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Title: Catherine and the Pirate (The Reformed Criminal Remix)
Genre: Historical romance.
Rating: PG-13
Word count: 4,296
Summary: A rewrite of the book, Catherine and the Pirate. Full summary and chapter index can be found here.



- Catherine and the Pirate (The Reformed Criminal Remix) -



Chapter 3


When Derrick caught up with Catherine and Lucas, they were on the dock, admiring the Sea Princess. Lucas talked loudly, his young voice brimming with enthusiasm as he described various features of the ship, and Catherine stared up at the tall masts overhead. More hair had since come free of her braid, and the wisps curled around her neck, putting Derrick in mind of the last time he'd seen her: Royce had invited him to High Hall for Christmas, and as his mother was visiting family in New Hampshire, Derrick had reluctantly accepted.

What Royce had not mentioned (and in his more uncharitable moments, Derrick suspected Royce had neglected to do so on purpose) was that part of the holiday celebrations included a ball. Derrick had been forced to attend and had even been obliged to dance with some of the young ladies present—until the whispers began and people realized who he was, at least. He'd made himself scarce after that, for Royce's benefit if not his own. But despite all that, despite nothing more than a perfunctory greeting to Catherine, herself, he still remembered how she'd looked that evening—dressed in pink silk, her blonde hair piled elegantly on top of her head. It was, perhaps, the first time he'd realized his best friend's little sister was rapidly turning into a beautiful woman.

Derrick grimaced. He shouldn't have remembered how Catherine looked that night. For his own peace of mind, he shouldn't have remembered anything about Catherine. She was Royce's sister and a member of one of the wealthiest families in Boston. One day she would marry a man with money and property. Not the landless son of a supposed traitor.

With fresh resolve, Derrick shook off the thoughts and stepped forward.

" 'Tis a grand ship, she is," Lucas was saying. "Square-rigged and right as they come. Ye should have seen her when we engaged a British sloop outside of— Oh! There ye are, Cap'n." The cabin boy grinned from ear to ear, looking for all the world like some proud parent. "Miss Markham was admirin' the Sea Princess."

Derrick arched an eyebrow. "Miss Markham?"

"He figured out I wasn't a boy," she said, still looking up at the masts, the wide brim of her hat shadowing her face from the sun. "Lucas, have you really climbed all the way to the top?"

"Aye, miss. I've climbed it many a time when on watch. Ye can see fer miles and miles from up there."

Her expression softened, a faraway look lighting her eyes. "Miles and miles…" she murmured. Curiosity must have overcome her, then, for she turned to the cabin boy. "Is it very frightening?"

"Only the first time. After that—" Lucas shrugged. "Ye get used to it."

Catherine laughed a little self-deprecatingly and looked back up at how the masts rose and even appeared to pierce the very sky above them. "I don't think I would ever get used to that." Despite herself, though, a wistful smile touched her mouth and she said, "Still…perhaps one day…"

Derrick almost couldn't believe his senses—that Royce's usually prim, proper sister was standing on the dock, having a conversation with a common cabin boy about the thrills of climbing the ship's rigging. For a moment, he was tempted to ask her who she was and what she'd done with the real Catherine Markham. In any event, one thing was certain: He'd had enough of her for one day.

"It's time to go aboard," Derrick said. "Miss Markham, allow me to see you to my cabin."

It was with obvious reluctance that she pulled her gaze from the rigging and finally looked at him. "Thank you. As it happens, I must speak with you."

Derrick cast a quick glance at Lucas, who stood watching them with a speculative look, as if he was working something out for himself. "Go aboard and tell Smythe we've a visitor."

"Aye, Cap'n." The cabin boy grinned merrily at Catherine and then he was off, dashing up the gangway, his spindly legs flashing.

Catherine watched him go, her heart sinking in her chest, her stomach suddenly tying itself in knots. She'd spent the entire journey to the harbor thinking of what she would say to Derrick, and now that he was finally in front of her, all her rehearsed words seemed to scatter on the wind like fragile little leaves.

Perhaps it was the realization that if he refused, she was lost. Perhaps it was because she couldn't help but find his presence a little unnerving. Catherine wanted to scowl with irritation. He'd always had that effect on her.

