Some minutes later, Perry emerged back into the street with a full waterskin.
“I had to purchase this,” he grumbled. “Hold out your hands for me. Nothing is free in Port Royal, is it? Not even bloody charity.”
“Not for a buccaneer,” replied Quinn with a snort.
He held out his filthy hands, and Perry poured water over them. Under the cascade, Quinn rubbed them clean of sand and filth. Then he took the skin, rinsing out his mouth before drinking deep. Plastering a reassuring smile on his face, Quinn took his matelot’s arm and steered him along the High Street.
Arm in arm, he and Perry turned up Honey Lane and entered the Three Tunns. At the top of a narrow set of stairs was a private room, furnished as a dining parlor. They were the first to arrive, and Quinn immediately went to the sideboard arrayed with glass onion bottles and several fine pewter goblets. Sniffing at the bottles, he found neat rum and poured himself a measure. He knocked it back, feeling the welcome sting in his throat. He poured a second, but this one he drank more slowly, looking around the room for a place to store his weapons.
In the center of the room, a sturdy oak table was surrounded by matching chairs, and Perry was hanging his weapon-heavy baldric from the back of one. Quinn unslung his own baldric and hung it from another chair.
“This is the chamber I first met Kit in, oh, near a year since.” Perry shook his head. “’Twas a lifetime ago. Forsooth, I’m not the same man I was then.”
“But you are,” said Quinn, smiling gently. “’Tis the shell that has gone, not the true Thomas.”
Perry gave Quinn his shy smile. There was a commotion at the door, and Perry snatched away the hand he had started to lift to Quinn’s face.
Sam Hopkins, the Black Wolf’s manservant since childhood and now steward aboard the Audacious
, bustled in. He carried another bottle and a bowl of warm water for hand-washing, which he set on the sideboard. From the new bottle, he poured what proved to be a fine burgundy into goblets. Quinn took the one offered to him and sipped appreciatively—it was not often fine wine made its way to the New World undamaged by the heat.
“Where’s Kit?” asked Perry.
Sam folded his lips in disapproval. “He’s only just risen. I sped my way over, knowing you’d be waiting.”
“The morning’s full gone—Kit’s no slug-a-bed,” said Quinn, mildly surprised his friend had not yet made an appearance. He contemplated the little man, whose face was twisted with what he could only interpret as worry. “Is himself ill?”
“Nay, nay,” said Sam, fiddling with one of the bottles. “’Tis naught, Gabe. I swear ’tis naught.”
“Plague take you, Sam, is there aught amiss with him?”
Sam hesitated. “The captain’s taken up with that feathercock Beau Ashburn.”
Incredulous, Quinn said, “You’re never meaning Raphe?”
“Aye, the very same.”
“I thought Night Hawk
was at the Isle of St. Catherine with Mansvelt.”
has returned to Port Royal.”
Quinn chewed this over, more than a little shocked by the news.
Captain Raphe Ashburn was one of Edward Mansvelt’s adherents. Mansvelt had long sailed under marques issued by Jamaica, but he was from Curaçao and most of his crew were Dutch. When Governor Modyford had withdrawn the letters of marque against the Spanish, Mansvelt had left, setting up a base on the Isle of St. Catherine. Night Hawk
, pillaging up and down the Spanish Main when the news had broken, joined Mansvelt there along with several other buccaneer ships. Many wondered where their true loyalties lay: with England or the Dutch Republic, or if they would stay neutral in the coming conflict between the two powers.
In Quinn’s opinion, Captain Ashburn—dubbed “the Beau” for his foppish grooming—was not a man who could be trusted. Quinn wondered that his friend had become entangled with him. Then he recalled the Beau as he had last seen him, looking up at Quinn as he stood on the main deck of Night Hawk
, bathed in sunshine, his face lit up with laughter. Quinn understood exactly what had captivated the Black Wolf.
“How long has this been afoot?” he asked Sam, scowling.
“Weeks. Since you were up at Varney Hall. Master Kit asked Mistress Nell to invite the man to dine, for seemingly he’s a gentleman, and there are few enough of those here. And gentleman he may be, but I like it not. The captain left with him the next morn and has spent every night since in his bed. And him still grieving for his beautiful lady.”
Quinn wondered what Sam knew of his master’s guilt for what had happened this summer past. It was no secret that the Black Wolf mourned La Calotte Rouge, whose ship had been destroyed in battle along with most of her crew. But few knew that Quinn had been captured in that battle and taken to a fearsome dungeon by the Spanish, where he had been tortured and violated. And even fewer knew why.
In sooth, the Black Wolf had not been responsible for La Calotte Rouge’s reckless behavior in chasing the Spanish prize, egged on by the Defiant
’s crew. It did not stop him blaming himself, for it was his own covert work for King Charles that had led the Spaniards to his ladylove. And in his bruised soul, Quinn blamed his friend as well. He fought hard to suppress it, knowing he was being unjust—he had accepted the king’s secret commission himself, all those years ago, and he had always known the risks of being an intelligencer.
