“Arrr!” Dan Mangan growled. “Be ye ready for yon movie?”

A well-aimed pillow caught the dark-haired young man in the mid-section. “That is the absolute worst pirate imitation I have ever heard,” Mart Belden jeered as he sprawled comfortably on the couch.

“And you can do better, I suppose?” his older brother Brian asked.

“Of course I can!” Mart boasted. Before standing up, he squeezed his girlfriend Diana's shoulder. “Watch this.”

His sister Trixie groaned. “No. Please, no.”

One hand on his hip, the other limp at the wrist, Mart shimmied across the room in what looked like a drunken state. “Hoist the mast thingee,” he ordered, the words slurred. He was soon drowned out by the groans of his friends.

Dan shook his head. “I may be a lousy pirate, but your Johnny Depp impersonation could really use some work.”

Mart glanced back over his shoulder and did a combination shimmy/swagger back to his spot. “What? I thought it was pretty good.”

Trixie covered her face with both hands. “My eyes! Stop!” She glared at her brother. “You're ruining Johnny Depp's character for me!”

“Don't worry,” Trixie's best friend, Honey, reassured her. “We still have Orlando Bloom.”

All three girls sighed dramatically, pressing hands to their hearts. Brian, Mart, and Dan groaned.

“It's the ruffled shirt. I swear it's the ruffled shirt.” Mart took Diana's hand in his. “For you, fair Diana, I would wear a ruffled shirt. Just say the word.”

Diana giggled and snuggled closer to him. “Not necessary,” she said, while Trixie made gagging noises.

“Can we please put the movie on?” Trixie begged.

Dan nodded. “This landlubber is ready for some entertainment.” He slid the disc into the machine and turned off the lights before finding a spot. Mart and Diana were on the love seat, already snuggling. Honey and Brian sat on the couch, holding hands, and Trixie was perched on the arm rest of the overstuffed, oversized chair. She patted the seat. “I saved you a spot, Dan.”

Dan glanced at her brothers before making his way through the darkened room. Grabbing a pillow from the couch, he tossed it on the floor. “You keep the chair, Trix. I'm fine with the pillow.”

“Don't be ridic,” Trixie chided, and pulled him down and onto the chair. “There's lots of room. Plus, who else am I going to talk to?” She nodded at the two couples, who were already doing an excellent job of ignoring the movie.

Dan grinned. “You only want me for my conversation skills. I feel so used.”

Trixie whacked him in the ribs. “You do come in handy,” she admitted.  “There's no way I want to think about what's going on on those couches.” She settled herself so that she was sitting on the arm rest, and her legs were on Dan's lap.

“Arr! I'll show ye a swashbuckling good time,” he promised.

Trixie giggled, and then glanced back to their friends. The animation slid off her face, and Dan had a feeling that she was thinking about the only Bob-White not present.

“It's too bad Jim isn't here,” Dan said. His supposition was proved correct when Trixie's face flamed bright red. “To help distract us,” he finished, still watching her face.

Trixie's expression turned wistful. “I wish he were here.” She frowned. “Stupid college. Why did he have to go so far away?”

Dan smiled in sympathy, then leaned back in the chair. “Maybe Orlando Bloom will help?”

Trixie studied the handsome man on the screen. “Orlando Bloom always helps,” she retorted. “He is one fine-looking man.”

“For a pirate,” Dan teased.

“Hey! Pirates are cool!” Trixie protested. “Don't you think it would be fun to be a buccaneer?” Her blue eyes sparkled. “Sailing wherever the wind takes you, travelling the world...”

“Running from the Navy, developing scurvy...” Dan teased.

Trixie whacked him again. “You'd love being a pirate, and you know it.”

Dan merely smiled and turned back to the movie. Yes, he admitted to himself, the life of a pirate held definite appeal.

When the film finished, Trixie sat forward, her eyes sparkling. “What a great movie!” She sighed happily. “Wasn't that a great movie?”

Dan laughed. “I assume you're asking me, since we're the only ones who actually saw it.”

Trixie glanced at Honey, Brian, Di, and Mart. None of them had noticed that the movie was over. She cleared her throat loudly, then stifled a giggle as her friends changed the focus of their attention.

“I hate to break up the party,” Dan said, “but I need to head back to the cabin. I have to be up with the birds tomorrow.”

Diana checked her slim watch. “It's almost curfew,” she said with regret. “Mart? Would you like to walk me home?”

“Arrr! This swashbuckler would be right pleased to sail ye home,” her boyfriend said, bowing low and offering his arm.

Trixie shook her head. “Better you than me,” she told her friend.

“Are you saying you're not interested in a pirate escort?” Dan asked, his dark eyes laughing.

