at Mimiteh, she couldn't help but feel eyes boring into her back. Turning her head, she caught the wide-eyed stare of the man who'd bumped into her earlier. He quickly ducked his head and disappeared into the crowd. Turning back to Mimiteh, she found the woman's eyes following the man's disappearing back, the dark eyes holding a pensive expression.
"A friend?" she asked curtly.
"It's none of your business."
Lillian growled under her breath as she gently caressed the butt of her pistol. It was going to be a very trying week for her. She can't remember when last she'd been so eager to kill another human being. Smoky green eyes suddenly flitted before her eyes and she sighed deeply. But that Lillian was no more. Seweeka made sure of that.
"Let's go," she said in an almost resigned tone, noting the look of surprise in the other woman's black eyes. She wasn't going to allow the woman to bait her anymore.
"Where are we going?"
Lillian spoke without looking at the woman. "Back to the ship."
"Lead the way, Captain. Your slave will follow," came the taunting reply and Lillian grinded her teeth, but ignored the remark.
Kris was stretched out on the bed, staring at the ceiling when there was a soft knock on the door. She reached for her dagger as she sat up. Morgana wouldn't knock on their door, not if she'd gotten the room number from downstairs.
She was surprised to see Manena step into the room. "I would like to talk to you, Kris."
A blonde eyebrow shot up, but she nodded. The petite woman closed the door behind her and walked over to the chair next to the window.
"What do you want to talk about, Manena?" She hasn't seen much of the young woman in the last few weeks even though she was travelling on the Lilac Crest with them. The reason was because Manena had been spending more time on the Siren lately.
"Pedro has asked me to go to Spain with him."
Kris' eyes widened slightly. She had been aware that Manena and her brother-in-law were spending a lot of time together. She knew there was something brewing, but she never thought it was this serious. According to what Morgana had told her, upon return to the Spanish Court, it would be expected from Pedro to find a wife. It was well-known that he would be expected to find a woman amongst his peers to fill the requirements, or ... She shot to her feet. Manena almost fell out of her chair at her sudden movement, her dark eyes blinking at her.
"Where is he?"
"Downstairs with Morgana."
Kris held out her hand to Manena. "Let's go join them."
Identical golden eyes looked up at them when Kris and Manena came to a stop at a table where the siblings were seated.
"In what capacity will she accompany you to Madrid?" Kris asked in a deadly quiet voice. "Your bride or your mistress?"
Now three pairs of eyes were resting on her. Morgana and Manena's registered shock while Pedro quickly averted his.
Manena slowly turned to look at Pedro. "Why would she ask that?"
"I was just about to talk to Morgana about that." He sat up straighter and cleared his throat. "I was about to ask her for advice."
Manena slowly sunk into a chair. "Advice about what?"
Kris saw Morgana's eyes soften and she placed a soft hand on her brother's arm. "You shouldn't have taken so long to confide in me, brother, but allow me to explain it to her." Pedro's eyes were troubled as he nodded. Morgana's golden gaze met hers. "Sit down, Viking."
Kris took the chair closest to Morgana.
"As you are aware already, Manena, a lot is expected from Pedro once he makes his return to the Spanish Court. The reason, I think, why Pedro sought my advice, is because he will be expected to find a wife as soon as he is accepted back into the fold." Morgana made direct eye contact with Manena. "The King will present him with a number of choices and he'll have to make a choice."
Manena's dark eyes moved to Pedro and for a moment Kris regretted bringing up the issue although she knew that that was something that needed to be brought in the open. Manena and Seweeka both became part of her clan the moment she placed them under her protection and clan members look out for each other.
Pain-filled amber eyes caressed Manena's face. "We will find a way around this, but I want to make it clear to you that when I asked you to go to Spain with me, it was so you could meet my family and then become my Donna."
Kris watched as the two reached for each other. Manena's head came to rest on Pedro broad shoulder and he tenderly stroked her cheek. The touching scene made her look at her wife and she smiled when she felt a soft touch on her thigh. Her hand slipped under the table and she rested her larger hand over Morgana's.
"I knew the two of you were seeing a lot of each other but I wasn't sure what it meant," Morgana said softly and chuckled when the two people in question pulled away to look at each other. Manena smiled tenderly as she touched Pedro's cheek. "For what it's worth, I'm happy for the both of you."
"Thank you, Morgana, but it still doesn't solve our problem," Pedro said softly, even as he leaned into the Manena's caress. "I can't live without Manena."
A groan sounded and then the hump on the bed moved.
"You've almost slept away the day, Eagan."
"I will have to hurt you if you don't go away now, Will," came the sleepy threat.
"Yes, but to do that you'll have to drag your hung-over carcass out of bed."