Objectively speaking, Derrick St. John was handsome—or would have been, if he could have managed to wipe the perpetually stern look off his face. Said stern look was currently directed straight at her, his brows lowered severely over his eyes, the corners of his mouth tilted disapprovingly downward. Rumors said he had once been a pirate, and seeing him thusly—coatless, the collar of his shirt open at the throat, his sleeves rolled back against his arms, a day's worth of stubble dark on his jaw—Catherine could suddenly believe it. While it was true that he had never sported the finery that some of her friends' brothers and fathers—and on occasion, even Royce, himself—did, she could never recall him being anything other than impeccably buttoned and well-kempt, and the discrepancy only succeeded in making her even more nervous.

There was something else that was different about him, though. Something beyond his mere physical appearance. Something about his bearing and general demeanor, and it occurred to Catherine that he was in command here, at the dock. In his element in a way he'd never quite been at High Hall, and the realization only served to throw her own uneasiness into sharp relief.

She stuffed her hands into the pockets of her borrowed coat to hide the fact that they shook. As the daughter of one of Boston's most respected families, she was unaccustomed to feeling powerless—but she had to have help if she was to succeed in rescuing Royce. She swallowed, and tried to find something to ease the tension that threatened to strangle her voice.

"Your cabin boy seems to know the ship very well," she finally said.

"You should see him climb the rigging," Derrick remarked dryly. "He's like a monkey."

Catherine nodded. A silence fell back between them. She tried to think of something humorous or halfway intelligent to add to break it, but all that came out was, "However did you manage to escape that horrid innkeeper?"

"I paid him."

"You what?" That succeeded in cutting through her apprehension, and she stared up at him incredulously. "Please don't tell me that bully forced you into giving him even more money! I already paid him once, and far more than I should have." That much was true—all she'd had with her was the gold from Royce's desk, and though she'd been loath to part with even one piece of it, she knew she couldn't very well leave the inn without paying.

Derrick took an exasperated breath. "I had to do something, Catherine. The man believed you hadn't paid him at all."

"Well, I did," she said hotly. "I'll have you know, Mr. Derrick St. John, that I am a Markham. Markhams do not steal."

"I am well-acquainted with your family and its virtues," was all he said, infuriatingly unaffected by the offense she had clearly taken. He looked her in the eye and very seriously added, "I'm not liable to forget them anytime soon."

Something broke in her then, and suddenly the events of the last twenty-four hours washed over her. What had seemed like the simplest of plans had proven far more formidable than she ever would have expected, and she was currently very tired, very hungry, and very afraid.

The escape from High Hall had gone smoothly enough, but the trip to the harbor was another story entirely. Since she'd only ever traveled to the city by carriage, she'd grossly misjudged the distance, thinking it would take only a brisk four-hour walk or so. Instead it had taken almost twice that, and since she'd left in the afternoon, night fell before she could even see the lights of the harbor.

There'd been no moon, and Catherine had heard enough stories of highwaymen and the like to know that she'd have to find shelter rather than risk traveling after dark. She'd stumbled along the road, her too-large boots rubbing her heels and making her progress that much slower, and finally settled on a barn in the middle of a field. She hadn't liked the idea of sleeping with cows and chickens for the night, and liked the idea of trespassing on someone's property even less, but had consoled herself with the fact that she was an early riser, and a pile of hay made for a sorry bed on top of that. No doubt she would be up and gone before anyone even knew she had been there.

She'd apparently underestimated just how tired the previous day's trek had made her, for the next thing she knew, it was morning, and she was facing an angry farmer who roughly demanded to know who she was and just what she was doing in his barn. Startled from a deep sleep and still disoriented as she was, Catherine hadn't been able to find her voice enough to answer and had instead simply scrambled to her feet and run. It was only afterward that she'd realized that, though the bag of gold was still securely tied to her waist, in her frightened haste, she'd forgotten her bundle of supplies.

Finally arriving in town had done nothing to soothe her tattered nerves. Boston was a bustling place, and like all other growing cities, it was large and noisy and smelly, especially compared to life in the country at High Hall. And while Catherine had been to Boston many other times—usually to shop while Royce did business at the dock—she had always arrived in a carriage and stayed at the finest posting houses, surrounded by a barrage of servants. She'd never realized just how big the city was, or how unfriendly it could be to someone arriving on foot with nothing more than the clothes on their back to recommend them.