Trixie glanced at Brian and Honey, who were still sitting and quietly talking. “It looks like Brian's staying for a bit.” She smiled at the happy glow on her best friend's face. “But, unlike my spoiled brothers, I have a curfew.” She caught Honey's attention.

“See you tomorrow morning for our ride?” she asked.

Honey nodded, the tips of her hair brushing against her shoulders. “Bright and early!”

“Are you coming, Brian, or should I go without you?” Trixie asked.

Brian glanced at Honey, obviously reluctant to leave.

“I can walk Trixie home if you're not ready, Brian,” Dan offered.

“Geez! It's not like I need an escort,” Trixie protested indignantly.

Brian and Dan exchanged glances. “Right. Still, it's on Dan's way,” Brian pointed out.

Trixie rolled her eyes. “Whatever. I need to go if I don't want to break curfew. Ready, Dan?”

Minutes later, the two friends started down the well-worn path between the Manor House and Crabapple Farm. Despite the late hour, the night was bright, illuminated by the light of a full moon. Trixie ran down the path, arms spread wide, her shoulder-length blonde curls streaming behind her.

“Just feel the wind, Dan!” she exclaimed. “Almost like when we were sailing on Cobbett's Island.” She frowned, remembering that Dan hadn't been along on that trip. “Have you ever sailed, Dan?”

The dark-haired young man shook his head. “The closest I've come is taking a ferry. Does that count?”

“Not even close,” Trixie said. “Maybe this summer we can go back to Cobbett's Island and go sailing with Pete again. Wouldn't that be grand? Maybe we could even do an overnight sailing trip!” Trixie's eyes began to glow as she made plans.

“That sounds great,” Dan said. “I'd sure like to meet Pete.”

They reached the porch of Crabapple Farm. “Thanks for walking me home, Dan,” Trixie said. “And for keeping me company during the movie.”

Dan shoved his hands in the pockets of his jacket. “Any time, Trix.” He started to turn away, then stopped. “Does it really bother you to watch movies with the couples?”

Trixie shrugged. “Not really. It's just kind of weird. Di and Mart are so lovey-dovey, and Honey and Brian are so shy and cute with each other... They make really great couples, but...”

Dan nodded. “I know what you mean. Sometimes you just don't want to see all that couple stuff going on.”

Trixie nodded. “I shouldn't complain. Honey and Di both still spend lots of time with me. It's not like they're ditching me.”

Dan nodded. “That's good. And, hey, they're the ones missing out on the great movies.” He adopted a pirate accent. “Sleep ye well, landlubber. The morn, it be comin' soon enough.”

Trixie laughed as she disappeared into the house. “Goodnight, Pirate Dan!”

Dan shrugged out of his jeans and shirt and pulled on sweats and a tee shirt. The night was cool, and the fire in the cook stove never lasted until morning. The attic bedroom would be cold by dawn. He slid under the covers of his narrow bed, and for a moment, thought about the life of a pirate. The freedom. The adventure. The mystery. As he drifted off to sleep, he could almost feel the gentle rock and sway of a boat at sea...

“Cap'n. Cap'n!” A rough voice woke him, and Dan struggled out of his bed, only to find that the floor was rolling beneath him. He stumbled to the door and threw it open. A man in wet and tattered work clothes stood in the doorway.

“Cap'n, the weather be turning nasty. What be yer orders?”

Sleep forgotten, Dan pushed past the messenger and mounted the steps that led to the deck. His worn leather boots slapped comfortably against the wooden planks of the ship. A gust of wind whipped threw his long dark hair, and caused his half-buttoned shirt to gape open. The weather had turned nasty, indeed. Instead of the fire of sunrise, he saw dismal slate grey of heavy clouds. The main sail puffed and billowed as an angry wind buffeted it. Rain was imminent.

Issuing orders as he went, Captain Daniel T. Mangan, Scourge of the Sea, inspected his vessel. Within moments, the storm hit. Rain fell in sheets, soaking the men and making the deck slick. The sky grew darker by the minute, illuminated only by frequent flashes of lightning. The boat was tossed to and fro by mighty gusts of wind.

When all was calm again, Captain Mangan assessed the damage.

“A sorrier looking vessel I never did see,” the first mate said, surveying the bruised and battered boat.

Captain Mangan sighed. “We'll make port and see to the repairs.”

First Mate Esau's eyes narrowed. “Ye wouldn't be lookin' for trouble again, would ye? Ye know that the nearest port be Charmouth, and that Gingerbeard be lookin' for ye.”

Captain Mangan's dark eyes bored holes in the first mate. “Ye wouldn't be implying that I need to hide, would ye?”

Esau stepped back. “Nay, Cap'n. Of course not. Certainly not.”

