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Tamara A. Lowery

Tamara A. Lowery, Author of Waves of Darkness Tamara Lowery is a former maid and current auto industry worker. She is a graduate of Soddy-Daisy High School and Chattanooga State, where she majored in Journalism. She is a new author. She currently lives in Tennessee with her husband and the Rottentots, her cats.

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Congratulations to Tamara for being in the 2011 Preditors and Editors top ten Horror Novel Category for Blood Curse.
2011 P&H Horror

Congratulations to Tamara for being in the 2012 Preditors and Editors top ten Horror Category for Demon Bayou.
2012 P&E Top Ten Winner Badge  

Congratulations to Tamara for being in the 2013 Preditors and Editors top ten Horror Category for Silent Fathoms and in the top ten Horror Category for Black Venom in 2014
Top Ten Award for Horror, 2013 2014 top ten Horror Category P&E Readers Poll P&E 2016

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Blood Curse, Book One of Waves of Darkness by Tamara A. Lowery Demon Bayou by Tamara A. Lowery In the Dead of Winter by Tamara Lowery Silent Fathoms by Tamara A. Lowery Black Venom by Tamara A. Lowery Hell's Dodo by Tamara A. Lowery The Daedalus Enigma by Tamara A. Lowery Maelstrom of Fate by Tamara A. Lowery
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Blood Curse, Book One of Waves of Darkness by Tamara A. Lowery Known as Bloody Vik Brandee, Viktor Brandewyne had a reputation as a bloodthirsty pirate. The world would soon learn just how bloodthirsty he had become. Thanks to the vengeful curse of a powerful witch, he had become a vampire. However, since he was cursed, rather than bitten, he was not vulnerable to daylight or holy items. As curses went, he didn’t think it was all that bad, until Mother Celie, his foster mother and a witch in her own right, informed him that the curse would eventually destroy him. Now he finds himself in a race against time to find the seven Sisters of Power and gain some of their magic in order to survive the curse. He is aided in his quest by Hezekiah Grimm, his first mate; Belladonna, a siren and sea witch; and Lazarus, a creature that is sometimes a cat and sometimes a raven.
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Blood Curse by Tamara A. Lowery ORDER BLOOD CURSE PRINT TODAY! (ISBN #978-1-61950-182-9)
Demon Bayou by Tamara A. Lowery

Viktor Brandewyne’s search for the second Sister of Power leads him to the bayou country near colonial New Orleans. Along the way, he has his first encounter with vampires not made by him, as well as running afoul of smugglers. The black waters of the bayous hold their own danger as well. An ancient demon guards the way to the Sister. Worse, the siren Belladonna begins to die in the swamps. Should Viktor return the siren to the sea or continue on to the Sister? Without magic from all the Sisters, he won’t be able to break the curse that has made him a vampire before it destroys him. Without Belladonna, he cannot find the Sisters.

Word Count: 76,629
Pages to Print: 257
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Demon Bayou by Tamara A. Lowery ORDER DEMON BAYOU PRINT TODAY! (ISBN #978-1-61950-183-6)
In the Dead of Winter by Tamara Lowery

Master Torbin feels honored to be accepted to a post at the University of Cordun and eager to get there. His greatest obstacle is the long trip around the edges of the Forest of Narghill. Why is there no route through the forest? No one in the village he stops in on his way seems to know of any path through. The villagers try their best to delay Master Torbin’s departure, at least until the after the Solstice and the Winter Festival. Only one old man claims to know of a shortcut through the forest, and offers to show it to him. He soon learns why no one travels in the Forest of Narghill, especially on Solstice.

Word Count: 4696
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Silent Fathoms by Tamara A. Lowery

The search for the third Sister of Power takes Viktor Brandewyne to Mexico and the Devil’s daughter. She sends him to find devil’s hoof, but doesn’t explain exactly what it is. All Viktor knows is that she will use it to try to enslave him once he brings it back to her.

His quest strands him in the middle of the shark-infested Indian Ocean with no food or water, no wind . . . and no siren to sing one up for him. Try as he might to reach her, his bond with Belladonna has fallen silent.

Word Count: 69000
Pages to Print: 237
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Silent Fathoms by Tamara A. Lowery ORDER SILENT FATHOMS PRINT TODAY! (ISBN #978-1-61950-185-0)
Black Venom by Tamara A. Lowery

Mere Venoma Noir, the fourth Sister of Power, proves to be the most challenging yet for Viktor Brandewyne. She sets him to retrieve an amulet stolen by a notorious slave trader with a reputation for ruthlessness to rival Viktor’s and a talent for black magic. She also possesses the power to turn the siren, Belladonna, against him, and the Sister will use every tool and opportunity she can to kill the pirate-turned-vampire before he can complete his quest.

Word Count: 71350
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Black Venom by Tamara Lowery ORDER BLACK VENOM PRINT TODAY! (ISBN #978-1-61950-221-5)
Hell's Dodo by Tamara A. Lowery

Viktor Brandewyne finds himself tasked with finding the most flighty of the Sisters of Power. He tracks her from New England to the ends of the earth. She sets him the task of retrieving three things as the price for a portion of her magic: a dragon's egg, a dodo's egg, and a drop of blood from the Daughter of the Dragon, one of the few beings capable of killing him.

Lady Carpathia has her own agenda concerning Viktor. Though she comes to realize just how dangerous he is, she still hopes to seduce and use him to overthrow her master before she ultimately destroys the pirate-turned-vampire.

Fraught with danger, Viktor's chances of surviving this quest are almost as slim as those of him completing it. How can he acquire the eggs of a mythical beast or of a creature that has been extinct for nearly a century?

Word Count: 77100
Pages to Print: 180
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Hell's Dodo by Tamara A. Lowery ORDER HELL'S DODO Print Today! (ISBN: 978-1-61950-282-6)
The Daedalus Enigma by Tamara A. Lowery

The sixth Sister of Power presents pirate-turned-vampire Viktor Brandewyne with his greatest challenge yet.

Circe proves not only hard to reach: but the quest she sets him is fraught with peril from the very start. He must brave a labyrinth to retrieve a puzzle box. He then must revisit each of the Sisters he’s already faced. Five pieces of the box were dispersed among them by order of the Elder long before Viktor was even born.

The completion of his quest is further barred by a sea dragon, the ultimate form of a male siren, who seeks to claim Belladonna as his mate.

Before all is done, Viktor will lose someone very close and important to him.

He also has to survive Circe’s powers; for she is the same witch from the Odyssey, with the power to turn men to beasts.

Word Count: 93900
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The Daedalus Enigma by Tamara A. Lowery Order The Daedalus Enigma in Print (ISBN: 978-1-61950-298-7) TODAY!
Maelstrom of Fate by Tamara A. Lowery

Devastated from the loss of the Reaper, Viktor Brandewyne returns to Savannah to give Brianna Grimm and her children the bad news about her husband only to find them missing. Worse, no one, not even Mother Celie has any memory of them or of Hezekiah Grimm sailing with him the past six years.

With the help of Belladonna and Jim Rigger, Viktor sets out to find them or at least learn what happened to them.

His curse grows stronger and his control over his Hunger erodes as those who hunt him close in, reminding him he must also face Mamaan Juma, the seventh Sister of Power, once and for all... and time is running out.


Word Count: 77808
Pages to Print: 225
File Format: PDF
Price: $ 5.99




Blood Curse

Once Upon a Tide…

On a pleasant summer afternoon in 1750, a young boy drifted lazily among the salt marshes that inundate coastal Georgia. He’d fished for a while that morning without any luck. Having grown bored with the activity, he’d allowed his punt to drift where it would in the maze-like channels between the marshlands, tidal flats and small islands formed from the oyster shell ballast dumped by merchant ships preparing to take on cargo in port.

He had no worry of getting lost. He’d been boating these waters for as long as he could remember. The boy knew that he was currently about three miles south of Savannah.

The warm sun and cool breeze lent themselves to napping. Soon, the boy had dozed off. He was awakened by the sound of other boys chattering and laughing. They sounded nearby. As quietly as possible, he rowed toward the voices. The tide was high, and he decided to take the little flat-bottomed punt into the marsh grass before getting too close. No telling what mood these strangers might be in.

Peering through the grasses, he saw two boys around his age busy pulling up their crab traps. The wooden tub seated in the middle of their boat brimmed with their catch. Three empty traps were stacked in the back of their boat, and the trap they were in the process of emptying was very full; several of the crabs were quite large.

The boy was very fond of the sweet meat of the sought-after blue crabs. He knew old Mother would be glad of the treat, as well. ‘Although, she’ll probably grumble that I didn’t net her some shrimp to go with them,’ he thought to himself. His decision made, he nudged his boat through the flooded marsh to join the other boys.

“Those are some mighty fine lookin’ crabs,” he told them by way of greeting. “I’ll have them.”

The younger of the boys, brothers, smiled at him. “You want to buy them?”

The lone boy smiled back and calmly stated, “No. I’ll take them. Now.”

The older brother scowled at him, ready to defend their catch from the young interloper. “You can’t just take them,” he countered. “You have to buy them, if you want them. We worked hard for these crabs, and we’re going to take them back to town to sell them.”

The boy said matter-of-factly, “My waters; my crabs. Hand them over. I won’t tell you again.”

Rather than comply, the older brother shouted, “I said, you can’t have them!”

Taking his oar, the boy nimbly jumped into the other boys’ boat and promptly used it to knock the older of the two into the water. He brandished the oar at the younger boy. The lad quickly decided the water was a better place to be than in the same boat with the mad young bully. The victor then began tying their boat to his punt, to tow it back with him and ensure they didn’t try to give chase to reclaim their catch.

The older brother looked a bit panicked at this. His sibling was crying in fear.

