The Matelot [MultiFormat]
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eBook by Ariel Tachna
eBook Category: Erotica/Gay-Lesbian Erotica/Romance
eBook Description: Their pirate vessel destroyed, Captain Amery White, ship's surgeon Gavin Watson, and quartermaster Quinn Davies are left without a livelihood or a home. The three men have served together since they were old enough to put to sea, sharing hardships and comfort until Amery and Gavin formalized their union with a matelotage--the pirate equivalent of a marriage contract. Now they've been offered a letter of marque and a fine English galleon with enough speed and firepower to catch and capture any ship in the Caribbean. But their mission brings back memories long buried and puts a strain on Amery and Gavin's relationship, especially when the Silver Queen captures a Spanish slave ship, bringing the very young, very beautiful, and very abused Eliodoro to their crew. Quinn finds himself torn between the love he's always had for his friends and his desire for their new crew member. When secrets from the past come to light and cause a rift between Amery and Gavin, Quinn will have to choose between substituting for Gavin's true love and becoming the center of Eliodoro's world.
eBook Publisher: Dreamspinner Press/Dreamspinner Press, Published: 2010, 2010
Fictionwise Release Date: March 2011
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5 Reader Ratings:
The West Indies, 1641
The Dark Dream was barely afloat, taking on water from so many leaks that the carpenter couldn't keep up. The crew bailed manfully to keep her from foundering, but everyone knew they had only a small chance of reaching Tortuga alive.
"Bail faster, lads, or we'll all be sleeping in the deep tonight!" Quinn Davies, quartermaster of the foundering vessel, exhorted, moving through the hold and the knee-deep water with all the confidence of his position as the keeper of order on the pirate ship. Her captain, Amery White, might choose the heading, but Quinn made sure the orders were carried out. When he was sure the crew was working their hardest, he returned to the main deck. Amery stood on the quarterdeck, steering rod in hand as he fought the wind and the drag of the ailing ship. Determination showed in every line of his face and body as the setting sun limned his golden head in a reddish glow. Automatically, Quinn sought out Gavin, the third of their merry band, the ship's surgeon in time of need and an able seaman in his own right. His heart leapt as he caught sight of his friend high in the rigging. He didn't bother to shout at him to be careful, but he wanted to. He glanced back at Amery, wondering how the captain felt about having his lover aloft in the precariously swinging ropes.
"Land ho!" Gavin shouted over the roar of the wind, for while the storm that had scuppered them had passed, the near-gale winds remained.
"Quinn," Amery called, the familiarity unusual on the deck of the ship. However comfortable they were with each other in private--a level that had varied drastically in the twenty years of their friendship--Amery never used Quinn's or Gavin's first names in front of the crew. That he used it now told more clearly than words could ever say how desperate the situation truly was. "Take the spyglass up to Gavin. We need to know where we're heading."
"Aye, Captain," Quinn replied, trying subtly to remind Amery of their audience, but the captain didn't seem to notice or care. His eyes were fixed firmly on the horizon as if he could bring the land Gavin had spotted closer by will alone. Quinn fetched the spyglass and scrambled up the rigging with the ease of nearly twenty years at sea.
Gavin took the glass in silence, peering through it in the direction of their destination.
"Can you make anything out?" Quinn asked, studying Gavin's face.
"Not enough," Gavin replied. "I don't have Amery's memory for landmarks. There's a reason he's captain and I'm the ship's surgeon."
Quinn laughed. "Because he fainted when he had to watch you amputate that boy's leg."
"Don't say that where the crew can hear you," Gavin laughed. "They'll vote him out and try to make one of us take his place."
"And that would be the death of us all," Quinn agreed, sobering. "Let me see if I can make anything out."
Gavin handed Quinn back the spyglass, moving over to make room for Quinn in the crow's nest. Scanning the horizon, Quinn located the shadow of land Gavin had sighted, running its length with his eyes, searching for any recognizable features. He could not find the distinctive headland that marked Tortuga, but it was only visible from the south, and as buffeted as they'd been by the storm, they were not coming toward the island from that direction. The island was lush with greenery despite the mountainous terrain, though, suggesting they could at least find fresh water and game, as well as plenty of wood, while they tried to repair the ship.
