Nash Fross, shipping magnate and dreamer, takes more satisfaction from the tomes of Mark Twain than from quarterly reports and bottom lines. His greatest joy in life is the White Swan – the biggest riverboat ever built – and he has a secret.
Teresa Holloway, freelance reporter and Pulitzer anointed, has set off on the White Swan for the cruise of her life in pursuit of the story of her career. A story of pirate’s booty and a modern day shipping magnate with more than just skeletons in his closet.
The bloodline of Nash Fross proves even more dangerous than the eddies and currents of the wide Mississippi, and Teresa Holloway’s piloting skills are put to the test. But charting a course through the black waters of her own heart proves even more dangerous. These two are caught up in a pirate’s tale where something more valuable than gold is at stake. The ocean where the battle takes place is a past well hidden and neither gives quarter in their quest for the prize… Love.
Book Length: Full Length
He stood on the asphalt apron, the sun and the Gateway to the West at his back, studied the lines and sounds of the White Swan, and realized that, unlike many dreams come to life, this one didn’t disappoint.
He let his mind wander back to his grandfather’s study. To dusty tomes arranged on dark wood shelves that clung to plaster and lathe walls. To hours of sitting in a barrister’s chair that swallowed him whole behind an ornate desk spellbound by the wanderings of Huck Finn, the life and times of Tiny Tim, and the swashbuckling ways of Long John Silver.
To a collection of hand carved pipes standing in a carrousel beside a heavy crystal tobacco humidor that could still fill his mind with the smell of cherry and Prince Albert.
To the leather blotter on the imposing desk brought to mind Mr. Santini’s shoe shop.
He could hear the hollow tick and lazy tock of the black walnut grandfather clock off in a corner, which set a cadence to wonderful words on fragile yellowed pages as they flowed from paper to eye to mind, setting his imagination free but capturing his soul forever.
The seed dropped in his heart while reading Mark Twain’s Life on the Mississippi, the harrowing tale of a boy from a small river town that aspired to be a riverboat captain, sat floating in the muddy waters of the Mississippi at the base of the Gateway to the West in the heart of downtown St. Louis. He could almost see Mark Twain himself standing in the pilothouse behind the big wooden wheel preparing to pull out into the river.
Unlike her boxy predecessors, she was graceful and majestic, even when moored to the floating jetty twenty feet from shore. Five decks of white enamel, hand carved woodwork, with highlights of shiny brass and blood-red trim.
Her paddlewheels were intricate latticeworks of white and red aluminum cast to mirror the shipwright’s work that adorned the decks above and, at four-hundred-and-fifty-feet long with a beam of ninety-seven, she was the biggest steamboat never built.
The calliope provided a carnival atmosphere for the last few passengers as they left their luggage with the shore stewards and crossed the red-carpeted gangway to the main deck.
“Hey! Be careful with that, you klutz!”
He nearly burst out laughing when he turned and saw a taxi driver struggling to pull a Louis Vuitton wardrobe steamer trunk, nearly as tall as the driver, from the back of a cab. Running over, he grabbed a side and helped the poor man set it on the sidewalk before it crushed him. All the while its owner admonished them both with a not-so-polite critique of their progress.
“You must be one of the stewards,” she proclaimed, still clutching a promotional brochure between finely manicured fingertips.
“Look, it says right here, dock side stewards to receive your luggage. That’s you, right?”
In sharp contrast to her brusque manner, her form was willowy and graceful. Her almond shaped face, china skin with a smattering of freckles, and intelligent green eyes, captivated. Fiery red hair cascaded in lush ringlets across her shoulders and halfway down her back, and did much more than captivate; it took him prisoner.
“Why, sure am, ma’am,” he finally said with a chuckle while he watched the taxi driver stack a matching suitcase and makeup bag on top of the imposing piece of luggage. After receiving his fare, the driver pulled out a puffy garment bag to add to the small mountain of luggage that had grown on the sidewalk, got in his cab, and left.
And just as quickly she was gone. Looking back over her shoulder, she said in an impatient, northerner sort of way, “Well, come on. I don’t want my luggage left on the dock.”
He rushed to tuck the small suitcase under his arm, dangle the makeup bag from his fingers, tilt the trunk back on wheels set into the bottom, and balance the garment bag across the top as he fell in step behind her.
“You’d think they could put a jet way and terminal up here. I mean, this is the twenty-first century, right?”
“I’ll be sure to tell the owner, ma’am.”
