Quinn stepped out of the quarter gallery to see the Black Wolf striding down the passageway. The captain looked surprised to see him, and his eyes flicked down to Quinn’s sketchy attire. Try as he might, Quinn could not wipe the sinful smile from his face. Involuntarily, his eyes darted along the passageway to Perry’s door, shut fast.
The Black Wolf eyed the closed door. “I see,” he said with a wicked grin of his own. “Our Mr. Peregrine is full of surprises.”
“Oh, indeed he is. Quite—er—enchanting surprises, as it turns out.”
“We can trust him, then?”
“Thomas is no conscious part of any mischief, of that I’m sure,” said Quinn firmly.
The captain cocked an eyebrow at Quinn’s use of Perry’s name. He jerked his head toward his stateroom. “Let us discuss this in private. Your presence is fortuitous. Things have moved apace, and I’ve been contemplating under what guise to send for you. ’Tis as well you now have an excellent pretext to be here often!” he added, his merry eyes dancing.
Quinn glanced at Perry’s door again, knowing his lover was eager for him, but both of them must wait on the captain’s pleasure. In any case, Perry had been told to stay; when Quinn gave a command, he expected obedience. He knew a fleeting wish that he had restrained his young lover. The thought of Perry waiting, bound and powerless and expectant, did pleasant things to his cock, and he wondered if Perry would enjoy such things as much as he did. To learn Perry, to make and unmake him, to find that which most provoked him to shake and weep and dread, to enslave him with naught but a touch, was fast becoming an ambition with him.
The Black Wolf closed the door behind them. His stateroom was a large, low-pitched room with a double row of latticed windows at the stern, several of them propped open. Taking up one corner was a large desk covered in papers. Tucked into its alcove, the double berth was rumpled, the velvet curtains that concealed it drawn back and tied open. La Calotte Rouge was not in evidence, but she had left a reminder—a stain on the wall that looked as if a full wine bottle had smashed against it. Recalling the noise of shattering glass last night, Quinn lifted his eyebrows in unspoken question. The Black Wolf grimaced and shrugged. The rumors that the lovers were at odds again did indeed have foundation, Quinn thought.
He was grateful that the room was empty; he would as lief not deal with any of the various moods of his tumultuous captain this morning. She had a distressing habit of appearing indecently clad before him. She knew well he was indifferent to her charms, but it disturbed him even so. If she had been prosaic about it, he would not have cared, but she flirted, flaunting her body, trying to elicit some reaction from him. He sighed. La Calotte Rouge was ever a woman to desire what she could not have.
“It seems this Captain Weedon Mr. Peregrine has been meeting with is a sword master, retired from the army,” said the Black Wolf, waving Quinn toward a chair. “He was one of Prince Rupert’s men, left at Barbadoes after the Defiance
sank. He made his way to Port Royal some years ago, and now he takes students.”
“And Thomas has been training with him?”
“Yes. It seems innocent enough, though one can never really tell. Did Mr. Peregrine meet with any other yesterday?”
Quinn shrugged. “No one of consequence. Although as you say, one can never really tell. But he was slipped some kind of soporific at the Ingleside last night. ’Tis a strange coincidence, and I’m not a great lover of coincidences.”
“Nor I,” said the captain thoughtfully, rubbing his chin. “You must be sure of him, then. Or did you think to test his innocence by fucking him?”
Quinn pursed his lips in an attempt not to look as smug as a cat with a bowl of cream. He failed miserably. “Mayhap a little of both. I cannot fathom why he was foisted on us. You suspected he was a radical, but there’s no sign.”
He deliberately said nothing of Perry’s father, neither of his execution nor of his having been an Ironside. The Black Wolf had almost as much reason to hate Cromwell’s soldiers as he himself did. If his friend did not know—though Quinn would be very surprised if that were the case—telling him now would only confuse the issue. There was no profit in digging up the past; Perry was not his father, Quinn told himself firmly. And I am not mine.
The Black Wolf steepled his forefingers and rested them upon his mouth. “He has radical connections, and I’ve heard him myself sermonizing on the evils of demon rum and rampant buggery.”
“I think we’ve seen an end to that prating nonsense,” said Quinn, the self-satisfied grin still on his face. “Rum aside, he was intriguingly rampant with buggery last night. He’s far from regretting it this morning. In fact, he is—ah—waiting for me as we speak.”
The Black Wolf’s lips twisted in his wicked smile. “Anon, Gabe, anon.” He put one booted foot up on the desk, a habit most deplored by his manservant, and tilted his chair back. “I suppose Mr. Peregrine cannot be so very Puritan, then, but he’s overly nice in his habits. He keeps clothes on to swim—even to wash himself, I’m told.”
Quinn’s smile faded suddenly. “He has reason. I believe ’twas only because he forgot himself that I saw what I did.” He passed his hand over his hair, tugging its length tied at his nape. “They abused him, you know, on Royal Covenant
. I know not who Captain bloody Killjoy thinks he is, but he had Thomas flogged. He’s shamed by the marks.”
The Black Wolf’s eyes widened. “Faith, ’tis against all tradition to punish a lieutenant thus. Have you any notion why?”
“He’d fain not speak of it, and I had no wish to press him. I’ve a suspicion it was… Well, Thomas is a most attractive man.”