"Just go away, please."
This time the blanket was ripped off, making Eagan shoot up in an upright position. "Do you have a death wish, Willy?" Eagan hissed through clenched teeth, her eyes glittering with fury.
"No, I don't and that is the reason why I woke you."
Eagan fell back on the bed and sighed.
"I'm awake now. What is so urgent that you had to interrupt my sleep?" Eagan inhaled deeply, trying to suppress the feeling of nausea. It wasn't very bright of her to have moved so fast while suffering from a hangover. Oh, how she regretted all that rum she'd imbibed last night. But that was how most of her nights had been spent over the past two years. During the daylight hours she extracted her revenge and when night fell, she hid from the pain in her heart and sought consolation in a bottle. Last night was nothing new.
"There is someone outside who wants to talk to you."
Rubbing over her eyes to try and tame the headache thrumming there, she closed her eyes.
"Who is it and why do you think it's important enough to wake me?" When William didn't answer she opened her eyes and looked at him. William was avoiding eye contact and that alone intrigued her enough to sit up slowly. "Out with it, Will."
"There's been a sighting."
Those four words made her swing her feet off the bunk. Her green eyes were hard as she looked at her cousin. "Send him in."
There was a soft touch on her shoulder and looking over her shoulder, Kris groaned softly. Please not now. Julia must've mistaken her moan for one of pleasure, because she stepped closer until her breasts were rubbing against Kris' arm. Worried ice blue eyes tracked over to the table where, cool amber eyes met hers. She quickly turned to the serving girl.
“Julia, I need to tell you something,” she began. The girl smiled at her and stepped even closer. Kris swallowed hard and suppressed the urge to throw another look over her shoulder to see Morgana's reaction. She didn't need to because, almost immediately, the hair in her nape stood up.
“What do we have here, my love,” came the deceptively soft voice of her wife. Kris watched as Julia's eyes widened slightly before she turned to look at her.
Kris smiled down at the girl. “I want you to meet my wife.”
Julia's mouth fell open as she looked from Kris to Morgana and then back at Kris. “You're married?”
Kris saw Morgana flashed a sickeningly sweet smile at Julia as she wrapped a possessive arm around her waist. “And we are very happy, aren't we, darling.”
Kris nodded quickly. “Yes, we are.”
Julia gave them one final look before she nodded curtly and left. Morgana slowly stepped around Kris until she was standing before her wife, her amber eyes were serious.
“I know your history, Kris, and I've learned to accept it. A friendly warning though ...” She leaned closer. “Unless you want me to leave a string of maimed women in my wake, please tell them beforehand about your marital status.” The dark head lowered and Kris' lips were taken in a hard possessive kiss. “I've ordered us a hot bath and something to eat. You want to join me?”
“Most definitely, my love. Lead the way.” Kris blew out a slow breath, before she hurried after Morgana.
The man cowered in his chair as he looked at the woman pacing before him. What had been an easy way to make a gold coin had suddenly taken a menacing twist. Deadly green eyes turned to look at him again and he felt a shiver go down his spine.
“You do know what will happen to you if I find out that you've lied to me, don't you?”
“I … I wouldn't lie to you, Cap' tan. I saw her with my own two eyes.”
The tall frame settled into a chair opposite him. “Then tell me again what you saw and don't leave out anything.”
Seweeka sighed as she turned on her back and stared at the ceiling. She hasn't seen Lillian for three days. It almost seemed like a lifetime ago for her. She missed her so much. Nights were the most difficult. That was when she longed for the lean hard body in her bed. Those were also the times when she relived their first time together. Arousal thrummed through her body as the soft pleasured cries of Lillian echoed through her mind. She remembered the blue eyes, made vivid by desire.
With a moan she turned on her side and stiffened.
“I just want to talk.”
Seweeka looked at the opened window behind Lillian and sat up slowly. She wondered why the Englishwoman opted to use the window instead of the door.
“Why do you approach me like a thief climbing through a window if all you want to do is talk?” Seweeka asked calmly as she swung her legs off the bed.
Dark grey eyes looked at her with an infinite sadness in them. “How is the wound? Is it still bothering you?”
Seweeka gently touched the bandaged area under her shirt and shook her head. “Not too much. It is healing fast.” She cocked her head to the side as she looked at the woman she had missed so desperately. Lillian looked gaunt and had dark circles under the eyes. “Tell me why you are here, Lillian?”
Lillian pushed away from the window and came to sit on the bed next to her. Seweeka noticed that the blonde was careful not to touch her.
“I'm dying inside, Seweeka.” Lillian took a deep breath and thumped her chest. “I'm dying because my heart is not where it should be. No matter how many times I apologize to you for what I have said, it will not take away the guilt and heartache I have caused you. But I want to try and make it better.”
