Cutlass by Ashley Nixon
(Cutlass Series #1)
Publication date: April 23rd 2014
Genres: Fantasy, Young Adult
Notorious pirate Barren Reed has one thing on his mind: Revenge against the man who killed his father. So kidnapping his enemy’s fiancé seems a perfect plan…until he actually does it.
Larkin Lee is more than a pretty face and fiancé to a powerful man. Her fierce personality is enough to make any pirate want to push her overboard.
But when the King of the Orient comes to Barren with a task—to find the Bloodstone, a powerful gem thought only to exist in legend, Barren sees another opportunity to destroy his enemy. Together, Barren, Larkin and a crew of pirates set off to find the stone, only to discover it caused the death of Barren’s own mother and Larkin’s, too. As his strongest allies turn into his greatest enemies, and the life of the girl he kidnapped becomes more important than he ever dreamed, Barren’s quest for revenge becomes a fight to save the Orient.
Larkin had a hard time trudging through the mushy path of water, rocks and mud wearing a ball gown. She tripped several times on the too long skirt, only to be caught up in the ever-present arms of her kidnapper. It was infuriating. She would prefer being covered in mud, rather than allowing Barren’s constant attempts to keep her on her feet.
She couldn’t really figure out how to feel—she was scared, yes, but also strangely intrigued. She knew why they’d taken her: as bait to lure William to sea. Her father had warned her that she might be targeted, and she felt stupid having been taken. Every time she looked at Barren, anger flared in her chest.
She’d decided to leave the engagement party after spotting Barren. She’d gone through her options—returning home meant signaling a carriage and drawing attention, and while the castle might offer safety, it didn’t offer her peace. That’s why she’d chosen to head to shore—why would a pirate ever suspect she’d go there? She was a lady, after all. She’d thought she had been discreet on her way out, even escaping Barren Reed’s notice…but, instead, she’d drawn it.
She fell again and jerked away when she felt his hand on her arm.
“I am perfectly capable of standing on my own,” she spat.
Barren gave a short laugh. “Really? Because you’ve been stumbling all over since we left the ship.”
Larkin reached down and gathered her dress up as much as she could and continued forward. “If it is too bothersome for you, we can cut the skirt away.”
Larkin twisted, almost slipping as she did. Her eyes fell upon Barren, narrow and unkind.
“You will not touch me.”
Barren held up his hands. “I was just offering an option to ease your struggling.”
“I’m not struggling!”
She turned around and to her great annoyance, fell again as the rocks and mud gave way beneath her feet. This time, Barren stood aside as she got to her feet again. She refused to look at him, her face burning with embarrassment.
“It is required by the code that I kill any privateers I come into contact with—a waste, really. You were brave.”
Barren moved his arm back and thrust the blade toward the young lord. Larkin moved quickly, snatching Leaf’s cutlass from his hand, she deflected Barren’s sword and stood between the two.
“No!” she cried fiercely. “You will spare him!”
“You do not command me!” Barren’s voice was deadly.
“What would you gain from his death?”
“He cannot be trusted!”
“You’ve spent all your life killing the wrong people! How many more lives will you take to pay for one?”
Barren let his blade fall to his side. His gaze seared her, and he could tell she was afraid. Her eyes were wide, and she breathed heavily, but her hands tightened on the hilt of Leaf’s blade. For a moment, he wanted to end her life. Then he would have no more interferences, but he knew he couldn’t. He took a step toward her, eyes narrowing.
“Move,” he commanded. Larkin glared up at him and shook her head. Barren tightened his jaw.
“It’s okay, Larkin,” she heard Jonathan’s voice. “Move.”
Barren watched as she turned to face Jonathan. Because she was distracted, Leaf was able to reach forward and pull her away from the scene, ripping the blade from her hands. Barren stepped forward, repositioned himself before the man and pointed the sword at Jonathan’s neck. All Barren had to do was push ever so slightly and blood would pool on the ground, a terrible gurgling sound that would fill the air. Larkin would scream—scream that he was a monster. Only now, she would see it, she would really know it.
Barren gazed at the crowd, sifting through the faces. While he wasn’t sure who he was looking for, he could only imagine what sort of wife William would need. A woman who was slight and meek, someone who didn’t like to stand out in the crowd, or speak up—obviously—or she would not have agreed to marry William. Then again, perhaps Barren was not giving this mystery woman enough credit. Perhaps she saw William as a way out of a situation. Either way, he felt sorry for her.
Barren heard Leaf chuckle and he looked at the Elf. “I think you have no idea who you are dealing with.”
