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Title: Catherine and the Pirate (The Reformed Criminal Remix)
Genre: Historical romance.
Rating: PG-13
Word count: 3,831
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 10


An hour later, Derrick glanced up at the sky. Their luck had held, and the storm hadn't yet unleashed itself on them. The clouds were looking worse, though—inky grey with an odd light.

The first mate climbed the ladder to the foredeck, and Derrick said, "Let's take her closer to shore, Smythe."

"Aye, Cap'n," he said, and proceeded to issue the orders in a sprightly tone.

Derrick looked up at the tall masts and thanked the stars the rain had held off. It was bad enough they'd been forced into a battle; fighting in the middle of a storm would have complicated matters even further. As it was, two of the primary sails had been lowered, along with plenty of the secondary ones. Some were completely blown to smithereens and would have to be replaced; others, thankfully, would pull through with just some patching. Already the sound of hammering and repairs filled the air.

"Cap'n?"

Derrick turned to see Smythe coming back to his side. "Aye?"

"Marcus says there're two prisoners who're able to talk. Do ye wish to speak to 'em afore we lock 'em down below?"

Derrick nodded. "Of course." He followed the first mate down to the main deck where two men sat, tied back to back. They were ragged, even for pirates, and had the look of men who were underfed and overworked. One of them, the larger and seemingly bolder of the two, had a scar that ran the length of his face, splitting one eyebrow and ending on his cheek in a wicked patch of puckered skin.

Derrick met the man's gaze squarely. "Who are you?"

Neither prisoner said a word, and Derrick spoke again. "I asked you a question, sailor."

There was a dark, dangerous edge to his voice this time around, and they must have picked up on it, for the smaller one shifted apprehensively and muttered, "There's nothin' to tell."

"Indeed?" Derrick said. He looked down at them and sorted through his thoughts. "Do you know who I am?"

The larger pirate grinned maliciously and finally spoke. "Derrick St. John, son of a coward and a traitor." And then he spat, and the glob of spittle landed right between Derrick's boots.

Derrick didn't move, just flicked his eyes down to silently regard the puddle of saliva. After a moment, he raked them back up and fixed the man with a cold stare. "If you know that, then you should also know that I'll have no qualms with throwing your sorry carcasses overboard if you insist on being uncooperative."

The man's grin faltered uneasily. His thinner companion actually swallowed noisily. "Ye…ye fought a good battle," the smaller one conceded.

Derrick crossed his arms and rocked back on his heels as a wave rolled through the ship. "The Sea Princess has been in a number of battles. But in all the fights I've been in, I've never known pirates to waste time on an apparently empty vessel. Why did you attack?"

The larger man stared stubbornly ahead, but the other prisoner didn't appear so certain. Derrick refocused his efforts on him. "Just what exactly did you hope to gain?"

For a moment, it seemed as though he would get no answers, but then a sound came from below as Little arrived, carrying two plates of steaming stew. Despite themselves, the pirates' eyes lit up. The smaller one might have even groaned a little.

Smythe leaned forward and took an appreciative sniff. "Aye, and it tastes as good as it smells. There's no ship in the whole ocean with a cook like ours. 'Tis almost a sin to eat, it tastes so good."

The cook seated himself on a barrel, the food at nose level with the prisoners. "I've a whole pot o' this and more," he announced cheerfully. "Those as comes aboard the Sea Princess eats like kings, they do. Even prisoners."

It was a familiar scene, one Little relished the chance to play, and Smythe assisted by eyeing the trenchers with avid interest, even going so far as to rub his stomach. "Cap'n," he said, now getting fully into the part, "if the prisoners wish to walk the plank instead of eatin', can I have their servin's?"

"Walk the plank or eat?" the larger man blurted out. He frowned, and his scar appeared all the more menacing. "What kind of a choice is that?"

"An easy one," Derrick replied lightly. "Answer a few questions and have your supper, or die. The decision is yours, gentlemen."

The thinner man began to open his mouth, but his stern-faced companion interrupted. "We'll not say a word! Not one single word!"

"There ye have it, Cap'n." Smythe gave a sorrowful sigh, but then reached for a plate. "Well. No sense in wastin' good food."

Little pulled the trenchers away from the first mate. "Oh, no, ye don't! Ye'll get yers when the time comes. This is fer the prisoners."

"But they're goin' to walk the plank," Smythe said reasonably. "They won't be needin' their supper."

"Oh," Little said, apparently struck by the logic. "Well. If ye say they won't be needin' it, then I suppose ye can—"

"I'm not goin' to walk no plank!" the thinner pirate piped up. He twisted in his bonds to try to glare at the man behind him. "Don't ye say another word fer me, Roberts. We was caught fair and square, and I'm not lookin' to go swimmin' in the deep."

