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Title: Catherine and the Pirate (The Reformed Criminal Remix)
Genre: Historical romance.
Rating: PG-13
Word count: 3,158
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 4


Catherine blinked, unsure if she had heard the words properly. Her heart seemed to stop, and when she finally found her voice, it came out low and fragile. "You…you will?"

Derrick had resumed his pacing and shot her a cursory glance. "Of course I will. I owe your brother more than I can say."

The air pushed out of her lungs on something that sounded like a cross between a laugh and a sob, and Catherine suddenly had to press her fingers to her mouth for fear of what she might do next. A part of her felt like weeping all over the place in sheer relief, and another part of her wanted to jump up and throw her arms around his neck in gratitude. Neither option was very appropriate, so she simply sat there, her hand pressed firmly over her lips, her eyes glazing over with tears, and it was only after a good long minute had passed that she dared to trust her voice with the weight of any more words.

"I knew it," she breathed, finally letting her hand fall back to her lap. "I knew you'd help." She swallowed, feeling lighter than she had in a very long while, and couldn't help the smile that began to overtake her features. "We can leave at once and—"

"Catherine, wait," Derrick said, stopping mid-stride. "There are things I need to know first. Namely, exactly what did this note say?"

Her brow creased as she struggled to remember the details. "It said that they had captured Royce, and if the Markham family wanted to see him again, that they would bring fifty gold pieces to the Red Rooster Inn in Norfolk, Virginia."

Derrick nodded at the information and assessed his options. When all he had seen before him was a life of thievery and shame, Royce Markham had been the one to prove him wrong. In a way, Royce was the brother he'd never had, and it wasn't an exaggeration to say he'd walk across hot coals for the man.

He looked up and over at Catherine. Though she now exuded a hopeful, almost happy glow, dark circles were still apparent under her eyes, and he found himself finally asking, "However did you get to Boston?"

"I walked." She smiled rather ruefully. "And walked. And walked." Derrick blinked, his eyes widening despite himself.

"All the way from High Hall? Why, that's miles away."

Catherine grimaced and looked down at her dusty boots. "As I discovered," she said wryly. "If you don't believe me, I have the blisters on my feet to prove it."

Derrick frowned in puzzlement. "Why didn't you just take one of your family's carriages?"

She looked back down at her hat and began idly playing with the brim. After a moment, she reluctantly admitted, "I was afraid to take a carriage because Uncle Elliot might have tried to stop me."

"You uncle is at High Hall?"

Catherine nodded. "He came as soon as the news of Royce did. He believes the ransom note to be a hoax, and I didn't have the time to try to convince him otherwise. He isn't a person who very easily changes his mind."

Having met Royce's uncle, Derrick could believe it. He could hardly claim a close acquaintance with the man, but they'd spoken a handful of times over the years, and if those brief impressions were anything to go by, Elliot Markham was as controlled as a snake, as cool as his nephew was warm. Derrick's mouth pressed into a dour line. "So you made your way here alone, without any protection," he concluded. Again, he ran a hand through his hair. "Catherine, I can't say I approve of what you did—it was dangerous, and foolish besides—but…"

She lifted her chin and her eyes glittered a challenge. "But?"

He let his hand drop back to his side, and his face softened. "…But I'm glad you came to me," he admitted.

After an astonished moment, she smiled tentatively. "So am I." Another moment passed where they simply stared at each other—until Derrick briskly broke the eye contact.

"Well," he said, moving toward his desk, "I suppose we should write your uncle a note to let him know that you are safe and sound."

Catherine fell silent then, ducking her head as she again began to fiddle with the brim of her hat. "I would rather not, if you don't mind."

Derrick looked up, in the middle of reaching for a sheet of paper. "Why not?"

"I fear he would try to stop us," she said at length. "He thinks it's madness to pay the ransom."

"I can't say I blame him," he said, straightening. "There is a very real possibility that these people don't actually have Royce and are simply trying to extort money from you."

At the words, her hands froze, and her gaze settled on some nondescript point on the table. "I… I know," she finally managed. "I—I'm prepared to deal with that fact if it turns out to be the truth." She raised her eyes, dark and haunted, to his. "But I have to try."

Derrick nodded absently. He'd be lying if he said he didn't understand the impulse. Still, there was something about this whole situation that didn't quite add up… Willfully, he brushed the feeling off. Whatever it was, it would no doubt come to him eventually, and in the meantime, there were preparations to be made if he was to depart with the evening tide. First and foremost, he needed to send word to his mother, to let her know his visit would be unfortunately postponed. Then he needed to send a letter to the East India Tea Company, to let them know that he would be late in arriving to pick up the last shipment for which he was scheduled. He could only hope they wouldn't hire another ship to do the job, but if it came down to choosing between Royce and a cargo of rice, well, there was simply no contest.