Leaf pointed toward a circle of people. Barren’s eyes shifted there, and his breath caught. What he had expected was a fragile girl—someone slight, doll-like, and silent. This girl was not so. The first thing he took in was her strength. It radiated from her like warmth from a hearth. She stood straight with her shoulders back, an observing eye upon everyone. Then he drank in the features composing her beauty. Almond-shaped eyes gleamed with emerald irises that shone like sun on the green sea. Her smile, while charming and beautiful, had something mischievous about it. She had high cheekbones, blushed with pink and long, dark curls decorated with white flowers falling down her back and over her shoulders. Her dress, crimson in color, was unlike the others, hugging her hourglass figure like it was made on her. Barren could not have thought up a more beautiful girl, and no one around her compared.
A smug smirk crossed Leaf’s thin lips.
“What am I supposed to do with her?” asked Barren. His thoughts were all muddled. He had forgotten why he was here, or how he had intended to attract this girl’s attention. Could he even do that?
Leaf laughed. “Oh, you silly boy, we won’t make it out of this one alive, will we?”
Barren glared at the Elf. “Don’t tell me you expected her! How could she ever agree to marry my brother?”
Leaf shrugged, still smirking. “Ask her.”
Cutlass will be FREE on the day of the blitz, and Flintlock (book 2) will be 0.99c
Larkin lay against Barren, her head on his chest. She couldn’t sleep, though her eyes were heavy. It was so quiet in his cabin. She was used to sleeping in the hatch in a hammock in the back, where the groan of the ship was loudest. Then there was the heat of Barren’s skin. She’d come to know his warmth, yet she’d also come to know the absence of that warmth. Right now, there was energy between them that had gone unacknowledged since they’d closed the door. Strangely, it made her restless.
She also had questions about this trial. What did it mean that one of Barren’s brethren had come to escort him to Sanctuary? What did it even mean to have a trial among pirates? By the way Edward looked at her, she suspected she might have something to do with this.
“Will they take you from me?” she asked quietly, sleepily.
Barren was very still. She watched his chest rise and fall with the breaths he took. After a moment, she felt his fingers tangle in her hair. “Is that what you fear?” he asked.
“It is one thing I fear,” she said. She feared being taken from him. She feared being sent back to Maris.
“In truth, I do not know what the Elders have planned for me,” he said.
“Do they want to hurt you?”
“They will not kill me,” said Barren. “I am not a traitor.”
“But what you’ve done, it is punishable by the Elders?”
She knew by the silence that Barren did not know how to answer that question.
“By the code, I’ve done nothing wrong.”
The code was a set of rules created by the Elders of Silver Crest. Larkin had once mocked the idea of pirates abiding by any type of law, but she’d come to learn that all Pirates of Silver Crest, even those touted as the most ruthless, were loyal to the code. It ensured that the pirates protect Saoirse, freedom.
“Why call you to trial then?”
“Because I’ve done something they do not approve of.”
Larkin pushed herself up and stared at Barren in the darkness. His features were passive. It seemed so uncharacteristic. This should make him angry, because to her, it sounded unfair.
“So in truth this is against the code,” said Larkin.
Barren chuckled and sat up. “The Elders advise and protect the code, Larkin. To say they do anything against it is blasphemy.”
She regarded him for a moment. Barren’s loyalty to the code of Silver Crest was strong, which meant his loyalty to the Elders would be matched.
“I was under the impression the pirates of Silver Crest lived a life dedicated to Saoirse,” she said. It was one of the first things she’d learned about Barren, how important Saoirse—freedom—was to him. “If that is so, why do these men seem to have power over you?”
“The Elders are men and women,” Barren said. “They are the eldest among us, those with the most experience, and they have no power over us, only wisdom.”
“So they call you to trial to impart wisdom?” This wasn’t making sense. A trial meant that Barren had been charged. It meant there were consequences for actions. He knew this just as well as she did.
“Larkin,” he said and he ran his fingers over her cheek, tangling them into her hair, and secured his hand at the base of her neck. “I don’t want to talk about this right now. It’s in the future, but we’re in the present.”
He pulled her to him, and their lips crashed together, sending heat through her body, diffusing the tension that had built between them in the silence. His mouth moved from hers and trailed her jaw and throat. When he wrapped his hands around her thighs and pulled her to him, she forgot her frustrations—all she wanted to know was how she could be closer to him. The heat from his skin was addictive. It filled her senses, made her desperate.
