Run Wild (Escape with a Scoundrel) - By Shelly Thacker

Chapter 1

England, 1741

The sun retreated over the waves, stealing away into the darkness until only a blood-red slash remained along the horizon. That last streak of light and warmth held out against the cold weight of night for only a moment. Then it vanished at last, leaving the pirate ship cloaked entirely in blackness and tendrils of fog.

Captain Nicholas Brogan stood alone on the battered quarterdeck, leaning on the rail, oblivious to the chill in the autumn air. He held a Jamaican cheroot clamped between his teeth, its fragrant smoke curling around his beard as he slowly exhaled. He barely tasted the rich tobacco. The glowing tip made a tiny beacon until he ground the cheroot out and flicked the stub into the icy waters of the North Sea. He kept his gaze fastened on the shoreline. Patience, he warned himself.

Most of the inhabitants of the small coastal village had settled into their homes for the evening. He had chosen the perfect place. Waited for the perfect night.

He glanced upward, gauging his chances one last time. No moonlight penetrated the clouds overhead. And this remote town employed neither street lamps nor watchmen. No one would notice him. Or even see him.

He wouldn’t have to wait much longer. Another hour, perhaps less. Already a drowsy air had descended along the coast with the fog. The villagers would even now be gathering around their hearths. Though he could not see inside the scattered hovels that hugged the shoreline, he could imagine.

He could remember.

Near the light of each fire, a family would share supper and linger afterward, husbands repairing their fishing nets, children playing with toy boats, wives sewing or reading aloud from the Bible....

One corner of Nicholas’s mouth lifted in a cynical smile. Such good, God-fearing people. As secure in their faith as they were behind the thick daub-and-wattle walls of their thatched-roof homes. So certain that good would always triumph over evil, that God was merciful. That their sins would someday be forgiven.

That heaven awaited at the end of their lives.

He shifted his gaze away from the town, out over the dark waters of the sea. What panic would erupt, he mused, if they suspected what lurked in the night aboard the small, ragged schooner anchored just offshore, so close to their orderly little town.

But of course none of them could suspect. No one in all of England knew that Nicholas Brogan, scourge of the Atlantic, terror of the Caribbean, despised by every law-abiding, God-loving Englishman, had returned.

Against his will.

The breeze changed directions suddenly, noisily snapping the patched canvas sails, snatching at his cotton shirt, raking through his black hair as if to push him away. Away from this place, from England. From the danger that awaited him.

But he could not turn back. He had no choice.

He would wait one more hour, and then he would go ashore. And break the familiar commandment one more time.

Thou shalt not kill.

A sound behind him interrupted his thoughts—the sound of booted feet on the ladder that led up from the main deck.

“We could be halfway to Brazil by now,” a deep voice, heavily accented with the lilt of the Gold Coast, grumbled from the darkness. “Or Tortuga. Or up to our scuppers in grog and bawds in Hispaniola. I’ll bet those shapely twins we tupped back in ’31 still have fond memories of us—”

“Stow it, Masud.” Nicholas returned his gaze to the coastline. “I’m not going to spend the rest of my life on the run. If that was what I wanted, I wouldn’t have taken such pains to disappear in the first place.”

His quartermaster swore under his breath and came to stand beside him at the rail, offering a bottle of rum brought up from the galley. “Then I suppose it’s useless to tell you again that this plan is insane.”

“It’s been useless the last fifty times you’ve said it.” Nicholas irritably waved the bottle away. “No reason to believe it’ll work now. This isn’t as risky as you think.”

“Oh, no, of course not. You’ve hardly any enemies in England. Merely the entire Royal Navy, every magistrate, warder, watchman, and marshalman in the country, various thief-takers and adventurers who would love to collect the ten thousand-pound bounty on your head, and assorted other friendly types with old scores to settle. You’re perfectly safe here.”

Nicholas shot him a quelling glance, but the moonless, starless night made it almost impossible for them to see one another. Though he could barely make out the African’s angular features,