Captain Daniel T. Mangan, Scourge of the Sea, nodded. “Good. The Straight Arrow needs plenty of work. Ye be in charge of hiring a crew.”

“Yes, sir, Cap'n.”

Captain Mangan gave instructions to the crew, and they set a course that would allow the weary boat to limp into harbour. And, despite his bold words, Captain Mangan chose to wait for the cover of night to make port. Captain James W. Frayne of the English Navy, more commonly known as Gingerbeard, was a formidable enemy, and not one to be engaged lightly.

Under the cover of an ink-black sky, Captain Mangan inspected the motley crew before him. First Mate Esau's description of “rag tag” had been generous, he decided. Ages ranged from not-yet-able-to-shave to barely-able-to-walk-without-assistance. He stopped in front of one of the youngest workers, a slight youth covered with freckles.

“I expect hard work,” he began. “You'll be paid well, and you'll keep yer traps shut, if ye know what's good for ye.”

The men stood in silence. Their clothing was ragged, and their faces hard. Captain Mangan knew better than to expect loyalty. These men were poor, hungry, and bitter. If the work wasn't completed by morning, they would sell information to the Navy without batting an eye, and the ship would be over-run by Gingerbeard.

“We sail at dawn,” he continued. “If the work isn't complete, I throw ye overboard without pay.”

Without another word, he disappeared below deck, confidant that his first mate would set the men to work. To his surprise, the leader of the labourers followed him below deck.

“Me men, the Cowhands, would work better with some refreshment, if ye catch me drift,” the sallow, dirty-blond man said.

“The Cowhands?” Captain Mangan's voice was incredulous. “Ye not be tellin' me I hired farm labourers.”

“Me men be willin' to do most any kind of work,” the leader said, exposing his yellow teeth in an unfriendly smile.

“Then I suggest that yer men prove their worth. No ale until I know the work will be finished. And if I find ye in me quarters again, ye'll be tossed overboard.” Captain Mangan closed the door, and settled himself at the desk in his quarters. With a quick glance to make sure no one was peering through the windows, he removed a key from around his neck and opened a carved wooden box. He studied the writing carefully, then pored over various maps for several hours. When he was finished, he checked on the progress of the crew.

He called to First Mate Esau as he ascended the shallow steps to the deck. “What be the progress?” he asked, though he could see that the work was nearly complete.

“The masthead be repaired. Right now they be workin' on the lines.” He nodded to a tiny figure high above them. “They've sent the little one up to repair the sail.”

Captain Mangan watched as the youth moved deftly along the intricate system of beams and lines. With sure fingers, he mended the ugly gash in the sail.

“They be hard workers,” Mangan declared.

“They be hungry,” First Mate Esau rejoined.

The captain nodded. “Double the pay if they finish early.”

A sudden cry from one of the workers interrupted them. With horror, Mangan saw the youth repairing the sail scramble to regain his footing. All watched as he waved his arms, desperate to maintain balance. In a stroke of bad luck, a gust of wind filled the sail, and knocked the young man off. In shocked silence, the crew of the Straight Arrow and the workers hired to repair her watched the youth drop a few feet and clutch at the next line. He held, but only for a moment. The lines whipped in the wind, and the youth could not maintain his hold. Each time he grabbed a line, it was wrenched from him, and he fell another few feet. After what seemed like an eternity, he fell the final ten feet to the deck.

As soon as he hit, the tongues and limbs of the observers were loosed. Captain Mangan fought through the crowd that hovered around the stricken worker. “Stand back,” he ordered, and knelt in front of the prostrate figure. Accustomed to dealing with injuries that occurred on board his vessel, Captain Mangan quickly ascertained that the victim was not breathing. The lad was too young to die, he told himself, and blew air into his mouth. Nothing changed. They youth's lips were turning blue. He placed the palms of his hands on the boy's chest to begin compressions, and instantly discovered that the youth had a secret. With renewed resolve to do all he could, he began pumping the breastbone. The victim's eyes flew open, and he sucked in air.

Captain Mangan saw the terror in his eyes, and pressed his lips together grimly. “Back to work, men.”

The youth tried to scramble to his feet, but was held back by the Captain. “Ye shouldn't be workin' yet,” Mangan said. “Ye can rest in me cabin for a moment.”

The young man's eyes darted to the side. “I'd rather work,” he said, trying to twist away from the hold of the Captain. It was obvious, though, that he wasn't steady on his feet. An involuntary groan escaped his lips, and his face was ashen.

The Captain tightened his grip and propelled the worker below deck. “And I'd rather have a chat with ye.”

Once below deck, the two stood awkwardly in the Captain's room.

“A ship be no place for a woman,” Captain Mangan began.

He held up his hand as she protested. “There be no way to guarantee your safety. Yer a hard worker. I'll give ye yer full pay, but ye must leave now.”