He smiled while she carried on about everything and nothing on their walk to the gangway. It was too humid, too hot, too sunny, and too windy. The airport had been a mess, her taxi driver rude, and she’d had to endure someone’s ten-year-old in first class. She thought the boat was pretty though, and that made him smile.
When one of the stewards saw them and cringed, dropped what he was doing, and started their way, he shook his head admonishing him not to bother and followed her up the gangway where a smiling Mr. Blackburn, waxed handlebar mustache shining in the late afternoon sun, took her ticket and almost jumped overboard when he saw who was pushing her luggage. “Let me get you...”
“Sorry about that, Mr. Blackburn. I got here late. It won’t happen again, sir.”
With overblown bluster that belied his surprise Mr. Blackburn fixed him with a scrutinizing stare and finally replied, “Right. Well, make sure it doesn’t. And Miss Holloway will be staying in the port side Director’s suit on deck four.”
That explains it. So this is Teresa Holloway, intrepid freelance journalist and member of the very elite Pulitzer-prize club. Here to write an in-depth article about--how had she put it?--that idiot with more money than sense that wants us all living in the nineteenth century. She’d never confirmed and neither he nor his staff was sure she was going to show up.
He pushed her luggage toward mid-ship while listening to the click of her heels on the teakwood planking and wondered if he should tell her now or wait for the gala later in the evening.
“Do you know the owner? What’s his name? Nash Floss?”
“Fross,” he corrected while he waited at open double doors for her to precede him into the main atrium area.
“Right, that’s it. Nash Fross. You know him?”
He didn’t get to answer.
“Damn,” she said in amazement and awe. Finally she added, “Well, when you see him, tell him the atrium impressed the hell out of me.”
Five stories of twin open curved staircases, satin finished mahogany, two replica scissor-gate elevators, plush wool carpet, all capped off with stained glass, was intended to impress and he was glad it had.
There was hardly room for the two of them and her luggage in the elevator, but they managed. When they stopped on deck four he followed her out and was rewarded again when she stopped to peer over the banister muttering, “Damn.”
As they neared her suite he explained, “The original designs for the White Swan were found in a desk sold at auction in the 50’s. They were drawn up in 1926 by Ward engineering for the Reid Steamboat Company just before the rails took over the riverboat trade.
“Originally designed to house 526 passengers in three classes, along with freight, the interior has been redesigned with twelve luxury suites and eighty-eight junior suites...”
“No longer carries freight,” she interrupted, “has five restaurants, all highly rated on the Michelin list, one cinema that will seat three hundred, a top deck swimming pool, two workout rooms, one cabaret, ten bars, twenty-six stores, crew of ninety-seven, and is propelled by two paddle-wheels powered by twin turbo-diesel electric power plants. Need I go on?”
He pushed her door open, handed her a key card, and laughed, “You sure know a lot about the White Swan, ma’am. And this is your suite.”
“It’s my job to know a lot about a lot of things. Would you like gross weights, range, and how much Mr. Floss paid for this little dalliance of his?”
He wheeled the trunk through the main sitting room, past the bathroom, and left it at the foot of the king-sized bed. The fun evaporated when she referred to the White Swan, his White Swan, as a dalliance.
His smile was strained when he turned to leave and said, “That’s okay, ma’am. I’m sure Mr. Fross has his reasons.”
When she shoved a twenty in his palm and said, “I guess we’ll see, won’t we?” he wanted to poke her in the nose, but found the act of receiving a tip entirely too distracting. Pulling the suite’s door shut behind him he scowled, saw another steward rush by, shoved the bill in his hand, and muttered, “Reporters!”
“Thanks, Mr. Fross. I think we’re ready to leave. The captain was looking for you.”
* * * *
“How’s it look, Bill?”
“We’re all set. Clear skies for the entire trip unless that storm down around Cuba makes a hard left and crosses Florida before we make the south delta region.”
Nash took up station in one of two captain’s chairs that flanked the modern pilothouse and stewed. Normally he reveled in the sound of the ship’s big whistle announcing their departure. And he never ceased to wonder at the slow graceful movements of such an imposing object as the White Swan when the captain pulled away from the dock and set her on a wide turn astern to head off down the river.
It wasn’t often that he was able to escape the tethers of managing his small empire to enjoy his dream and Miss Smarty-pants had managed to sour the moment. But he smiled when he thought about the way her smarty-pants had swayed seductively when she’d walked across the atrium floor.