“Hey! You can’t just leave us out here! We could drown trying to get back home,” he pled.

He looked at them, almost expressionless, and said, “You should have given me the crabs, when I told you to.” Then he rowed away, not caring if they made it back or not. “Whatever fate the tide and marsh have for you is your lot now.”

Of course, the lads made it back to Savannah. Otherwise, the legend would never have been born of how, in the summer of 1750, an eleven-year-old Viktor Brandewyne committed his first act of piracy.

And the rest, as you soon will read, is history.

--Chapter 1--

Does any man know where the love of God goes, when the waves turn the minutes to hours?—Gordon Lightfoot

Looking for love in all the wrong places. – Johnny Lee

On August 18, 1771, the pirate ship, Redfish, limped madly across the choppy waters twenty miles northeast of Hispañola, the HMS Bonnie Mae closing rapidly. The Navy ship had been pursuing her for almost five hours, since exchanging fire just north of Tortuga Harbor.

The pirate ship had not fared well in her exchange with the Bonnie Mae. Her topmast and mizzenmast had been destroyed by chain shot. Several pirates were dead or mortally wounded. To add insult to injury, a stray cannonball had blasted a good-sized hole at her waterline. The ship’s carpenter had managed to get a makeshift patch in place, before he bled to death from a leg wound. The rough waters were beginning to hammer away at it, though, and it was clear it wouldn’t hold much longer.

Already, the Redfish was taking on water. Her captain, Viktor Brandewyne, known more commonly as Bloody Vik Brandee, knew the ship was doomed. But, he was determined they’d not be taken to experience the King’s “kind” mercies.

“Aft lookout report!” Brandee bellowed.

“Aft lookout, aye,” the pirate in the rigging called back. “She be closing with us, Cap’n. Pro’ly be on us in another hour. She’s atwixt us and the nearest land.”

“Understood, aft lookout. Forward lookout report!”

“Forward lookout, aye. That be a bad ‘un, Cap’n. Definitely a hurricane. Heavy seas ahead. We be in no shape to tangle with that bitch,” the lookout answered.

Brandee mulled his predicament. Navy at his back; monstrous hurricane before him; no apparent escape. He made his decision.

“Mr. Rigger,” he addressed the helmsman, “steer me a course due east.”

“Aye, Cap’n. Um, Cap’n, that’ll take us straight into the hurricane,” Rigger pointed out.

Brandee smiled darkly. “Aye, Jim. It will.” Shouting loud enough for the remains of his crew to hear, he announced, “Listen up lads! We’re taking the Redfish right down the gullet of that storm afore us! If the King wants our ship, he’ll have to follow us into the mouth of Hell itself to catch us! What say ye?”

A unanimous roar of agreement rose from the crew. Each man knew the only alternative was dangling from a gibbet in Port Royal or at Wapping, on Execution Dock.

“Then step to it, ye scurrilous dregs!” he ordered. “We’ve a hurricane to catch!” Turning, he faced the storm and their certain doom. “Don’t fear, Jim. I’ve a few tricks left. We’ll cheat ol’ Cob same as we’ll cheat the King of his prey.”

“Aye, Cap’n.”
                                                                               Back to Blood Curse
Demon Bayou

                                                             Chapter 1
                            I dream of childhood friends and the dreams we had—Styx

Hezekiah Grimm found his captain at the railing on the fo’c’sle. Viktor Brandewyne stood looking out at the stars, an involuntary smile on his face. Lazarus was perched on the railing in front of him. The huge black cat emitted a rumbling purr in response to the captain’s strokes.

Grimm eyed the cat warily as he joined Viktor. Although he did not know the full story behind the act, he knew the creature was not natural and was perhaps demonic. It rarely tolerated the touch of anyone other than the Captain.

Viktor nodded, not speaking.

As uncomfortable as Lazarus made him, Grimm had to admit the cat had a calming effect on Viktor. It was the only thing that convinced him the creature, which was sometimes a cat, sometimes a bird, sometimes shadow or smoke, was at least not inherently evil, at least no more evil than the vampire Grimm called Captain.

Grimm had never been as superstitious as most sailors and pirates. He’d always believed in making his own luck and that witches, ghosts and beasties were mostly stories told to frighten small children or weak-minded fools. He’d not been above using such stories to keep his crew cowed and in line, of course.

These days, however, he’d found himself forced to come to grips with the fact that such beings did exist outside of stories and nightmares.

Since joining his old friend’s crew, he’d encountered vampires, witches, shape-shifting familiars, mermaids and a sea monster. Granted, the sea monster might easily be mistaken for a mermaid by some.

“It’s been quiet the past few days,” he observed. “How long do you think Belladonna will stay gone?”

“Until I call her back,” Viktor answered. “She’s busy with some fisherman she caught.”

“You keep surprising me, Viktor. Never knew you to share a wench before.”

“If it was anyone other than Belle, I wouldn’t. I still won’t share her with any of my crew.”

“But a perfect stranger?”

“Safer that way, Hezekiah. I don’t trust her in my bed.” He smiled at his first mate. “She’s just playing with her food.”

Grimm made a face. He’d seen the siren’s eating habits firsthand. Anyone foolish enough to go in the water with her was fair game. Even Viktor had felt her teeth, and she was supposed to be there to help him.

Viktor went back to petting the cat. “I was just thinking back to when Jim and I were first starting out. Old Billy Black said Jim was as much trouble as I was.”

“Aye and the two of you were damn near inseparable, as I remember. You never have said what happened to Jim.”

“No. I haven’t,” his tone made it clear that the subject was not to be broached again. “Was there something in particular that you wanted, Mr. Grimm?”

“There was talk in the last port of a convoy. Spices mostly, but there was rumor that some emeralds were being smuggled.”

“I heard the talk, as well.”

“I checked over the charts, Captain. The timing is right, and we’re in a prime position to intercept.”

Viktor thought about it for a while. The right spices could bring a tidy sum, although the emeralds, if there really were any, would be tricky to convert into cash. More importantly, fresh provisions would be welcome, both foodstuffs and prisoners to feed the bloodlust of his small cadre of vampires and himself.

“Very well, Mr. Grimm. Have the lads ready by first light. When the convoy comes into sight, pick us out a fat one.”

“Aye, Captain.”

“What’s the word, Mr. Grimm?”

“Sniff reports five ships in the convoy. They’re just to the south of us on the horizon,” he answered as he entered the captain’s cabin. “Their current heading is north. Three look to be merchantmen. He said the lead and chase vessels appear to be smaller gun boats.”

Viktor moved to the window, opening one of the panes to smell and feel the wind. Five specks of white, the topsails of their prey, were just visible where sky met sea.

“Have the riggers furl a third of the sails,” he ordered. “Give them a better chance of catching us up. They won’t suspect our purpose until it’s too late, if they come up behind us, rather than if we turned toward them.”

“What colors should we fly?” Even though Sniff, using the glass, couldn’t see what flag the convoy ran under, Grimm knew Viktor’s eyesight was much sharper than his.

“British, Mr. Grimm.”

Even with fewer sails up, it soon became apparent it would take the merchant ships most of the day to get remotely close to the Incubus. Less experienced or less patient pirates might have turned their ship toward their prey.

But Viktor didn’t want to spook them into scattering, or to provoke their escorts. As long as he sailed as if they were of no interest, their guard would be down when he did order an attack. Past experience had taught him it was an effective ploy when encountering convoys.

At midday, Sniff called down from the crow’s nest, “They look to be changing course!”

Grimm took the glass and peered at the slowly approaching ships. Viktor stood beside him, not needing a spyglass. They watched as the ships made an eastward course change.

“Damn. Wasn’t expecting that,” Grimm muttered. “Most spice traders usually don’t head eastward until they’re far enough to the north to catch the

Trades. Something must have spooked them.”

“It is odd,” Viktor agreed, “but not as odd as how the middle ship is sailing.”

The first mate focused on the vessel indicated. “Interesting. Looks like she’s pulling away from the pack and returning to the original heading. Wonder why she’d leave the protection?”

The vampire sniffed the air. Viktor’s heightened perceptions greatly augmented his already well-honed weather eye. “The wind is going to hold steady for at least another day. Our stray little lamb should be pulling even with us by dusk. That should be perfect.”

“Thinking of trying the harpoon and counterweight system?”

“Aye. It’s set up to pull them right to us. I want to see if it works.”

“I’ll have the lads get the buffers ready to take the brunt of the impact. What’s the plan if the contraption doesn’t work?”

“It would do my little cadre good to indulge in a fresh feed,” he said, referring to the five crewmen he’d turned. “The rum and blood blend is sustaining them, but blood is much better in its pure form straight from the source.”

Grimm suppressed a slight shudder. He’d seen the vampires in a feeding frenzy back when Viktor had set them on the pirate hunter who had managed to capture the first mate. He’d never wanted to be the target of their Hunger.

“If you say so.”

It was moonless that night, a fact that normally would preclude any kind of pirate attack. The merchantman only had one man on watch.

Nighttime, however, was no barrier to Viktor Brandewyne. For that matter, neither was daylight, since his vampirism was the result of a curse placed on him by an irate witch. He had never actually died, unlike his cadre of five. They were now permanent members of his crew, pirates he had killed personally when his blood Hunger had threatened to overwhelm him.

Since the five were true vampires, they had the same weaknesses described in most of the legends: sunlight and holy objects. There was another weakness one had discovered the hard way. Viktor had originally made six vampires, but one had made the mistake of trying to feed on Belladonna. The siren’s blood had been instantly fatal to the vampire.

Brandee had the cadre assembled on deck. He’d already ordered all the topside lamps shuttered, so as not to give away their position to the other ship. The Incubus was a dark shadow against the star-studded sky and all but invisible.