The young lady stood quivering with indignation. “I can take care of myself,” she said, blue eyes flashing.

“The only woman allowed on the Straight Arrow be the figurehead,” he said with finality.

The blonde spit-fire was forced to be satisfied with glowering, as she was too angry to speak. Captain Mangan took advantage of the reprieve and studied her. Though she was dressed in the typical clothing of a twelve-year-old boy, Mangan wondered how he had missed the suggestion of curves, and the delicate features of her face. She had bound her chest to reduce the obvious appearance of her most feminine features, as he had discovered when trying to revive her. Without realizing it, he allowed his gaze to linger on the coarse white shirt she wore.

“Captain Mangan!” the young lady finally exclaimed, and he looked up to see her face flaming.

“My apologies,” he said smoothly. “T'isn't often there be a lady on board.”

She tossed her head, and a stray blonde curl escaped her cap. The sudden appearance of her obvious femininity had Captain Mangan rethinking his decision. He sat down at his desk, the better to curb his impulse to free the rest of her hair from the cap.

“My work isn't done,” she said. “I'd like to finish the job.”

Captain Mangan sighed. It was hard to argue with work ethic. His own crew was hard-working, and loyal, almost to a fault. It had taken years for him to find just such a crew. And he made it a point to reward and encourage that behaviour. But there was no way he was allowing the young woman to put herself at risk so soon after the accident. He studied her with cool assessment. “Your shirt be ruined,” he pointed out. During the course of her work on the sail and her subsequent fall, the shirt had been torn. “If ye expose yerself, there's little I can do to protect ye.”

He rummaged through the drawers of his captain's bunk. “Take off yer shirt,” he said, his tone brooking no denial.

Though his back was turned, he could hear her gasp of outrage. “Yer safe in me cabin. If ye go on deck like that, there be no guarantees.”

He handed her one of his own shirts and turned away from her again. “Step lively, miss. We haven't all night.”

He waited, patiently at first, as she struggled out of her clothing. When her muttering grew louder, he finally asked, “Be there a problem, miss?”

She gave a disgruntled sigh. “The string is wet,” she said, referring to the system of pulling the shirt closed. “I can't get it undone.”

Captain Mangan turned and saw her tugging uselessly at the string. “Yer makin' a mess of it,” he told her.

“Turn around, Captain,” she ordered, a hand clasped to her chest.

“We haven't time for this.” Ignoring her command, he swatted her hand away and began to untie the knotted mess.

Once again, the young lady gasped in outrage.

“Ye should have considered of this before ye came on board,” Mangan said, his dark eyes twinkling with mischief.

She shoved at him, but he stood his ground and continued to work on the knot.

“Have ye a name?” he asked, in an effort to distract her.

“Bea-” she stopped abruptly and narrowed her eyes. “Trixie,” she said. “You may call me Trixie.”

A perfect name for a trouble-maker, the Captain thought, and smothered a smile.

“What's so funny?” she demanded.

“Nothing,” he said. “Nothing at all, Miss Bea—Trixie,” he said, amusement evident in his tone.

She sighed impatiently as he continued to struggle with her knot.

“Have ye much experience with men's clothing? For ye've certainly made a fine mess of this shirt,” he finally said, growing frustrated.

She wrinkled her nose. “I have three brothers.” She glanced down at the shirt, which was almost certainly ruined. “It's a good thing they've outgrown this shirt, or I'd be stuck trying to mend it.”

Daniel grunted. “If ye're no handier with a needle than you are tying a knot, t'is a good thing the shirt won't be needed.”

“No,” she said quietly, “my brothers are grown. Mostly.”

“Left home, have they?” he asked, catching the hint of nostalgia in her voice.

“My two older brothers left long ago. My younger brother has now joined them.”

Hazarding a guess, he asked, “Ye come of a sea-faring family?”

She hesitated, then nodded. “My family claims a ship's surgeon, and post captain, and now, a look-out.”

“With the Navy?” Mangan asked.

The young lady nodded hesitantly, apparently afraid that she had revealed too much.

“Ye have a family of which ye can be proud,” the Captain said.

When her face expressed her incredulity that a pirate captain flying a Jolly Roger could feel anything but contempt for the Navy intent on stopping him, Mangan only smiled. With a movement too swift to be followed, he took a blade from his desk. Before she knew what was happening, Mangan had sliced through the sodden string, and her shirt fell open.

Both stood in frozen silence, Trixie appalled at revealing her bound breasts and bare stomach, and Captain Mangan distracted by the sight before him. Before she could protest his handling of her, he turned away and handed her the clean shirt.

