When caught between the devil and the deep blue sea, Mack picked the sea. Boarding a cursed ship known to toss men overboard on a whim, and a Captain who’d shrug and leave you to drown may seem like the same thing, but Mack knew better. He wasn’t a priest to charge at the villains of the world with a flask of holy water and a bit of faith. Better to go where there was a chance of risk and reward, than stay on land where you would be lucky to die. In all the rumors surrounding Defiance Mack had never heard she failed to live up to her name.
Mack eyed the lethal shape of the ship and wondered about her other name, the one whispered in ports she’d already left, the one spat into half empty tankards late at night when the booze made everything safe. Dead Man’s Dance. Lips twitching in a bitter smile, Mack walked up the gang plank. Sailors were rare on the decks this late at night, and the few lanterns did little to banish the predatory darkness. Mack strode onto the deck and halted. A line on the far rail unknotted and dropped to the deck, a sailor took the loose end and coiled it. Mack’s shoulders tensed as an unnatural chill lingered among the sails and shrouds, sinking into his clothes.
Mack turned and eyed the sailor. The man’s blue eyes twinkled faintly. “You didn’t jump ship. That’s a point in your favor.”
“I figure she’s going to do what she wants, may as well provide a poor target,” Mack held out a hand. “You the Captain?”
The man laughed, a surprisingly warm and welcome sound in the shadows of the Defiance’s sails. “No,” he managed on an exhale. “I’m the mate. Ian Drake.” He took Mack’s hand and shook it. “You a fool or a fighter?”
Mack responded with a head tilt. In a long drawl, “Not quite sure what you mean.”
“Only a certain kind of person takes a jaunt with us. Most are fools, or came for the challenge – fighters. Not sure where you fit.”
Drake’s gaze was too damned level. Guess you had to have a sane mate to balance a crazy captain. Not too much to lose anyway. “Cursed.” Mack said it as easily as naming a hair color.
Suddenly Mack could feel the interest of the ship. It had to be the ship, or else the crew had all sprouted extra eyes. It was a little like watching a mastiff guarding a house while standing on the edge of the property line. No, it was closer to standing on a cliff and feeling hands heading toward your shoulders. “I figured you could do with the warning.”
Drake shook his head. “You’ve got a bit to learn, mate.” He closed his eyes and ignored Mack for a few beats. When he opened them again, he seemed puzzled. “She seems to have reserved judgment on you. Not sure why.” He shook his head. “Get your stuff stowed below and report for duty in the morning.”
Mack nodded. Ian turned to the quarter deck and checked in at the helm.
We’ll talk later. You and I.
Mack felt cold. Maybe there was a reason the sea and the devil were equated.