Her answer seemed to surprise him.
“Sterling!” a far
-off voice shouted.The pirate's attention darted toward the opening at the top of the stairs. Light drifted fromabove into the hold. She could see the concentration in his face. She thought she might even have achance of escaping. But before she could take action, he shifted his gaze back to her, and he
seemed more menacing than before. “I have to take something up or Crimson Kelly wi
ll be down
here himself. He'll take far more than your precious piece.”“Here,” she said, breathlessly, holding up her right hand, showing him the ring she woreon her third finger. “Take it. It's got diamonds, much more valuable.”
He narrowed his eyes as though he didn't trust her. She suspected pirates trusted no one.
“Why offer me something of greater value?
” he asked, his voice laced with suspicion.“The pendant was my mother's. She died recently, and it's all I have left to remember her by.”“You want to remember her?”
It seemed an odd question.
“Of course. Why would I not?”
He looked on the verge of providing an answer before shaking his head and appearing to think better of it.
“The pirate way is to take the finger when we take the ring. If you want to keep your lovelyhand whole, you'll have to give me something else of value.”She swallowed hard at the thought of losing her finger, but she couldn't deny the truth. “I have
othing else.”He grinned. A grin more terrifying than his eyes or his dagger. “Oh, but I think you do.”
Before she could protest, he lowered his head and kissed her. Hard. On the mouth.She'd never before been kissed like this. To her immense surprise, his lips were warm andeager. He tasted of . .. apples. Tart and sweet. She wondered if he'd been munching on one beforethe attack.Then the kiss grew more passionate, more demanding. Her toes curled. Her knees weakened,and she found herself clutching him, in fear of falling.For a moment, she almost forgot he was a pirate.
“James Sterling! Where ye be, matey?
- If ye were careless enough to get yerself killed, I'll be
drinkin' your blood with me supper tonight!”
The pirate drew back, grabbed her hand, and yanked her ring from her finger. Chuckling asthough he was privy to some immense joke, he stepped away from her, backing toward the stairs.
“A fair trade, m'lady. I'm content with it.”