Cammie had been on the island for a few days now, but she still felt her nerves act up when she had to go out and talk to the people. She lingered in the doorway, looking back at Royland and considering how glad she was that he was here with her.
In another version of their reality, one where Valerie would have tasked her alone to take charge of this former pirate group, she would likely have torn them all to shreds by now. Well, maybe not all of them, but the ones who looked at her funny. And that had been a damn lot of them.
“Do you have to go?” Royland asked from the table where he sat looking out at the sunlight sparkling on the water. She knew he longed to walk outside freely during the day, but she would trade that for his speed and power any time.
“It’s our duty now, isn’t it?” she replied. “They say the guy was caught breaking into her house with a knife in his hands.”
“But we don’t know who to trust here.”
She nodded. “That’s the role we’ve stepped into. These people have been told they need to rob and steal to survive, and that murder is okay if it helps you get ahead.”
“Are we any different?”
“Seriously?” She stared at him, then rolled her eyes when she saw the smile pull at his lips. “That’s what I thought.”
He stood and approached her, but stopped where the sunlight came in through the doorway. “We were like them once though, weren’t we? I mean, I know I sure as hell was.”
Cammie turned away at that, flushing.
“I didn’t mean—”
“No, I know you didn’t.” She stood there for a moment, unable to wrench her mind away from the memories the comment had brought up. She had been a hunter of vampires at one point, and before that she had been with the Golden City Weres. She certainly couldn’t call herself innocent in any regard.
“The point is, none of us are guiltless these days,” he explained. “And that’s what makes this world so tough to figure out.”
“But us especially. Our past is what makes us capable though, isn’t it?” She turned to him, hopeful. “I mean, we’ve lived the dark path, so we know where it can lead and what it means to escape. What it means to be honorable.”
“We have to guide them,” he agreed, nodding. He reached a hand almost into the sunlight, and she took it. Giving it a squeeze, she leaned in and kissed him, then said, “Don’t wait up.”
He chuckled. “I’ll be in my coffin.”
She laughed at that, glad to have a reason to push away the negativity. Vampires didn’t really sleep in coffins—or at least she didn’t think so.
Heading outside, she ducked under the streaming flag she had hung outside the door. It was blowing so hard in the wind that it nearly whipped her face. Good thing she had those Were reflexes.
She pulled the cloth back, tucking it into the scrunchie she had wrapped around the pole to hold the flag down on windy days, then paused, looking at the symbol on it: a crown on a skull. It had been the Prince’s symbol and was his flag, given to them once he was out of the picture to indicate who was in charge.
It didn’t sit right with her though, associating herself with that monster. If they were going to bring change to this place, the imagery needed to be fresh. With a growl she tore the flag off the pole, tucked it into the pocket of her long pirate jacket, and made her way down the steps.
The house wasn’t large, but it had been built in the days before the great collapse. Not everyone here enjoyed such luxury; many lived in plywood shacks, and some of the really drugged-out ones preferred the streets. At least it was warm enough nowadays.
A crowd was already gathering by the square, the same area where Valerie had, just days before, stood up for a man and rescued his wife’s corpse. Damn, this place had its depressing side. Cammie hoped to the gods or whatever was out there that the bastards who had done that to the poor man had left with the Prince and were now bleeding out on the side of a road somewhere.
There wasn’t a doubt in her mind that Valerie had dealt with the Prince and his followers. What worried her was Valerie’s eagerness to trust people; to believe they could start over.
It had certainly worked in Cammie’s favor, but that didn’t mean she wanted to be standing next to a bunch of converted pirates and hoping they would have her back in a fight.
Several of the women glared at her as she approached, but then she noticed a pointed look from one of them accompanied by a quick glance upward. A stutter-step later Cammie gave her a slight nod of appreciation before she turned to sniff.
Yup, there was someone up there. By the smell of it, someone who hadn’t bathed in years. She wasn’t sure if she should be thankful for the Were sense of smell for possibly saving her life or annoyed at it for gifting her with that horrible stench.
Perking her ears, she waited, focusing on that spot above and drowning out the chatter ahead, then heard movement.
She moved first, sidestepping into the cover of a nearby shack, then drew her pistol and shot.
The man fell, landed head-first, and didn’t move again.
Cammie shook her head, then turned to see everyone silent and staring at her.
“This keeps up, how many of you will be left?” she demanded, marching into their midst.