Seweeka was astonished. It was unlike Lillian to use such dramatic words, which made her remorse so much more believable. Almost immediately after Lillian had uttered those devastating words that caused a chasm between them, she'd known that the Englishwoman didn't mean them. The words had been born out of frustration and anger. She watched as the normally unflappable pirate fidgeted with her hands.
“I will not lie to you, Lillian. What you said hurt me and being away from you hurt me even more.” Troubled grey eyes met hers and Seweeka could see a tiny spark of hope in them. “But what I want to know most, is why. What made you say those things to me?”
The blonde head lowered slowly until Lillian's chin rested in her chest. Seweeka heard Lillian take a ragged breath, before she looked up. “I feel like such a failure. I couldn't protect you. You are the most important person in my life and couldn't protect you.”
Seweeka saw a lone tear run down Lillian cheek and she ached at the pain she heard in the soft voice.
“No one seems to understand how important it was … is for me to seek retribution. I needed to redeem myself in your eyes and in the eyes of my men. Before I met you I have killed and maimed men for spitting in the direction of people I didn't even know or liked.” Lillian took a shuddering breath. “She almost killed you and I couldn't do anything about it.”
Seweeka reached out and placed her hand on Lillian's twitching hands. “You did not fail me. You will always be my safe haven. I will always look for protection in your arms.” Seweeka brought one of Lillian's hands to her lips and felt a slight tremor go through Lillian's arm. “I know you did not mean what said.”
“But I said it and I hurt you.” Lillian's voice broke as she lowered her eyes.
Seweeka put a finger under Lillian's chin and lifted her head so she could look into the troubled depths. “What do you want me to do, Lillian? Do you want me not to forgive you?” When the grey eyes flashed in sudden panic, she smiled tenderly. “I cannot do that, because I love you and forgiveness is part of my love for you.”
Lillian looked at her with wide eyes. “You will forgive me just like that?”
Seweeka's heart melted at the sight of her lover breaking down before her. Lillian lowered her head and her shoulders shook as she sobbed quietly. Seweeka gently pulled Lillian to her and slowly lowered them both to the bed. She held her lover as she cried until only soft hiccups sounded in the room.
“I missed you so much.”
Seweeka brushed her lips over the soft blonde hair. “I missed you too.” She held Lillian tighter. The Englishwoman seemed to have lost weight over the past three days. She sighed deeply as her fingertips gently brushed over the protruding ribs. “Sleep for a while. I will watch over you.”
“No, I don't want to sleep,” Lillian murmured softly, her voice heavy with sleep.
“Do it for me then, Lillian. Just close your eyes and I will be here when you wake up.”
Lillian lifted her head sleepily. “You promise?”
Seweeka smiled broadly. “I promise,” she said, her eyes looking deep into Lillian's. As the Englishwoman drifted off to sleep, Seweeka's smile still held. Lillian's eyes were a vibrant, albeit a sleepy blue. All was well again.
Soren jumped when he felt the familiar sting of a blade against his throat. His blue eyes were wide as he slowly put his tankard of ale back on the table.
“Where is she?” The voice of his faceless assailant hissed in his ear. Looking at his drinking buddies sitting across from him, he saw them all going for their cutlasses. “Touch them, gentlemen, and you friend chokes to death on his own blood.”
Soren watched his men lift their hands, placing them on top of the table. By now everyone in the tavern were aware of the drama unfolding at their table.
“At least show yourself so I know whom I am speaking with,” Soren said quietly. His chair was suddenly kicked out from under him as he was hauled to his feet and spun around. He blinked at the woman who was quite few inches shorter than him, holding a sharp dagger at his jugular. But that was not what had him stare at the woman.
“Oh no … no … no … no,” Morgana gasped at the sound of the knock on their door. Her eyes opened and she looked at Kris. Both her legs rested on the Viking's shoulders as a hungry, warm mouth plundered her depths.
“Ignore it.” Kris mumbled, causing her to stifle a moan as delicious vibrations ran through her body at Kris' words which were mumbled against her sensitive flesh.
“What if it's important?”
Kris lifted her head, her chin glistening slightly. “They will come back if it's important.”
The knock sounded again and with a frown, Kris looked at the door and then back at her. Morgan lifted a brow.
Kris sighed. “Who's there?”
“It's me, Captain. Something's came up that needs your urgent attention.”
Morgana gasped as Kris quickly rolled out of bed and reached for her clothes. She turned back to her and Morgana saw that the blue eyes were frozen over. She, too, reached for her clothes.