He twisted, and she yelped as she found herself on her back with her legs still around his waist. He loomed over her and paused to stare, seeming completely focused, yet lost at the same time. She liked him like this. She often had power, but here she was in control. He would do anything she asked, bend to her will. So she reached for him, willing this distance between them to close, and he obliged, meeting her lips with a carnal growl.
A knock interrupted Cove’s thoughts and he uncurled the fingers he hadn’t realized he’d been clenching. He waited, expecting Camille to answer or enter the study any minute to tell him someone was here to see him. Though he didn’t have any appointments that he was aware of, it wasn’t unlikely for someone to drop by for a few moments.
The knock sounded again. Camille and Nob must be busy, he thought. He strode into the foyer and opened the door.
“Sara,” Cove took a step back, trying to stifle the surprise in his voice as he took in the woman at his door. She was Sara Rosamund—a friend, and the daughter of Frank Rosamund. Her sapphire blue eyes were painfully innocent and so kind, and set within the prettiest face, heart-shaped and fair-skinned. Her blond hair was pinned up in a bun, but she could never quite catch all the strands, as loose curls always managed to make their way free. Her lithe frame was draped in blue, a coat with black clasps kept her gown hidden, and white gloves covered her fragile hands. They’d grown up together, both having fathers in politics, and had spent many nights walking the gardens behind his house during balls and their fathers’ social calls.
“What a surprise,” he gestured to his foyer. “Come in.”
He closed the door behind her and as he turned to face her, Camille appeared from the hallway. “Apologies, Master Rowell,” she said, and then her eyes moved to Sara. “Ah! Miss Rosamund, it is good to see you!”
She swept forward and took her hand. A warm smile spread across Sara’s face as she folded her hand over Camille’s. “You look as lovely as a flower!”
“Camille,” Cove interrupted. They both turned to look at him, and he felt bad for halting their reunion. “Will you bring Miss Rosamund tea?”
“Why yes, of course!” she said and patted Sara’s hand before running off toward the kitchen. An awkwardness fell between them in Camille’s absence.
“Shall we sit?” Cove asked, indicating the open doors of his study. He permitted Sara to walk before him, feeling a little self-conscious at the clutter he’d allowed to overtake the space. She didn’t seem to mind and went straight for the chair she’d always claimed as hers, the one closest to the windows. His heart felt heavy as he recalled the many nights she’d sat there, staring out the unblocked windows, admiring the starry sky.
“Does the daylight bother your work?” she asked, looking at the heavy curtains that now covered the windows. He hadn’t bothered to open them since returning from his adventure with Barren. Perhaps this space offered too many memories.
“No, not usually,” he said. When she did not seem to like his response he added, “Though it does get warm in here with the windows unblocked.”
She seemed to comprehend, mouthing ‘Oh’ in understanding, but silence fell between them again, and tension built. Why was this difficult? Things with Sara had never been difficult before.
Camille brought tea. Any other time, her excited chatter would not bother Cove, but today he was feeling impatient. He had a long list of things to do to prepare for the ball, and there were pirates in his house. Not to mention Camille’s love for Sara was just a reminder of what once was.
Camille left when the doorbell rang, and Cove was glad for it until silence filled the room again. For a while the clank of Sara’s cup and saucer sounded as she sipped tea. After a moment, she set the china aside.
“I’m sorry if you are busy,” Sara said. She played with the hem of her sleeve, pulling it down over her hand. Cove watched the motion closely. It was a strange thing to think, but he’d never noticed that habit before. Was she nervous? “I know the ball is tonight, and I could have waited to speak with you then, but I wasn’t certain I could catch you alone. I tried to call earlier in the week, but Camille said you were away,” she paused and finally met his gaze. Her sapphire eyes were so sincere. “You’re gone so often now.”
“It is the nature of my job,” he said. “As you well know.”
“Yes,” she said with a hesitant smile. “I suppose, yet it was not so in the beginning.”
“Times are changing. The sea is…unpredictable.”
“Are you speaking of piracy?”
He stared back at her, taking a sip of tea. “Yes, among other things,” he replied.
“Oh, it is awful,” she said. “There were three men hanged in Maris just yesterday. I don’t understand why we must make a spectacle of a human’s life, no matter their transgressions.”
“Many would argue pirates are not human.”
“You don’t believe that, do you?” She stared at him, almost demanding.
“I suppose it’s never mattered what I believed,” he said. He cleared his throat and stood. “But the news at sea won’t affect your plans, will it?”
“Mine?” she was confused.
“The wedding,” said Cove. “Ben’s campaign centers on piracy. I can’t imagine how he will balance the two—a new wife and his obsession.”
She seemed surprised. “It’s not like you to be so cynical.”