Silently, the pirate ship maneuvered alongside the merchant vessel. Large cork buffers were hung over the side facing their prey. Using the swivel guns mounted on the rails, the pirates launched several harpoons. As soon as he heard them thud home into the wood of the other ship, Viktor gave the signal to release the counterweights.

Line attached to the harpoons passed through small ports in the deck via pulleys and attached to heavy iron weights. These were shoved out the lower gun ports. The result was that the other ship was rapidly pulled to the pirate vessel. The cork buffers prevented the hulls from damaging each other.

The sleeping crew of the merchantman was taken completely by surprise, jarred awake by the collision. Within seconds, the vampires were on board. Two quickly silenced the lone watchman; he was drained and dead in a matter of minutes. The other three swarmed the rigging, in case any sailors were in the crow’s nest.

Quickly and quietly, Viktor sent a large part of his crew over, led by the Grimm Reaper, to secure the ship. Most of the merchantman’s crew was still half-asleep, making for a swift victory.

The ship’s captain must have been a heavy sleeper. Not only had the colliding of the ships not wakened him, but Grimm had to shake him a few times to get him on his feet. The man was only half-dressed and disheveled, when Viktor entered his cabin.

“I apologize for this untimely interruption of your voyage, sir, but I believe you and I have some urgent business to attend to.” Brandee gave a mock bow. Before he could continue, however, Lazarus darted past him. In a black blur, the demon cat launched himself at the prisoner, clawing and biting any part of the man he could reach. This did not fit in with Brandee’s plan.

“Lazarus! Return.”

The cat abandoned his attack and leapt to Viktor’s shoulder in one fluid movement. He glared and growled at the merchant captain from his perch.

Brandee narrowed his eyes at the man. “My friend does not like you, sir. Have we perhaps met before? What is your name?”

“I’ve never set eyes on you before in my life,” he spat. “I am Captain Thomas Brumble. Who the hell are you?”

“Brumble? Brumble. Hmm, that would explain it, then. Your father wouldn’t happen to be Tobias Brumble?”

“I am his younger son. Who are you, and how do you know my father?”

“Captain Vik Brandee, sir, at your service. You’ve already met my first mate, Hezekiah Grimm.”

The young captain blanched, recognizing the names of the two most feared pirates to sail these waters.

“I don’t know your sire personally, Mr. Brumble, but an old friend of mine once spent six miserable months as cabin boy to that cowardly piece of shit. I promised him that I’d pay the bastard back, with interest, for every lash of the whip he’d given my friend unjustly.”

“Then I am a dead man. I know the reputations of Bloody Vik Brandee and the Grimm Reaper. All I ask, sir, is that you allow me to dress, so that I may face my fate with some dignity,” Brumble requested.

“What say you, Lazarus?” Brandee asked, stroking the agitated cat’s head.

Lazarus stopped growling, yawned and stretched out one paw, toes and claws spread. “Meh,” he mewed. Then he proceeded to groom the paw and ignore the prisoner.

“Very well, Mr. Brumble. Mr. Grimm, if you will escort our guest topside once he’s properly attired? I shall be inspecting our prisoners and new recruits.”

“Aye, Captain.”
Back to Demon Bayou
In the Dead of Winter

The traveler was not surprised when the old man approached him with word of a shorter route to Cordun. He’d made no secret of his destination or why he was going there. And he had been asking around the village if anyone knew of a path that would take him through the Forest of Narghill.

No, the surprising and somewhat annoying thing was that no one in the village of Timbro seemed to know of any such path. Everyone thus far had told him the only route was to stick to the main road. The problem for the traveler was that the road skirted the vast forest. Villages were spaced three to five days’ travel apart along the road, but the maps showed Timbro was directly opposite of Cordun with only the forest between them.

The traveler had been sent from the University in Borduin. He was to go to the University in Cordun, to assist the Dean of Science there. He had been chosen from a large number of candidates for this honor.

He studied the maps, and it had been his reasoning he could shorten his journey by nearly a fortnight simply by going through the forest, rather than following the road several leagues to the south to go around it. Being nearly fifty leagues west of the forest, no one in Borduin could find any record or reason why the road had not been cut through the forest.

His friends at the University begged him to put off his journey until after the Solstice and the Winter Festival. They knew it might be many years before they could celebrate the Festival together again. But he had been eager to assume his new post and set out as soon as he could get his affairs in Borduin settled.

So it was with gratitude that he welcomed the old man to his table in the dining room of the Timbro Inn.

“You are the young man seeking a way through the Narghill?” the old man asked.

“Yes, Grandfather, I am,” he replied, using the customary title of respect for the unrelated elder.

“Please, sit with me. Would you care for some food or drink?”

“No, thank you,” he said, shaking his head. “I am fasting until Solstice night. It is my custom.”

“I see. Tell me, Grandfather, do you know of any path that leads all the way through the forest to Cordun?”

“There are many paths in Narghill, my son, but only one that may take you to your destination,” he said. “I was a hunter in my youth. I have wandered farther into the forest than any other man alive. I can lead you to the trailhead.”

“My thanks, Grandfather,” the traveler smiled. “Are you sure you won’t dine with me?”

The old man shook his head with a sad smile. “No, my son, I must keep to my vow. Just be ready to go at daybreak. I will meet you at the village gate.”

“Thank you. I will.”

Shortly after the old man left, a serving girl brought a flagon of wine to the table. She seemed nervous, darting her eyes about as if to see if anyone was watching.

“Is it true? You plan to go into the forest?” she whispered.

“Yes. I leave in the morning,” he replied, puzzled by her behavior. “Please inform the landlord I wish to settle my bill.”

Rather than leave to do so right away, she gave him an almost frightened smile. “Please, sir, delay your departure for a few days. It’s almost Solstice. Our Winter Festival is quite the spectacle.”

He frowned politely. “I am afraid I cannot. The Dean of Science at the University in Cordun is expecting me. It would do much for me in his eyes if I could reach there a fortnight early.”

Once again glancing around nervously, she leaned closer and said in a low voice, “If you try to go through Narghill, you may never reach Cordun. There’s an evil that stalks the forest, and it is not safe to enter into this close to Solstice. Please, sir, stay here for a while, or at least stay to the road.”

“I appreciate your concern, my dear, but I am a man of science. I do not subscribe to unfounded superstitions,” he said firmly, but politely. “Now, go inform the landlord I will be leaving in the morning and wish to settle my bill.”

Bowing her head at the dismissal, she replied meekly, “Yes, sir.”

After a few minutes, she returned with his meal and the landlord of the inn. Silently, she placed the food on the table and then left to wait on another table. The landlord cocked his head toward the opposite chair with a questioning look in his eye. The traveler nodded, and he took the seat.
Back to In the Dead of Winter
Silent Fathoms

                                                                 Once Upon a Tide . . .

Hezekiah had to admit the boy had balls. He’d had his doubts three months ago, when he’d signed on to this crew. After all, how many fools would be willing to ship out with a nineteen-year-old captain and a fifteen-year-old first mate? If it hadn’t been for the fact that Billy Black had vouched for him, he never would have considered sailing under Vik Brandee.

He still remembered the night he’d walked into the Black Flag in Savannah, looking for a crew to sign on to. He wasn’t the only man off that damned unlucky ship to head to the tavern, but he still missed those who hadn’t made it. A few had been good friends.

He felt like an old man already, at the tender age of twenty-five, especially after that last voyage. Why had he signed on with that idiot, Kerns? How the man had gained a captaincy was beyond him.

Kerns couldn’t navigate, was a piss-poor pirate, and couldn’t hold his liquor. The bastard had almost gotten them caught by hunters. If it hadn’t been for the storm and shoals that had wrecked them, he would’ve led a mutiny and taken the ship. Just as well he hadn’t. Although the ship had looked seaworthy at first glance, it had proven rotten, leaky and ill-outfitted.

Still, when the crew finally realized they were going down and made for the boats, Hezekiah had taken great satisfaction in slitting his former captain’s throat. He’d vowed then never to serve under a man so unworthy of his respect again.

“Mr. Grimm.” The fat old pirate-turned-tavern-keeper acknowledged him. “Been a couple of seasons since I’ve seen ye in these parts. What brings you to the Black Flag?”

“Let’s just say I’m between boats.”

Billy squinted at him. “Word has it you were sailing with Rob Kerns. I find it hard to believe. The man’s an idiot.”

Hezekiah grimaced. “Yes, he was. But, it’s true. I last shipped under him.”

“Notice ye said was.”

“I left him with a second smile, bright and red, when we parted company.”

The old pirate smirked. “About time. Someone should have slit the bastard’s throat years ago. Reckon the ship wasn’t worth taking?”

Grimm shook his head. “No, he ran aground, and it started breaking up. Worm-eaten, anyway.”

“Heh. Doesn’t surprise me. Why don’t you head on upstairs? Maggie should be unoccupied right now, provided that little bastard hasn’t sneaked up there hoping for a free one. Told ’im if I caught him doing that again, I’d take it out of his wages.”

“Thank ye, Captain Black.” Hezekiah knew Margery was one of the Black Flag’s most talented girls.

“When ye come back down, come see me.” Billy tapped him with his pipe. “I’ve got a business proposition for you.”

Hezekiah thought his luck seemed to get better and better. He hadn’t been so sure, though, when he’d heard what the proposition was. “Are you daft, man? I just came off a ship with a captain that never should have been, and now you’re suggesting I sign on under a boy?”

“Don’t underestimate the bastard,” Billy cautioned. “He has real talent for our kind of work. Earned a berth here with me a few years ago and has learned more about our craft in that time than many do in a lifetime. Not just stories, either. I think the brat was born to piracy, but don’t let him know I said that. He’s got a big enough head, as it is.”

