"The nets ready?" "Spicy" Jeanne stood on the gently-swaying deck of the Red Rover, the warm salt breeze stirring her long mahogany tresses. She looked down at the broad back in the striped shirt, watching ropy muscles bunch beneath the fabric as the man turned to look up her. Flinty-blue eyes squinted as the sun framed Jeanne's tall trim figure.
"Yes, cap'n." He nodded in the direction of the pile of finely-wrought nets as he bit the last stitch off the one in his lap. Jeanne studied the pile, knowing the question had been unnecessary, but as always taking reassurance from Jeb Stuart's quiet competence.
"Yep. We're set to go." Arranged on the canvas in front of him, with the nets, were several coils of finely braided hemp rope, strips of leather, and thick leather pads with polished buckles. The boxes of ammunition were packed and dry, and Jeanne knew the rest of the stores would be as well.
"We'll weigh anchor at first light, then, First Mate."
The big man nodded; he seemed to hold her gaze with his for an extra second or two, something that always sent her memory back to that day…
Lisbon. Nearly five years ago, now...
The fierce battle to take the "Dublin Lady" had left Jeanne with juices flowing, and flush with cash, rolling into the busy tavern. Round after round she'd bought—perhaps more than she ought—and then there was Antonio. He'd been the bored, beautiful son of a grandee, who had entered the tavern and immediately been struck by the dark-haired woman commanding the attention of the room.
A long, riotous evening had ensued, with flowing ale and bawdy banter. In the end, though, the young nobleman had seemed intimated by the beautiful pirate, and after making excuses had shuffled his way to the door, leaving Jeanne at the table alone. She slammed down the tankard, cursed the young pup for leaving her so monstrously drunk and burning, and sullenly finished her drink. Through the haze of black anger she had a vague awareness of the tavern emptying, more quietly than usual, but she paid it no heed.
It was much later that night when Jeanne had finally staggered out the door of the tavern, much the worse for drink and anger. She had no hint of signals being passed; no notion that the young man she'd been drinking with might have had friends of his own.
The first cowardly blow came from behind, a club of some kind smashing between her shoulderblades. Three of them? No, four. She slumped forward, her vision spinning sickeningly. Her drink-fuddled fingers scrabbled at the hilt of her sword, but before she could get a grasp on it, one of the men had pulled a set of heavy manacles from his pocket and seized her wrist.
Privateers! Of course. Supposedly "reformed" sea-dogs turned bounty hunters, bringing in their former compatriots for money. If she could see the faces of the yellow bastards, she might even have recognized them. Instead, in the inky blackness, all she could see were hands— hands grasping for her, chaining her, preparing her for a voyage that was sure to end in a hanging.
The cuffs clicked shut. Jeanne was slammed to her knees on the hard ground, and felt thick, stubby fingers tangle in her long tresses and yank her head back.
"Now, bitch. Before we go to collect the bounty on that pretty head, let us receive something else from it. Open wide—UUGGHHHH!"
The privateer's mocking threat ended in a choking gurgle, and Jeanne felt the tension in her scalp abate. She shook hair back from her face and woozily tried to head-butt the man in front of her. He snarled, stepping back, and drew back a booted foot to kick Jeanne in the head. Before the blow could land, the foot and leg suddenly flew out of her line of sight, accompanied by a squeal.
And as her vision cleared, she could see the tall figure that had waded into the center of the melee, fists pistoning faces into pulp. Dressed in a seaman's striped shirt and canvas ducks, he moved with the easy confidence of a man who had cleared more than one deck in his day. Two of Jeanne's assailants lay sprawled on the filthy street. There were shouts from the distance—more of the bastards!—and one of the men left standing raised a pistol.
Her rescuer kicked at one of the unconscious attackers, and a knife that had been in his hand flew spinning toward the man with the gun. Though there was no real chance of it cutting the man, he flinched away instinctively… and in that moment, the tall man reached down and took Jeanne by the shoulders.
"Wait—" was all Jeanne was able to get out before she was hoisted bodily. Even with the extra weight of the shackles, the man lifted her as easily as a child; breath left her lungs in a gasp as he threw her face-down over his shoulder. He matched the strength he had demonstrated with awesome speed as he ducked down an alleyway, the report of a futile pistol-shot ringing behind them.
The night had ended, hours later, with the two of them huddled in a deserted boat house. The man's skill with tools had freed her from the cuffs, and he'd told her as he worked of the way he'd spent the evening quietly watching her… and watching the men watching her. His story wasn't unusual—a freebooter, his last captain now swinging from a yardarm somewhere, ready to sail with a new commander— and by morning, she found herself waking nestled in the strong arms, a strange feeling of peace suffusing her, the memories of the things he had done to her both shocking her, and enveloping her like a comfortable blanket.