They stared at one another, and then Cove laughed. “You’ll forgive me, I did not intend to insult your beloved.”
“Don’t,” she shuddered and took a breath. “Don’t apologize.”
Cove had a feeling that’s not what the shudder was for.
“We digress,” he took the moment to turn the conversation in a different direction and smiled politely at her. “What had you hoped to discuss in secrecy?”
She cleared her throat and stood, smoothing out the folds of her dress and pulling down on the sleeves of her coat again.
“I…,” she began, taking a breath, but she hesitated, twisting her fingers together. It was strange to see her like this, so changed. Had her engagement made her a different person? Or had Ben?
“Sara,” Cove watched her as she spoke, and her eyes seemed to grow wider. “You can tell me anything.”
She opened her mouth to speak, but looked away. “I just…I just wanted to say that I’m glad you’re back.”
Cove raised a brow and stared. “Oh,” and there was silence.
She curtsied. “I must go,” she said, and turned quickly to leave the study. Cove followed closely behind her.
She reached the door when he called out, “Sara!” She turned around to face him, and suddenly he wasn’t sure what he had wanted to say. There was nothing he could say that would bring her back to him and nothing that could undo the decision she’d already made.
“You will invite me to the wedding?”
“Cove,” her voice was a whisper, and her eyes glazed with fresh tears. It might have disarmed him, but he had worked for a very long time to maintain the composure he had now. He reached behind her and opened the front door.
“Have a good day, Sara.” His words were just above a whisper, and they urged her out the door. She turned and hurried to her waiting carriage. Cove watched it rattle off until he could see it no longer. When he closed the door and turned, he found Barren watching him from atop the stairs.
Cove saw the torchlight first, scattered across the landscape, then he heard the cries and clamor. Several people crowded into the courtyard, others looked down from their windows far above, but they all joined in to rise in discord and demand justice for the display before them. And a display it was. Five bodies hung by the neck upon the gallows that rose like a dark shadow at the very center of the yard. The bodies had been frightening when Cove first found them, but now, between their wounds and the decay, they were horrific. Before the bodies stood Ben Willow and at his feet was Dr. Newell, who rested on his knees, bent over at his waist as if he’d been hit. His thinning gray hair fell over his face, hiding it from view.
“Stop the carriage!” Cove ordered as they came upon the mob. Cove climbed out of the carriage followed by Hollow. They stood for a moment, only a few feet from the crowd. He could feel the hostility in the air and it sprouted from one thing, fear.
He scanned the crowd. It took a moment, but his eyes finally found the men and women he had been searching for. Jonas had succeeded; members of his crew and network stood at the brink of the throng, waiting. Ainsley, Ean, Maddox, Sayida, and Jeanna. They all nodded, and as Cove made the first break in the crowd, they followed.
There was resistance at first, and the wave of the crowd made him dizzy. There was nothing calm or nice about how Cove moved through the bodies, elbowing, thrashing, demanding entrance. And soon there was no struggle, for the men and women began to move aside, creating a path for him. He walked forward, drawing closer to the gallows. Silence descended, and now Cove could hear Ben’s voice.
“If you refuse to speak of what befell these men, how are we to believe you aren’t responsible for their deaths?”
He had not yet realized why the crowd had suddenly gone so quiet. Ben bent to grab a handful of Doctor Newell’s hair, forcing his head back so that his neck was exposed. Cove saw that the old man’s face was bruised and bloodied. A dagger flashed in Ben’s hand, and panic overtook Cove. He broke through the front of the crowd.
“This is madness!” the ambassador seethed. “Stop! I demand you stop!”
Ben straightened, letting go of Dr. Newell, who sagged to the floor of the gallows with exhaustion.
“Ambassador Rowell,” Ben drawled. He didn’t seem surprised to see Cove here. “You would halt the punishment of a man who has killed five men?”
The crowd reacted, shouting and throwing garbage at the stage, intent on hitting Dr. Newell. Cove moved, holding his side. His skin felt clammy and he was dizzy, but he maintained his focus. “Has this man had a trial? Has he been convicted of murder?” the ambassador challenged.
“This is all the jury Dr. Newell needs, and they have declared his guilt!”
The crowd cheered and the fire of the torches in the crowd swayed with agreement.
“What is going on here?” the voice boomed, but not in its normally cheerful manner. It was Matthew Dulcemer, the governor of Arcarum. The crowd parted even further for his large form.
“Governor,” said Ben stepping forward.
“Is this your crowd, Mr. Willow?”
The man hesitated. “They’re here for answers, Governor. These men were found in Dr. Newell’s office. You will see that their wounds are…rather unnatural.”