Grimm thought he understood what the old pirate was doing. “He’s gotten too dangerous for you to keep him around, hasn’t he?”

Billy Black shrugged. “Voracious wencher has cost me money. Tired of my whores being too worn out to service the paying customers. Figure if he’s out to sea, he can’t cause trouble here. Told him if he could secure a ship, I’d help him assemble a crew. Damned if the bugger didn’t show up two days later with a decent little sloop.”

“Impressive. Very well, I’ll give him a try. He’ll need experienced mates.”

“Aye, but don’t hope for first mate. That berth’s already filled.”


“Little alley-cat called Jim Rigger. Young Vik teamed up with the brat not long after he came to work for me.” He pointed out a teenager lurking near a table of drunken sailors. The lad picked a few pockets even as they watched.

“A child.” Grimm was less than impressed.

Billy chuckled at his reaction. “They’re cut from the same bolt, those two. Closer than brothers and thoroughly wicked. Jim is sneaky as a cat and more loyal than a dog, where Vik is concerned. I wouldn’t suggest trying to separate them. Don’t know about Jim, but I do believe Vik Brandee wouldn’t hesitate to cut yer heart out and hand it to you with a smile, if you did.”

“I’ll keep that in mind.”

Looking back, he had no regrets about his decision. Brandee truly had a talent for finding and taking fat prizes. It had been the most profitable three months he’d experienced since he’d turned pirate.

He was also impressed by Brandee’s intelligence, ruthlessness, and skills. As far as he was concerned, the young captain had earned his loyalty and respect. He had even found that Rigger was tolerable as a first mate. Sometimes, it was easy to forget that the boy was ten years his junior.

It became apparent that a few of his shipmates didn’t share his views, however. He’d heard grumblings. It never ceased to amaze him at the stupidity a man’s pride could push him to. So he listened, he watched, then when he felt the time was right, he acted.

“Enter,” Brandee said in answer to the knock on his cabin door.

When Grimm entered the cabin, the boy seemed calm, but alert when he saw who it was. He could almost swear the young captain had expected some sort of trouble from his crew, but he looked mildly surprised to see the bastards had picked Grimm as the one to deliver it. “What is it, Mr. Grimm?”

“I came to warn you, Captain. Some of the lads have been talking mutiny.”

“I see. What about you, Mr. Grimm? Are you throwing your lot in with them?”

Grimm sized the lad up. By his reaction, he was willing to bet Brandee had known about the unrest for quite some time. “If you had asked me three months ago, I probably would have said yes. It did not sit well with me to have such a young captain.”

Viktor steepled his fingers and leaned forward, his green eyes intense. His voice was deceptively calm with a hint of curiosity. “What has happened to change your mind?”

“Old Billy Black knew what he was talking about when he said you were born to this life. These three months have been the most profitable I have ever seen. I also admire the intelligence behind your way of using different tactics with each prize.”


“It’ll make you harder to predict, therefore harder for the hunters to catch. Most pirates have one or two attacks at the most, which makes it easy for the hunters to figure out where and when to lay a trap. You don’t follow any set pattern. Personally, I would prefer to remain free,” he continued, “and I believe staying on with you as Captain will improve the odds of staying free.”

Brandee smirked. “When you came in here, I half-expected you were the one they picked to take my place.” He stood and walked around the small desk to get a rum bottle, deliberately turning his back on the older man.

Grimm quickly took advantage of the situation. Cat-quick, he rushed up behind Brandee and had his blade at the young man’s throat before he could put the bottle down. “If I’d wanted to take this ship, you’d already be dead, Captain.”

“Then you’d have followed right behind him, Mr. Grimm,” Jim Rigger whispered in his ear. He held his own blade’s point just below Grimm’s ear. The boy had been silently lurking in the shadows behind the door the whole time.

Vik slipped easily out of the deadly position. Smiling, he picked up three glasses and said, “It’s a good thing for you that you didn’t come here to kill me then, isn’t it, Mr. Grimm? Have a drink. You can put your knife away, Jim.”

“Aye, Cap’n.” The boy and the man both sheathed their weapons.

“Now then, Mr. Grimm, since you’ve chosen to warn me, what do you know about the mutineers, and what suggestions would you make on handling them?”

“There is only a handful stirring the others up. Take them out, and the mutiny will die.”
Jim spoke up. “Isn’t the usual punishment for mutiny marooning?”

“It is,” Vik confirmed. “But, I don’t think that is what Mr. Grimm would suggest.”
Grimm shook his head. “I would kill them; make an example. You have been a very generous, successful Captain. It’s my opinion that they are ungrateful fools. That point won’t be lost on the rest of the lads.”

Viktor looked at him without expression for several minutes. Hezekiah never flinched, even though he could see the younger man wouldn’t hesitate to kill him.

“I like the way you think, Mr. Grimm. Assemble the crew on deck at first light. Be prepared to point out the ringleaders.”

“Aye, Captain. Thank you for the rum.”

“I hear some of you aren’t too happy to be sailing under my command.”

A cautious murmuring was the only answer Brandee got. He pressed on after making eye contact, first with Jim and Hezekiah, then with the five men Grimm had named as the mutineers. “I make no apologies for my age. During these three months we have taken several fat prizes. Shares have been generous. Casualties have been low. We haven’t been captured. What is the problem?”

There was more murmuring, mostly in agreement with the young Captain’s words. There was also agitation among the mutineers. They saw their hold on the crew evaporate in those few minutes.

Viktor and his mates had expected one of them to make a move at this point. Jim and Grimm had positioned themselves by the ones they felt to be most dangerous, but none of those men were the one who acted.

Grimm was closest, as a grizzled pirate pulled a dragoon out, cocked it and aimed at Brandee’s head. “Stop him!” he yelled, even as the man squeezed the trigger.

With no time to reach the would-be killer, he jumped in front of his Captain, taking the mini ball in the upper arm. As he fell, he wondered why the young man was reaching to scratch the back of his neck.

Mere seconds later, the assassin lay dead on the deck with Viktor’s dagger protruding from his eye.

Jim had watched with morbid fascination as the sailor, who was the closest thing they had to a surgeon, dug the fragments out of Hezekiah’s bicep. To his credit, the older man had no more than grunted and given an occasional hiss, as the man did his work. Luckily, the powder had been damp and a low charge. That meant the mini ball had stayed mostly intact and had lodged in the muscle. The bone wasn’t even fractured.

“There, that’s the last of it I think,” the surgeon said.

“Thank ye, Gordon. Heat that knife up red hot and sear the wound before you stitch me back up. It’ll help stop the bleeding,” Grimm directed.

To his satisfaction, the boy winced at the smell of burning skin and meat. Grimm grinned at the lad’s reaction.

“That’s going to leave a nasty scar.” Jim whistled as Gordon began stitching the puckered, charred wound shut.

“Not the first; won’t be the last.” Grimm shrugged. “If it’s too jagged, I can just cover it with a tattoo. At least I didn’t lose the arm.”

“You could have been killed. I knew I would kill or die for the Captain, but I never imagined anyone else would. Why?”

“Young though he is, Vik Brandee is the best Captain I’ve ever sailed under. He deserves my respect and loyalty. Don’t worry, Mr. Rigger, I’m not after your berth. Old Billy Black warned me against that, and I’ve seen how the two of you work together. But I’ll gladly sail as one of Brandee’s mates as long as he will have me.”
Back to Silent Fathoms
Black Venom

                                                 Once Upon a Tide . . .

Midsummer of 1761 found Vik Brandee and Hezekiah Grimm in a small ketch just off the southwest shore of Puerto Rico. As they waited for dark to head to shore, they did their best to appear to be fishermen. Once ashore, they would have to trek into the jungle to meet their contact.

Vik showed Grimm how to use a cast net. “I can’t believe you’ve never done this before, Hezekiah. You’ve been at sea longer than I have.”

“Never had to, Vik.” Grimm held the net like he’d been shown, or so he thought. “Usually had enough supplies to last the voyage. In port, I always had enough coin to get a good meal, or found some wench willing to feed me for free.”

“You have to hold the top edge in your mouth to keep it stretched out.” Vik put his own edge in his mouth to show his second mate how. He held one side of the net in each hand with the draw rope’s end wrapped around his wrist. Once he was sure Grimm held the net correctly, he twisted to the side then snapped back the other way, releasing the net at the apex of the swing. The cast net spun out over the water in an almost perfect disc before it hit the surface. The stone weights around the edge quickly drew it under. He let it sink until the rope had no more slack, then gave a quick jerk on the rope to close the net before drawing it back up.

Grimm did his best to mimic his captain’s cast. He felt gratified to see his own net sail out across the water in much the same fashion.

“Not bad. With some practice, you could be very good at this.” Vik praised the older man.

“How did you learn to do this? More importantly, why?”

Vik lifted his net up onto the boat. There were only a couple of fish in it, neither an edible species. “Hmph, good thing we’re not fishing for profit or food right now,” he grunted in disgust. “I grew up in the salt marshes near Savannah. Learned how to cast a net as soon as I was big enough to hold one. Mother Celie was not a rich woman, and it was often cheaper and easier to catch fish or shrimp than to buy food.”

“That makes sense. I grew up inland, but I took to the sea as soon as I saw her.” Grimm began to pull his own net up. He gave a startled cry when the draw rope went taut and began to jerk from side to side. “Whoa! I’ve got a fighter, Vik! Strong one, too.”

“Need some help?”

He shook his head. “No, I think I can handle it. It just caught me by surprise.”

He wrestled with the net’s draw rope. Slowly, he managed to bring up the net and whatever he had caught to the surface. Both men marveled at the large ray that thrashed about in the cast net.

Vik whistled. “No wonder you had such a fight. Look at the wingspan on that thing!”