“Perchance it was something different.” The Black Wolf rubbed his beard thoughtfully. “Pobjoy called Mr. Peregrine useless, but someone must think well of him, for he is a commissioned lieutenant. Certes, I’ve found the boy to be capable and effective. The crew may have little liking for him, but they name him a proper seaman, and you know how high a compliment that is.”
“I know what lazy sods they are too! He makes them work hard, to be sure.”
The Black Wolf laughed. “By the by, oftentimes he volunteers for the anchor watches when we port, which has sweetened the crew toward him somewhat.”
“He does? I thought you had assigned him the watch permanently, to curtail his activities.”
“Nay, I’m not Pobjoy, to treat my crew thus! And how shall we discover whether he’s an intelligencer if we don’t give him the freedom to betray us? You know I’ve been watching him closely since he came to us. When we were in Baracoa, he met with another retired soldier. I found nothing sinister about the old man, bar that he was overfond of rum. He was no teacher, but he had a reputation for knife fighting in his day. Mayhap our lieutenant persuaded the man to give lessons. It makes sense when you consider Mr. Peregrine’s prowess with a blade.”
“That was a surprise. I thought we’d be nursing his arse through battles. The navy lads I’ve known are proper sailors, but not true fighters. I’ve not seen him in battle myself, but the men tell me Thomas is a genius with a rapier and swift with his daggers.”
“He is. Hand to hand, only Polly and Ty accounted for more of the enemy, and you know a fighting pair takes exponentially more men than a single fighter. Notwithstanding, Mr. Peregrine was somewhat altered in mood these last few days, and last night was the first night he has gone carousing. Had I not been summoned by the governor to attend his damned soirée, I’d have followed him myself instead of asking you to.”
Quinn was thoughtful. “You know he lost his cabin mate. Thomas has few enough friends, and Nick Watson’s death hit him hard.”
“I see. I’d not considered that. He was as cool as a glacier when he carried poor Nick from the enemy ship.”
“Sure, he’s not as cold as we thought, Kit.”
“Evidently not!” The Black Wolf’s expressive eyes danced.
Quinn’s eyes gleamed in answer. “He was seeking old-fashioned comfort last night. I thought he had gone to the Ingleside in error, but I was quite wrong about his—er—appetites.”
“That, too, is evident! I had no notion he was disposed to men.”
“He managed to get entangled with Peter Forker. I was rather surprised when I saw the man loll on him like a lover and Thomas smile upon him.” Quinn’s lips thinned, and he knew a stab of irritation when he recalled seeing the young pickpocket with his hands all over Perry.
“To my knowledge, Forker is but a petty thief. Forsooth, there is the odd murder he is rumored to have knowledge of, but I cannot imagine anyone trusting him enough to employ him as an agent. You don’t think Mr. Peregrine met with him deliberately to pass a message?”
“I doubt that, the little cogger tried to drug him. ’Tis hardly his usual style; he hits his victims over the head. Perchance he is trying a new method.”
The Black Wolf pursed his lips, thinking for a moment or two. “Or it could be someone is trying to get rid of our lieutenant.” He gave Quinn a speculative look. “I did not tell you, but I have an additional reason for keeping a close watch on him. It may be that he is in danger. Pobjoy gave me a mouthful of shit about a change in naval policy toward the Brethren and then handed me Mr. Peregrine. I know perfectly well that no other buccaneer captain has been given a ‘naval liaison’ as he puts it, which means he’s been very clever or very stupid. However clumsy Pobjoy is, he’s not stupid. He must know that I know.”
“You mean no man but Thomas was reassigned?”
The captain nodded. “I had thought Pobjoy had sent someone to spy on us; what if, instead, he fears he is being spied on? And he has deliberately put his suspect in harm’s way by telling a patent falsehood and putting him on a ship filled with men who’d think nothing of hitting him on the head and dropping him over the side.”
Quinn’s hand resting on the desk curled into a fist as he stared into space. “Devil roast the cods off him!” he said softly. “The toad-spotted scut thought we’d dispose of Thomas and keep his accursed hands clean.”
“I can think of no other reason for the foolishness of the story the man gave me.”
“But if Thomas is spying on Killjoy, that would signify he is on our side, so to speak.” Quinn looked at his friend, who grimaced and shrugged. “Mayhap we should just ask him.”
“Nay! We cannot show our hand—there are more than two sides in this game of politics, Gabe. I confess Mr. Peregrine greatly puzzles me. I fear I cannot read him at all.”
“Kit, you’re seeing shadows where there are none. Thomas is innocent of any treason, I assure you.”
The pirate captain stroked his chin, his eyes staring into the distance. “If he’s innocent, ’tis safer for him to know nothing. And we are safer too, for he cannot betray our secrets all unknowing.”
Slowly Quinn gave a reluctant nod, and another thought occurred to him. “The incident at the Ingleside—perchance Killjoy thought he could make Thomas disappear, and we’d still be blamed.”
A calculating smile slid onto the Black Wolf’s face. “If so, Mr. Peregrine has not made it easy for his old captain. With the exception of last night, he never stays ashore after dark, nor carouses in the manner of a sailor and thus renders himself vulnerable. He is an excellent fighter—I wonder if he has fended off attacks in the backstreets before now? Mayhap you can find a way to ask him. If Pobjoy has been frustrated in such an endeavor, you may have judged last night’s attempt aright.”