A rapid knock sounded on the door. He called a greeting and in came the first mate, followed by Little. The thin, wiry cook held a platter of steaming food in one hand and a wide pewter plate in the other. "I've brought some vittles fer the young lady," he announced, and proceeded to place the plate on the table with a flourish. Then he set the platter beside it and removed the cover.

Derrick looked up just in time to see Catherine lean forward, relishing the rich smell of the shepherd's pie. She hadn't fixed her hair at all, and tendrils of it still swayed free, clinging to the rough coat she wore. Derrick frowned.

Catherine, however, didn't seem to notice—let alone care about—her current state of appearance. "I'm positively starving," she said, and picked up the fork that Little had magically procured from one of his pockets. She took a big bite and closed her eyes, an utterly blissful expression on her face.

"Aye," Smythe said dubiously, "tastes like heaven—which is why I don't trust it. I've never known a cook who could make ship food taste like that."

"I'm a culinary genius," Little said, smiling in smug satisfaction. "Inherited it from me grandmum. She could turn wallpaper paste into Welsh rarebit, if ye gave her the chance." He straightened himself up just a tiny bit more. "No one cooks the way a Little can."

"Smythe," Derrick said, ignoring his cook's inflated sense of self-esteem for the present moment, "Miss Markham needs some appropriate clothing. There is a shop off the quay where one can purchase ladies' things. Could you see what they have for her?"

Catherine looked up from her food, a blush staining her cheeks as the first mate sized her up. Quickly, she worked to swallow the bite she was chewing. "Oh, no, that really isn't—" But Smythe was already done.

"Aye, Cap'n," he said cheerfully. "I'll take care of it, meself."

"Excellent," Derrick said. He jerked his head toward the door. "That will be all."

Both men bowed to Catherine, then left, their voices lingering in the hallway for several moments. Catherine, however, had already turned back to her food with gusto, and apparently couldn't be bothered.

Derrick watched her as she ate. Clearly, she hadn't been exaggerating when she said she was starving. She was already on her second helping of the shepherd's pie, and at the rate she was going, he wouldn't be surprised if she started in on a third.

Realizing he was staring, he went to the small stand beside his bunk and poured a measure of water into a tin cup. "You're lucky I was in port," he said. "I wasn't scheduled to arrive for two more days, but we had some favorable winds." He brought the cup to the table and handed it to her. Catherine nodded her thanks and took a grateful gulp.

"I was considering the possibility of finding another ship," she admitted, as he slid back into one of the chairs. "But I'm glad I didn't have to." A long moment of silence passed, and she eventually looked up from her plate to see him leaning back in his seat, one tan arm resting on the table, and his head tilted to the side as he carefully watched her.

"What?" Suddenly, she found herself growing nervous all over again. Hadn't anyone ever told him it was rude to stare? Particularly when his gaze was so intense as to qualify as downright unsettling? She swore she could actually feel the blood rushing to her face, his eyes were so—

"What would your uncle stand to gain if your brother disappears?" he asked. "I was always under the impression that you would inherit everything, not him."

Catherine blinked, caught off guard by the question. A vague feeling of unease settled in her chest. "I would," she confirmed. Her uncle wouldn't inherit anything. So just what was he—?

"But as your next closest male relative," Derrick went on, "he would be the executor of the estate and the family holdings until you married, would he not?"

Unease turned to offense, and Catherine leveled a hard look at him, all previous discomfort forgotten. "Exactly what," she demanded icily, "are you implying?" Maybe Uncle Elliot wasn't her favorite person in the world, true, but he was still her uncle, and to even think that—

Abruptly, Derrick rose, waving his hand as if physically brushing the issue aside. "Nothing," he assured. "Nothing at all. I do apologize. I never should have brought the subject up."

For a long moment, Catherine simply stared at him as he made his way to his desk and looked over a chart. It was difficult to tell if he was being sincere in his apology or not, but ultimately she decided to let it go, for her brother's sake if not her own. She turned back to her food, and with a few more bites, concluded that she was finally, delightfully full. Satisfied, she set her fork across the now-empty plate and eagerly clasped her hands in her lap.

"Now," she said. "Since we have less than two weeks to reach Norfolk, I thought that perhaps we should—"

" 'We'?" he interrupted, turning around to look at her. "I never said we were going anywhere. I will go to Norfolk. You will stay here until—"

"You can't honestly mean that!" she exclaimed.

Derrick's mouth settled into a hard line. "I mean it as much as I've ever meant anything."

Catherine glared, and took on the firm tone she occasionally had to use with the servants. "Royce is my brother, not yours, and I am going with you."

"No," he returned, just as adamantly, "you are not. It would be dangerous enough in peacetime, let alone in the middle of a war, with the whole of the British navy out there, trying to sink any ship that even looks American. To say nothing of the pirates who are trying to use this whole bloody political situation to their advantage. I'll not have you risk your life simply because of some foolish desire to—"

Catherine sprang to her feet, her hands involuntarily curling into fists. "I am not a child, Captain St. John!"