The ray nearly filled the bottom of their ketch. It thrashed about wildly, which made it difficult to remove the net. The boat rocked so violently, it threatened to capsize.

“I think we’re going to have to cut the net, Captain.”

“Agreed; we need to get this thing off the boat before it sinks us.”

Both men drew their knives and began to hack at the mesh of the net in an effort to free the ray. The terrified creature only knew it had to return to the water. The longer it remained in the air, the more frantic its thrashing became. Suffocating in the alien environment, it was a victim of instinct and panic.

Viktor let out a garbled scream when the ray’s barbed sting stabbed through the muscle of his calf. Grimm reacted quickly and slashed down with his heavy knife to sever the barb from the animal.

The shock of the maiming caused the ray to seize up. This allowed Grimm enough time to lever it back over the side.

The boat gradually settled in the calm water. Grimm knelt to examine the damage his captain had suffered. The spiny barb was lodged in his leg and stuck out from both sides of the wound. Luckily, the bleeding wasn’t bad yet.

Vik sat covered in clammy sweat as shock threatened to make him pass out. Grimm stopped him when he reached for the severed end of the sting. He shook his head. “We need to push it through, Vik. If you try to pull it out that way, the barbs will shred the flesh and poison you. Plus, it would hurt more.”

“It can’t hurt much more than this,” Vik growled. “Do what you have to, Mr. Grimm.”

Grimm wrapped some sailcloth around the barbed end to protect his hands. He grasped the sting firmly and yanked it on through the wound. This time, Viktor did pass out.

When the young pirate woke, the sun had already set. His leg felt like it was on fire. He looked down at it in the lamplight and saw it had already swollen to twice its natural girth from knee to ankle.

Grimm saw he was awake and handed him a flask of rum. “Here, this should help deaden the leg a bit. I cleaned it out as best I could before stitching it up.”

Vik took the bottle and frowned at the lightness of it. “We brought more rum than this.”

“Aye. Figured the rum was better than seawater for that leg. Didn’t look like any of the stinger broke off in ye, so it should heal clean.”

“Thank you, Hezekiah. I’d hate to lose the limb. I’m rather attached to it,” he said in an attempt to joke around the pain. “Where are we?”

“A couple of leagues up the river. We still have a half hour before the rendezvous. Do you think you’ll be able to stand up for it, Captain?”

“I’m going to have to. Carmine is not to be trusted; especially if he thinks we are weak.”

Grimm nodded his understanding. He’d never dealt with the man personally, but Carmine Fuentez had a reputation as someone who wouldn’t hesitate to sell a man out, if there was a profit in it. He also had a reputation as a coward. If he thought a deal might come back to bite him, he would avoid it like the plague.

“Remind me again why we are even dealing with this bilge rat.”

“Because he can get what we want more quickly than we can,” Vik answered. “And he knows not to cross me.”

Grimm laughed. “You can be a scary bastard. I’m surprised you didn’t bring Rigger along.”

“Couldn’t; not and hope to seal the deal, anyway. Jim almost killed Carmine the last time we had dealings. Hell, I couldn’t even tell him who we were dealing with this time.”

“What did the rat do to anger the lad so?”

“I wasn’t in the room at the time, and Jim won’t talk about it. The hatred is strong enough that my first mate resents the very fact that Carmine still draws breath.”

Grimm grunted. “Must have been pretty bad.”


After they grounded the ketch in a side shallow, Grimm helped Viktor out of the boat. The swelling in his leg had gone down some, but it still hurt and burned. They both agreed they needed to conclude their business quickly. The shadows would help hide the swelling.

Carmine had a large bonfire going. It burned so brightly, it blinded them to the dark jungle that surrounded them. This put both pirates immediately on the alert. For a man who didn’t like to draw attention, Carmine seemed to be doing his best to be found by anyone curious about the blaze.

“Stay sharp, Mr. Grimm. This doesn’t feel right.”

“Aye, Captain, it doesn’t.”

Their contact soon showed himself along with a couple of burly men, presumably his bodyguards. “I see you didn’t bring that brat with you this time.”

Vik kept his voice and face neutral. “Considering how well you two get along, I thought it best.”

“Who is this?” Carmine pointed at Grimm.

“My second mate.”

The smuggler persisted. “I thought as much, Brandee, but I’d like to know his name. I want to know the people I’m dealing with.”

“Will it make this deal go more quickly?” Vik sighed. Grimm noted his captain attempting to hide his growing irritation. Carmine was stalling, which was not a good sign. It meant either he didn’t have the item, or this was a trap.

“It will.”

“Fine. Carmine Fuentez, meet Hezekiah Grimm.”

The smuggler visibly paled. “The Grimm Reaper. I’d heard rumors he was sailing with you.”

It came as no surprise that Grimm’s reputation frightened the smuggler more than Viktor’s did. The second mate had been pirating longer than the pirate captain. Plus, Hezekiah was nearly thirty, an age few pirates lived to see, whereas Viktor was only twenty-two.

The information made Carmine nervous enough to spring his trap prematurely. “They’re here! Take them now!”

Vik and Grimm immediately bolted for the darkness of the jungle. They had purposely hung back from the fire, just in case something like this happened. There was much cursing as their would-be captors had to change course to pursue them. The two pirates knew they’d been lucky to pick a spot that hadn’t been closed in yet, but they also knew their luck might not hold out.

“Split!” Vik ordered as they ran. Grimm veered off away from him.

The younger pirate’s luck soon ran out, however. His wounded leg betrayed him; some of the stitches popped loose, and the wound tore wider due to his exertion. The leg collapsed under him. His pursuers were on him in seconds and tossed a snare net over him to prevent him from fighting back.

One of them cudgeled him, and he lost consciousness.

Grimm managed to elude the hunters chasing him. Only two had followed. The rest had gone after Brandee. He knew his captain had been captured. He’d heard the shout of the young man’s pursuers.

Once sure his own pursuers had left off the chase, he circled back to the meeting point and hid in the shadows. He did this for two reasons: One, Vik Brandee had earned his loyalty. Even though the man was younger than him by several years, he had proved the best pirate captain Grimm had ever served under. Two, the hunters probably had someone watching their boat in the hopes of catching him as well.

Grimm kept his guard up to ensure no one crept up on him, and watched the encampment. Carmine had six men with him. Clearly, he’d underestimated the two pirates. If Brandee hadn’t been injured, they wouldn’t have caught him. Grimm listened to the pirate hunters and quickly formed a plan.

Grimm had been right. They’d left one man to watch the ketch. Grimm slipped into the water several yards upstream from the boat. He’d blackened his face with river mud so he wouldn’t be easily seen in the water. Just as he’d figured, the guard watched the jungle, not the river. He climbed into the boat silently and crept toward the man.

The hapless pirate hunter never even saw the blade that slit his throat.

Grimm stripped the body of weapons and valuables, then hid to the side of the path. “Hurry!” he shouted. “I’ve got him!”

Soon, two more hunters ran crashing through the jungle. They stopped short at the sight of their partner’s body. It was all the distraction Grimm needed. He skewered one and shot the other in the head before either could react. He quickly retreated to the shadows and made his way back to the encampment. He knew the gunshot would draw the others.

Once he returned to the campfire, where Vik was being held, he saw that all but Carmine had gone to help at the boat. He also saw that Vik was awake, but seemed to be feigning unconsciousness. His captors had made the mistake of tying his hands in front of him.

Carmine smiled down cruelly at his captive. He muttered to himself as he grabbed Vik’s trousers by the waistband and pulled them to his knees. “I’d hoped for a shot at that whelp you call first mate, but you’re still young enough and pretty enough to suit my tastes.”

He dropped his own trou and started working himself erect, his attention focused solely on his victim’s ass.

Slowly enough to not draw attention, Vik eased his hands up to his head. He managed to slip out the knife he always kept at the nape of his neck, hidden under his hair, unnoticed.

Grimm deliberately entered the clearing on the other side of his captain from their betrayer.


The fool still thought Vik was out of it and started to step over him. He began to raise his weapon, but never got it leveled. Brandee stabbed upward and caught him in the inner thigh close to the groin. Carmine let out a strangled scream when Brandee twisted the blade to slice open the femoral artery.

Grimm moved quickly to them and kicked the weapon out of the dying man’s hand. He then buried his own blade under Carmine’s ribs.

The traitorous smuggler collapsed. Blood burbled from his mouth and nose and spurted from his leg—in time with his slowing heartbeat. As the flow slowed, his eyes glazed. Within minutes, he lay dead.

Meanwhile, Grimm helped his captain get free of his bonds. Brandee quickly pulled his trousers back up, but had trouble standing. The bandages on his wound had soaked through with fresh blood from the torn stitches.

“Do you think you can walk?”

“Aye. It hurts, but it still works. I just won’t be able to run or move fast,” Vik replied. “We need to get into the jungle before they come back.”

Grimm nodded. “There are only four left. I killed three by the boat.”

“I like those odds.”

By morning, the remaining hunters were dead. The two pirates were back on their ketch and making plans to acquire what they’d thought to get from Carmine. It ended up costing much less, since they found a place to just steal it.

The real hold up on their return to the ship was finding a decent physician to treat Vik’s leg wound. The infection had reached the point that Vik feared he might lose the leg after all.

Grimm didn’t really trust physicians in general. He’d seen too many good sailors butchered by them.

They were three days from the nearest port when the fever took Viktor. Grimm knew his captain’s life hung in the balance, but he had favorable winds to speed them to the one person who might be able to save both Vik’s leg and his life.

Mother Celie always seemed to know when her adopted son would visit. Grimm wasn’t a superstitious man, but even he had to admit there was something uncanny about the old woman who had raised Vik Brandee.