“Give me a second, Soren. I hope this is an emergency,” Kris said, injecting the right amount of annoyance in her voice. Morgana shrugged into her shirt, closing it haphazardly. She reached for her pistols, checking them quickly before pushing them into her waistband and made for the window. She lithely heaved herself out of the window, finding the ledge. Stretching out her hand she found the window sill of the room adjacent to theirs and shuffled over. She smiled coldly when the widow as open and she climbed inside. Sharp green eyes met hers as Seweeka slowly sat up. Her brow rose as Lillian rolled out of bed, her pistol aimed at her with unerring accuracy.
“We have a situation next door,” she said softly as she made her way over to the door.
Kris pulled the door opened. Soren stood before her, but the giant had a dazed look on his face. She grew up with him and knew him better than most people. The way he had addressed her earlier was code for trouble. Thus she wasn't surprised when a pistol came out of nowhere and made contact with his skull. Kris watched as her friend crumpled before her. She slowly raised her eyes, eager to see the idiot who was courting death. Her blue eyes widened as she looked at the woman.
“What it this?”
The woman aimed the pistol at her chest, motioning for her back up. “Where is she?”
“Who? Seweeka, what is this?”
She saw a flash of confusion on the woman's face, but then it was gone, replaced by cold indifference.
“I will not ask you again. Where is she?”
Kris shook her head slowly. “Who are you and who are you looking for?”
A loud bang sounded and Kris gasped at the piercing pain in her shoulder as she fell to the floor. She raised her hand and grimaced when it came away stained with blood. The woman stepped closer and stood over her, this time she had a cutlass aimed at her throat.
“You have one last chance. Where is she?”
Before Kris could answer, there was a quick movement from behind the woman and her attacker was flung from her. The sharp blade nicked her throat and Kris reached for her neck as a stream of warm blood trickled down her chest.
Turning her head, she saw Morgana sitting on the woman's back, her hands around the woman's neck as she bashed the woman's head against the wooden floor.
“Morgana … Morgana … Wait!”
Morgana's eyes were wild with bloodlust as she looked at her. The amber eyes took a while to focus before they widened and she immediately got off the dazed woman and came over to kneel at her side. Kris saw Lillian quickly walk over to the fallen woman, her pistol trained at the woman's head.
“You're bleeding. Oh my … She shot you!” Morgana brushed Kris' hand away and looked at the thin cut across her throat. “She cut you too!”
Kris grabbed Morgana's hands. “It's just a nick.”
The Spaniard shook her head. “You are bleeding heavily. We need to stop the bleeding.”
Kris saw Seweeka kneel next to her and held up her hand when the other woman reached for her. She saw the frown on Seweeka's face.
“Seweeka?” she asked carefully.
“Yes, it's me Kris.”
Kris turned to look at her attacker as she slowly began to stir, shaking her head before moaning.
“If you're Seweeka, then who is she?” Kris asked haltingly as she slowly sat up, grimacing as pain shot through her shoulder.
Three sets of eyes turned to look at the woman who was lying face down on the floor, moaning softly. Lillian bent down and pulled the woman's head up by the hair to look into her face.
“Sweet heavens …” She quickly stepped away from the woman and turned to look at Seweeka. Kris pushed to her feet with the help of Morgana. Cradling her injured shoulder, she walked over to where the woman lay and bent over her. The woman moved suddenly, the sunlight glinting off a sharp dagger. But Kris was ready and she knocked the blade out of the woman's hand with her uninjured hand. She grabbed the woman by the throat and pulled her into a sitting position. The woman struggled to loosen the hold around her neck, but Kris tightened her hold further.
“Once was enough, don't you think,” she hissed through her teeth as she come upright, dragging the woman to her feet. She heard a loud gasp behind her as she was sure that everyone could see the woman's face. Lillian quickly stepped behind the woman, twisting her arms behind her back.
“What the …” Morgana stepped closer. She quickly turned to look at Seweeka who had look on with a pale face. “Seweeka?”
On rubbery legs, Seweeka stepped closer to the woman. It was like looking into a mirror. The hair, the eyes … She turned to look at Kris who was seated on the bed. Morgana was carefully cleaning the gunshot wound, while they waited for the settlement's doctor dig out the bullet lodged in the Viking's shoulder. Her eyes swept over to where Lillian stood, her gun still trained on the stranger. Looking back at the woman, who resembled her so closely, she cocked her head. The woman was also looking back her, her green eyes wide with curiosity.
“Who … who are you?” she asked carefully. She stepped even closer, looking at the woman from all angles. She shook her head in disbelieve. She was tempted to touch the woman to make sure that what she saw wasn't a mirage. They looked almost identical, except for the coldness in the woman's eyes.
“You tell me first,” came the gruff reply.