And then, as if that wasn't enough, upon making her way to the harbor, she hadn't recognized the name of a single ship tied up at the docks. It had taken all of her determination to not sink to her knees and cry right then and there. Despondent, figuring she could at least get something to eat before beginning the long, defeated journey back home, she'd gone into one of the less dirty inns along the waterfront and ordered a plate of whatever was hot. The barmaid had just plunked a bowl of greasy-looking stew in front of Catherine when she'd looked out the window and caught sight of another ship tying up at dock. And through the water-spotted glass, she'd just been able to make out the vessel's name, painted on the hull: Sea Princess.

A stab of pure, unrelenting hope had warmed her, and she hastily took one bite of the stew before she tossed a coin onto the table and left, her attention completely focused on reaching Derrick's ship. Until the innkeeper began to chase her, that was.

Catherine brushed her hand over her brow, willing her tears to at least stay in her throat. There she was, so tired she could barely keep her eyes open, so hungry it felt as if it had been weeks since her last meal, and so worried that she would fail to reach Royce in time, she was starting to feel physically ill. At that very moment, he could be injured or starving… She pressed a hand to her stomach and tried to stop the wave of nausea that wanted to roll over her. Perhaps it was just as well she didn't have anything in her belly; she very well might have vomited it right back up.

Derrick must have taken notice, for his eyebrows drew together in something that almost resembled concern, and he stepped closer. "Catherine, just what in the world is going on?" he finally asked. "Why are you here alone? Where's Royce? He would never allow you to roam the docks, dressed like that."

Here was her chance. She took a deep breath. "That's just it. I need your help. Royce, he's…" The words caught in her throat.

Derrick frowned. "Royce what? Catherine, what has happened?"

"Royce, he's… He's gone."

"What?" Derrick blinked and paled. "Gone? You mean he's—"

"No! He isn't…"—she made herself push the word out—"dead, if that's what you're thinking. At least, I don't think he is. Though Uncle Elliot believes otherwise."

Derrick's brow furrowed, his color returning. "Your uncle thinks your brother is dead? Catherine, explain."

A part of her wanted to be offended by his less-than-polite request (order, she mentally corrected), but a bigger part of her knew there were more important things to worry about just then. She took another breath. "Someone has captured Royce. I must reach Norfolk by the first of June or they'll…" She swallowed, a lump as big as a ship swelling in her throat, and simply repeated, "I have to reach Norfolk."

He had a hundred questions to ask—she could see it in his face. But now was not the time, nor the place. Catherine looked anxiously over her shoulder, scanning the milling crowd for her uncle. Thankfully, she saw nothing, but it was only a matter of time before he showed up. No doubt he'd already figured out just where and why she'd run off.

Catherine turned back around. "Mr. St. John, I—" She fumbled the words. "I could use something to eat. Please."

He raked a hand through his hair, his face lined with conflict. But after a long moment, he gave a nod. "Cook made some shepherd's pie. It isn't what you're used to, but it will fill you up."

She managed a faint smile, her stomach contracting painfully at the thought of food. "I'm so hungry, I could eat a horse."

Derrick's face softened, the lines about his mouth easing somewhat. "Come on, then. Let's get some food into you. But once you've eaten," he added more firmly, "I want to know everything that has happened."

"That sounds fair," she said, and allowed Derrick to escort her up the steep gangway.

As they walked, she tried to stay focused on the ship and her surroundings, hoping the distraction—momentary as it was—might help calm her nerves. Thankfully, the task wasn't as difficult as it could have been. She had always loved the smell of the harbor. She wasn't sure if it was the heady scent of pitch mingling with the salty tang of the ocean, or the swirl of spices and tobacco that came from the splintered crates that lined the docks, but it always made her want to take long, deep breaths, as if she could taste every exotic location the vessels and cargo had visited.

Even if she hadn't been trying to distract herself, upon stepping onto the Sea Princess's deck, Catherine suspected her attention would have been diverted no matter what. Every surface—be it plank or pulley—seemed to gleam, every rope was either coiled or tied, and even the barrels on deck were arranged in a neat line. Royce had always said Derrick ran a tight, well-ordered ship, and clearly, he hadn't been lying. She stole a glance at the man next to her and wondered at the alert expression that seemed to come over his face. It was almost as if the very second he stepped on deck, he became more focused somehow.

