Byron's eyes blazed with fury; Vyper felt his cock jerk again. There was nothing, Vyper decided, as arousing as this man when he is angry. "Byron, listen to me. She wants only one thing -- your money. She doesn't care a whit about you. There is something wicked in that woman, evil. I saw it in her eyes, heard it in her voice when she tried to turn you over to me."
"You know nothing of her." Byron's expression gave away his true feelings. He knew Vyper spoke the truth, even if he didn't want to admit it. "Tell me, what good am I to you, Vyper? I have no money in my pocket. My documents are in the house, and all the gold I possess is in the bank in Port Royal, or in England. I am but a pauper here on your ship."
"Albeit a well satisfied one," Vyper added, chuckling as Byron's face darkened from red to purple.
"If my sister is as coldhearted as you claim, she'll not pay a farthing for my return. Let me see to her safety, and I swear to you I will pay whatever you wish."
"She'll not have the funds to pay me, not while I have you, even if she wished it so," Vyper retorted. "You hold the purse strings. She will inherit only if you die. Why do you care so much for the welfare of a woman who wishes you dead?"
"She does not!"
"Byron, you may lie to me, but surely you can't deceive yourself!" Vyper insisted. "She tried to sell you to me, and as I recall, you tried to better the offer if I took her instead!"
"She was half-crazed with fright," Byron mumbled, turning away. "As was I."
"Ha! You were positively joyous at the possibility of ridding yourself of the shrew."
"Lies! She is my sister!"
"Blood between siblings means nothing when it is bad," Vyper countered. "Should I allow you to return home, she might well slit your throat in your sleep."
Byron grew quiet. He seemed to look everywhere but at Vyper, then his shoulders slumped as if in defeat. He sat on the edge of Vyper's bunk, staring at his hands. "She was not always this way. As a child, she was pure sunshine, always smiling, always laughing. She followed me everywhere; I called her my pinafore shadow. Then, just as she stepped over the threshold to womanhood, she... changed. She became demanding and jealous of me. Envious of the freedoms I enjoyed as a man." His voice dipped into a whisper so low Vyper needed to strain to hear him. "It became worse after my parents died and we went to live with our uncle. She would come to me with the most outrageous stories..."
Vyper nodded. It all sounded very much in keeping with his perception of Elizabeth's temperament. He'd thought when he met her she would make a good pirate. Her actions spoke of ruthlessness, and he wondered what might have happened to change her from a happy child to a venomous snake. Then again, he knew too well that some men -- and women, as well, it appeared -- were simply born bad. Perhaps she was one of those.
He placed his sword down on the desk again, a sign of trust he wasn't sure Byron would comprehend. "What do you wish me to do, Byron? I cannot set you free, not yet. I have my men to consider, and the booty promised them by your sister. It is the reason we sailed to Jamaica in the first place, and our journey was not without risk, I assure you. I may understand your dilemma and commiserate, but they will not be so inclined."
"What? What do you mean?"
Vyper quickly relayed the story of finding the bottle with Elizabeth's note inside, and following its imperative to rescue her from Byron, and their narrow escape from the Ares.
"Good Heavens! Surely not even Elizabeth would... but why should I find it more shocking than her wanting me dead?" Byron rubbed his eyes as if weary. "I don't know what to do now." There was such despondency in Byron's voice that it caught Vyper by surprise. It saddened him to see this vibrant man, so handsome and strong, brought so low by his sister's treachery. It was like seeing a glorious African lion caged and tormented, not by its keeper, but by the lioness of its own pride. "I suppose in the morning we may go ashore and I will withdraw the funds from the bank sufficient to secure my release."
Vyper gave a short laugh. "I am sorry, Byron, but I cannot trust you to go alone, yet what do you think the fine bankers will do when you walk into their facility with a pirate at your side? I fear we must think of an alternate plan." He gestured toward the door. "Come. Let us go topside. Some fresh, cool night air will help clear your mind." He gave a short, courtly bow, and genteelly held out his hand.
Byron didn't take his hand. He blinked, as if suddenly coming awake from a dream, and straightened his spine. "You, sir, are a pirate who kidnapped me, and moments ago took advantage of me. Why are you being so kind to me? What are you playing at?"
Vyper gaped, deeply offended by Byron's remark. He was a thief, yes, but for all his rough talk and occasional lecherous thoughts, he'd never taken a man unwillingly. He'd never had occasion to -- the men he'd bedded came to him most willingly. The accusation stung his pride. "Aye, I suppose I did kidnap you, but you were more than willing to submit to my attentions! That was your seed on your stomach, Byron," Vyper said sternly. "It was my name on your lips at the end, when your body convulsed around my cock."
"You are a vulgar man." Byron's voice was harsh, but the look in his eyes softened. "Not to mention a pirate," he added. He said it with the ghost of a smile on his lips.
"I may be a pirate, but I speak the truth and you know it," Vyper said. He refused to return Byron's smile with one of his own. His pride was still bruised. "I do have some honor, sir."
Byron's humbled look was obviously feigned, and there was a twinkle in his eye as he gave Vyper a short bow. "Oh, my apologies, sir. Truly, it was insensitive of me to insult my kidnapper."
Vyper snorted, finally relenting. Truly, the man was far too entertaining for him to remain angry. "Apology accepted. Come now, I wish for fresh air and salty breezes."
Byron reluctantly took his hand, and Vyper led him up the narrow stairs to the quarterdeck, then to the rail. They gazed out over the brilliant turquoise water of the Caribbean at the island floating like an emerald before them. The sun reflected off the water in countless sparkling diamonds. Vyper never tired of gazing at it. Spread before them was treasure beyond reckoning, free for all who cared to look.
As they stood watching, shoulder to shoulder, pirate and prisoner, each man lost in his own thoughts, all Hell broke loose.