* * * *
He was sitting at his grandfather’s desk, surrounded by the same dark wooden shelves that held the same leather-bound tomes, going over the slim file a second time when someone rapped on his suite door. Too big for a simple admonishment to come in, he walked through the suite, which dwarfed Miss Holloway’s, and found Bob Blackburn with a decidedly green-about-the-gills look waiting in the hallway.
While the captain, before a maritime board, was responsible for the vessel, Nash had hired Bob Blackburn away from one of the cruise ship companies to manage it.
“It’s Miss Holloway, Nash.”
This should be good, he thought. “What about Miss Holloway?”
“Well, I found her below decks knocking on crew doors looking for the steward that helped her with her luggage.”
That made him laugh and he invited Bob in, “And did she find him?”
“What the hell’s going on, Nash?”
He raised a decanter, offered Bob some Talisker, and settled on one of the leather sofas to explain.
“I was just getting ready to come aboard when she arrived with that stupid steamer trunk and I ran over to help the taxi driver. She assumed I was a steward.” Taking a sip he settled back and smiled, marveling at the bright red color of her hair for the hundredth time since he’d seen her.
Pulled from his reverie he asked, “And what?”
“Well, when I asked what she was doing she told me she needed an escort for the gala this evening. She wanted to know if I minded if she invited the steward that helped her with her luggage.”
Nash roared with laughter, “You’re kidding.”
“No joke, Nash. I told her I’d check with the captain. What do you want me to tell her?”
He inspected the clear amber liquid left in the bottom of his crystal glass and finally said, “Who are we to deny a woman in need? Tell her of course. That her steward will stop by at nine to escort her to the ball.”
Bob smiled and inquired, “Yeah, but who do I send?”
“Why me, of course.”
Nash downed the last of his Talisker and added, “Spread the word to the crew. I didn’t make it.”
“Didn’t make it?”
“I’m not here. Tell them we have a new steward. J. Flint is making the trip from St. Louis to New Orleans. That’s right, Jimmy Flint at your service,” and he laughed at his own joke.
* * * *
At nine on the dot he rapped on her door. His black pinstriped suit with half-tails and vest, watch fob, wide brim black felt hat, and shiny leather boots were right out of some nickel novel about the rough and tumble life on the Mississippi in the days of gambling boats, loose women, and fast guns.
When the door opened he heard her before laying eyes on her, “If you say anything about me being the fucking belle of the ball, I’ll floor you.”
And he was sure she would and started to smile until the door opened completely and he found her standing demurely a few feet back waiting for his reaction.
Beautiful was too common a word for the stunning redheaded dream that floated in a sea of silk draped petticoats in the middle of the room. Covered from shoulder to floor in jade green silk that matched her eyes, he followed the lines as they gathered sharply at the waist and flared again at the bust with a dip, and black lace highlighting both cleavage and a very graceful neck.
Her flaming red hair was pulled up and fell back in long ringlets down her back. Small diamonds that matched the pendent resting languidly between her breasts drew his eye.
Her lips were a dewy crimson and matched her tapered fingernails, and she clasped a small white fan folded in one hand, and an embroidered handkerchief in the other. He was floored, to say the least.
A step forward with his right boot, he bowed and waved with a flourish, saying in an exaggerated southern accent, “Wha, Miss Scarlett, I do believe the flowers will blush in shame this fine Southern night.”
With a sharp crack, she rapped his black felt hat with her fan and said, “Cut the crap, Rhett.”
He looked up and saw Miss Holloway was the one who was blushing. With a smile and another flourish, he held his arm up inviting her hand and enjoyed the light touch of her fingers on his forearm.
“By the way. What is your name? Mr. Blackburn just said my steward would be here at nine.”
“Jimmy Flint at your service, ma’am.”
While they waited for the elevator she quipped, “Cut the ma’am crap, Rhett. My mom’s a ma’am. Teresa will do nicely.”
Pulling the shiny brass scissor door open on the elevator, he bowed again and replied, “Why of course, ma’am, whatever you say, ma’am.”
His smile deepened when he was rewarded with another sharp rap on his hat.
“And whose fucking idea was it to have an opening night gala with period attire?”
“Why, Mr. Fross’, of course!”
He laughed out loud when she knighted him once more with her folded fan.
* * * *
The receiving line was full of color and swishing sounds as the women turned and fidgeted waiting to be received by the captain and a few select crewmembers.
When her hand had remained firmly planted just below the crook of his arm, he’d taken the liberty of resting his on top and marveled once again at the beauty hanging on his arm.
“How lovely to make your acquaintance Miss?” and the captain bowed waiting for a reply.