"I've never seen your ship before," she said, daring to break the silence. "It's larger than I expected."

"The Sea Princess is one of the first of her kind." A quiet pride resonated in his voice. "She cuts swiftly through the water, can carry a double allotment of cargo, and can sail through a storm unlike any ship I've ever been on."

"She's beautiful," Catherine murmured, and meant it. Though she could hardly claim to be an expert, the Sea Princess seemed to stand out to her eye—in both design and general condition—even amongst all the other vessels tied up at dock.

"Ah, there ye be, Cap'n!" A portly man scurried up to them, his gaze fixed on Catherine with a measure of curiosity. "Have ye a new recruit?"

"More like a barnacle we'll have to scrape off the ship, I'm afraid."

At the remark, Catherine glared up at him and resisted the urge to plant her hands on her hips. "And just what is that supposed to mean?"

At the sound of her voice, the other man's eyes widened. "Lord love ye!" he exclaimed. " 'Tis not a lad at all! 'Tis a…" He looked around, then whispered, " 'Tis a wench!"

"So she is," Derrick said. "Smythe, allow me to introduce Miss Catherine Markham, sister of Royce Markham and the source of the trouble on the dock this morning. Miss Markham, this is Jebediah Smythe, my first mate. He sailed with my father before me."

Upon hearing who she was, and consequently who she was related to, Smythe perked up considerably, any questions he might have had about her—and her state of dress—all but forgotten. " 'Tis a pleasure to meet ye, miss," he said, and made a ponderous show of bowing, one arm before him in an attempt to be gentlemanly. Catherine found herself strangely charmed by the overdone gesture and smiled back, hoping the expression didn't look too tremulous.

"I hope ye don't mind me mentionin' it," the first mate went on, "but that was a whole lotta trouble fer a dab of a gal like ye to be mixed up in."

As it turned out, she did mind it. Not because it wasn't true, but because it was annoying to be called a "dab" of anything, particularly when she towered over most of her friends. "I'll have you know," she said, drawing herself up, "that I'm almost as tall as Clarissa Carlton, and she is two years older than I."

Smythe frowned. "Who?" Expectantly, Catherine turned toward Derrick.

"Well, don't look at me," he said. "I haven't any idea who you're talking about, either."

Catherine sighed. "She was the redhead you danced with the last time you visited." Clarissa, the toast of Boston, was not only redheaded, but tall, with creamy white skin. Strange as it was, Catherine distinctly remembered every moment Derrick had danced around the room with her, Clarissa's fiery hair bright next to the black of his coat.

Alas, the description didn't appear to be jogging Derrick's memory. Catherine's shoulders dropped exasperatedly. "You cannot have forgotten Miss Carlton. She's tall and willowy and always wears a gown in this particular shade of blue. I keep trying to tell her that there are other colors that would go with her hair, but she—"

Derrick cut her off impatiently. "I don't remember a redhead in a blue gown, and that's rather beside the point right now, anyway."

Smythe cleared his throat and beamed at her. "Well. 'Tis nice of ye to visit us, miss. Would ye like a tour of the ship?"

"Not now," Derrick said, before she could even think to respond. "Miss Markham and I have some matters to discuss."

"Oh." Disappointed colored the first mate's face, but he quickly swallowed it. "Perhaps later, then."

Catherine managed a smile, for his sake. "I'd like that."

"Smythe," Derrick continued, "have Little send some food to my cabin for Miss Markham. She's hungry."

The first mate frowned and sent a hesitant glance in Catherine's direction. "Not the shepherd's pie…" he said. " 'Tis not the kind of fare a lady would enjoy."

Derrick shot a pointed look at the man. "Shepherd's pie will do, so long as it's warm."

Resigned, the first mate nodded and scuttled off. Derrick, meanwhile, began to cross the deck towards a small door. "This way," he said.

Catherine followed him carefully, watching as he ducked his head through the doorway and led her down a dark, narrow corridor. Perhaps, she dared to hope, her worries were over. She'd made it to the Sea Princess, her uncle had not yet tracked her down, and no matter how Derrick St. John might have felt about her, she knew for a fact that he cared about her brother. All she had left to do was to explain what had happened to Royce, and no doubt they'd be under way within the hour.