“You got him here just in time, Hezekiah.” She frowned at Vik’s swollen leg as she spoke. “Now shoo. Go swap lies with old Billy Black. This boy is going to need a month to heal enough to travel again.”

He obeyed but made a point to come check on his captain’s progress every day. Finally, the old swamp witch declared the boy healthy, she was sick of the sight of both of them, and wanted them out of her hut.

They eventually made it back to their ship. As agreed, Grimm never discussed where they had been or what had happened, nor did Viktor.
Back to Black Venom
Hell's Dodo

Once Upon a Tide . . .

“You whore!”

The words struck the woman almost as forcefully as her husband’s open palm. She stumbled to the floor from the blow, stunned more by the accusation.

“I have been nothing but faithful to you, Nolan. How can you call me that?” she protested.

He raised his hand again, causing her to wince. The two young boys cowering in the corner ran to their mother. The younger one buried his face in her shoulder. The older one hugged her from the other side, glaring up at his father.

“You’re a liar and a harlot,” Nolan spat at her. “I’ve seen how that rogue, Tucker, comes sniffing around here when I’m off on my business. I have more eyes than just the two in my head, Beulah, and I’m no fool.”

Her own temper flared. “I never said you were, Nolan; but you are acting like one if you think I’d ever have anything to do with that low creature. The way he looks at me makes my skin crawl.”

He backhanded her, splitting her lip. “A pretty lie, that. I confronted the bastard. Not only did he admit having you, he told me how you’ve been bedding men from the docks for years.”

“That’s not true! Mr. Tucker is a liar! He should never have said those things about Mama!” the older boy yelled.

Nolan jabbed a warning finger at his son. “Shut it, Britt. Get away from that whore and get your things. Now, boy!”

“You can’t take my sons!” Beulah cried.

The scorn and hatred on his face made her flinch. “I am only taking my son, slut. You can keep your little bastard there.” He pointed his chin at the younger boy. “I know Britt’s mine. You were at least virgin when we wed. As for that one, how do I know he’s mine or not? He could be anyone’s.”

“You are Jimmy’s father, Nolan. I swear I have never been with another man. I don’t know what evil has poisoned you against me, but please don’t take it out on the children.” Her voice shook with emotion.

“Be silent!” He struck her again, this time hard enough to knock her against the wall. Her head caught the corner of a shelf, and she crumpled like a rag doll, blood pouring from her scalp.

Both boys screamed for their mother.

Nolan reached down and grasped Britt by the arm, yanking him away from his mother and brother. When Jimmy reached for Britt, their father shoved him back. He stumbled and landed on his mother, who didn’t respond.

Within the hour, father and eldest son packed their things and abandoned the small house, the only home either boy had ever known.

Two days later, Joseph Tucker came to call on Beulah Westin. He was sure Nolan was gone, probably for good by this time, and was prepared to play the part of comforter to the heartbroken woman. He knew it had been his lies that drove her husband away, but he had a fresh set of lies to feed her that would convince her of his innocence in the matter.

When she didn’t answer the door, he eased it open and went in. “Mrs. Westin?”

He got no response. The house was filled with a foul odor, and he could hear a whimper from the next room. What he saw when he entered sickened him.

Beulah lay on the floor, a congealed, blackened puddle of blood around her head, her body swollen and blown by flies. Her younger son, Jimmy, sat next to her, swatting at the flies.

The child looked pale and gaunt, almost on the verge of collapsing. Tucker must have made some noise. The boy looked up with lost and haunted eyes.

“Mr. Tucker? Can you help? Mama won’t get up. I think she’s sick. I’m hungry.”

Dear God, what have I done? he thought.

“Mr. Tucker?” the boy asked again.

The only answer he got was the sight of the man running from the room to retch.

Chapter 1

Belladonna paused as she passed Mr. Grimm’s cabin aboard the pirate ship Incubus. The siren had been on her way to the deck, when the sound of retching caught her attention. It was not a sound she was accustomed to hearing from the first mate’s cabin.

A short time later, Brianna Belmont, the young Frenchwoman Hezekiah Grimm had claimed as his share of a prize they’d taken a few months before, emerged carrying a full chamber pot and looking a little green around the gills. She stopped short when she noticed the siren standing there.

“Oh, bonjour.”

“From the look on your face, I would say it is not such a good day,” Belle commented.

Brianna shook her head. “Non, this mal de mare plagues me in the mornings now.”

The siren sniffed the air around the woman; then she smiled wryly. “You are not seasick. You are pregnant. Does Mr. Grimm know?”

“Pregnant?” What looked like panic began to shine in her eyes. “How?”

“The usual way, I imagine; and I take it by your reaction that he does not know. You need to tell him. I would also suggest you pay a visit to Dr. Coffin, even though I don’t think much of these human healers.”

Brianna seemed to be in shock still. She set the chamber pot down next to the bulkhead. When she straightened back up, her face grew pasty and her eyes went glassy. It was the only warning the siren had that the woman was going to faint.

Belle just managed to catch her before she could collapse to the deck. It was one of those times she was grateful she wasn’t human. Easily lifting the unconscious woman, she carried her back into the cabin and laid her on the bed.

As she made sure Brianna was comfortable, she reached out along the mental link she shared with the living vampire she called Captain, Viktor Brandewyne. Captain, let Mr. Grimm know he needs to come check on his woman. Send Dr. Coffin down, as well.

Belle hoped this wouldn’t prove to be too much of an interruption of Viktor’s quest to locate the Sisters of Power. He still had three of the seven to deal with, and not even the old wizard on Hell’s Breath Island, Zeke, knew how much time the vampire had before the curse that had transformed him would destroy him. His survival hinged on finding them and earning portions of their power.

Belle wanted him to avoid that fate as much as he did. The magic that bound her to him notwithstanding, she had grown to love him as much as a near-immortal siren could love a human-turned-living-vampire.

Hezekiah Grimm and Matthew Coffin arrived at about the same time. Belladonna was wiping Brianna’s face with a damp cloth. Before either man could ask any questions, the woman awoke and clutched the siren’s wrist.

“Is the bébé all right?”

“Baby?” Grimm echoed, stunned.

Belle nodded. “Yes.”

Grimm knelt beside the bed and took the rag from the siren. “I knew you hadn’t been feeling well the past few mornings, Brie. I had no idea. I thought it was just the food not agreeing with you.”

“That may be all it is, Mr. Grimm,” the doctor said. “Nausea is not exclusive to pregnancy.”

Belle stood and leaned against the bulkhead. She knew the woman was pregnant, but she also knew Dr. Coffin was not about to take her word for it.

He proceeded to ask Brianna, “Do you remember when your last monthly course was?”

“Doctor!” Grimm protested such a personal and blunt question.

“It is a necessary question, Mr. Grimm, I assure you. Unless something is wrong with either mother or child, it is usual for her moon blood to cease until after delivery.”

Brianna rested one hand on her belly and grasped Grimm’s hand in her other. “It is so hard to keep track of time on this ship,” she replied, “but I think it has been over a couple of months. I just didn’t pay it much mind.”

“Have you been craving unusual foods?”

“Non; lately the very thought of food sickens me.”

“That will change before long.” Belle spoke up. “They are going to be hungry.”

“They?” Brianna questioned.

Simultaneously, Grimm asked, “How many children is she carrying?”

Coffin protested, “We still don’t know if she really is pregnant, Belladonna. The evidence is purely circumstantial.”

The siren fixed him with an emotionless stare, making him nervously back up a pace. “Keep in mind, Dr. Coffin, that I am not human. I have senses you could barely comprehend. Her scent tells me she is pregnant. The human female body undergoes unmistakable changes to harbor new life.”

“Very well,” he ceded.

“Belle,” Grimm drew her attention. “You said, they. How many?”

“Mademoiselle Belmont is carrying twins, Mr. Grimm: one male, one female,” she answered.

Brianna adapted quickly to the news. She seemed happy, but also nervous and uncertain. “What magic did you use to divine that, Mademoiselle Belle?”

The siren smiled. “No magic. As a sea creature, I am able to use sound to see things. There are small sensory organs at the corners of my eyes, too small for you to see, but much more sensitive than human ears. Just as I can scream at levels that can destroy a human mind, I can emit sounds too low or too high for a human to hear. Underwater, it allows me to locate prey by the echoes. In your case, it enables me to see into your womb. There are two infants forming. The variation in your scent tells me you carry both male and female.”

Coffin sounded intrigued. “So, it is a natural ability. You are a fascinating creature, my dear. Perhaps we can talk sometime about internal anatomy. I always thought I could be a better doctor if I could just understand better the inner workings of my patients.”

“An interesting proposal, Doctor. I will think about it, but for now, I need to hunt.” She dismissed herself.

After giving general advice to avoid anything strenuous and to eschew restrictive garments, Dr. Coffin excused himself, as well.
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The Daedalus Enigma

Once Upon a Tide…

A pregnant woman lay in the muck of a back alley in a small village. Torchlight flickered over her supine form and illuminated the bright blood erupting from her torn throat. The red, pulsing fountain pooled and mingled with her equally red hair.

A hooded and cloaked figure held the torch and leaned over to examine a dusty pile next to the dying woman. Light rain began to fall which caused the torch to gutter for a moment. The rain coupled with the blood gradually turned the dust, or more accurately ash, to mud. As it did, four elongated sharp teeth emerged to gleam in the torchlight.

“Interesting,” the hooded female said. “The fangs survived.”

She started a bit when the dying woman grasped her ankle. “Damn! You aren’t dead yet?”

“B-belladonna, help m-m-meee.” The woman’s voice came in a faint burble. “W-water.