"I can't tell either, but it's land. I don't think we have any choice but to make landfall. The Dream isn't going to hold together much longer than that."
Gavin looked down at the listing deck. "Unfortunately, I think you're right."
"Let me go tell Amery," Quinn said, throwing a leg back over the wall of the crow's nest and descending to the deck again.
"Well?" Amery demanded.
"It's a port in a storm," Quinn said with a shrug. "The Dream has held together better than we could have hoped after the beating we took, but she isn't going to hold much longer."
"Assemble the crew," Amery ordered. "We'll take a vote to see if we beach here or try to make it to Tortuga."
Quinn nodded. They weren't in battle now. A decision of this magnitude belonged to the whole crew, not merely to Amery and himself.
"All hands on deck," he cried, even knowing the risk they were taking abandoning the pumps.
When everyone had gathered, Amery strode to the railing on the quarterdeck. "We've sighted land," he told them, "but we aren't close enough to tell if it's Tortuga, some other colony, or an uninhabited island. We can put ashore and take our chances, or we can keep going in the hopes of making it to a friendly harbor. I know what my preference would be, but this isn't my decision. What says the crew?"
The thirty men muttered and argued for a few minutes, but finally Cullen, the boatswain and unofficial spokesman of the crew, stepped forward. "We'll heed your judgment and the quartermaster's. If you think we can make it to Tortuga, we'll give it our best to hold her together. If you think we should go ashore here, we'll do our best to get the Dark Dream back in shape as quickly as possible."
"Let's see what a closer look reveals," Amery proposed. "We can decide once we know where we are. For all we know, we could be on the north side of Tortuga."
"Back to your stations, men," Quinn ordered. "We've come too far to sink within sight of land!"
The men scrambled to return to their posts, throwing themselves into their work with even more energy than before, the sight of land enough to give them the hope of survival. Whatever Amery ended up deciding, the crew would respect that decision more for having been given a say.
An hour later, the island having come into full view, Amery made his decision. "We've found Tortuga. We need only circle the island until we reach the harbor."
The men gave it their best effort, but the ship simply had no more to give, and before they could reach the port, they had no choice but to beach the ship's remains.
Quinn, as quartermaster, saw to the division of the resources left on the ship, promising to seek out the crew when they had a ship again, but releasing them in the interim from the Articles of Agreement that had held them together these past months. If they so chose, they could find a new ship without repercussions.
They were a ragtag bunch as they straggled into Tortuga, carrying only the clothes on their backs and the few belongings they could salvage from the beached vessel.
The officers' quarters had been particularly hard-hit, leaving Quinn with the bit of change in his pocket but not even a change of clothes. Amery and Gavin had fared only little better, able to salvage a few of their belongings from the captain's cabin. The rest had washed away when the glass windows shattered in the storm.
Quinn regretted very little of what he'd lost except in terms of the cost of replacing them, but he knew Amery would miss his charts. Quinn wondered what a new set would cost.
When they reached Tortuga, the crew scattered, carrying the news of the Dark Dream's demise to every corner of town. If there were captains in port in search of a crew, they would know by morning that sailors were available. Quinn didn't know what would happen to Amery, Gavin, and himself--he couldn't imagine returning to the status of grunt after having been quartermaster. Gavin would always be in demand as a surgeon with some actual skill, having apprenticed with a ship's doctor on the first pirate ship the three of them had sailed on at seventeen, when they'd escaped the merchant ship they'd worked on. But while Quinn and Amery had twenty years of sailing experience and five years as captain and quartermaster, many of their crew had as much experience or more, and no captain would hire on someone who might displace him in the esteem of the crew. Quinn rather feared they were stuck until Amery could beg, borrow, or steal another ship.
"We need a place to sleep," Gavin declared. "We've been fighting the storm and the sea for too many hours to think clearly now. We can decide in the morning what we want to do next."
They inquired in four seedy taverns, the smoke in the air so thick they could barely breathe before they found one with rooms to rent. The proprietor looked askance when they insisted they would share a room, but ultimately the sight of their gold was enough to persuade the man to turn a blind eye and provide a trundle bed for Quinn.