"Damn ye, Carpenter, ye traitor."

Carpenter snorted. "I'm no more traitor than ye. But I've no loyalties to the cap'n, and I'm starvin' besides." He turned back to Derrick. "What do ye want to know?"

Derrick regarded him with a hard stare. "You knew the Sea Princess was empty."

"Aye, but the cap'n didn't care. Right afore we sailed, seems he got a missive. I heard him arguing with the first mate about it."

Derrick stilled. "You were ordered to attack us?"

"Aye." It was impossible to miss the bitterness in his voice. "We even let two prime frigates pass us by 'til we seen ye comin'. I heard the cap'n specifically ask the coxun if he could make out yer figurehead, just to make certain 'twas ye and none other."

Dear God, why would anyone be searching for the Sea Princess if not to steal her cargo? Derrick took another long look at the two men. "Who was your captain?"

But Carpenter wasn't paying Derrick any more heed. His entire attention was fixed on the stew Little still held.

Derrick bent down so that he was eye level with the man, close enough so that he could make out the flecks of green in the pirate's otherwise brown eyes. "The name of your captain, sailor."

Roberts twisted in his ropes. "Don't tell 'em a damn thing, Carpenter!"

But it was too late; Carpenter was apparently too hungry. He tried vainly to peer around Derrick's threatening form, but eventually gave up and said, "Marler. Roger Marler." And here his voice turned wheedling. "Can I eat now?"

Derrick straightened and tried to conceal his shock. Marler was a known pirate, operating all the way down to Brazil and back. But he didn't work alone. He was one of more than a few who answered to a man by the name of Jean Paul DeGardineau. The very man Derrick had sworn to track down.

Without answering, Derrick pivoted on his heel and walked stiffly to the railing. Smythe followed, a concerned look on his face. "Cap'n?" he said quietly. "Perhaps we should see if they know anythin' else."

"They won't. Marler keeps all of his men in the dark. That way they can never stab him in the back." Derrick called over to the crew members who were standing guard. "Let them eat. When they've finished, lock them in the brig. We'll turn them over to the authorities once we reach land."

"Aye, Cap'n!" the men answered, and with that, Derrick began to stalk back to the foredeck. Smythe followed close behind.

"Do ye think DeGardineau sent that missive to Marler?"

Derrick barely paused to throw the words over his shoulder. "Who else would he take orders from?"

"Don't ye worry, Cap'n. We'll find that devil who sullied yer father's name, see if we don't." The first mate sighed then and shook his head. "But ye sure don't need trouble like DeGardineau, not when ye're off to Norfolk to rescue the lass's brother."

Derrick nodded absently. Thunder rumbled overhead and he glanced up. It was going to rain soon. They were close enough to the coast now to miss the worst of it, but it would probably still be a rough crossing. The wind had turned cold, and sent a heavy wave against the starboard side. "Lower the sails," he said. "We'll ride her out right where we are."

"Aye, aye, Cap'n." Smythe began to turn toward the ladder, but halted halfway. A frown marred his broad face. "Cap'n…how could DeGardineau know we were on our way to Norfolk? Ye didn't tell the crew 'til we were under way."

"I don't know, Smythe. That is what bothers me."

A cry went up as a few men struggled to get a torn sail untangled from a damaged part of the rigging. "Lord love 'em," Smythe said wearily, "but I'd best go and see if I can straighten out that mess." He started for the ladder again, but Derrick stopped him.

"Don't speak of this to the men just yet. But be aware that if someone sent that ship after us, they might try again before we reach Norfolk."

"Aye, Cap'n." And then Smythe left the foredeck.

Derrick watched him go. The first mate had been right—no one knew the Sea Princess was on her way to Norfolk. But there was at least one person who would have known it was Catherine's destination.

Could Elliot Markham have been behind the attack? It seemed unlikely. Even if the man did have issues with his nephew—and he did; after four years and a handful of interactions, Derrick could tell the two men were too different in personality to truly be close—he still struck Derrick as being a little too unassertive, a little too reactionary. Elliot Markham was the kind of person more apt to complain about a problem than to do anything to actually fix it. But greed, he knew, could make people desperate. And desperation often made men dangerous. The thought that the man might be trying to cause his niece genuine harm was disturbing, to say the least. It also marked him as someone not to be underestimated, no matter how harmlessly petulant he had previously appeared.

Restlessly, Derrick returned to the main deck, found a bucket full of hammers and nails, and began to repair what he could of the railing. He had just shoved a particularly large piece back into place when movement flittered along the edge of his vision, and he turned his head to see Catherine carefully making her way toward him.

