Ellis Eden retired from a career of piracy on the high seas to settle down with the man he loves: Tom Winleigh, youngest son of a wealthy merchant family. Ellis has tried hard to make a place for himself in respectable society, and he knows Tom loves him, and he’s happy.
But when a fever nearly claims Tom’s life, Ellis is faced with a foe he can’t fight ... and even though Tom’s recovering, the ordeal has left Ellis shaken to the core.
And in the aftermath, on a storm-tossed afternoon, Ellis and Tom will face the tempests of their own emotions, and find safe harbor in each other.
“I like the weather.” Tom tipped his head back to consider Ellis’s expression. “And so do you. Elemental, wild, thrilling ... making heartbeats race, making spines tingle ...”
“If your heart’s racing,” Ellis informed him, “I’m taking you back to bed and summoning the physician again. Right now.”
“I meant it poetically! I’m perfectly well.”
Ellis raised an eyebrow.
“Oh, fine. Almost perfectly well.”
A year and half, they’d had. A year, more accurately. He’d lost time, at the beginning, not being at Tom’s side. Trying to start a new life, trying to be worthy, hoping that it’d be enough, that he’d be enough, that Tom would look at him and see someone gruff and battered but hopelessly devoted, whole heart held out, and that Tom would say yes, a retired privateer with callused hands and scars and a small running vixen tattoo along one forearm was somehow exactly what he’d needed in his life.
Even standing there, even when Tom had said yes, Ellis hadn’t quite been able to believe it. Not even now.
A year hadn’t been enough time. Not anywhere near enough. Not when he’d thought he might lose Tom, when he might lose everything—
He couldn’t. He couldn’t think it. He’d had to think it, had to face that dreadful possibility, the shallowness of Tom’s breathing and the silence in the bedroom and the black wings of a night that wouldn’t end --
Tom had opened both eyes, exhausted and quizzical, and had whispered Ellis’s name. Ellis, who did not cry, had begun shaking with relief, and had pressed Tom’s hand to his lips, and shut his eyes. They’d burned.
Lightning sizzled and streaked across the sky, trailing brilliance above the lake. Ellis tried to tug the dressing gown more closely around Tom’s shoulders.
“It’s rather the opposite of the day we met, isn’t it?” Tom was watching the sky as well, doubtless storing imagery for new eloquent metaphors in that genius poet’s brain. “Though that was also dramatic. And, no offence to your former profession, but storms are much nicer to watch from someplace on land and entirely dry.”
“Are you cold?”
“Not yet. I’ve got you. Keep your arms just there, you’re nice and large and warm.”
Thomas Winleigh, when first confronted with pirates -- privateers -- on a family-owned vessel, where he’d been sent by his father to oversee the imports and, in that man’s withering words, do something useful, had looked up at Ellis, standing calmly on the deck under sunshine the color of his hair. He’d lifted both eyebrows, spread his hands, and said, “You’re not actually planning to hurt me with that sword, you and I both know I’m worth far more alive, so will you please put it away, and come and have tea like a civilized person while we sort this out?” Ellis, much to his own bemusement, had.
On the voyage back to London, Tom had soundly beaten him at chess, befriended his first mate by asking thoughtful questions about sails, and written the first drafts of two new poems. Ellis had therefore needed to play chess against him again, and then again. He’d needed to speak to Tom more, and then even more: turning to find messy sunbeam hair and horizon-blue eyes and quick imaginative intellect, needing all of that at his side. He’d simply needed ...
Well. He’d needed more.
He was a pirate, and a captain, and a good one. He knew how to take what he wanted. He knew how to plan an attack. He knew, long before the familiar swell of England loomed into view, that he wanted this: that he’d give up what he had to, fight whomever he had to, to be surprised by Tom’s fearless delight in the world, every single morning.
He’d let Tom go. He had not asked for ransom money. That part hadn’t been planned. He’d meant to demand whatever the family would pay.
Looking at Tom, there at his side as they came into the docks, he couldn’t do it.
And Tom, who after all was afraid of nothing, had leaned in and up and murmured, “You’re welcome to call on me. For a rematch.”
Ellis, standing astonished on the Vixen’s deck, had felt the strange leap and thump beneath his breastbone: like a sword’s point, a musket-ball, shattering all his defenses, leaving everything inside laid bare.