After Gavin's comment about sleeping, Quinn fully expected to fall into bed and not move for the next twenty-four hours, but Amery obviously had other intentions, drawing Gavin into a torrid kiss as soon as the door shut behind them. Quinn suppressed a sigh, putting out the stub of the candle the innkeeper had provided. He couldn't blame Amery for wanting to spit in the eye of fate and celebrate their survival. He could have wished, however, that he had a room of his own while his two best friends were tupping like rams.
"I'm going to see if they serve food as well as ale in the tavern," he said abruptly, not sure he could stay and listen to the sounds of their lovemaking, knowing they would never invite him to join them.
A muffled grunt was their only reply.
Quinn closed the door behind him, a husky moan he recognized as Gavin's following him down the hall.
With a soft snort, he set out to find his own bedmate for the night, or at least the next few hours.
The Dark Dream was gone.
Amery might deny it still despite the hours they had spent cataloging the damage that afternoon, but Quinn knew better. So, Quinn suspected, did Gavin. Gavin was usually more than a little reluctant to let Amery have as much drink as they'd had tonight. Despite all the generalizations about pirates and their rum, Captain White had never been one to indulge heavily. Gavin had suffered too much at the hands of a drunken captain, back on the Lady Grace, their first ship, for Amery to do anything to remind his matelot of those days. Quinn might not have the bond with Gavin that Amery did, to his everlasting regret, but he knew both men well enough to recognize the stress they were suffering. Now he just had to figure out where they were going to get another ship, because he knew something else: Amery would go mad confined to land for more than a few weeks.
All three men turned to look at the new arrival, his evening dress out of place in the cantina where the most one could usually hope for was to have all body parts decently covered.
"Who wants to know?" Gavin asked, drawing the gentleman's attention away from Amery's golden head to his own chiseled face.
"It's come to the attention of the Crown that Captain White might be lacking a ship at the moment," the dandy explained. "And if that were to be the case, an interested party might have a new one for him."
"The Dark Dream isn't lost," Amery insisted, "merely damaged. Thank you for your--"
"And what would said interested party's offer be?" Quinn interrupted before Amery could dismiss the man entirely. Amery looked like he was about to protest, but Gavin silenced him.
"A letter of marque, a fully equipped English galleon, and a generous percentage of whatever treasure you capture," the elegantly dressed man replied, "but only if Captain White can be persuaded to actually identify himself."
"I'm White," Amery said finally after Gavin nudged him a couple of times. "Why me?"
"Because rumor has it that you're the finest captain in the West Indies and that you aren't given to drinking, despite what I've seen tonight," the noble replied, reaching in his pocket and pulling out an envelope with the captain's name inscribed on it in a bold hand. "Sober up and meet me at the wharf at noon tomorrow. If you're late or drunk, I'll consider it a refusal of my offer."
The gentleman had left their table and the tavern before they had time to do more than blink. All three men stared in silence at the envelope sitting on the scarred wood between them. Finally, Gavin picked it up and handed it to Amery. "It's got your name on it. Open it and put us all out of our misery."
Amery glared, but that had been his typical expression since they'd limped the Dark Dream into port and let the crew go a week ago with the promise to hire them on again if they could get the ship seaworthy. Amery hadn't given up hope, but Quinn didn't see it happening. She had holes in her hull the size of a house and the masts and yardarms were shredded. They had outfought and outrun many foes, but the maelstrom that caught them in its teeth and then spit them out again had been too much for their valiant lady.
"Give it to me," Quinn said impatiently. "I'll open it if he won't."
Nobody else would dare to speak to Amery that way, with the possible exception of Gavin, but they weren't on a ship at the moment and in private, Quinn treated the other two men as equals. Honestly, he treated them that way most of the time aboard ship as well, except when they were preparing for battle. They only had two secrets between them, as far as Quinn knew, and neither of them was Amery's.
Amery's glare turned on Quinn at the comment as he snatched the envelope from Gavin's hand. "That won't be necessary, Mr. Davies," he slurred. "I might be drunk, but I can still read m'own post."
Inwardly, Quinn flinched a little, but he didn't back down. Amery only called him Mr. Davies when they were in front of the men or when he was extremely put out with Quinn. Like the one time he'd caught Quinn and Gavin together, back when they were all mere sailors before Amery and Gavin formalized their matelotage. It was the one time he'd actually feared his friend.