He looked at her, then looked again. She'd since bathed, her hair was tied back in a damp braid, and the little minx was now wearing one of his best shirts and a pair of Lucas's breeches. She'd had to roll the sleeves up, and blessedly wore that brown coat of hers over top, but still—he didn't think he'd ever seen a shirt of his worn to such an advantage. It made him wonder how she'd gotten her hands on it in the first place. Carlson had been sent to draw her a bath, but he wouldn't have dared to rifle around in Derrick's personal effects, so who…?

It had probably been Smythe, Derrick realized with a measure of irritation. The man was an enviable first mate, and a constant source of comfort, besides, but sometimes he had a tendency to be downright meddlesome.

Catherine paused by a sailor standing against the capstan—Joseph Fowler. His leg was bandaged at the knee, and Catherine appeared to ask him about it, which prompted Fowler to grin from ear to ear and say something about being too thick-skinned to let a little thing like a lead ball put him to shame. Catherine laughed, and the sound danced across the deck and seemed to settle right in Derrick's chest.

Word had apparently spread about Lucas, because his crew, he could tell, was looking at her differently. There had been tolerance there, after he'd explained why she was on board, but now there was genuine warmth. Clearly she'd proven her worth by patching up Lucas, and was practically another member of the crew at this point, if his men's behavior was anything to go by. For some reason that nettled, and as Catherine bade Fowler goodbye and continued toward him, Derrick resolutely turned back to the railing.

"…Captain?"

He couldn't look at her—not now. What had even brought her to his side, anyway?

"Captain St. John?" she said again, a touch of impatience in her voice this time around.

"What?" He swung his hammer hard, slamming a nail into the wood with one short blow.

"Lucas is awake. He has a slight fever, but he seems to be on the mend."

He slammed another nail in place. "Good. You shouldn't be above deck until we've some of this damage cleared away. You could get hurt."

The brusque words seemed to stun her, but Derrick still refused to look at her to make sure. He was being rude and he knew it, but what else was he supposed to do? Catherine Markham, he was beginning to discover, was a strange and distressingly irresistible mix of innocence and experience, whereas he…

"I'll watch where I walk," she said, rallying her good spirits. And without another word, she reached down into the bucket, picked up another hammer and a handful of nails, and began to delicately—yet effectively—assist him with the railing repair.

Derrick couldn't help it this time around; he stared at her, and the question leapt out of his mouth before he could even think about it:

"Where in the world did you learn how to use a hammer?"

Catherine stilled, and instead of answering, ducked her head in embarrassment. Her cheeks turned red, and she gave a small, self-deprecating laugh. "It might surprise you to learn of it, Captain, but once upon a time, I was actually quite wild."

And yet more mysteries from her. He remembered Royce had once mentioned something about her being a troublesome tomboy as a child, but Derrick had always chalked it up as simple exaggeration about a younger sibling. Perhaps there had been a certain amount of truth to the accusation, though. Despite himself, a smile started to twitch at the corners of his lips.

"And praytell," he asked, unable to curb his curiosity, "whatever happened to tame the wild Catherine Markham?"

She shrugged uncomfortably and didn't meet his eyes. "My parents died," she said, almost as if in apology. "Things changed."

Derrick sobered, suddenly feeling like an enormous cad for pressing the subject. He looked out to the grey-blue sea, where the waves roiled with the impending storm. He should have begged her pardon, but what came out instead was a rueful, "Don't they just." After a moment, he took a breath, dropped his hammer back in the bucket, and decisively turned to her. "Catherine, there is something you should know. We have a couple prisoners from the battle, and I spoke with them. That ship was waiting for us."

Catherine straightened from where she was bent over, positioning a nail. "You mean…they knew we were on our way to Norfolk?"

Derrick nodded. "I think it's safe to assume that someone wants to stop you from saving your brother."

She couldn't seem to believe it, if the incredulous look on her face was anything to go by. "But who would do such a thing?" she asked, and there it was. Derrick braced himself and let the words fall out.

"There is only one person who stands to gain anything if both Royce and you do not return home."

The hand holding the hammer dropped to her side as the significance of the words sunk in. She turned to look at the cresting waves. "You think… You think my uncle sent that ship out to capture us." It wasn't exactly a question. Nor was it exactly accurate.

"She wasn't trying to capture us; she was trying to sink us." Derrick raked a hand through his hair. "I know it sounds absurd, but it's the only conclusion that makes any sense."

"But… But Uncle Elliot would never do such a thing!" she insisted.

"Catherine," he said, "he is the only one with something to lose if you succeed."

She pressed her fingers to her temple as the logic started to set in. "If it's true Uncle Elliot was behind the attack…then it's my fault your crew was injured."