That much was painfully obvious. He didn't even have to hear the authority ringing in her voice to see the truth of the statement. Derrick took a breath, trying to remain calm. "No, you are not," he agreed. "You are a lady, and your brother would want you to—"

"My brother would do the same for me! Or you, for that matter," she added emphatically. "And you cannot expect me to simply—"

"Damn it, Catherine, I can't just take you to Norfolk! Royce would kill me!"

So much for remaining calm. She blinked, so taken aback by the outburst she looked as if she'd been struck, and slowly sank back down into her chair in defeat. Derrick sighed, running a hand over his face in an attempt to force the anger out of his body, and it must have been close to a full minute before Catherine dared to break the dreadful silence that had since settled on the cabin.

"Then I'll find someone else," she quietly said.

His gaze snapped over to her. "What?"

She raised her chin, her green eyes resolute. "If you won't take me, I'll find another captain who will. I made it to the harbor on my own; I can make it to Norfolk on my own." There was an uncertain tremor in her voice, but her shoulders, he noticed, were set determinedly. The question tumbled out of his mouth before he could even think about it.

"Are you absolutely insane?"

The words only seemed to strengthen her resolve, for she met his gaze coolly and continued. "The Sea Princess isn't the only ship out there, and I have plenty enough gold to buy my passage. Besides," she added, "I'm the one with the ransom money, so wherever it goes, I go."

Derrick found himself almost gaping at her. What she was doing wasn't quite blackmail, but it was close enough. Royce wouldn't just kill him, but would probably throw in a good old-fashioned keelhauling beforehand, if he discovered Derrick had knowingly let his little sister run off to Norfolk by herself. He raked a hand through his hair and began pacing again.

Much as he hated to admit it, she was right—war or no, there were plenty enough other ships out there, and there was no doubt in his mind that if she flashed enough gold, at least one of them would be willing to take her. Which meant she would arrive in Norfolk unprotected. Assuming she even made it to Norfolk, that was. Aside from the dangers brought on by the war with Britain, sailors in general were a curious lot, respectful towards some women and hostile towards others. In his life at sea, Derrick had seen it all.

Irritably, he paused to glare at his friend's sister, wanting to curse her for the position she was putting him in. She sat primly, hands in her lap, her face held implacably forward—perfectly lady-like posture clad defiantly in boys' clothing. It wasn't quite the Catherine Markham he knew, that was for sure. All this time he'd thought her nothing more than a cosseted, coddled female whose greatest concern were the number of ribbons she wore. To say he'd been mistaken was something of an understatement. Clearly she cared about her brother deeply, and it was rapidly becoming apparent that she'd walk through fire for him. Or, at the very least, try to.

Suddenly, he demanded, "You are incorrigible, do you know that?"

Her eyes flicked up to meet his. "Royce used to tell me all the time," she confessed, a little apologetically. Derrick, despite himself, felt the corner of his mouth lift in bitter amusement.

He sighed again, and ran a hand over the back of his neck in an attempt to relieve some of the tension he could feel building there. "Oh, fine," he grudgingly conceded. "Since you leave me little choice, I will take you to Norfolk." Her expression lit up, but before she could say anything, he went on. "But only on the condition that you do as I say and stay on board ship once we arrive. Can you at least promise me that?"

She looked down at her lap, and after a long moment, quietly said, "You know I can't."

Derrick drew in a long breath, as if it might help replenish his steadily dwindling supply of patience. "Catherine, I don't think you appreciate just how dangerous this all is. In case you weren't aware, Norfolk was burned, almost to the very ground, four years ago, and they haven't exactly had a lot of time or resources to rebuild. Most of the people left are those who couldn't afford to flee in the first place, and they're trying to eke out a living any way they can. Frankly, I'm not terribly surprised the ransom note came from there, considering the desperate state the city is in, these days. I'll not have you risk getting hurt if I can avoid it. Already I'm a fool to take you with me, and if I didn't think you'd make good on your threat and simply find another ship, one less able to see you to Norfolk safely, I'd pick you up, toss you over my shoulder, and take you home myself."

She flushed hotly at the declaration and stubbornly raised her chin. "I'm not afraid."

"You damn well should be," he shot back.

Her eyes flashed and she drew herself up again. "Royce is my brother. You can't honestly expect me to—"

"We will discuss this later," was all he said, hard and sharp as the crack of a pistol, bringing an abrupt end to the conversation. "In the meantime, I have a ship to prepare. Wait here," he ordered. "I'll have someone show you to your cabin."

Her voice stopped him just as he was about to walk out the door. "Captain St. John." And then she softly added, "Derrick…" The words were little more than a murmur. "Thank you."

He hesitated at the door, his hand on the knob, the sound of his given name on her lips ringing in his ears, and managed to throw a stiff glance at her over his shoulder. "You can thank me when we find your brother, Miss Markham." And with that, he left.

Upon hearing the latch click shut, Catherine exhaled, her heart in her mouth and her blood pounding in her ears. "Well," she said, to no one in particular, "I think that went rather well."




-----

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