Devil and the Deep (The Ceruleans Book 4) - Julie Ann Walker
To my parents, Ian and Yvonne…
From Robin Cook to Louis L’Amour, Nora Roberts to Stephen King, our bookshelves were always spilling over with scintillating fiction that allowed me to take journeys of the heart and go on adventures of the mind. That has shaped my life in the absolute best way. Thank you both for being readers and instilling the love of reading in me. This one’s for you!
The sea, once it casts its spell, holds one in its net of wonder forever.
June 9, 1624…
The silent cry rang inside his head as sweat slipped down the groove of his spine like a snake oozing along a vine. His cracked rib protested every laboring breath against air thick with humidity and the sickly sweet aroma of fallen vegetation that rotted in the baking sun. And his heart…
His heart screamed for the blood of his enemies.
Bartolome Vargas, King Philip of Spain’s most decorated sea captain, instinctively reached for the short sword he kept in a scabbard on his belt, malice swimming through his veins like a living creature. But his searching fingers found no blade, just dry, cracking leather. Two weeks ago, his trusty cutlass had been swallowed by the same ravenous seas that had gulped down his beloved galleon.
Just as well.
If he attacked the trio of Englishmen who had rowed to shore, he would reveal himself and the remaining thirty-five members of his crew. Reveal that this small, deserted island held the secrets to what had become of the mighty Santa Cristina and the vast treasure she carried in her big belly.
Crouching just inside the tree line of silver palm, pitch apple, and mangrove, Bartolome took his eyes off the intruders and turned his attention to their ship. The brigantine jauntily flew the Union Jack and bobbed just beyond the reef that had protected this island from the worst ravages of the storm. Her sails were furled, her twin masts speared into the cloudless sky, and unbeknownst to the scurvy English bastards who crewed her, she was anchored a short distance from the sunken remains of the Santa Cristina.
The proximity made Bartolome’s skin crawl, so much so that he glanced down to assure himself he had not been overrun by sand fleas. Then, the tree the Englishmen had come ashore to cut down as a replacement for their cracked yardarm succumbed to their saws, the trunk letting out a painful squeal, and Bartolome quickly returned his attention to the scene at the edge of the beach. The tall, straight mangrove had withstood the ravages of the storm, but it could not withstand the brutal will of man. It tumbled onto the sand, its leaves scattering and rolling, pushed by the hot wind like flotsam and jetsam.
“Bloody hell,” one of the men cursed, wiping a hand over his sweating brow. “I got t’ take me a terrible piss, but when I do I feels like me cock is ablaze.”
“Ha!” another barked, his laugh like a blunderbuss, loud and obscene. “I told ye t’ stay away from that redheaded harlot in Tortola. She be riddled with disease.”
The first man grinned and shook his head, lifting his hands as if to say the lady’s pleasures outweighed the price he now paid for having sampled them. Then he walked toward the tree line, straight for Bartolome’s hiding place.
A leaf rustled behind Bartolome, and he slowly turned his head, giving his chin a subtle shake when Rosario, his midshipman, prepared to step from behind the bush that concealed him. Steady, Bartolome told Rosario with only his eyes. He swung his gaze around the dense undergrowth of the forest, catching the attention of as many of his remaining crewmen as he could spot amidst the verdant foliage. Upon each, he bestowed the same look: Hold steady, man.
Then he returned his scrutiny to his approaching enemy. Despite the heat, goose bumps peppered his flesh when the Englishman stopped beside a tree that was a gangplank’s span from the one Bartolome hid behind.
Close. Too bloody close.
Fear left a metallic taste on Bartolome’s tongue. Sweat dripped from his brow into his eyes, burning, but he dared not brush it away. He dared not move. He dared not breathe.
The bilge-sucking Englishman supported himself against the trunk with one hand, using the other to pull low his drawers and find his prick. “When I be on lookout duty, I spied me seven more privateers huntin’ these waters for that bloody Spanish galleon!” he called over his shoulder to his fellow crewmen who