Derrick frowned. "Catherine, you cannot claim the wrongs of your uncle as your own."

She didn't exactly respond to that, instead taking a moment to replace her hammer in the bucket. Then she sighed and leaned against the repaired part of the railing, looking out to the water. The waves churned and the wind was brisk, but something about it appeared to calm her all the same. The ship lifted on a wave, but rather than stumble, she just smiled and wistfully said, "I love the ocean."

The sentiment and her seemingly changed spirits surprised him, and despite himself, the corners of his own mouth lifted. "You aren't the only one. I think it must be in my blood," he confessed. "The St. Johns have always been adventurers, even before my father."

Catherine tilted her head at him curiously. "So what will you do when you marry?"

He jerked his gaze over to her and choked out, "When I what?"

"When you marry," she repeated, as if it was the most natural thing in the world. "What will you do with your family? Surely you cannot be gone for months on end and still have a family."

"I… I hadn't thought about it," he admitted. "I suppose that, after a while, I will hire captains to man my ships."

Her eyes sparkled, impish and indulgent. "And how many ships will you have?"

Derrick's lips curved into a smile and he looked out to sea. "Dozens."

Standing next to him, Catherine found she couldn't look away from his mouth. It was really a remarkably sensuous, attractive mouth when it wasn't stuck in a dour expression. Again, the memory of his kiss flooded her mind, and she forced her gaze up.

He looked tired, she finally noticed. There were faint circles under his eyes and a certain pallidness to his otherwise tan face. And no wonder, she thought, what with the fighting and then overseeing the repairs. "Have you had your supper yet?" she suddenly asked.

He looked at her, his brows once again lowered seriously. "No. Not yet. Why?"

"Because Little made some mutton stew and it is quite excellent," she informed him.

Derrick shook his head, seeming to wrest his focus back to the subject at hand. "No. Catherine, we need to talk."

"We can talk in your cabin while you're eating," she said reasonably. She looped an arm around his and began steering him toward the stern of the ship for good measure. "In fact, I think we should go right now and—"

"Catherine," he said sharply, and spun her around by the shoulder. He leaned down, as if to drive the point home. "If your uncle sent that ship, then he has decided that you are expendable. His next effort might not be so gentle."

She stood, mouth open, reeling from his proximity just as much as his words. His blue eyes were close and intense, and she fought to find something to say even as she fought to keep her breath steady. It was true that her uncle hadn't lifted a single finger to help Royce, but to think of him actively seeking to cause someone harm… "I… I know it looks that way," she conceded, "but you must believe me when I say that Uncle Elliot would never do such a thing."

Derrick straightened and let go of her. "Perhaps not, but think about it, Catherine. If you are killed on your way to Norfolk, then your brother will die and your uncle will inherit by default. In a way, you've actually given him more of an opportunity to gain it all by running off to save Royce on your own."

"I'm not alone," she said. "I have you."

His features froze and heat rushed to her cheeks. Oh dear, she hadn't meant to say that. Catherine managed a strangled smile, adding, "And the rest of the crew, of course."

Derrick pressed his lips into a discontented line, then turned back to the railing, retrieving his hammer from the bucket and continuing his repairs. If she didn't know better, she almost would have thought she'd wounded his feelings.

She pulled her coat around her tighter and shivered as a gust of wind blew through. "So what do we do now?" she asked.

His pounding punctuated the words. "Race like the devil for Norfolk and hope your uncle has not sent other ships as well."

It was all so dangerous. What if more ships had been sent out after them? Or what if the pirate ship returned? What if they made it to Norfolk just fine, but were besieged on their way back to Boston?

"Derrick?" she said, daring to use his given name. It appeared to have its intended effect, for he stopped and looked at her. There seemed to be something searching in his expression.

"Yes?"

"Thank you." It wasn't much, but it was all she had to offer. He was risking so much—his ship, his life, the lives of his crew… And all for her brother.

His face softened. "Royce would do the same for me," he said quietly. And considering the way he was regarding her, a part of her had to wonder if he wouldn't do the same for her.

She wasn't quite sure how long they stood like that, but the feel of a drop of water on her head broke the spell and caused her to glance up. The storm was finally starting, already dotting the deck dark brown, and with another rumble of thunder, Derrick spoke, his voice brisk and businesslike, "You should return below. No sense in you getting soaked twice in one day."

Catherine nodded, almost relieved by his lack of passion. "I—I'll keep an eye on Lucas," she said, and with that, she quickly made her way back to his cabin.

It was just the rain she was running from, she told herself. Her swift escape had nothing to do with her fluttering heart and flushed cheeks.




-----

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