“I'm of a mind to keep ye below deck,” he said, his voice strained. “T'is not every man who will show the restraint I do. And ye haven't yet explained what a young lady such as yerself is doing disguising herself as a boy and doing menial labour.”

He turned to confront her, but he was alone in the cabin. He swore softly and ran up the steps, just in time to see Trixie dive overboard. He, and the handful of crew, watched as she swam toward shore.

“Shall we go after 'im?” First Mate Esau asked, hand on his cutlass.

Captain Mangan shook his head. “T'is best that he's gone,” he said, but his gaze lingered on the shadowy shape swimming to shore with short, powerful strokes.

Motivated by the promise of good pay for fast work, the hired crew finished their work and were rowed back to shore before sunrise. First Mate Esau watched the dark figures disappear into Charmouth. “How long before they inform Gingerbeard?” he asked.

Captain Mangan smiled grimly. “We'd best be off.” Under cover of the last of the hours before dawn, the Straight Arrow stole away as silently and invisibly as she had arrived. When they were at a safe distance, and no pursuit was evident, Captain Mangan returned to his quarters.

Once again, he opened the wooden box. When he started to place the maps on the table, however, he stopped abruptly. His inkwell had been moved. The weighted ink well that stayed in place in the roughest of storms. With calm deliberation, he drew his knife. In one swift motion, he jerked open the door to his wardrobe and hauled out the person within.

“Miss Trixie,” he said, when the identity of his uninvited guest became evident.

Trixie tried to free her arm, but Captain Mangan held it in a vice-like grip.

“To what do I owe the honour of yer presence? I thought ye made yer opinion of me vessel known when ye jumped ship. What brings ye back?” he inquired. He hid his astonishment at her apparent physical strength. It would have been no easy task to swim back to the Straight Arrow and pull herself aboard after her accident earlier in the day. The young lady was mighty determined...

“Unhand me,” she demanded.

Captain Mangan cocked his head to the side. “Yer hardly in a position to be makin' demands,” he said, but he relaxed his grip. “Just so ye know—if ye jump overboard again, you'll have a longer swim.” He nodded to the porthole. “See for yourself.”

With the Captain still holding her arm, Trixie walked to the window and peered out. Land was miles away. Shaking off his hand, she crossed her arms over her chest. “What are you going to do with me?” she asked, then blushed as she realized the implications of her question.

Ignoring her discomfort, Captain Mangan eyed her warily. “What would ye suggest?”

“Sending me back to shore in the dinghy?” she asked, a hopeful expression on her face. When the Captain merely raised his eyebrows, she sighed. “You weren't supposed to set sail for another hour,” she griped.

“T'is a shame I didn't give ye more time to search me quarters,” he agreed.

Trixie's eyes shot fire. “All's fair in war.”

“When ye tamper with me personal effects, I take it personal,” Mangan said, his voice calm. So swiftly that she had no time to react, Captain Manger pressed her against the wall, his face close to hers. With a finger roughened by hard work, he traced her cheek and neck, stopping at the neckline of the shirt he had given her. He watched a tell-tale blush creep past her neck and up to the tips of her ears.

So close that his lips touched her ear, he whispered, “I don't think ye be wanting to play by the all's fair rule. For, if ye are,” he said, watching her eyes flutter shut as he traced a path down the front of her shirt, “I can think of a few recompenses that I would consider fair trade for sharing me cabin.”

Trixie's eyes flew open. “Sharing your cabin?”

Captain Mangan stepped back. “There's little choice. I can't take ye back to shore, as Gingerbeard certainly knows we're near. Puttin' ye in the hold with the men would only cause chaos. Yer only option is to accept me offer of hospitality.”

Trixie eyed him suspiciously.

“Ye have me word as a gentleman. I won't force meself on ye.” Captain Mangan's voice was quietly sincere.

She gnawed her bottom lip, then cut her eyes to the narrow bed. Mangan hid a smile at her obvious discomfort. “Yer welcome to come up on deck during the day. I do ask that ye leave yer cap off.” He flashed a smile. “I'll not have me men thinkin' I share me quarters with a boy. T'would make a bad impression, it would.”

Ignoring her indignant sniff, he pointed to his desk. “Yer welcome to study the maps on me desk. The box be off limits.”

He strode purposefully to the door. “Ye have nothin' to fear as long as ye follow the rules. Me men know that me cabin be off limits. They won't be botherin' ye. I'll check on ye, by and by.”

Trixie nodded, her eyes on the desk.

Mangan crossed the room swiftly. Forcing her chin up, he told her, “Ye don't be wantin' to pry in me personal effects. I will take it personal. The box be off limits.”

Trixie flinched under the scrutiny of his dark, flashing eyes, then straightened and met his gaze boldly. “Yes, Captain,” she said.