The captain kissed the air above her fingers and stared dumbfounded at Nash, no doubt wondering what he was doing coming through the receiving line.
Nash kept a straight face and let Teresa explain, “Oh, this is my escort for this evening, one of your stewards. Mr. Jimmy Flint.”
“Jimmy Flint,” the captain repeated still pumping Nash’s proffered hand. The silence stretched a little too far before the captain recovered with a harrumph, “Right. Steward. You must be that new guy Blackburn was telling me about.”
“That I am, sir.”
“Well, you be sure to take very good care of our guest this evening,” the captain admonished in an overly officious manner.
He answered with a broad smile, “I certainly plan to, Cap’n.”
Just when he thought he was out of the woods, the captain grabbed Teresa’s arm and pulled her back. “Keep an eye on this one, Miss Holloway. He has all the makings of a scallywag, if you ask me.”
Nash nearly choked trying not to laugh when Teresa whipped her fan open and moved it furiously beside her cheek replying, “Oh, I hope so. The night would be such a disappointment otherwise.”
He pressed his hand around hers once more and enjoyed the gentle squeeze of her fingers on his forearm.
When a photographer stepped up, they paused long enough for a photo before wandering on.
“I’m supposed to be seated at the owner’s table next to Mr. Fross.”
Nash made a show of searching the high-ceilinged room for the owner’s table before finally pulling his impromptu date toward a large linen draped table to the right of a small stage where a Dixieland band was playing.
Twin silver candelabras, with six white tapered candles burning in each, cast a warm yellow glow over a spring flower centerpiece. Fine china bearing the White Swan crest and elegant silverware completed the desired picture of Southern comfort.
Each place setting was marked by a name card and Nash stepped in before the waiter could to pull Teresa’s chair back. Settling beside her, he noticed with some amusement that his place card was not silver engraved as everyone else’s, but written in fine script using a felt-tip pen.
He caught Teresa regarding the empty place setting to her left and watched her turn the place card just enough to read it.
“Well,” she exclaimed, “I wonder where the great Mr. Floss is tonight?”
He only smiled as he corrected her, “Fross. Mr. Fross.”
“Right,” she turned to look at him, her smile belying her own private joke. “Mr. Fross. Nash Fross. Age 41, 6’2”, 190, never married. Survived his playboy period and seems to be ensconced in a quiet bachelor lifestyle that includes the occasional starlet, although given his disdain for photographers, there’s really nothing on film to prove that statement.
“The one whose grandfather built up a small shipping empire based on the west coast that was eventually passed on to the grandson because his son was a hopeless drunk that pissed money away as quickly as it was given to him.
“The same Mr. Fross that purportedly gives lavishly to charities, but never attends their functions, owns a small estate outside of San Francisco, a penthouse in Los Angeles, a beachfront mansion on South Beach outside of Miami, and another penthouse in Manhattan.”
His cheeks burned and he raised his hand to respond, but she beat him to the punch.
“The same guy that sunk nearly four hundred million in cash into this floating...” She stopped, picked up her salad fork, and inspected it before returning it to its place with a flourish and finished, “...dinosaur.”
He watched dumbfounded as she settled back in her chair, picked up her linen napkin, and let it settle on her lap adding, “Would that be the same Mr. Fross you’re talking about?”
Completely flustered and entertaining ideas of a public hanging on the shuffleboard deck, he was saved by the soup service.
While soup was served the Dixieland band was replaced by a string quartet that accompanied the meal. He looked on while dishes came and went, and she interviewed their tablemates about the virtues of luxury riverboat travel in a time when the wonders of London and Paris were only hours away.
The table was an eclectic mix in ages, but given the ten-thousand-dollar-per-head price tag of an eight day, seven night Southern fantasy cruise, he knew most were well-heeled, self-made or well paid, professionals.
He smiled smugly as the White Swan, its crew, appointments, and he noted with satisfaction, owner, was lavished with praise and exuberant support.
One stogy-chewing man in his sixties quipped, “Hell, sweetie, you ain’t lived till you’ve lived in the lap of Southern comfort.”
By the time the table had been cleared and coffee served he was feeling much better, even if somewhat neglected, and started to notice how easily she smiled and how captivated the table was with her presence.
Yes, he thought, I know about you, too. Thirty-seven, master’s degree in journalism from Maryland’s Philip Merrill College of Journalism, worked a short time for the Washington Post, and finally went independent so you could cover Bosnia the way you wanted. That one earned you a Pulitzer and your first book contract.