Belladonna shook her grip loose and stepped back out of reach. Even though she could see the blood flow slow, the prone woman’s grip had been strong. “You should not have come to my territory, sister. I have always been free. I don’t need your mate here. You knew he would follow you.”

“Won’t . . . leave . . . because . . . I’m . . . dead.”

“We’ll see, Marala.”

Silence reigned as Belladonna watched her sister die. Finally, the blood flow stopped completely.

Belladonna shoved the lit end of the torch into the muck and left it there. Along her walk through the village back to the seashore, she dropped her cloak on the ground, as well. She walked naked to the end of a pier and dove into the salty water. Within moments her legs transformed to a shark-like tail, and she headed for the open sea.

Storms raged from one end of the Mediterranean to the other for seven months straight. Hurricane force winds crushed any ships that ventured forth. Enormous maelstroms formed where none had been before, and tidal waves drowned coasts which had always enjoyed moderate weather in the past.

Sirens did battle.

The male took the form of a great sea dragon. He raged against the female responsible for the murder of his mate. He cared nothing for the death of his unborn offspring, however. The three before it had been male, and he had slaughtered them at birth. He only cared about the pleasure his mate could give him.

Human females always seemed too fragile to him, although he found their flesh quite flavorful. They rarely survived long into the mating. Their bodies took too much damage well before he felt ready to finish.

No, only a female siren could hold her own with a male in the pleasure bed.

He determined he would have the one who’d stolen his mate from him. First he would punish her insolence; then he would make her his new mate.

Belladonna took to land to avoid her foe. Although he could take human form as well, she knew the transformation took him considerably longer. She hoped to have time to hide.

She didn’t anticipate the ambush. Five female vampires, all over two centuries old, pounced on her faster than she could react. She fought against them; a few gained vicious slashes from her talons. If there had been only two, or maybe three, she might have escaped. The siren was a match for nearly any vampire in strength and speed.

Apparently, her captors knew that and planned for it. They subdued her by sheer numbers.

Belladonna shrieked: a shrill ultrasonic and subsonic blast of sound. The vampires only hissed and growled. She realized then that these creatures were not vulnerable to such an attack. Had they been human, they would have been reduced to mindless meat puppets.

“Hold her steady!” A sixth vampire said as she stepped from the shadows. Silently, the others obeyed. Belladonna found she could not move.
The vampire stood before her and regarded her for some time before she spoke again.

“You are the siren responsible for the deaths of two of my kind seven months ago.”

“I needed them to kill my sister. She tried to hide from her mate in my territory.”

“Siren blood is deadly to my kind.”

“I did not know that at the time.”

“And now that you know?”

Belle tried to shrug, but found the motion impossible while still restrained. “It matters nothing to me.”

The vampire tilted her head and tapped her lower lip. “What to do with you, then? We cannot drain you for obvious reasons. You should be punished for your crime against vampires, yet . . .”

The siren held her silence. She allowed her muscles to go limp in the hope it would lull her captors into believing she accepted defeat. The ones who held her never moved or eased their tension.

“We will not kill you. You unintentionally did me a service.”

“Oh?” Belle said. “You have an odd way of showing gratitude.”

The vampire smiled. “You are an impressive predator; easily as crafty as one of my own. What say you, sisters; shall we initiate her into our sorority and make her a Daughter of the Dragon?”

Belladonna sneered. “I am already a Dragon’s Daughter.”

“Different type of dragon, siren,” another of the vampires said. “I agree, sister; she should be one of us, since she did our job.”

“Yes.” The other four agreed.

“So be it.” A small breeze buffeted them as she departed at blinding speed. Moments later, she returned. In her hand, a branding iron with an intricate serpentine design glowed bright red, verging on white hot.

She bared her shoulder and showed the same pattern tattooed there. “Our marks are tattoos, but I do not believe that method would work on you. There is also the matter of capturing you again every few decades to renew the ink. However, I do know that your kind cannot fully heal from fire.”

Try as she might, Belladonna could not squirm away. “Hold her firmly! I don’t want the pattern marred,” the lead vampire instructed.

The odor of burning flesh and screams of pain soon filled the night.

Hours later, the siren reached a secluded cove. The vampires had released her and vanished back into the night shortly after branding her. The burning pain on her shoulder blade made her left arm useless. She knew salt water would ease the pain and allow her to partially heal.

She also knew how dangerous it would be to enter the sea in her vulnerable state. Her adversary would sense her current weakness and use it to his advantage. The pain and wound severely hampered her ability to defend herself.

Even this cove, far removed from any human habitation, felt too exposed.

At that thought, a thick fog formed at the mouth of the cove. Belladonna eyed it with trepidation. Although she could do so, she had not called it. She scented the air, but the magic did not carry the flavor of the male she battled with.

Despite the aching pain in her shoulder it caused, she emitted a subsonic thrum to feel what lay hidden by the strange fog. Rather than a creature, the receptors in her sinuses told her a landmass had appeared where none had been before.

This puzzled her. She’d never encountered a magic like it before. She felt compelled to investigate.

To her relief, the blistered burn healed over to shiny scar tissue the moment she immersed herself to swim to the island. The fact she had to struggle with the swim frightened her, however. For the first time in her existence, her body failed to revert to its true form on contact with seawater. She didn’t know if this was because of the unfamiliar magic or the fresh burn. She’d never had a wound caused by fire before, either.

Finally, she floundered to the mysterious shore. It took her a few moments to catch her breath: yet another new experience for her. She began not to like new experiences.

She spotted a glow over a low rise. Even though it signified fire, which raised an instinctive dread, she felt compelled to go toward it.

What she saw over the rise and down in the bowl-like depression made her try to turn around and flee. Some force held her in place. An ancient, dark-skinned man sat on a rock near a driftwood fire. He, too, seemed apprehensive about the flames.

“Come closer, girl,” the old man ordered. “We have to sort out this little spat the two of you have been having,”

Belladonna shook her head. She moved her right hand to the new scar and shot a fearful glance at the fire.

“You will not be harmed, Belladonna. Come here,” he said.

Against her will, she felt her feet move forward. Finally, she stood by an adjacent rock to the one the old man sat on.

“How did you know my name? Why did you give it to him?” She jabbed a finger toward the male siren standing opposite her.

“I am Zeke the Elder. I know quite a few things. If it will make you feel any better, he is Xandricus.”

“You had no right to tell her that!” The male siren snarled.

“Quiet, you,” Zeke said. Xandricus opened his mouth to protest, but no sound emerged. He extended talons. Zeke pointed a finger at him. “Sit.” Xandricus dropped unceremoniously to a rock at the command.

Belle took notice of the power display. She decided to be cooperative. She sat on the rock near her without coercion. She then turned a questioning look to the strange old wizard.

“Now then,” Zeke said, “you two have caused quite a bit of chaos with your little lovers’ spat these past few months.”

“Pardon, Elder, but we are not lovers, nor have we ever been,” Belle said.

He quirked up a corner of his mouth. “You speak respectfully, Belladonna. You learn fast. I know you are not lovers. I even know what caused this quarrel. However, I cannot allow it to continue.”

He turned his attention to Xandricus. “Withdraw your claws, sea dragon. You have no need for them here.”

The male siren obeyed.

“You arrived here on Hell’s Breath first, so I will ask you first what you will accept to end this feud.”

Xandricus glared at Belladonna. “She shall replace her sister as my mate. She shall submit to me and cede her territory to me,” he stated his demands.

“No.” Belle glared back at him. “I have always been free. I intend to remain free.”

Zeke turned to her. “What will you accept to end this conflict?”

“He shall leave me and my territory in peace and never return.”

“Unacceptable,” Xandricus said. “My mate is dead because of her.”

“That is not entirely true, sea dragon,” Zeke corrected. “Your mate would not have entered her territory had you not slaughtered each of your offspring upon birth. She tried to hide to protect her unborn from you. Belladonna destroyed them both in the hopes of driving you out of her territory.”

He turned his attention back to her. “Of course, that raises the question:would he have left you in peace if you had turned your sister over to him?”

She shook her head. “It is not in the nature of the males of our species. He would have tried to make me part of his harem and taken my territory. He would deal with any offspring in the same manner: if it were male, slaughter; if female, potential incest once she reached sexual maturity.”

“Do you deny this statement, Xandricus?”

“It is my right as Dragon.”

Zeke stared into his fire for several minutes. When he spoke, it held a tone of finality. “This is my decision. Belladonna shall cede her territory to Xandricus. He shall be bound to that territory and shall not expand it further.”

Xandricus grinned and eyed Belle with a proprietary leer. His expression soon changed, however.

Zeke continued, “Belladonna shall retain her freedom and not return to her territory.”

Xandricus frowned, but said, “Very well, I accept.”

“I do not!”

“You have no more say in the matter, either of you,” Zeke declared.

The fog manifested and obscured everything from sight. Just as quickly, it cleared. Xandricus no longer could be seen.

Zeke looked square at Belladonna. She fumed, but held her silence. She had not forgotten how powerful he was.

“You have your freedom, for now, siren,” he said. “Do not bemoan the loss of your territory. The Mediterranean is small compared to the oceans.”

“And if I try to reclaim it?”

“If you return to your old territory to reclaim it, you shall fall prey to Xandricus and be bound to him until his death. I will not permit the chaos the two of you caused to happen again.”

“But I am free to swim and hunt in any other sea or ocean?”


She tilted her head. “Very well.” She turned to walk away.

“Not so fast, girl; I’m not through with you.”

She turned, but wasn’t quite able to hide her snarl of frustration. “You said I had my freedom.”

“For now,” he added the qualifier. “A day will come—I don’t know when—that you will bind yourself to a male and will be bound to him for the rest of your life, or his.”

She sneered. “I have no intention of ever doing that, and if I ever find myself in that trap, I’ll just make sure his life ends quickly.”