If the woman was shocked, she hid it very well, Seweeka thought. She felt a presence next to her and she turned to find Lillian standing very close to her.
“Are you all right, love?”
Seweeka shook her head. “I do not know. She … she looks just like me. I do not understand.”
Lillian's arm curled around her shoulder and Seweeka leaned against her, grateful for her lover's support. “I don't understand either, but we will come to the bottom of this, my love.”
“Kris …! No, Kris, you need to lie down,” Morgana's voice rose in frustration and Seweeka saw the large Viking push past them to stand before the stranger.
“Who are you and who were you looking for?” asked Kris. The green eyes of the captured woman hardened as they looked up at Kris.
“I'm looking for my partner,” the woman said sullenly.
Almost immediately Seweeka knew. She reached out and took Kris' arm. When the Viking turned to her, she smiled.
“Mimiteh.” Out of the corner of her eye she could see the captive's head jerk in her direction. “It all makes sense now. Mimiteh thought I was her mate, because I resemble her true mate so closely.” Her smile widened, she was giddy with excitement as every piece fit into the puzzle. “Remember the men who addressed me as ‘Captain' earlier and the serving girl who called me Captain Death?” She turned to the captive woman. “Who are you?”
The woman looked away before her green eyes tracked back to Seweeka. “My name's Captain Eagan O'Riordan. Who are you?”
Seweeka smiled as she stepped closer, but was gently held back by Lillian. “I am Seweeka.”
The woman cocked her head to one side, the green eyes bright with curiosity. “Seweeka? That's all. Where're you from?”
Seweeka noticed that the room was quiet as everyone listened to their conversation. “I grew up on an island near the Dark World. My mother was kidnapped from Ireland and when the traders found out she was pregnant, they left her on an island.”
The woman slowly pushed to her feet and Seweeka felt Lillian stiffened next to her. She took a careful step toward the woman. Seweeka noticed that the woman was a little paler as she studied her closely. Eagan lifted a shaky hand and placed it against Seweeka's cheek.
“I know who you are?” the captain's voice broke. “You are the daughter of Siobhan McIntyre and Douglas O'Riordan. As unbelievable as it may sound, our mothers were identical twins who married two brothers who were identical twins too.”
Seweeka's mouth fell open at that. “You are my family,” she asked carefully as she reached for Eagan's hand. “I have found my family.” She turned to look at Lillian. “I have found my family.” By this time tears coursed down her cheeks as she turned back to look at her cousin. Eagan, too, had tears running down her face.
“When Aunt Maeve disappeared. We all thought she fell from a cliff and was swept away by the current. Uncle Douglas took her passing very bad. But here you are.” Her eyes went to the door where Soren groggily leaned against the door jam. “Send your man to go downstairs and call William.”
Seweeka saw Kris nod and throw a quick glance at Soren which had the large man jump into action. She turned back to look at her newfound cousin.
“But my mother told me she was raped on the flesh trader's ship.” Seweeka studied Eagan. They were about the same height, had the same hair color, and the same eyes. Something wasn't adding up.
“You're mother must've have been expecting already when she was kidnapped. That is the only way to explain our appearances. You are an O'Riordan. There is no doubt in my mind.” Loud footsteps sounded on the stairs and she smiled. “I want you to meet someone.”
Seweeka saw Soren enter the room followed by a tall, sturdy young man with a shock of red hair. The young man's eyes moved from her to Eagan and then back at her. “Eagan?” he called in an uncertain voice, his eyes flitting between Eagan and herself. Looking at Eagan, she saw that her cousin had a warm smile on her face. The boy obviously means a lot to her.
“I'm over here, Will,” she said gently and the young man moved over to stand at her side. His green eyes ran over Eagan's face, taking in the bruises, before he spoke again.
“What's going on here, Eagan? Why do you look like that?” He threw a quick glance her way and Seweeka smiled at him. “Who … who is she, Eagan?” Eagan threw an arm over his broad shoulder and turned him so they both were facing her. Seweeka studied the young man closely. Her eyes widened when she encountered familiar looking green eyes.
“Will, I want you to meet Seweeka. She's your half-sister.”
Seweeka gasped, even as she took a step towards the towering young man. Her brother! She had a brother! She turned to Lillian again and the Captain nodded reassuringly. Next she looked at Kris and Morgana and was surprised to find a strange man standing near the bed with a black bag in his hand. She returned her gaze to William and found him staring back at her, his face pale.
“It is a pleasure to meet you, William,” Seweeka croaked, as more tears ran down her cheek. The tall man stepped forward and surprised her by pulling her into his arms, cradling her against his broad chest.
