She woke to darkness, but she knew she was in a closed space. Had she died? She lifted her hands and knocked them painfully against something close to her face. She was dead, she realized with a panicked cry. No, not dead. Entombed alive. She screamed and clawed the wood above her.
Light flooded her prison. In a dizzying moment, someone hauled her to her feet, then let her fall to the floor. Her head ached, and she squeezed her eyes shut tight. "Where am I?" she managed, though she had to hold back the contents of her stomach to say it.
"You are a prisoner on the Howling Hades, my lady," a deep, strangely accented voice informed her. At once, she remembered what she had not realized she had forgotten. Screams and pain, and a ship with black sails.
"Where are you from, and where are you bound?" the voice demanded calmly.
Annabelle raised her head. The man who questioned her stood at a round table, pouring wine. Above his head, a lantern swung violently, but the pitching and tossing of the ship did not seem to trouble him. She struggled to sit up and pressed a clammy hand to her cheek. "I am Annabelle Whittington. From London. Bound for Jamaica." Something sparked within her brain, and she hastened to add, "My father is very rich. He will pay you any ransom you ask."
"He is rich, but you travel with no jewels, an arthritic old servant and threadbare gowns?" He was not mocking her, but stating it as fact. "There is no money to be had from you."
"M-my intended," she stammered. "He owns a plantation in Jamaica. Surely he could--"
"I am not going to Jamaica." He turned, and for the first time, Annabelle saw his face. The swinging lantern cast deep shadows under his brow and cheekbones, making him feral and terrifying. His hair, close cut in a style that hadn't been in fashion since Julius Caesar ruled, glinted copper in the light, and in the dark hollows of his eyes, darker black glinted there. "If your father has no money and your fiance is across the sea, what use are you to me?"
Annabelle looked down quickly. She had never seen a man in less than his shirtsleeves. This man, whoever he was, was nearly naked. He wore a long jacket of red and gold brocade, open to reveal his bare chest, and light linen pants, rolled up to the knee. His feet were bare, and Annabelle focused on his toes. She needed time to calm herself and think. "May I have some of your wine, please?"
"No. I do not think you would like this kind of wine." Was that a note of humor in his voice? If it had been, it was dispelled by what he said next: "I suppose I could cast you overboard."
"No!" Her fingernails dug into her palms. "No, please! I can be useful."
"Can you?" One of his brows rose suggestively.
"I can...sew. And cook," she blurted, knowing she could do neither, but if it kept her from being thrown overboard, she would learn.
He shook his head, dismissing her outright. "We have a cook already. And we have no need for pretty dresses."
Her mind raced, but she could not think of a single thing to save herself except to resort to pleading. "Do not kill me, I beg you! I am to be married. I don't want to die!"
"I doubt anyone would want to die, if they were given the choice," he replied with a bitter laugh. "But perhaps you're right. You should live and be useful." His lips parted in a smile, and the tips of two sharp teeth showed. Fangs.
Annabelle screamed and threw herself backward, forgetting the coffin behind her. She fell across it, the wood biting into her back. All the time, the monster advanced. "Demon," she shouted, scrambling over the coffin and crouching behind it. "You're a demon!"
"How astute of you." He laughed and swiped the coffin out of the way as though it were a child's toy.
"Stay back!" Her body shook and her head ached. One of his large hands closed over her shoulder, and she slapped it away. "You said you would let me live!"
"I did." He reached for her again and, when she resisted, he pulled her against him, crushing her arms to her sides. "You're of little use to me dead."
His body, hard and strong against her, was unlike anything she had ever felt. Her mind involuntarily recalled the illustrations in her father's book, and she shuddered in spite of her fear. "What...do you want from me?"
He crushed her in the bend of one arm and used his other hand to brush aside her hair. "What do you think I want?"
Squeezing her eyes shut, Annabelle forced herself to remember that she stood in the grasp of a demon from the very depths of hell. At least, that was what she suspected. She had very little experience with demons. "What are you?"
Though she did not open her eyes, she knew he smiled from the sound of his voice as he spoke, tracing his fingers up and down the side of her neck. "Just a man."
Hardly. "You are not. You have..." She could not say the word.
"Not just a man, then," he whispered close to her ear. "A pirate."
Something warm and wet grazed her neck, and her body realized before she did that it was his tongue. He had put his mouth on her. Her legs no longer supported her, and she was strangely glad for his arm around her waist. Her skin prickled with sensation under the hot, wet path his tongue left as it laved lower, toward her... Certainly he would not touch her there. She swallowed hard, her breath hitching, forcing her breasts to swell over the neckline of her gown. She moaned as his head moved lower, his mouth gliding over the tops of her breasts.
There was a loud banging, and someone called, "Captain, sunup!"
The man released her with a curse. "You are free to move about the ship," he fairly growled. "I will decide your fate this evening."
"My fate?" She gasped out the words, still overcome by the intimate way he'd touched her. "What do you mean, my fate?"
Unbelievably, he did not answer her, but righted the coffin and climbed inside.
"You promised you would not kill me!" she shouted as he pulled the lid up and closed himself inside. "You promised!"
But there was no answer. She was alone.