She’d been covering the war in Iraq when her father had died unexpectedly of a heart attack two years ago and she’d returned home to be with her family. The wind seemingly gone from her sails, she’d settled along the Jersey shore and had been doing the odd article and completing an expose about the quagmire the Middle East had become.
Never married, and he had no idea whatsoever about the personal comings and goings of Teresa Holloway.
The lights dropped and the red-velvet curtains ruffled in the stage lights before opening to reveal a rowdy twenty-piece band playing the Jacques Offenbach's galop infernal.
He did know that his smile was genuine when Teresa found his hand with hers.
The entire table laughed and pointed as six gaudily clad young women stormed the stage and started high-stepping their petticoats, and the heavy bloomers of the 1890’s having been replaced by black thongs, flashing their rather scantily covered bottoms. It was a reproduction of the Cancan that rivaled anything the Moulin Rouge had ever done.
He enjoyed her laughter as much as he enjoyed the warmth of her palm against his.
“I’ve got to give it to Mr. Fross, this is quite a show,” she yelled as the dancers fell into a line, hooked arms, and kicked their way to the front of the stage.
“I’ll be sure to tell him you said that,” he yelled back as the dancers struck a final pose and the room erupted in applause.
When the White Swan’s version of Mark Twain took the stage, replete in a wrinkled white linen suit, he was happy to see that she sat in rapt attention as highlights of Tom Sawyer’s adventures on the wandering Mississippi were recounted with all the color and detail of the real-life adventure it had become to him.
Yes, he thought, she is beautiful. He wondered idly what she looked like on the weekends when it was just her rattling around her house. Blue jeans? Old sweatshirts and cut-offs? He watched her fingers play under her chin and smiled. Sweats? Damn, I hope not.
When the applause finally died and the house lights came up they walked around the table and said goodnight to their tablemates. Back in the atrium she paused at the elevator, took his hand in hers, and started to say something.
In spite of the fact he sometimes thought a public flogging at poolside would be too good for her he didn’t want the evening to end. In a rush he ventured, “Could I interest you in a stroll?”
She smiled and replied, “I was just going to ask you the same thing.”
He pulled and she giggled when they ducked through the double doors and out into the night air where he headed for the bow.
“So, Mr. Jimmy Flint, what brings you to the White Swan?”
He contemplated how best to answer while they navigated the deck. Deciding the truth would be the safest route he replied, “The river.”
“Well, not just any river. The Mississippi.”
“You work on the White Swan as a steward because you...” she paused then finished with skepticism, “...like the Mississippi?”
“Sure.” It made perfect sense to him.
“And what did you do before the White Swan? You’re the new guy here.”
This time he lied like a banshee. “Into the Navy out of high school, two hitches. Then the Merchant Marines. Then I started working for FS, that’s Fross Shipping, and about six months ago I heard he’d built a riverboat.”
Her fingers laced in his as they stepped onto the open deck between the imposing superstructure and the bow.
“So, you just wanted to get off the high seas and do something...” and her words trailed off when the view captured her.
He stepped up behind her and interrupted almost reverently, “Beautiful isn’t it?”
The river was a wide silver band under a white moon that spread out in front of the White Swan. Dark dull stands of trees outlined the bank and receded into the darkness.
With no city lights to compete, they floated almost silently beneath stars that shone brightly like a handful of sugar thrown on black velvet.
The rhythmic slapping of the paddlewheels had faded to a soft white noise that sounded more like a soft summer rain.
The hoot of an owl from shore was haunting.
The line of her neck was graceful and full of promise. He noted the gentle swell and fall of her breasts as she stared, transfixed, at the night sky.
With a gentle pull he took her to the very point of the bow where the rest of the riverboat seemed to magically disappear behind them, and the gentle slapping of water on the keel and their beating hearts marked their passage as they seemingly floated along three feet above the water.
Leaning in he whispered, “Just like Huck Finn. This is why I’m on the White Swan.”
Her hand left his and snaked around his back, tugging gently. When her head fell into the crook of his neck, she whispered breathlessly, “Yes, I see it. It is beautiful.”
They stood wrapped in silence, letting a gentle wind created by the forward motion of the White Swan wash across them.
It was Teresa who broke their reverie. “I’m a journalist, Mr. Flint.”
He saw no need to respond and instead took the liberty of pulling her closer.
“I’ve been married to my work longer than most people have been married to their spouse.”
In spite of already knowing the answer, he sensed she wanted him to ask, “And Mr. Holloway?”
“There’s been no time for a Mr. Holloway. I used to travel a lot. Went to a lot of places that frankly, I might not have come back from.”