“It's an even bigger pleasure to meet you, Sis.” He dropped a gentle kiss on her hair before holding her away from him. He, too, had tears running down his cheeks. “You look exactly like Eagan, but you are a wee bit prettier than her because you're my sister.”
Seweeka was charmed by the softly lilting sound in her brother's voice as he spoke. She pushed herself against his chest and held on as he chuckled softly. He was obviously younger than her, but he had such a comforting presence which made her feel safe.
“Thank you, … brother.”
She peeked around William and saw Eagan looking at them. She held out her hand and Eagan readily moved into the embrace. They stood like that for a long while before William gently pushed them out of his arms.
“Where's Mimiteh? I thought …” his voice died down suddenly and Seweeka turned to look at her cousin. Eagan's shoulders had stiffened with tension, as she avoided eye contact.
“She is safe, Eagan.”
At that the Irish Captain's eyes shot up to meet hers, deep sorrow and longing in their depths.
“I would like to see her. Where is she?”
Seweeka looked at Lillian and only continued when she got a curt nod from her lover. “She's on the Sea Siren .”
“What?!” Both Eagan and William shouted simultaneously. Seweeka saw Kris and Morgana turned to look at them from where the doctor was busy, studying Kris' wound.
“Do you know who that ship belongs too? Oh my …” She made for where her sword lay.
“Eagan, wait!” Seweeka shouted.
Eagan's eyes were wild as turned to look at Seweeka. “You don't understand, Seweeka. Mimi is in danger. The captain of the Sea Siren is a barbarian. I need to get to Mimi now.” She sheathed her cutlass, her eyes hard in her pale face. “I need to go.”
Seweeka reached out for Eagan, but the Irish woman shook her head. Seweeka saw Lillian lifting her pistol again, but Seweeka threw her a warning glare.
“Please listen to me. Mimiteh is safe, I promise you.” Even as she said it, Seweeka prayed that it was indeed so. She never had the chance to ask Lillian about Mimiteh.
“How could she be if she's kept prisoner by a rapist and a cold-blooded killer.”
Seweeka looked at Lillian and saw the grey eyes darkened further. She slowly walked over to Lillian and reached for her hand.
“Eagan, I want you to meet Lillian, my mate and the captain of the Sea Siren .”
Had the situation not been so dire, Seweeka would've laughed at the look of incredulity that came over her cousin's face. Eagan's eyes shot to where a silent Lillian stood. Even William was staring at the Lillian now, his green eyes suspicious as they raked over the quiet Englishwoman.
“I will take you to Mimiteh so you can see for yourself.”
Eagan's hand moved to the hilt of her cutlass. “What did you do to her?”
Lillian didn't answer, but Seweeka could feel cold menace roll of her lover's taut body. She reached out and placed her arms around Lillian's waist, drawing her closer to her. She placed a gentle kiss on Lillian's lips. She wasn't going to make the same mistake twice by not being supportive of her lover again. She fully understood Lillian's ire this time. Seweeka felt Lillian gradually relax against her body as she returned the kiss. She pulled back to look into blue-grey eyes. “I love you.” She smiled as Lillian's face softened almost immediately and the pirate gave her a gentle squeeze in return.
Seweeka turned to Eagan and William who were watching her and Lillian. She smiled at their stunned faces.
“Let me introduce you to the rest of my other family. That is Kris and Morgana. They are the closest I have to sisters. I will introduce you to Manena later.” She gave Lillian another peck on the lips and saw a bright blue hue began to seep into Lillian's eyes. Satisfied that everyone she cared about were happy, she turned to Eagan and William. “Let me take you to Mimiteh.”
Morgana shook her head as soon as she and Kris were alone in their room once again. The Viking was a little pale as she lay stretched out on the bed. The doctor had given her something for the pain.
“I must say that our honeymoon is turning out to be the worst experience ever for you, angel.” She came to sit next to her wife and gently pushed sweaty white blond hair from Kris' forehead. “All I wanted was to make you my wife and live happily ever after with you. Now all I seem to do is nursing you back to health time and time again.” She placed a soft kiss on Kris' lips. Sleepy, dark blue eyes fluttered open.
“I'm right here, my love.”
Kris licked her lips. “Lie down next to me and hold me.”
Morgana quickly walked over to lock the door and shrugged out of her clothes. She wasn't wearing any underclothes since there was no time to put them on when Soren interrupted their lovemaking. She heard Kris sigh deeply when she stretched her naked frame next to hers. Kris immediately pulled her closer.
“This feels nice.”
Morgana pressed her face into Kris neck careful not to press on her injured shoulder. “I know,” she murmured.
It wasn't long before their breathing evened out and they drifted into sleep.