Since their return to Port Royal, the Black Wolf had not lacked companions who had satisfied his physical desires. But none had touched him any deeper than that. Quinn wondered if Beau Ashburn had succeeded where the others had failed.
“At least Raphe has tolerable table manners, unlike the last paramour Kit brought to supper,” said Quinn with a grimace. “She put on that many airs and graces and then proceeded to pick her teeth—and worse—at the bloody table. Though at least herself made him laugh,” he added.
“You should be happy to see Kit settle on someone, Sam,” said Perry gently. “Since La Calotte Rouge died, he’s not spent more than a night or two with any companion.”
“That may be, and none of them tempted him to remain in Port Royal neither,” said Sam in repressive accents, “where he’s been fox-drunk six nights out of seven. Of course, he was hunting the fox at Varney Hall every day, though not overly. For Mistress Nell would not stomach a man to be always in his drink, not even her own brother.”
Perry shrugged. “Buccaneers are commonly fox-drunk more or less for the entire storm season.”
“Not the captain,” said Sam firmly. “I’ve not seen him like this for many a year. The last time was when the tyrant Cromwell died, but that was more by way of a celebration, bitter as it was.”
“None of us were properly sober for days then—including yourself, if I recall aright.” Quinn put a hand on the man’s shoulder, adding, “He’s a man grown, Sam. Give him time to grieve.”
“It’s been months, Gabe,” said Sam in a tight voice. “’Tis bad enough that I fear I must hide the rum from him when we rove, lest he—” The steward broke off, biting his lip. “No matter, no matter,” he continued hastily, turning so Quinn could not see his face. “I’ll see what’s to do in the kitchen. Alice has promised us a feast.”
They could hear him clattering down the stairs. Perry turned to Quinn.
“I have no acquaintance with this Captain Ashburn. It seems you know him well.”
Grimacing, Quinn was not certain what to say. “I did, once,” he said finally, stealing a glance at his lover. “He was… But that’s a conversation for later.”
Perry gave him a speculative look. “What sort of man is he?”
“Raphe—uses. He does little without an eye to how he will benefit. And he’s so charming about it, you bloody well thank him for it.”
“Is there need for concern?”
“Mayhap. I should have known there was more to Kit wishing to give us time alone when he left Rosewood House to stay with his sister.”
Perry took Quinn’s face in his hands. “You weren’t to know he left Varney Hall. And four months is not such a long time to mourn. Perchance him taking a proper lover is a good sign.”
“A man? You know Kit has a preference for women.”
Perry snorted. “I also know men must be adaptable in Jamaica—there are twenty men or more for every free woman here. Kit is too fastidious to have much truck with strumpets, and serving women are hardly his style. Sam said Captain Ashburn is a gentleman. As long as this man consoles him, does it matter that he’s not a woman?”
Looking into his lover’s grave eyes, he felt reassured. Perry was ever a calming influence. He swooped in for a kiss, and his arms stole around Perry’s waist as he pulled his lover to his chest. Their tongues touched. Perry’s eyes closed as he melted into Quinn’s arms.
Quinn felt a stirring within him and was delighted. They had already made love for an hour or two that morning, and he had been gloriously sated by the end. But it had been a long time since his appetite had returned so swiftly after fucking. He gripped Perry’s arse, pulling him to his groin. As they kissed, he wondered how long this meeting would take, impatient for it to end before it had even begun.
“God’s me, are you about to couple on the floor?” came a cheerful voice. “I’d have thought this constant billing and cooing would be a thing of the past for such veteran lovers as yourselves! Shall I give you another five minutes?”
Perry gave a guilty start, but Quinn refused to release him. Behind them, the interloper entered the room and could be heard pouring wine, but Quinn finished off the kiss properly before lifting his head. He smiled sinfully at his lover, and Perry’s eyes gleamed, filled with unspoken promise. Dropping his arms, Quinn finally looked across the room.
The Black Wolf stood by the table, hand casually resting on his hip, a teasing grin on his lips. Quinn raised his eyebrows, returning that mischievous look with one of his own.
“Five minutes? You insult me, Kit.”
He embraced his friend, holding him at arm’s length for a moment to study his face. The Black Wolf was certainly thinner, his face a touch drawn, and he had lost some of his tan. He was as well-groomed as ever, though Quinn wondered how much of that was due to Beau Ashburn, who was infamous for his primping. The dark circles under his friend’s deep blue eyes, he put down to a long night of fucking—the Beau was an insatiable lover. As the silence between Quinn and the Black Wolf grew, those eyes began to dance, but Quinn could detect shadows behind the insouciance.
“Well?” drawled the pirate captain, his eyebrow cocked. “Have you refreshed your memory of my appearance?”
“By Holy Mary, is that gray in your beard I’m seeing?” Quinn danced back with a laugh when the Black Wolf aimed a lazy cuff at him.