A mischievous glint in her eye, she removed her cap and tossed her mane of blonde curls. “Does this make a better impression?”

Daniel stopped short. She was beautiful. Though she still wore her brother's breeches and Mangan's shirt, he was incapable of seeing her body as anything other than what it was—lithe, rounded, and agonizingly enticing. And the hair! Her curls framed her face and cascaded around her, forming a golden halo.

He cleared his throat, in the hope that it would clear his mind. “The box be locked. The key be on me person. I'd appreciate it if ye didn't destroy the box in order to break it open. It won't work, and I'd be angry.”

Trixie nodded, and Mangan left before he could change his mind about deciding that the intriguing Miss Trixie was off limits.

Captain Mangan stood at the prow of the Straight Arrow, his gaze fixed on the endless sky. His thoughts, however, roamed below deck. Putting aside the strong physical attraction he felt for his uninvited guest, he set to analysing the situation. What was her interest in the Straight Arrow? Why was she disguised as a boy? What did she hope to accomplish?

She wasn't a typical stowaway; a young boy fancying the life of a pirate. She wasn't a naval officer dressed as a common seaman to try to capture him. No, he decided, Miss Trixie was something new.

Remembering the documents secured in his locked box, he fingered the key that hung around his neck. She was after the papers. But why? Did she understand their value? If so, then there was much more to Miss Trixie than met the eye. He frowned, suddenly wishing that he knew more about her brothers, especially their family name.

“Esau,” he said, addressing the man he knew would be within earshot, “I have a guest aboard the Straight Arrow. She'll be lodging in me quarters, and there will be hell to pay if any of the men even think of tamperin' with her. See to it that two servings are sent for every meal.”

She, Cap'n?”

Mangan sighed. “Yes. She.”

“I see,” Esau said. He hesitated, as if not quite sure what to do with the information.

“Ye'll be meetin' her soon enough,” Captain Mangan told him. “I doubt the lady is the retiring sort.”

No sooner had he spoken the words than they heard footsteps behind them.

“You have a beautiful ship, Captain Mangan,” Trixie observed.

“There be no finer vessel,” Mangan agreed, while his first mate gaped at Trixie. With an apologetic look, the captain introduced his right hand man.

“First Mate Esau, this be Miss--” he paused, knowing that decorum dictated that Trixie be addressed by her surname.

“Trixie,” she said firmly, her eyes mischievous. “It's a pleasure to meet you.”

“The pleasure be mine,” First Mate Esau stammered, as sweat began to bead on his forehead. “Cap'n, may I have a word with ye?”

Captain Mangan frowned, but agreed. “Miss Trixie, feel free to explore the ship. I'll give ye the grand tour in a moment.”

Trixie's eyes, bluer than the sea, sparkled. “Please, take your time. I'm perfectly content to explore on my own.”

“I'm sure ye are,” the Captain said with a wry expression.

When they were out of ear shot, First Mate Esau burst out, “I know her.”

“Ye know the young lady?” Mangan asked, surprised.

“Well, not exactly.” First Mate Esau removed his hat, and stood twisting it in his hands. “Ye see, it were this way...” He paused, his grey eyes wary.

Mangan's eyes narrowed. “Out with it, man. I be interested in any information ye have.”

Esau swallowed. “Ye remember when we put ashore in Weymouth...”

At the Captain's impatient nod, he continued.

“Well, in one of the taverns, I met a man. And if he's not the young lady's twin, then I'm me monkey's uncle.”

“A twin, you say.” Mangan paused thoughtfully. “Are ye sure ye weren't seeing this young lady in disguise?”

The First Mate shook his head violently. “The man had a deeper voice, he did. And he ate enough for five. They look enough alike, but he's thicker than the lady.”

“And did the young man have a name?” Mangan asked, his pulse quickening.

“He did. He were Martin Belden, post-captain of the HMS Bountiful.”

Captain Mangan digested the information. “If he be the lady's twin, he seems full young to be a post-captain.”

“T'is rumoured he has connections.” The first mate paused. “T'is said that Gingerbeard secured him the Bountiful.”

Mangan glanced sharply at Trixie. “The young lady gains in interest.”

“Aye,” Esau agreed, studying the lady nervously. “In more ways than one.” He studied his captain narrowly. “She be sleepin' in yer quarters?”

Captain Mangan threw back his head of dark hair and laughed, causing Trixie to look at him curiously. Quietly, he said, “I assure ye, Esau, the lady be safe from me.”

“Aye,” Esau nodded, “but be ye safe from her?”

Daniel studied the lone woman on board. Eyes dancing, hair whipped by the wind, she looked completely at home. Home. Daniel felt a strange stirring in his heart which he could not attribute to simple physical desire. He turned away with an abrupt jerk.