Mimi was bored, angry, and hungry. She pushed herself to her feet and began to pace the small cell. She was never one for small spaces, but for the past few weeks, she had reverted to her people's custom of meditation. That was the only way she could give her spirit the illusion of freedom. She missed her home. Maybe once she managed to get away from here, she would return to her people. Her heart tightened as memories of her childhood poured through her mind. She saw herself, hair blowing loosely in the wind, riding her pony as hard as she could through the wide open plains of her home. She could smell the rain in the air, smell the buffalo droppings wafting up from the sun-baked earth. Mimiteh pressed her head against the wooden wall of her prison. She should've heeded her grandfather's warning. Even then she was torn between leaving her home and the call of her heart. Her heart won out back and she was so sure it was the right thing to do. She was in love. The decision was very easy to make.
When the English government agreed to the treaty of peace with the Mattaponi, as a sign of goodwill the English pledged to take a handful from the tribe and take them to England to obtain a white man's education. Upon their return these new educators were to serve as a liaison between the English settlers and the Mattaponi. As the granddaughter of Chief Great Eagle, she was given the option to choose, an option other didn't have. She was scared of leaving her home and family behind for the big unknown.
A group of negotiators were sent to the village. The group consisted of plantation owners, tradesmen, and farmers. The moment her eyes had fallen on the tall green-eyed English settler, her decision was made. Dressed like a successful plantation owner, she could tell that there was definitely something different about the settler. He appeared gentler than the other men and kept to himself most of the time. But Mimiteh could feel his gaze on her all the time.
After a week of having the intoxicating man around her, she had made her decision. She wanted to talk to him – in his own tongue. That was what helped her to make up her mind. Having noticed the shy looks that passed between her and the settler, her grandfather had called her aside one evening. She still remembered how his wizened face was pulled in an intense mask as he warned her about giving her heart to a white man. But she was young and her blood thickened every time those enigmatic green eyes lit on her. A few moons later they set out for the ship which would take them to faraway land. The settler was part of the entourage and even partook in the journey across the great waters. One night, while the moon bathed the deck in a ghostly white the settler came to her. They never spoke. He simply stood nearby as they both enjoyed the cool breeze after a hot day. For weeks, their silent courtship continued.
Sometimes he would stare at her so intently, making her skin come alive as his eyes travelled over her body. The other rough men seemed to either understand that she was off limits to them or perhaps they respected the settler. She was never bothered by any of them. The advantage of the long sea journey was that she began to learn the white language. At nights she would lie in her bedroll and form the words silently, memorizing their meanings and sounds. About three months into the journey, their ship was crippled by a storm and they had to stop at a small island to make repairs.
While swimming in a shallow pond near where they had made camp, the settler came to her again. No words were needed as he waded into the water fully-clothed and pulled her into his arms.
“My wildflower …” he had murmured into her hair as he held her gently to his heart. The first touch of his lips made her blood sing, making her crave more. The kisses grew intense, as his large hands ran over her naked body. When she wanted to touch him, he grabbed her hands in his. “I have to show you something first.”
The words, so foreign already and even more so in the aroused state she was in, didn't make sense. But he pulled away from her and began to unbutton his shirt. Her shock was great when the white linen parted and small breasts peeked at her. Bewildered, she had stared up into the green eyes. She had given her heart to a woman! Her silence made him quickly button up his shirt. She had reached out and took the large hands into hers, pressing them to her own chest. If her heart longed for a woman, then so be it. Looking at the woman, she found her even more intoxicating. That night they had lain together and so many nights after that. Upon their arrival at the foreign land, her lover had taken her with her to her land. A land, so green, it reflected in her lover's eyes. They were happy and she was accepted and welcomed into her lover's family. But looking back now, it seemed all to have only been an illusion.
She felt warm tears trickling down her face. Her heart betrayed her. Never was she ever going to allow it to make a decision for her. She suddenly felt a presence nearby and turned. Her eyes pierced the dark shadows.
“Show yourself,” she said in a voice that sounded tired, even to her own ears. Her memories had drained her emotionally. She watched as a tall shadow stepped from the shadows. She sighed heavily when Seweeka came forward. What terrible timing the woman had, now after she had reminisced about her traitorous lover. “What brings you down here, Seweeka?” She turned her back on the woman. “I am not up for visitors now.”
When the woman didn't say anything, she threw a quick glance over her shoulder. Seweeka stood there, her eyes intense as they stared at her.
“As you can see for yourself, I'm fine. Now please leave me.”
She sighed again as the woman stepped closer, her hands holding on to the bars. She turned away again, resting her head against the wooden wall. Seweeka will never understand how her presence now was torturing her. As much as she came to like the woman, she didn't want her here right now. Not when her tears were threatening to overwhelm her.