The Black Wolf turned to Perry and gripped his hand in greeting. “I trust you are recovered from last month’s festivities?” he asked, grinning broadly when Perry groaned in memory.
“I’ll not try to match pirates in drinking again; I’ve not the fortitude.”
“My sister married a respectable man!” cried the Black Wolf with mock offense. “Toby is no pirate; he’s a merchant.”
“Ha, they’re only the worst pirates in Port Royal,” said Quinn.
“’Tis a sad state of affairs that even a merchant can drink me under the table,” said Perry mournfully.
The Black Wolf slapped Perry on the shoulder. “Give us another year. We’ll make a man out of you yet.”
Much to Quinn’s amusement, Perry saluted their captain with an obscene gesture known as the fig of Spain before he dropped into one of the chairs and lounged back comfortably. Quinn smiled. The old Perry would have waited for permission and then sat bolt upright, hands clenched on his knees rather than clasped behind his head, feet flat on the floor instead of stretched out in front of him and crossed at the ankles. And his face would be shuttered tight, as blank as a stone, not alight with mirth. Quinn marveled at the difference these last few months had made to his lover.
At this moment, Sam returned with a young man who, under Sam’s stern eye, began to lay the table with a white cloth and eating utensils. He acknowledged his master with a brief nod.
“The boys will bring in food anon,” said Sam, addressing the room in general. “You’ll be pleased to know I’ve cast my eye over the kitchen. The fare is barely worthy of my master—as I’ve told them—but alas, it must needs suffice.”
“I’faith, Sam, don’t plague the staff! They’ll spit in the soup!” exclaimed the Black Wolf.
“Nay, Master Kit. Alice is in charge, and she would not countenance such a thing. In fact, she and I will sit down to a cozy meal in her private parlor whilst you gentlemen sup in here.”
Quinn hid a grin, accustomed to Sam’s antics with the gentle sex. Strangely, despite the shortage of the fair sex in the colony, the ladies never seemed to mind that he would not settle on any one of them.
“Be off with you, then,” said the Black Wolf, shooing the little man from the room.
“I fail to understand his popularity with women,” said Quinn, shaking his head. “I thought they do not like to tower over their flirts. Mayhap that great moustache of his makes recompense for his lack of height.”
“Nay, ’tis that he listens to them and takes them seriously. If you treat them with respect and enter into their interests, you’ll have women eating out of your hand.”
“Jesu, Kit, lessons on charming women are wasted on me,” said Quinn with some humor. “But Sam is not without his attractions—he is an excellent cook, after all. And most handy with his knives. He would make as good a matelot as he would a husband.”
“I’m sure your approval would gratify him greatly, Gabe,” said the Black Wolf in a dry tone.
“Some think he is your matelot,” said Perry humorously.
“They think I would, so soon after—” Their captain cut himself off, his mouth thin with displeasure.
“That hasn’t stopped you fucking Raphe,” said Quinn sharply.
A satirical smile twisted the Black Wolf’s lips. “You have been busy. You only arrived in Port Royal last night.”
Quinn scowled. “You cannot have thought ’twould be long ere I heard the gossip. Jesu, Kit, I’d not have thought it of you.”
His friend’s gaze flicked to Perry looking out of the window and pretending not to hear. Nevertheless, the Black Wolf dropped his voice. “It’s not as if I’m poaching, Gabe.”
“Of all men, did you have to pick him? Mansvelt has other captains.”
“Raphe is his most trusted.”
“Which means you cannot be trusting him.”
Lifting his chin, the Black Wolf shot a haughty look down his fine nose. “When I need your counsel, Master Quinn, be sure I’ll ask for it.”
There was a tense silence. Quinn stared angrily into his friend’s uncompromising eyes. Of a sudden, the Black Wolf’s face crumpled, and he looked away.
“I know you mean all for the best, Gabe,” he said in a low voice. “But ’tis enough to have Sam clucking about me. I know what I do, old friend. Prithee, trust me now.”
Quinn could think of nothing to say to comfort his friend that would not sound patronizing, and he merely put his hand on the man’s shoulder, squeezing hard. Looking over his head at Perry, quiet in his chair, Quinn smiled assurance at his lover, grateful for his tact in not attempting to interfere. The Black Wolf covered Quinn’s hand with his own, and they stood thus in silence. Footsteps ran lightly up the stairs, heralding the arrival of their meal, or so Quinn thought.
“Gabriel Quinn, you sly rover! When I heard the fate of the Defiant
, I feared you were dead.”
At the sound of that familiar voice, Quinn was both startled and annoyed. Releasing his grip on his friend, he looked over his shoulder to see a man he had hoped never to see again.
His eyes bright with mockery, Captain Raphe Ashburn sauntered into the room.
The man on the threshold seemed to cast all about him into shadow, as if he possessed an aura of light. All unconscious, Quinn turned to face him. He closed his eyes for a breath longer than a blink.
When he opened his eyes again, the spell was broken. The man was fair to the eye, to be sure, but he was a mere mortal.