Recovering himself, he approached Trixie. “Would ye like the tour now?”

Trixie nodded, her eyes bright with interest. Together, they roamed the ship. Captain Mangan felt a surge of pride as he extolled the virtues of the Straight Arrow. “There's no finer vessel afloat,” he concluded, one hand resting on the prow.

Trixie smiled. “You love this ship. And the sea.”

The Captain looked up in surprise. “Of course I do. Why else would I sail?”

“My brothers love it, too,” she said, gazing out to sea.

“T'is a hard life, but the one for which I was born,” Captain Mangan said, his dark eyes following hers.

“I've often wondered--” Trixie began, but stopped, blushing.

Daniel moved closer to her as they both rested at the railing. “Wondered what?” he inquired softly.

“Wondered if I would make a good sailor,” she said, blushing even more profusely.

“Wonder no longer,” the Captain told her. “I've no doubt yer a better sailor than half of the men I've sailed with.”

Trixie looked at him in wide-eyed surprise.

“Ye work hard, ye know yer way around a ship, and ye aren't afraid of the sea. Those be important traits. 'Course, ye don't take orders all that well...”

Trixie laughed. “My parents would agree with you there. They want me to be happy, but they seem to think the only way I can be happy is to marry and raise a family.” She wrinkled her nose in distaste.

“And that life don't appeal to ye?” Mangan asked.

She shrugged doubtfully. “Sometimes I think the marriage part might not be too bad. But staying in the same place for the rest of my life?” She shook her head. “I want to see the world!”

“The world be a fascinatin' place,” Mangan agreed, intrigued by her answer. In an effort to stop himself from staring, he turned away from Trixie and looked out to sea. “Is that why yer on the Straight Arrow?” he asked, knowing full well that she had not intended to put out to sea.

Trixie swallowed, and Captain Mangan knew he wasn't going to receive a straight answer. “Perhaps,” she said. In an abrupt change of topic, she declared, “I intend to pull my weight while we're at sea.” She gestured to her breeches and loose shirt, but her movements looked stilted, as if she were still in pain from her earlier fall. “As you can see, I'm dressed to work. What are my orders?”

Captain Mangan narrowed his eyes. “Ye want to work.”

“I believe that's what I just said,” she retorted, tossing her hair.

Mangan thought for a moment, studying the small yet strong woman. “The galley?” he suggested, then laughed at the look of revulsion on Trixie's face. “I take it yer not a friend of the kitchen any more than ye are a friend of a sewing needle.”

“You take it right,” Trixie said. “If you need help, I can do it, but...” she looked wistfully at the crow's nest. “I was hoping I could do something a little more, well, sailor-ish.”

Captain Mangan followed her gaze, then appraised the young woman yet again. “Ye have a head for heights?” he inquired.

Trixie nodded. “At home, I was the best tree-climber. Not even Jim--” She stopped. “Our trees were old and tall, and I climbed them all. You saw yesterday that I can handle heights.”

“Aye. I also saw ye fall, almost to yer death,” the captain retorted.

“That was different!” Trixie protested. “I admit, it was tricky keeping my balance and mending the sail, but I'm sure I can handle climbing up to the crow's nest, sitting in the basket, and then climbing down again.” Her blue eyes pleaded with him.

Daniel hesitated, reluctant to put her in a precarious position so soon after what could have been a fatal fall. “Are ye sure ye don't want to peel potatoes?” he asked.

“You know, for a pirate, you're not much of a free spirit,” Trixie complained.

Daniel's expression hardened. “Bein' a pirate don't absolve ye of havin' a claim to human decency.”

“Could have fooled me,” Trixie muttered under her breath.

The pair eyed each other warily.

“I'll climb up with ye, and come back for ye when yer shift is over.” When Trixie sputtered in protest, he held up one hand. “It's me best offer. Take it or leave it.”

With a role of her eyes, Trixie agreed. “Just try to keep up,” she threw back over her shoulder.

Captain Mangan watched in satisfaction as Trixie climbed to the crow's nest. She was quick, and nimble, and didn't take unnecessary risks. And her legs were slender and strong...He swore as his foot slipped. Above him, Trixie paused.

“Everything okay?” Trixie asked, and Daniel knew that she was amused at his expense.

“Just keep goin',” he sighed, and resolved to concentrate on the climb, rather than Trixie's tempting figure.

When they reached the top, Trixie eased herself into the crow's nest. Daniel stood beside her, watching her reaction as she took stock of her surroundings. Oblivious to the danger of her position, Trixie's eyes roamed the open sea. Captain Mangan felt his own heart lighten as he observed her unashamed wonder and delight. Her blue eyes widened, and a thrilled smile threatened to split her ears.