Now he saw it for the sign of more general annoyance that it was. He'd chosen Quinn to bear the brunt of it, because being angry with Gavin was like being angry with the other half of his soul.
"So what does it say then?" Gavin asked as Amery opened the letter.
"I didn't believe him," Amery murmured, not answering Gavin's question directly. "A new ship, freshly outfitted, a crew of more than twice what we've commanded before, and a commission to take any Spanish or pirate ship that comes within view of our crow's nest. If the ship is all the gentleman says it is, we may have a new berth, mates."
"And what do we do with them once we've taken them?" Gavin inquired.
"We'll have to ask our mysterious guest tomorrow," Amery replied. "The letter doesn't say. Either way, I think we can have one more drink to celebrate"
Quinn wasn't sure that was a good idea, but even Gavin knew better than to counter Amery in certain moods, and this was one of them, that dangerous line between joviality and fury that always accompanied Amery's drinking binges. It was one of the reasons Gavin rarely let it go this far. Amery had already swaggered toward the bar.
"After this drink, get him out of here," Quinn hissed at Gavin, "even if you have to start stripping to get him to take you back to our rooms."
"He's as likely to fuck me over the table as take me somewhere private when he's like this," Gavin reminded Quinn. "And here in Tortuga, no one would think twice about it, except perhaps to egg him on."
Quinn had to admit the truth of both those statements. As it turned out, he needn't have worried. Amery brought back another round of drinks and then insisted they finish them quickly so they would be sharp for the meeting with their benefactor at noon. "It wouldn't do to miss out on an opportunity because we were too drunk to arrive on time."
Quinn quaffed his rum quickly and followed Amery and Gavin back to the rooms they'd taken while they were in port, his hand on the hilt of his sword as he glared left and right at any who thought they might take advantage of a man in his cups. That Amery was nearly as dangerous with his sword when he was drunk as he was when he was sober didn't mean Quinn had to give any of the thugs lying about the chance to get themselves killed.
Particularly since Amery seemed to have decided he was more interested in Gavin than in his own safety. Then again, Amery was always more interested in Gavin than in just about anything except his ship. Since they were between ships at the moment, Gavin was the sole focus of Amery's attentions, a fact Gavin relished, even if he didn't flaunt their relationship the way Amery sometimes did.
Arriving back where they had taken lodging, Quinn pulled the covers over his head and turned his back on his friends as soon as he could get settled, because Amery hadn't even waited for him to put out the lamp before grabbing Gavin and manhandling him onto the bed, his intentions clear as daylight. There was little privacy aboard a sailing ship unless you were the captain or one of the officers, and Quinn had more than his share of experience at ignoring the nighttime activities of the men in the bunks around him. He'd gotten used to being quartermaster, though, and having at least the screen of walls between himself and Gavin and Amery. Not that the walls on the Dark Dream had been particularly thick, but they had allowed Quinn to see to his own needs when the sounds of his friends' passions roused his own. If he imagined it was Gavin's hands on his body instead of his own, no one else would ever be the wiser.
"Amery," Quinn heard Gavin protest, "Quinn is--"
"I've got my fingers up your arse and you're worried about Quinn?" Amery growled in reply. "He's a grown man. He knows what we're about and can leave if he wants."
They all knew he wouldn't, that he'd stay and savor his own little corner of their intimacy. They just weren't quite as blunt about it most nights. Only when they'd all had too much to drink did they silently acknowledge that, but for a twist of fate, the bond that had forged between Gavin and Amery could have formed instead between Gavin and Quinn or indeed between Amery and Quinn. On nights like this, Quinn wondered what would happen if he left his lonely bunk and joined them like he had when they were all little more than boys and had nothing but bravado to show for themselves. He never took the chance because he knew that, regardless of the vagaries of fate leading to the promises between the two men in the next bed, Amery and Gavin loved each other, and he would rather suffer the tortures of the damned than do anything that might upset the balance of their lives. He had nearly driven them all apart once before when Gavin had come to his bed in a fit of pique. He would not risk doing it again.
It didn't take long for the sounds from the next bed to take on a desperate tinge and then cease altogether. When Amery was drunk, his usual self-control deserted him. A few moments later, he heard muffled snoring and let out a quiet sigh.