At the end of the corridor was a door, larger than all the others they'd passed, and Derrick pushed it open, standing aside so as to let Catherine enter. She did so, and came to an abrupt halt a mere two steps inside.

"I can't believe this is inside of a ship," she marveled. And it was the truth. The cabin was surprisingly large and spacious, spanning the whole width of the vessel, while a long line of windows were set into the far wall, giving an impressive view of the harbor. A heavy table held precedence in the center of the room, surrounded by carved chairs, and a desk sat off to the left, an assortment of cabinets and cubbyholes built into the wall above it. A wide bunk was similarly built into the opposite wall, hung with red curtains, and the color was echoed not only in the drapes that framed the windows, but in the cushions of the low bench that lay beneath it. To top it all off, a thick rug adorned the floor and a number of bright brass lanterns were fastened to the walls. "Are all the other cabins on board this nice?" she asked.

"No," Derrick said, brushing past her as he followed her into the room. "They are significantly smaller." He gestured to one of the chairs at the table, and she gingerly sat down, noticing that it was bolted to the floor. "Now," he said, as he slid into a chair opposite her, "explain what has happened to your brother."

Now that she was finally here, safely ensconced in Derrick's cabin, his full attention on her, Catherine didn't know where to begin. She took off her hat, fiddling with the brim, and after a moment's struggle, said, "I…I never thanked you for helping me earlier. I don't know what I would have done if you hadn't arrived when you did."

"It was nothing," he said, and she looked up to see his eyes were focused on her hands. Her fingers, she realized, were gripping the felted wool so hard, her knuckles were showing white through the skin. She forced her hands to relax, and took a sudden, intense interest in trying to smooth the hat back into shape.

What if he didn't believe her? What if he thought she was overreacting—that her uncle was right about the note, after all? That it really was a hoax and Royce was truly… Her fingers dug into the wool again.

"Catherine," Derrick said, leaning forward, his voice deep and low with genuine concern, "what has happened? Where is Royce?"

She took a calming gulp of air. "A little more than a month ago, now, Royce left Boston to oversee a shipment. He was returning when…" She swallowed and straightened her shoulders. "He was returning when his ship was attacked by a British vessel. Some of the crew… They said that Royce was knocked unconscious and swept overboard in the ensuing battle."

Derrick paled, and sat back heavily in his chair. "So he's dead."

"No!" The word was both a cry and a denial.

"Catherine, I don't understand. I thought you just said—"

"They're wrong! I know it!" Her lips quivered and she had to blink the tears away. "He isn't dead. I realize this may sound strange, but I can feel that he is still alive. I just know it."

Derrick frowned, clearly skeptical. After a moment, he asked, "Do you have any proof other than your feelings?"

Catherine nodded. "A note. I found it on the desk in the library. It was a ransom note. They…they said they have Royce captive and are willing to exchange him for gold. But…if the money isn't delivered, they'll…"

"They'll kill him," Derrick finished grimly, clearly familiar with the story. His mouth thinned, and he rose from his seat and started pacing. "Do you know who this 'they' are?"

Catherine shook her head. "The note didn't say." She looked back down at the hat in her lap and quietly admitted, "I don't understand why anyone would do this." Royce had rivals when it came to business, certainly, but she couldn't think of anyone who would consider him a true enemy, who would be willing to—

"Your brother is wealthy and well-known. That's reason enough for some men." Derrick paused a moment to think. "How much gold do they want?"

"Fifty pieces."

He gave a low whistle. "That's a small fortune."

"I have enough," she assured him. "Money isn't an issue. But…it must be delivered to Norfolk in less than two weeks." Catherine swallowed and started fiddling with her hat again. "I was…I was hoping you might help me."

Derrick turned, his gaze locking with hers. "Of course I'll help you. In fact, I'll deliver the money to Norfolk, myself."




-----

A/N: I'll confess, I never really liked the way this chapter ended on such a DRAMATIC CLIFFHANGER note (because, well, it never struck me as all that dramatic, and chapter 4 is basically a continuation of this same scene, so why not just keep going?). But the truth is, rolling the two chapters together would have just made the thing way too fucking long, so if it was going to happen that I'd have to break it up anyway, welp, AWKWARD DRAMATIC CLIFFHANGER ending it is.

All other fics can be found here.
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