“Most of us, I’d imagine,” a young man with a red mustache told her. “Seeing as most of us mean you no harm.”
Her heart was thumping and she had wanted an excuse to snap at someone, but this man surprised her. Either he was genuine and she’d need him close by so that he could keep an eye out for her, or he was full of it and she’d need him close by for her to keep an eye on.
“And you are?” she asked.
“William,” he replied, then gestured to three men and two women behind him. “This is my crew. Everyone one of us is loyal to the teeth. We’ve been talking around here, speaking with the others, you know. As I said, most have your back. You don’t take shit, but you don’t give it out unwarranted neither.”
She nodded, liking this man more by the second. “We’re changing this place, and I see a role for you in the new system.”
William’s eyes narrowed, but he tilted his head and asked, “Changing it how?”
“For starters,” she turned to the rest of the crowd, another thirty folks or so, she guessed, “we’re not pirates anymore, though you’ve heard that before. Privateers, maybe? That works. From now on, I want you to think of this community as Valerie’s Navy.”
“You’re the leader here,” William confirmed. “We follow you.”
She nodded. “I appreciate that, but here’s the truth: I follow Valerie, so anything you do for me, you do for her.”
William glanced at his companions, then nodded. “Agreed.”
“I’m your captain and this whole island is a boat. We need to steer this boat in the right direction, so I’m going to need your help.”
“You’re still unproven,” a woman from the other side of the square called. She was short, long hair in a bun, and looked to be in her late forties. “I’ve got no problem following a new captain if I know there’s treasure on the other side.”
Cammie nodded. She got this woman. “You want treasure? How about a life without violence? No more bloodshed, no more friends and loved ones dying. That’s what we’re bringing about down in New York, and that’s what we’ll bring here. But it takes work.”
“Peace?” The woman scoffed. “I talk of treasure and you offer us peace?”
Cammie glanced around, noticing general agreement with the woman from all but William and his crew, who seemed to be amused by the discussion.
“How about this?” Cammie offered, stepping toward her. “Would you say there are other pirates out there? Other bandits, cutthroats, murderers?”
The woman laughed. “Of course.”
“And if we were to become the force that takes them down? A police force, perhaps, that stops them, and if we can’t find who their loot belongs to, we take it for our treasure?”
She could see the woman’s mind working, her smile forming. “You mean we get treasure and we get to look our kids with pride in our eyes?”
“That’s the idea.”
“Sold.” The woman took two long strides over and shook Cammie’s hand. “The name’s Platea, and I’m with you on one condition. You keep killing assholes like him when warranted.” She motioned to the dead man on the street, the one Cammie had just shot.
But Cammie’s eyes moved to the man glaring at her, the one tied to a beam of wood the community had erected in the center of the square.
“You mean like this man?” she asked Platea.
“Guess whose daughter’s room the bastard was trying to enter?” Platea snarled, turning her gaze to the man as her eyes glazed with hatred. “Guess whose daughter he would have had his way with if a certain someone named Platea hadn’t torn him from there and dragged him into the street?”
“That’s your story, bitch,” the man growled, spitting at her feet.
“And what’s yours?” Cammie asked.
Platea opened her mouth, but Cammie held up a hand. “Let him speak.”
Murmurs rose from the crowd, giving Cammie the feeling that trials hadn’t really been all that common under the Prince. It had likely been more of an “accuse and then kill” situation. Probably the one who annoyed the Prince more was the one who got killed. Well, not anymore.
The man looked doubtful, then sneered. “Way it happened was the girl told me she was going to pay me, in the market. Bought a sword, and when I asked what sort of payment she meant…well, let’s just say the look she gave me was unmistakable. Imagine my surprise when I followed her around the corner and she was gone. So yes, I naturally came to collect my payment.”
Cammie cocked her head, licked her lips, and laughed. “You mean you gave her the sword without any actual verbal contract for…the sexual favors you were owed, and then thought you’d force yourself on her to collect? Did I really just hear you right?”
The man’s color drained at the look she was giving him, but he clenched his jaw. “I required payment.”
Cammie rubbed her temples, considering this. It was almost too easy. There was the fact that he had clearly meant to rape this woman’s daughter, though he had been stopped before succeeding. Then again, if he was going to do it once, he had likely done it before and would do it again.
And he seemed like the type who would be proud of it.
“Sir,” she said, mockingly, “let me ask you this. How many women, no, girls, have you…collected payment from?”