"I'm sorry, Quinn," Gavin whispered into the darkness. "He isn't usually quite so--"
"Yes, he is," Quinn interrupted. "Not usually with me, maybe, but he doesn't have to be drunk to stake his claim on you, and who'd blame him? Go to sleep, Gavin."
Gavin didn't reply, leaving Quinn to sigh again and try to find a comfortable position in an uncomfortable bed with an erection that showed no signs of abating. He ought to get up and leave, go down to the street and find a two-bit whore to suck him off. They'd flip up their skirts or fold down their blouses and offer him whatever he wanted for the right price. Even their pert--or not so pert--behinds. One arse was as good as another in the dark, he reminded himself, but he didn't rise, didn't seek congenial company of either gender. He told himself he needed the sleep so he'd be sharp tomorrow when they went to check out the ship they'd been offered, to make sure they weren't buying a pig in a poke.
He figured the only person who would buy that tale was lying in the next bed. Amery was about the least gullible man Quinn knew, but he had a very large, very determined blind spot where Quinn was concerned, a condition which let them all bump along together without ever having to address the rest of the reason Quinn had stayed with them instead of finding another ship. He'd never have made officer, much less quartermaster, if it weren't for Amery's blind spot. The scraps of affection the two men threw him because of their long-standing friendship, being able to see them, talk to them, occasionally even touch them, were what kept Quinn going, the reason he woke up each morning and the hope that carried him through each day.
Whatever might have been if circumstances had been different, if the Spanish slavers had turned left instead of right, had captured Amery instead of Quinn when they took Gavin, leaving Amery to rescue them both from a fate far worse than death, Amery was the conquering hero, the one who saved them and won Gavin's undying gratitude, respect, and love as his prize. Amery had gotten them back aboard the Dark Dream and gotten them the hell away from the burning slave ship, and then he'd disappeared into his cabin with Gavin. When they finally came out, three days later, they looked exhausted, but they both wore smiles and they carried a signed matelotage. The crew witnessed it, and that was the end of that. Quinn's parents, God rest their souls, had imbued him with too great a respect for the institution of marriage for him to do anything that might upset the pirate version of that estate.
Quinn seriously considered leaving after that, but Gavin had asked him to stay, saying that while he loved Amery and wanted to be with him and him alone as lovers, only Quinn truly understood the nightmare he'd gone through, the rapes they had suffered at the hands of the slavers who wanted to make sure their captives were completely broken before they sold them in the slave markets of the Barbary Coast. Quinn had tried to convince Gavin that Amery wouldn't want him around, particularly not when it hadn't been all that long since Gavin had sought comfort in Quinn's arms during one of the times when he and Amery were fighting.
Gavin disagreed, assuring Quinn that everything was forgotten now, that Amery was perfectly happy to let bygones be bygones. When it came down to it, neither Quinn nor Amery could say no to Gavin, and so Quinn stayed. Most days, most nights, Quinn was even glad of it. He couldn't ask for better friends than Amery and Gavin nor for a better position. Amery was an uncanny sailor, seeming to pull the best prizes out of thin air, navigating even the most treacherous waters with ease and prevailing far more often than he failed in battle. On any other ship, Quinn would never have made it to quartermaster at barely thirty, his ability to read Amery, even when he couldn't figure out anything else, making him invaluable to the captain. Quinn might not be able to come up with the strategies to find their quarries and take their booty, but he could read Amery's intentions like an open book once the captain had made up his mind, saving Amery from having to explain everything. He had an idea; Quinn made sure it got done.
Ultimately, Quinn had come to two conclusions. First, he needed Amery and Gavin too much to leave and start over. Second, even if Amery hadn't wanted Gavin, Gavin wouldn't have ever turned to Quinn, because Quinn had been with him on the slave ship. Quinn was the only person who understood, which was comforting outside of the bedroom, but Quinn knew, and that would have kept Gavin from ever totally relaxing in any sort of intimate interaction. At least on the ship with Amery and Gavin, Quinn could be with his friends, could know the companionship of over half their lifetimes spent serving together. He had a position, an income, a livelihood and a life, more than he would have if he'd left five years ago when Amery and Gavin formed their matelotage in the wake of the rescue from the Spanish slave ship. If, occasionally, in the dark watches of the night, he dreamed of something more, he kept those thoughts entirely to himself.