“It must have been exciting.”
“I guess it was. Anyway, what I really wanted to say was my line of work hasn’t give me much chance to, well, get to know many men. Well, other than the ones I’m interviewing.”
She turned into him, “It is.”
He was gentle when he raised her chin.
She whimpered when their lips met.
He moaned when hers parted.
Her body sagged in his embrace when timid exploration turned into mutual ardor.
When the moment ended they stared dreamy eyed into each other’s soul.
He wanted to but, more importantly, he had to.
“Are you a nice guy, Mr. Flint?”
“What?” The question surprised him.
“Well, I’m here. Alone. And you’re here and we’re both consenting adults...”
“Well...” And her eyes fell to the middle of his chest. “I am.”
“Yes,” she said immediately. An answer, not an invitation to finish.
His intention had been to tell her the truth. To tell her who he was and he tried to insist, “I really...”
And she interrupted again with, “Yes, Jimmy Flint,” and stared dreamily into his eyes.
When her kiss burned his lips with passion and desire he leaned her gently over the bow of the big boat in his right arm and swept her up, petticoats puffed about her legs, with his left.
She whooped and laughed as he carried her along the manrope and into the atrium. In the elevator she curled into his chest and kissed from his ear down his neck and around the back of his collar.
When the elevator stopped on the second floor, she moaned, resting her head on his shoulder, and smiled at another couple that crowded in with them.
At her door he watched as, still in his arms, she dug in a small clutch for her keycard and swiped it three times through the lock before it finally clicked open.
When she pushed down on the door handle, partly for show and partly because he was burning with an uncontrollable desire for the redheaded minx in his arms, he kicked it open with his boot and stormed through the suit while she kissed and sucked his ear.
The bed was turned down and he caught a flash of something on the pillow just before he threw her in the middle of the mattress.
He pulled his hat off and twirled it with panache like a pie pan at the corner of a chair. She laughed when it missed and disappeared into the closet.
First his tails, then his vest hit the floor. With a growling grunt he fell across her petticoats, smashing them between them.
Climbing through the mountain of white lacey fluff they were both still laughing when he growled again, this time between her breasts, and kissed his way up the dancing pulse he discovered until he captured her earlobe.
At her chin he found a constellation of freckles and kissed some more while she rolled her head and her giggles started to subside.
My God, he thought, who is this woman? Her skin is beautiful, her ears are delicacies, and her neck is a no man’s land where a soul is required to insure a man’s passage.
Between kisses she managed to pull his shirt out and find its buttons.
When he found her eyes, deep pools of liquid jade that threatened to drown him, and his mouth fell on hers, the laughing and giggles stopped and what they had both intended as a casual dalliance, a recreational respite, trapped them in an intoxicating cloud of fervor more common to religious zealotry than mutual self-satisfaction.
Her warm wet lips sliding beneath his spoke of other lips, other treasures to be plundered.
His hands wandered and explored while she kissed his forehead. With a sweep of a palm he pushed jade green silk off a shoulder and peeled it down her arm until it was trapped, and a naked white breast capped by a small pink nipple peeked back shyly.
He suckled then nibbled, eliciting lusty moans laced with squeaks and breathy sighs.
Sweeping her dress off her other shoulder, he licked and marveled at how her second pale pink nub swelled against his tongue.
He continued his journey down and dug in her petticoats as if searching a pile of discarded clothing until he finally found a handful of material that was the hem. With a rush of movement he shoved the cumbersome garment up where it piled between them, and discovered white silk stockings clipped to old-fashioned garters over black lace panties.
He ran his finger through the outline of her swollen lips trapped in black lace and it came away damp, eliciting a moan. Digging at the elastic he tore the flimsy garment off with one pull and buried his face in the red tuft of downy fur hidden beneath.
“Oh my, Mr. Flint,” she sighed.
When he licked, she moaned. When he sucked, her hands made rustling sounds as they dug around in her petticoats until she found the top of his head. When his finger pressed and probed and slid in slowly, her legs opened more.
He reveled and rutted in her smell, her soft skin, her splash of red just above her sex.
“Ugh,” he heard when he discovered her clitoris and teased it with his tongue, her thighs dancing, her hips rolling.
When he slid his finger out, licking hungrily at her essence, she exhaled in desperation. His hand fell away and he ate with the uncontrolled appetite of a starving man. No fold unfolded, no tender spot not tended, he was driven by a desire he didn’t ponder and a need he couldn’t deny.