“You're laughing at me!” she finally accused, tearing herself away from the panoramic view, and Daniel realized that he must have chuckled.

“Nay,” he said, his voice soft. “It gives me great pleasure to watch ye discover the beauties of the sea.”

Trixie blushed, and Mangan found her lovelier still. “I'll be back for ye in two hours,” he said, turning away.

His heart still curiously light, Captain Mangan descended to the deck.

“Well, how was yer first day aboard the Straight Arrow?” Captain Mangan questioned the dinner guest seated opposite him at the round table in his quarters.

Trixie's eyes still glowed from her time spent in the crow's nest. “I'm not sure I want to return to land!” she exclaimed. She laid down her fork, too excited to touch her food. “How do you stand it? How do you stand coming back to land after all this freedom?”

Daniel looked out the octagonal window and listened to the water lapping against the side of the boat. “This be my home. I visit the mainland from time to time, so I don't forget what the rest of the world is like, but this be my home.”

Trixie nodded thoughtfully. “I love my home. Crabapple Farm is beautiful, all year round. But being here, it makes me wonder if I could leave it.” She stared at the food on her plate, as if seeing it for the first time.

Captain Mangan watched in amusement as she picked tentatively at the stew. She took one small bite, her nose twitching. A delighted smile covered her face as she realized that the stew was delicious.

“If ye want to keep yer men happy, ye hire a good cook.”

Trixie nodded vehemently. “It's delicious!”

“Of course, it's not always easy to come by fresh produce,” Mangan said, “but a creative cook knows how to deal with it.”

Trixie smiled. “My mother can make the best food you've ever tasted, no matter what the season. In fact, our neighbours are constantly coming over for supper.”

“Yer mother is a charitable sort, then?”

Trixie snorted. “Well, yes, but in this case, it wasn't charity. Our neighbours are some of the richest people in the county. But they always said their cook couldn't come close to cooking the way Moms does. In fact, I think my brothers and Ji—” she paused again.

“Ye've mentioned this Jim person twice now,” Mangan observed. “Be he your prospective husband?”

Trixie flushed a deep, deep red. “No! I mean...” She narrowed her eyes. “I don't see you telling me anything about yourself.”

Mangan shrugged. “I'm not a stowaway with ulterior motives.”

“Ulterior motives?” Trixie said, eyebrows raised. “Why, whatever do you mean?”

Mangan merely smiled. “Yer a beautiful woman, Miss Trixie, and a smart one. Don't be playing a fool, or playing me for a fool, either.” He leaned in close. “I'm just as smart as I am handsome.”

Trixie gasped, but couldn't maintain her outrage. Snickering, she observed, “At least modesty isn't one of your faults.”

Daniel smiled. “T'isn't modesty if it's true.”

Trixie rolled her eyes. “You remind me of my brother. You'd get along with him just fine.”

“The post-captain, the surgeon, or the look-out?”

Trixie stopped and thought. “Probably all three,” she grinned. “They all are pretty irritating.”

“Ye wouldn't be implying that I'm irritating, would ye?” Daniel demanded, a rakish grin on his handsome face.

Trixie snorted. “I'm not implying anything. I'm telling you flat out, you're irritating.”

“Then ye probably shouldn't have stowed away on me ship,” he teased, dark eyes twinkling.

“That wasn't exactly on purpose,” Trixie protested.

“Oh, so yer admitting that yer not exactly at the top of yer game, are ye?”

Trixie made a growling sound deep in the back of her throat.

“Okay, okay!” Daniel held up a hand. “Yer a fine spy. The finest spy I've come across.”

“If I were a fine spy, you wouldn't know I was a spy,” Trixie pointed out. “Not that I'm a spy.” She stopped. “Wait. Did that make sense?”

But Daniel was laughing too hard to answer.

“And how long, exactly, have ye known Captain James Frayne?” he finally asked when he had caught his breath.

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Author's Notes

  • Swab the deck and hoist the sails—it's International Talk Like a Pirate Day! Please, don't let this holiday go to waste. Throw in as many “Arrrr, mateys!” as you can when speaking to friends, co-workers, and family. *grin*
  • Thank you to my editors for ploughing through this mess—the accumulation of JixeWriMo 2009. Dianafan and Mal, you ladies rock!
  • Thank you to my on-line writing group, who persevered through this story and helped immensely, even though some of them had to read it with their eyes closed. You know who you are. *wink*
  • Thank you, Dianafan (MaryN) for these perfectly perfect swash-buckling graphics. Captain Mangan sends a tip of his hat in your direction.

6987 words

Disclaimer: Characters from the Trixie Belden series are the property of Random House. They are used without permission, although with a great deal of affection and respect. Graphics on these pages copyright 2009 by Mary N.

Copyright by Ryl, 2009

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