The governor’s eyes moved to the men for a moment, and he studied them. Then his eyes slid back to Ben. “What is to fear of a dead man?”
Ben set his jaw. “And what of you, ambassador? Can you argue with the men behind you? Surely even you must agree that such an evil must be stopped.”
“I do agree,” said Cove. “Which is why I brought the bodies to Dr. Newell in the first place.”
Ben smiled, his eyes alight with pleasure. Gasps escaped from the crowd. The air around them was thick with the smell of rain, and lightning began to flash in the sky. Cove wanted it to pour and douse the sick flames that had begun this panic.
“Say that again,” Ben demanded.
“He said,” Matthew’s voice boomed. “That Dr. Newell was only doing what he was instructed, and you, Mr. Willow, should also know that I was aware of this agreement.”
Cove was careful not to look surprised, but he felt it. Matthew had not been aware of such a thing.
Ben narrowed his eyes. “Why keep this a secret? Did you not feel the people of Arcarum had a right to know about this?” Some voices rose in agreement.
“The men were not found in Arcarum. They were found at sea,” said Cove. “Besides, we cannot infer anything from what we have here, and we should not spread fear needlessly.”
“But this is to be feared!” Ben argued, pointing at the men. “This is fear!”
“The only thing I see to be feared here is your disregard for what is right,” said Matthew. Ben didn’t look at Matthew. His eyes were on Cove, menacing and dark. Cove stepped forward to help Dr. Newell to his feet. He took a knife from his boot and cut the bonds from the doctor’s hands.
“Are you okay, John?”
“Yes,” he wheezed, leaning into Cove. “Thank you.”
“You’re bleeding, ambassador,” Ben said. Cove didn’t look at his shirt. He still felt lightheaded from the wound.
Matthew’s voice rose. “Go to your homes! You should all be ashamed!”
The crowd broke away slowly, and Cove helped Dr. Newell down from the gallows. Those who had come with Cove wandered to him.
“Take the bodies to the church. Alaster will know what to do,” he ordered. As they obeyed, Ben’s voice rose, catching the attention of those who remained in the courtyard.
“These are the bodies of pirates, are they not, ambassador?”
Cove paused and turned with Dr. Newell. “If they swore by the mark, we will never know,” he said. And they wouldn’t. The wound over their hearts had erased any traces of the tattoo. “We cannot make assumptions about things we do not know…that’s how people die.”
And he meant that as a threat.
Then he turned, moving past what remained of the crowd. He felt Matthew following close behind, like a thought he didn’t want to recall. Matthew was reminding Cove that he still wanted answers.
As Cove helped Dr. Newell onto the carriage, he turned to face Matthew. The governor didn’t look severe, but he didn’t look jolly either. No, the look in his eyes made Cove’s chest tighten up. It was a mix of fear and sadness. This was what it was like to be on the brink of losing.
“I expect a visit,” said Matthew. “And soon.”
Cove nodded, and while he was indebted to Matthew for what he’d done, he knew there was a profound change between them. Tonight had ensured that a seed had been planted in Matthew, in the people of Arcarum. Cove Rowell was not to be trusted.
10 Reason Not To Cross A Pirate
Top 10 Reasons Not to Cross A Pirate:
10. Said pirate could kill you.
I feel like this says everything:
9. Said pirate might kidnap you and hold you for ransom. No, really.
8. You *might* not be prepared to learn that many of the people you grew up with are friends with said pirate.
7. Said pirate will antagonize you.
6. Said pirate also does not react well when you do not listen to him. Expect harsh lessons to be learned.
5. You also might have to accompany him on an epic quest to save the world.
**No fingers will be lost…maybe.
4. If you don’t get killed, you’ll probably wish you had been after injuries sustained on said epic quest.
3. Said pirate might convince you that YOU’RE really the bad guy.
2. You *might* not be able to tell who the bad guys are—said pirate vs. EVERYONE YOU’VE EVER KNOWN.
1. And last…you *might* fall in love with said pirate.
Let me know why you wouldn’t cross a pirate!
Ashley was born and raised in Oklahoma, where the wind really does sweep down the plains, and horses and carriages aren’t used as much as she’d like. When she’s not writing, she’s hard at work on her Master’s degree in Library Science and Information Technology, working out, or pretending she’s Sherlock Holmes. Her obsession with writing began after reading the Lord of the Rings in the eighth grade. Since then, she’s loved everything Fantasy–resulting in an unhealthy obsession with the ‘geek’ tab on Pinterest, where all things awesome go.