His dessert was served hot when she trembled around his finger and on his lips, her thighs tight against his head, her stomach a rolling wave beneath his palm.
His journey back across the mountain of petticoats conjured images of lacy somethings that veiled womanly delights and earthy smells of springtime and summer rain.
When he finally found her face buried beneath a pile of rustling silk and lace, she smiled at him in childish triumph and pulled his wet mouth to hers.
In that instant he was taken by the trust and honesty he read in her eyes, the openness of her smile and warm blush that painted her cheeks.
While they kissed her hands found the front of his pants and struggled until her fingers wrapped around his hard cock, and he was free.
Even in their mutual rush for fulfillment he found something else in her open gaze. It was just a glimpse, a quick look behind the curtain of Oz that was her playful guise and he felt humbled.
With a tug she drew the hard hot head to the wet swollen lips of her pussy, and with her kiss, implored him to push. When he did her eyes set like lazy summer suns and the veil that had drifted aside fell softly, irrevocably, back in place.
Further foreplay was abandoned and finding perch with the toes of his boots, he rode her in a wave of grunts and garbled exclamations.
Her hips met his and their breathing came in ragged gulps. When she groaned her hands found his ass and stopped his retreat while she whimpered and writhed and moaned on his cock.
He growled when she clenched around him and he struggled to break free, driving selfishly until he exploded in a mind-numbing clinch of his loins that filled her with his come and left him panting in the warm soft shelter of her arms, holding him against her soft heaving breasts.
When he crossed the river from conscious thought to lazy dreams of wispy moans and warm summer rain, his lips curled in delight but his brow furrowed in reverent wonder.
* * * *
Louisiana Territory--New Orleans 1811
The moss-covered cypress that lined the canal bank were stately and majestic, and imparted a quiet Sunday feeling on the faded gray dawn. Dew slicked grass along the knoll of the canal fell lazily to the side and its water ran slow, almost stagnant, its surface flat and undisturbed.
The cheerful twitter of morning birds, much like the two gentlemen speaking quietly beneath the tallest of the cypress, was in sharp contrast to the somber nature of the occasion.
“But did you see her, Pierre?”
“That I did, Jean. That I did. But really, she can’t be worth risking your life over.”
Jean Lafitte ignored the comment and pulled a gold pocket watch from his blue silk waistcoat to check the time. “I believe you have little reason to worry. It would appear the braggart has decided not to show his face.”
Jean Lafitte’s brother, Pierre, pulled his brightly plumed hat off his head and wiped his brow with a blue silk handkerchief. “The sun has yet to top the trees and the heat is unbearable.”
“I think you’ve been sitting in your office too long, brother. This is a fine morning, Pierre. Give the sun an hour and the sails in the gulf will be as full as my heart.”
“You’re being daft, Jean! And over a woman! I never thought I’d see the day!”
Jean Lafitte, the gentleman pirate, late of New Orleans, cocked his head and chuckled. With a sly smile he said, “I see the coward has decided to show his face after all. What say you, Pierre? Do I let him live?”
“You’re a fool, Jean.”
Shrugging out of his coat, he handed it to Pierre and countered with, “Better a foolish man than an unmanly fool, Pierre.”
Taking Jean’s coat, Pierre shook his head and muttered, “And now you’re a philosopher. God rot this dark-skinned Venus!”
“Never, Pierre!” With that Jean Lafitte turned on his adversary, planted his feet a shoulder’s width apart, balled his fists, glued them firmly to his hips, and inspected Francisco De La Madrid like an insect as the man walked up the steep slope of the canal bank followed by a short round gentleman, dressed from head to toe in white, that huffed and puffed in his tracks carrying a brass bound wooden box.
“The question, I fear, is whether he will see fit to let you live.”
“Nonsense, Pierre. I hear his aim is superb, but as with all Spaniards, his knees tremble when between the thighs of his mistress. I’ll be lucky if he doesn’t faint before I shoot him.”
“But the saber is your weapon of choice. You are unbeatable when making your point, so to speak. Knowing that, our friend, Señor De La Madrid, chose pistols.”
Jean smiled a smile that Pierre knew all too well. One he’d seen on the foredeck of a three master many times just before canons were fired and grappling ropes found their mark.
“Dash that! Where will we breakfast? I have arrangements to make,” Jean said with a chuckle before slapping Pierre on the shoulder and striding toward De La Madrid.
“Good morning, Lafitte.” De La Madrid sounded somber and his face was drawn.
“De La Madrid,” Jean took a brigand’s stance and nodded with a lecherous scowl.