Nearly five years since that night, and in some ways it was hard to recall the days before Jeb Stuart came. She'd come to depend on the man's strength and ruthless efficiency… but for all that their respect for each other had grown in that time, neither had ever referred to the conclusion of that evening… nor had it ever been repeated. There were days when Jeanne was glad of that, blaming it all on the drink and fear… and days when she still daydreamed of the powerful arms crushing her to him again.
"So, cap'n… we meeting your friend again?"
Jeanne came out of her reverie, and shivered slightly as she thought of the big dark eyes, night-black hair, and small perfect body of Dona Angela Villanueva.
"Yes, Dona Angela has made the usual… arrangements for us."
Those "arrangements" had proved most fruitful in the past. Dona Angela was the widow of the late Viceroy, doing whatever it took to consolidate power into her own hands. To that end, she'd made a tidy profit allowing freebooters to ply their trade, taking a share of the proceeds for herself. And while most of the others had satisfied themselves with gold and jewels, Jeanne had become a specialist in the far more lucrative area of the slave trade… and not simply house or field workers. The beautiful pirate traded in the most valuable commodity of all: women. Beautiful women for the delectation of men and women wealthy enough to pay for them.
The First Mate scowled. "I don't know, cap'n. Been hearing stories lately… stories suggesting that things might not be so easy this time."
"What do you mean?"
He shrugged. "I hear that there's some trouble there… that your lady's slave trade is being disrupted."
"Disrupted? By what?"
"Not what. Who. They say the areas we've harvested for slaves are now under the protection of what they call a Golden Goddess."
"Supposed to be a beautiful woman, with blue eyes and long gold hair, that's standing against the slavers.
"Golden Goddess, eh?" Jeanne's lips twisted into a smile. "Why, a man'd probably pay double to own his own goddess-- wouldn't you, First Mate? Sounds a right tempting business proposition to me."
Jeb Stuart shrugged again. "A bit rich for my blood, cap'n. But I'll admit, that'd be an interesting thing to see."
Jeanne laughed. "Well, Mr Stuart, let's see just how interesting we can make things." And with that, she turned to go back to her cabin, confident that this would be her most profitable journey yet.
It wasn't the heat or the humidity of the Jungle that made her body sweat and gleam in the dim firelight of the large hut that she occupied alone, separated from the rest of the village..after 12 years she had become used to the stifling atmosphere of the Congolese nights. What acivated the tall, slender body of the scantily clad blonde woman to heave and toss in the seclusion of the hut was the horrific images that came to her often in her sleep, even after the passing of so much time.
Images of the mission burning....of the merciless savages who relentlessly cut and speared her father until he was a bloodied mess...and images and sensations of her own body being violated at the age of 16, stripped and beaten and raped until even the renegade natives believed she was dead.2 years to build the mission with her father...less than 20 minutes to destroy it...and everything she held dear. They should never have been there in the first place...An English missionary and his young daughter, so far from home, so alien to this savage land. Dana Bowman should never have survived, let alone become what she now was....the symbol of a lost tribe's strength and power... a golden goddess they called Lianni, and worshipped for her ability to protect and guide them. The girl who had somehow crawled into the depths of the jungle and been found and healed by the Macumbas had grown to womanhood with extraorinary power and wisdom, and they bowed down to her to a man....but the nightmares, though infrequent, never went away.
Lianni awoke suddenly in the early hours, lying in the darkness, feeling her heart pounding in her chest, hands gripping at the saturated leopard skin top, jerking the knot behind her head free and wrenching the garment from her chest. Then forcing herself to breath deeply, controlling her heart, push the memories down deep.
As she lay there, staring into the shadows, the savagery of that night beginning to recede, but it's replaced by another feeling of dread. Rumors have reached into this remote, dark region...rumors of powerful, white skinned men and brutal savages who pillage the peaceful tribes down river, destroying everything in their path like locusts and enslaving the finest of the men and women. If true, it can only be a matter of time before they penetrate deeper into the jungle. Grimly the woman known as Lianni vows one thing: she will not let harm come to the tribe. They will be prepared. She has shunned the white world except for rare and secret visits to the far away fort for medical supplies. The commander, Diego, is a vile, unkempt and overweight sloth who trades a good deal in return for some hope of her eventual "compliance" with his vile desires. Small enough sacrifice for the people who once saved her life.
Perhaps it is time for the Golden Goddess to leave the safety of the jungle to determine if this threat is real.
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