“Curse ye, gawah! This is private!” thundered Crook at someone behind Job.
“Private? God rot it, Crook, you’re on the sodding main deck!”
Garrett. Job’s stomach dropped, and he was swamped with shame that the man had seen him on his knees, sucking cock.
“Pox take you, I’ve nae bloody cabin! This is as private as it gets.”
Job was plucked from the deck. Garrett’s arms wrapped around him, pulling him close. He buried his face in a shirt-covered chest.
“What the bloody hell do you think you’re about?” Garrett snarled.
Job was about to answer, but the question had not been directed at him.
“I’d hae thought that was fair bloody obvious,” snapped Crook. “Fucking, that’s what we’re about.”
“By Holy Mary, he’s little more than a grommet. Since when does your taste run to children?”
“I’m nae boy fucker, Garrett. He’s well old enough! And dinnae call me a poacher either—he said he wasnae with you.”
“When did he tell you that? When you dragged him from his bunk?”
“Dragged him? He followed me!”
A hand cradled Job’s chin, and his face was tilted up. He lowered his eyes, unable to meet Garrett’s.
“Tell me soothly, Job, did you follow Crook up here?” The question was gentle.
Job shook his head. “It-it was by chance. But then he wanted me to— I knew I had to.”
Garrett’s lips thinned, and he looked at Crook. “Are you not content with trying to kill the lad? Do you have to force him as well?”
“Force him? God’s blood, he fell to his knees and was on my prick like a dog with a bone. He bloody wanted it.”
Garrett turned Job’s face to the moonlight. Job cringed from that all too revealing light, humiliated by his tears, knowing he was a coward.
“Is this the face of a man who wants it?” hissed Garrett.
Crook stared. Job looked away, unable to meet that horrified gaze. “Shrimp, did I hurt you? Why did you nae tell me to stop?”
Job pushed his face back into Garrett’s chest. Into that warm, sheltered place where he did not have to look at anyone. Where no one could see him. Strong arms enclosed him, holding him safe.
didn’t hurt him, Crook. He was crew on a merchant ship, and they ill-used him. They stole him from the streets when he was a boy, and forced him to be their—their beau garçon
. And then the Spanish took over. You called him a traitor because he was on their cursed ship, but the lad thought he had no choice. He’s grown up thinking he has to fuck anyone who asks.”
There was silence. Hearing it said aloud, Job knew he should feel tainted, but in Garrett’s voice there was no condemnation. In his warm embrace, there was mercy and grace. Job felt suspended, cocooned in a place where nothing mattered. Time was measured by the beat of Garrett’s heart under his ear.
“What will you do with him?” asked Crook softly. “Should we tell the crew so they leave him be?”
“I don’t trust them all with something like this—and the lad has a right to his secrets. Will you spread the word that he’s mine? And that if any man touches him, I’ll take it out of his hide personally.”
“But men will notice if you dinnae fuck.”
“Let them,” said Garrett impatiently.
“It’ll nae do, Garrett. There’ll be talk.”
“We’ll pretend, then.”
“Aye, you could do that. I’ll put it about that the lad’s right shy—oftentimes new crew are, so no man will think aught of that.”
“I’m obliged to you, Crook.”
Crook gave a short laugh. “You forget I went to sea as a grommet myself. I ken what it is to be about men as havnae seen a woman for months. I didnae suffer like this one, but I learned young how to defend myself. Someone must teach him to fight.”
“I’ll teach him to shoot.”
“Aye, but he must learn to defend himself at close quarters too. Would you like that, shrimp?”
Job peeped out from Garrett’s shirt. He was astonished that Crook smiled, his eyes soft with kindness in the moonlight. It was hard to credit the man was not angry that Job had not finished him off.
“Well, boyo?” asked Garrett, stroking his head.
“I had a knife, but the Dons took it from me. I know how to fight, a little. I would learn more. You could teach me, Garrett.”
“Garrett’s nae a knife man! He’s a musketeer.”
“I can teach him to box, though,” said Garrett.
“He hasnae the build for a bruiser,” said Crook. “You should ask Perry-grin to teach him knife play. And mayhap the sword too.”
“What, that stuck-up arse?”
“Aye, but he kens blades. And nae fearing to leave the lad with him—the man’s been railing against buggery since he came aboard us.”
“The Puritan prick. I’ve seen him at his Bible. Praying for our wicked souls, I make no doubt.”
There was a call from the quarterdeck, and Garrett looked over the top of the culverin. “Hell curse it, I’m still on watch for another hour. Job, go back to your berth. You’ll be safe there, I swear. Crook will care for you.”
Job clutched at Garrett’s shirt, terrified at the thought. Crook seemed reconciled to not fucking, but if Garrett left them alone, who knew what would transpire?
“Take him below,” said Crook. “I’ll tell Nick you’re ill and stand watch in your place.”
Garrett put his hand on Crook’s shoulder. “Much obliged—I owe you. I’ll make it right with Nick in the morning.”
“Just be grateful you’re nae on Perry-grin’s watch team. You’d think he was still with His Majesty’s high and mighty navy the way he carries on.”
With that, Crook slipped out from behind the gun. His steps echoed as he walked briskly aft to the quarterdeck.
“Come,” said Garrett and took Job’s hand. Willingly, Job followed.
There was no fear inside him now, no shaking of knees, no sinking of stomach. The conversation with Crook made it clear that Garrett had no intention of fucking him, though Job had no notion why. But for now, it was enough that he would not be coerced. Not that Garrett would have to coerce him—if the Irishman wanted him, Job knew he would submit without hesitation. Any hurt it would cause seemed unimportant in the face of his unaccustomed desire, his strange eagerness to please Garrett.
He wondered a little at that. In the past, there had been men he had liked—or at least, men he had not hated. Once the pain had passed, his cock had enjoyed what they did well enough. Some had gone so far as to declare their love for him. While their feelings had lasted, he had even grown fond of one or two. But none had inspired anything like the yearning Garrett had awoken within him.
Back on the berth deck, Garrett settled Job in his berth and turned away. Panic returned, and Job clutched his arm.
“Prithee, don’t leave me…” he whispered.
“I’ll be right by you,” Garrett whispered back.
Job made no reply, tightening his fingers. The Irishman sighed.
“Well, if we’re to let the crew think we’re fucking, I suppose we can’t be starting too soon.”
With a sigh of both relief and happiness, Job wriggled over to make room. The canvas was generous but not quite wide enough for two. Garrett climbed in, shuffling and pulling until Job lay half on top of him with his cheek resting in the hollow of Garrett’s shoulder. Job snuggled closer. Lips brushed the top of his head.
“Sleep now, shrimp,” came a soft murmur in the dark.
The hammock swung gently, rocking them both in the soothing rhythm of the ship. Job closed his eyes. He could not recall the last time he had felt this safe.