De La Madrid’s voice was dry, “I see you’ve brought your brother to second.”
“That I have, De La Madrid.”
The posturing was as important as the duel itself and both men stood a few feet apart regarding the other.
Jean noted, as any warrior would when sizing up his enemy, that while his opponent seemed not to have slept, he did appear determined and there was no noticeable tremble or quake to his hands.
“And I see you’ve brought a snowball. You should put him in the shade before he melts,” Lafitte sneered.
They both heard Pierre stifle a laugh.
“And to think I was going to give you a chance to withdraw your challenge. I know the pistol is not your weapon, Lafitte. Best to end the day a coward than to end it cold in a wooden box,” De La Madrid parried in a low steady voice.
Jean’s laugh was hearty and he replied with zest, “I think it best I give you a chance to withdraw your comment and apologize to me publicly tonight at Madame Bernadette’s.”
“You are still just a pirate, Lafitte,” De La Madrid snarled, “and that strumpet you were eying last night is just another folly for your stable of whores!”
Jean’s strongest feeling was one of pity. He really didn’t hate De La Madrid, he was just growing weary of how the general population of New Orleans had treated him of late. It would seem that even fighting shoulder to shoulder with General Andrew “Old Hickory” Jackson and receiving a letter of commendation and pardon was not enough to convince New Orleans, or his adopted country, of his loyalty and patriotism.
His sneer gone, his face fixed in deadly determination, he leaned to within an inch of De La Madrid’s face and stated flatly, “I will see your wife whore for me before the sun sets, De La Madrid. And before the week is out, your mistress will know what it is to make love to a real man.”
His stare never wavered as he watched De La Madrid turn abruptly and motion to the snowball, that whether for the stifling heat or the situation, indeed appeared to be melting as he stepped forward with the ornate box and lifted the lid to reveal two William Parker .69 caliber dueling pistols that had been handmade in London.
Picking one up, Jean hefted the knurled maple grip and inspected the flint and cocking mechanism. Then he eyed the snowball until De La Madrid had retrieved the second pistol.
“Do both gentlemen understand the rules of engagement?” Pierre stepped forward and waited for an answer.
“Yes,” replied De La Madrid with no particular inflection.
The snowball, mouth agape, retreated when Lafitte barked, “Of course. Just get on with it.”
“Very well. You will both stand back to back and walk ten paces, turn, and fire at will. Only one shot will be taken and the man left standing will do so by the grace of God, his right to honor proven. The man that falls does so at the judgment of God, and if he should die, does so in disgrace.
“If neither man is killed, nor as well, if both men are killed, the matter will be considered settled.” Pierre retreated to the line of cypress where the snowball was cowering and waited.
Jean bent his arm, raised his pistol, pointing it at the heavens, and pulled the hammer back with a satisfying click, turning his back on De La Madrid. Another click was followed by a settling of warmth against his shoulders.
The sky was clear and blue and the sun was just coming over the St. Louis Cathedral spire at Place D’Armes. Jean noted the birds had quieted and felt a gentle breeze on his brow. His smile was one of satisfaction when he noted De La Madrid shift his shoulders twice against his as if trying to get comfortable.
“Begin gentlemen,” Pierre announced with authority.
He felt no fear as he took the first step. His thoughts were not on death’s dark gaping maw when his left foot came forward and carried him another pace away from De La Madrid. Instead he heard her lilting laugh and stared deeply into her stunning azure eyes. With his third step he cleared his mind.
By the fourth step he was focused on defending his enchantress’s honor with his life.
The haunting call of an osprey marked his eighth step, and his breathing was steady and his heart beat slow.
When he planted his left foot for the fifth time he breathed deep and held it as his right foot came forward and swung in a tight arc around his left, bringing De La Madrid into view.
He noted with a warrior’s pragmatic eye that De La Madrid was already in place, pistol lowered and taking aim.
It made no difference. He was much too disciplined to sacrifice accuracy to rush the attack.
His right foot came down firmly a foot in front of his left, his right shoulder facing De La Madrid to minimize the target he presented to his opponent.
Head turned hard right to look past his upraised forearm, he felt his opponent’s deadly projectile burn across his shoulder blades the instant he saw the cloud of grey smoke leap from the end of De La Madrid’s gun just before he heard the loud boom his opponent’s weapon made.
With no thought of celebration at having survived the volley, he slowly lowered his pistol and took what Pierre would later call an eternity, which in reality was only a few heartbeats, to take careful, almost casual aim at a trembling De La Madrid and squeezed the trigger.
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