“My wild flower …”
Mimiteh felt the breath caught in her throat. Was she hearing things? She could swear Seweeka had just called her … No, it can't be possible. In the three weeks she had spent with the woman, she had realized that Seweeka was not who she thought her to be at first. And now this… She turned slowly and looked at Seweeka. She took her time to study the woman. What she saw, made her heart began to hammer in her chest. Seweeka never walked around with a cutlass nor had she ever looked at her with such hunger and longing in her eyes. Taking a deep breath, Mimiteh walked over to where the woman stood. Her eyes carefully traced every line on the beautiful face, searching the green eyes. What she found made her stumble back in shock.
“Eagan …” she gasped softly as she stumbled back.
“I can't believe that I finally found you, Mimi.” Eagan choked out.
If there had been any doubt, there none now. She knew that voice better than her own. Eagan came for her. She stormed the gate, her hands shooting through the bars to pull the woman closer, even as she pushed herself against the cold iron bars. Their lips met in a bruising kiss as they tried to draw each other closer. Mimiteh tasted something salty on her lips, knowing it was tears. All the loneliness and fear she had endured during the two years on that god forsaken island came to the foreground as she grinded her lips against Eagan's.
“Wait … wait …” Eagan gasped as she pulled away, but Mimiteh refused to let her go. “Let me get the key, my love. I need to hold you properly.”
Mimiteh grabbed hold of the bars, as she watched Eagan looking around for the key. “Over there on the hook.”
Eagan made a grab for the keys and with shaky hands, fiddled with the lock. Mimiteh reached out and took the key from her. She quickly unlocked the door and stepped back only to pull Eagan into her arms as soon as the Irish woman stepped into the small cell.
Their lips met again as they hands began to tear at clothing.
Mimiteh knew that there was a lot to talk about … even fight about … but not right now. All she wanted to do at this moment was to devour her lover.
Seweeka looked around the cabin, her eyes hooded. She heard the door close behind and turned slowly. Lillian was leaning against the door, her eyes a vivid blue as she looked at her.
“I missed our cabin,” she said softly as walked over to Lillian. She cradled Lillian's cheek in her palm and smiled. “This has been my home, because you were here.”
Lillian's face split into a wide grin as she leaned forward and took her lips in a tender kiss.
“It was so lonely here without you,” Lillian whispered against Seweeka's lips.
They pulled away, but their foreheads stayed pressed together. Seweeka reached for Lillian's shirt and pulled it out of her pants. She carefully pushed her hands under the soft cotton shirt and raked it over Lillian's flat stomach.
“I want you.”
Lillian closed her eyes as she inhaled deeply. “I'm yours to do with as you as you please.”
Seweeka groaned softly as she placed a soft kiss on Lillian's lips. “Good, but I want you to keep your eyes open so I could look into them while I take you. Can you do that for me?”
The blue eyes shot open immediately. “Yes!”
Lillian hoisted herself on her elbow as she looked down at Seweeka's sleeping face. Her eyes traced the beautiful face, which looked almost angelic in repose. If anyone had told her four months ago that she would be tamed by a soft-spoken island warrior, she would've laughed in their faces. She had spent her life as a condemned woman for too long to have wanted to believe in fairy tales. She fornicated, killed, and robbed because that was the path her life had taken and she had no-one, or rather, no-one dared to tell that there was a different way. She was so sure that one day she would go down with her ship.
The first time she'd looked into those green eyes, she knew that she would never feel whole again unless she had her in her life.
She was in love and was actually thinking of finding a place where she could settle down with Seweeka. She wanted what Kris and Morgana had.
Seweeka stirred and opened her eyes and she smiled drowsily when their eyes met. “What are you thinking about, Captain Scarborough?”
Lillian brushed her lips over Seweeka's cheek. “I was thinking how I could convince you to marry me.”
The green eyes widened. “You want to marry me?”
“With my whole heart, darling.” She swallowed hard. “And you?”
“I would like that very much.” Seweeka said softly and Lillian closed her eyes for a moment.
When she opened them an errant tear slipped out and ran down her cheek. Seweeka gently brushed it away, her green eyes concerned.
“Will it be too soon to get married tomorrow?” Lillian asked softly, after she had taken a few moments to compose herself.
Seweeka smiled. “Are you scared you might change your mind?”
“Not at all, love. On the contrary, I'm scared your cousin might talk you out of it.” She had meant for it to come out teasingly, but she knew a touch of seriousness had seeped into her words.
Seweeka pressed closer to her and brushed a soft kiss over her exposed breast. “There is no chance of that happening, Lillian.”
“I will need assurance.”
A loving look softened Seweeka's face as she nodded. “I think I know just how.”
THE END …?
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