He rolled his eyes. “I get what’s mine, and this town knows it. You want to fuck with me, I fuck with you. That’s right. Way I see it, you owe me for wasting my–”
Blood poured from his neck and Cammie, usually cavalier about sex and related things, stood over him with her knife in one hand and his hair in the other. He jerked, horrified eyes staring at her, and then went limp.
She dropped his head and it landed chin on his chest, then she turned to the crowd.
Some of their jaws hung open, but William just looked impressed. Platea smiled smugly.
“He got his trial,” Cammie declared, turning to look each of them in the eye. “Would Valerie have handled it differently? Maybe. Would the Queen Bitch? I wish I knew, but I’ll tell you one thing. Someone tries something like that, then brags about it and threatens me? Not going to fly on my ship. Not while I’m captain.”
“We wouldn’t have it any other way,” William affirmed, and the rest of the crowd murmured its agreement.
“Great.” Cammie wiped her blade on the dead man’s clothes, then motioned to him and then the other body. “If everyone stays in line, this will not be a normal occurrence. I promise you that. Now, do we have any volunteers to clean up this mess?”
William only needed to look at his men before the three of them stepped forward and got to work. William approached her as Cammie was about to leave, one of the women he’d brought with him close behind.
“Allow me to introduce Brae,” he said. “She’s the most skilled sailor I’ve ever met. When do we mean to sail?”
“Sail?” Cammie asked, distractedly.
“You made some promises.”
“Ah, yes.” Cammie glanced back, noticing Platea talking with someone who must’ve been her daughter and saw the way the girl, no more than sixteen, was looking at her. If she wasn’t mistaken, there was something that girl needed to tell her. “If you’ll excuse me. Just ready the boats and ensure they’re in top shape, but…not yet.”
“As you wish.” The two walked off.
When Cammie turned around from watching them go, Platea was there with her daughter.
“Clara has something to say.” Platea turned to her daughter, who was waiting. “Go on, spit it out.”
The girl, thin but with more muscle tone than Cammie would have thought when she first saw her, seemed shy at first. After a moment, however, it became clear that she was looking down and clenching her jaw out of some unexpected emotion. Rage?
“What’s wrong, girl?” Cammie asked, not one to take this sort of behavior lightly.
“I should’ve been the one to slit his throat,” Clara stated. “After doing much worse, I assure you.”
“Tell her what you told me, and stop your whining,” her mother ordered, whapping her a good one across the back. Clara glared, but didn’t strike back or say anything to the woman.
“It might be better if we spoke in private.” Clara’s eyes darted to the other men and women, still loitering in the square or slowly making their way out.
“The gist, please,” Cammie requested. “Then I’ll decide if that’s necessary.”
“There was an attempted mutiny in Old Manhattan recently,” Clara replied.
“New York now,” Cammie muttered, then shook her head. “Wait, what? How would you know that?”
Clara leaned in now, voice quieter. “I was part of a group that served, er, your kind. I was part of it, but…”
“Go on,” her mother hissed.
“I’m here to seek your pardon. To serve you now.”
Cammie blinked, caught totally off guard by all this, and then nodded. “Yes, I think you’re right about needing to discuss this in private. Come on.” She nodded for them to follow, and the three made their way back to the house. Whatever this was, she needed to know what had happened in New York, and she needed to know what would happen next.
FROM JUSTIN >>> Another long one, since we launch tomorrow! People have been asking, so… yes, my lip is healed 🙂 Mostly, anyway. It’s still a bit swollen, but the stitches are gone and it looks normal. Other bruises fading, so it’s back to the normal me from now on. No more craziness – I’ll let the characters do that for me! And Michael, whenever he wants to put up the good fight.
I can’t wait to see how this one’s received! The last book was a bit… mixed? Haha. In my view, these characters are going through some growing pains, figuring out who they are, stuff like that. Especially Sandra and Valerie, who have been sheltered in their vampire compound until coming out this way and starting to live a normal life for the first time ever. So part of their journey was discovering themselves. Meanwhile, Cammie’s been kind of going the opposite direction, huh? She was super out there, experimenting and whatnot, and now… we’ll see! So yeah, the naysayers from book 5 will be happy to see the characters have grown a bit already since then. For everyone else? They are still the characters, and the characters must be who they are. Don’t worry, I’ll never lobotomize a character just because of a negative review or two. I hope no writers do that!
Thanks for reading 🙂