He chuckled at her. When his laughter wound down, he said, “You say that now; but you’ll sing a different tune when you finally meet the One. Now, let me see that nasty burn those vixens gave you.”

Obediently, but to her puzzlement, she turned to show him the brand. She felt an odd tingle as he waved his hand over it.

“What did you do?”

“Although it will feel like it, I did not remove it. I hid it. No one needs to know about it.”

Before she could thank him, the fog manifested. When it cleared, she found herself alone in an unknown body of water. To her relief, her tail formed immediately.

She quickly dismissed the old wizard’s forewarning. She would worry about that when the time came, if it came. For now, she needed to hunt.
Back to The Daedalus Enigma
Maelstrom of Fate

Once Upon a Tide . . .

Shouting roused Viktor from his light slumber. He picked out male and female voices; the male sounded like his second mate, Hezekiah Grimm. The man didn’t sound happy.

He pulled his arm from beneath the whore he’d shared a bed with, pulled on his trousers, and went to investigate. The wench never stirred, although she let out a soft snore.

Vik stepped into the hallway of the brothel just in time to see a half-naked woman stumble out of the room his mate had rented as if she’d been pushed. Not long after, Grimm appeared in the doorway naked. He shoved a wadded garment at the woman.

“Get out, you worthless bitch!”

“No! Not until you pay me!”

“You haven’t earned it.” Grimm turned and slammed the door in her face.

Still oblivious to Viktor’s presence, the woman began to pound on the door. “You
owe me a guinea! I did what you asked, you old bastard! I can’t help it if you can’t get it up!”

Viktor turned, went back to his room and finished dressing. The sound of the woman’s tantrum drifted in through the open door. The whore in his bed finally stirred.

“What is going on? Are you leaving?”

He tossed her a gold piece. “I just need some fresh air. I’ll be back before morning.”

He stepped out and closed the door behind him. He turned to see Grimm emerge again, still naked, and point a blunderbuss at the wench’s nose.


The woman clutched her clothes to her chest and fled for the stairs, only stopping to shout something in Spanish over her shoulder at the landing.

The weapon discharged and took out a chunk of the ceiling above her. She screamed and fled down the stairs.

Viktor smirked and headed for the stairs. As he passed Grimm, he said, “For God’s sake, man; put some clothes on or go back to bed.”

Grimm muttered something unintelligible. Vik peered at him and noticed a look about him of a sleepwalker. “Get some rest, Mr. Grimm,” he said, his voice a little more gentle. Something was wrong with his second mate. He determined to find out what it was. He owed the man his life, after all.

Grimm went back in his room and shut the door. Viktor headed downstairs in search of the girl. He wanted to get to her before she could complain to the pimp who ran this brothel. He’d already heard a few doors crack open behind him. Luckily, all the rooms were taken by members of his crew.

He reached the foot of the stairs just in time to see the girl tuck her blouse into her skirt. She wore a scowl and a touch of fear in her eyes when she looked up and saw him. He gave her his most roguishly charming smile. He pulled out a gold coin and twirled it in his fingers. It glittered in the dim lamplight.

“Care to spend some time with me?”

She put on her professional smile and stepped forward. She reached for the coin and said, “You speak my language, señor.”

She started to climb the stairs. He grasped her wrist and shook his head. “Mr. Grimm is still in a foul temper, and Daria is asleep in my bed. Right now, I’d like to find a bottle and someplace dark and out of the way.”

She visibly relaxed, and her smile grew more genuine. “What kind of bottle do you prefer?”

“Brandy, but rum will do.”

“I know just the place.”

After procuring some decent brandy, he led the girl through the dark streets in search of a secluded spot. They shared the bottle as they walked along and spoke in low tones.

“Why was Mr. Grimm so angry, pet? I don’t think I’ve ever seen him like that.”

She took a drink from the bottle and grimaced at the burn. “I think it is the opium. He sprinkled some in his pipe tobacco, and he had a few drops of laudanum as well,” she said and handed the bottle back. “If I’d known he was an opium eater, I would have demanded payment up front.”

“Why’s that?”

“Every one of them I’ve encountered can’t get it up. They act like it’s my fault, but I know it’s the opium.”

He stopped and looked around. He saw no one else about. “This looks like a good spot.”

“What? here in the street?”

“Hardly, pet.” He pulled out a thin dagger and went to work on the lock of the door they’d stopped by. It didn’t take him long to get it open with a soft click. He motioned for her to be quiet and eased the door open.

“Doesn’t seem to be anyone about. Come on.” He pulled her through the door and shut it behind them. A scrape and click followed by a spark broke the darkness. Viktor dialed down the wick of the oil lamp mounted next to the door and lowered the glass chimney. The illumination revealed a trade goods warehouse.

He grinned. “This is perfect. I think we can find someplace comfortable in here, pet.”

It didn’t take him long to locate a suitable spot. He moved behind her, lifted her skirts, and bent her over a stack of grain bags. She didn’t object and seemed enthusiastic about his staying power.

He finished and withdrew. She didn’t get up right away while he tucked himself back in. He smiled grimly at her back as she worked to regain her breath.

He leaned over her and whispered, “That was sweet, pet; the best I’ve had in a while. Unfortunately, I can’t have you going about revealing the Reaper’s weaknesses.”

She didn’t even have time to squeak. With well-practiced movements, he snapped her neck then stepped back as her bladder and bowels released in death.

He retrieved the gold coin he’d given her as well as a few other valuables. Before he left, he pulled a chock from beneath a nearby stack of casks. The iron-banded wooden containers rolled free and tumbled all over the body. When it was discovered, people would think the whore had been killed in a burglary gone bad.

Satisfied with his handiwork, Viktor returned to the brothel.

Over the next few weeks, Viktor kept a close eye on his second mate. Hezekiah had grown to be more than a valuable crew member over the years they’d sailed together. He was one of the few men Viktor trusted with his life. The only one aboard closer to him was his first mate, Jim Rigger.

It troubled him to see the Grimm Reaper deteriorate. He’d known that the man dabbled with opium but had given it no more thought than the tobacco or gin his second mate was so fond of. Grimm had never imbibed to the point of impairment.

This opium proved different. Now it had been brought to his attention, Viktor saw an increasingly adverse effect on his friend. Grimm grew lethargic, irritable, and mentally unfocused.

Had it been anyone else, Vik knew he’d kill him before he endangered the crew. He owed Grimm a life debt, though. He decided to put him off the crew, preferably in a way which would let the man save face.

“You wanted to see me, Captain?”

“Yes, Mr. Grimm. Shut the door behind you, please.”

Grimm must have sensed something. He became apprehensive. Most wouldn’t spot it; Viktor knew his second mate’s body language far too well.

“We need to acquire another ship.”

Grimm blinked. Obviously, that was not the statement he’d expected. “Something wrong with this one?”

“No; it will be for you to captain. I’d like to take some prizes in tandem.” He watched for a reaction.

Grimm crossed his arms and arched an eyebrow. “Bilge, begging your pardon, Captain; might I ask what I’ve done to make you angry?”

Vik smiled inwardly. The man could still read him and seemed fairly lucid . . . for the moment. Perhaps there was hope; but he couldn’t afford that gamble with the ship or the lives of the crew.

“How much opium have you had today, Hezekiah?”

Grimm frowned. His stance became defensive. “Who told you I used opium?”

“I’ve known for some time that you dabbled. Granted, I don’t know when you started; but things came to a head back in port.”

“That little whore; I should have slit her throat instead of chasing her off.”

“She is no longer something to worry about. I made sure she won’t tell anyone about your problem.” He sat back and looked at his second mate. He never thought he’d have to remove Grimm from the crew. “I’ve been watching you since then, and I’ve seen changes which shake my faith in you.” He held up a hand to stop any protest and continued, “I don’t doubt your loyalty, man. I have merely seen how badly the opium has impaired you.”

“Vik, I can stop using, if it’s that important to you.”

“For your sake, I hope so, Hezekiah. Still, I can’t let you put the ship or crew in danger.” He sighed, got up, and retrieved a bottle of rum from the cabinet. “Hezekiah, you are one of the best pirates it has been my pleasure to sail with. Hell, you deserve your own captaincy. I think perhaps you need the challenge. You already know you won’t get it here.”

Grimm took the offered bottle. He took a swig, handed it back, and walked over to the window casement. He looked out it in silence for some time. Vik let him. Finally, he turned back to face his captain.

“I appreciate what you’re offering me, Vik. Been with you long enough to realize you’d have killed any other man for this, except Mr. Rigger, possibly. What was his view on this, by the way?”

“He does not know. I have not discussed this with anyone other than you, nor do I intend to.”

Vik saw the flash of relief in his mate’s eyes and continued, “You know as well as I do that it’s not good to let a crew see any perceived weakness, or they’ll turn on you. I need the lads to respect you. I also don’t want them to think I’ve grown soft.”

“If they knew you knew about this problem and let me live . . .” Grimm trailed off and shook his head. Viktor noticed he’d broken out in a sweat and nearly soaked his shirt through.

“Are you well, Hezekiah?”

“No, Vik, I’m not. I’d not realized how enslaved I’ve grown to the poppy until just this moment. I want some very badly right now.” The second mate began to shake. “If I’ve any hope to be free of it I would strongly suggest you have all the laudanum stores locked away.”

“I already took that precaution. Durham was puzzled by the order, so I told him I suspected someone had been stealing it. The stuff needs to be reserved for when we have wounded.”

“Thank you, Captain. I’m going to miss you.”

Vik shot him a sardonic grin. “Keep in mind I was serious about taking some prizes in tandem, Mr. Grimm. With both of us captaining, the bastards won’t know what hit them.”

Grimm shared his grin.
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