The three days it took to get back to the islands were the longest of Claire’s life. Even longer than the days they’d drifted far off the coast. Holed up inside the captain’s quarters for the duration, not allowed access to the fresh air and sunshine on deck.
But then again, she figured she was probably safer in the quarters than on deck or in the hold with every pirate ogling her as if he’d like to make her his own. She resigned herself as a captive of Blackbeard and positioned herself each day near the open window to catch any breeze she could and stare into the vast sea.
On the third day, she heard a youthful voice high above in the masts call Land ho! She strained her gaze across the horizon to find it herself. She prayed they approached the islands and Jack would soon find her and take her home.
Abrupt fear for his safety seized her. She hoped Jack didn’t attempt to rescue her on his own. They would be lying in wait, ready to murder him. How could she warn him? There had to be a way for her to get off this ship so he wouldn’t have to risk his life saving her.
Rick. Certainly he had come to his senses by now. Would he help her? As quickly as the thought came to her, she dismissed it. She didn’t want Rick’s help.
Rick was a madman.
He had abandoned her, which was just as well. She didn’t want to deal with him in addition to her terrifying captor. She hadn’t seen Rick for days. He had gone completely berserk, caught up in his own agenda.
She just didn’t understand why.
As if her thoughts summoned him, she turned as a telltale squeak of the cabin steps alerted her to his presence. Rick, still in the pirate getup, boldly stepped into the room. His gaze never left her face. And she wasn’t sure she liked the look on his.
When he didn’t speak, she did.
“What are you doing? How in the hell did you get on his ship?” she blurted out.
He chuckled. A tremor crept up and down her backbone.
“It is my destiny, and yours, my dear Claire, to take advantage of our ability to travel through time. I was only waiting for you to lead me here.”
“What are you talking about?”
“Travelers. We’re travelers, Claire. You and me. And if we play out our hands to our advantage, we’ll go home with more than a meager kitty.”
Rick nudged closer. “If I use my brain, Claire, and the knowledge I have of Blackbeard, every piece of treasure, every jewel, every artifact the son-of-a-bitch has hidden up and down the coast will be mine. I plan to take it, and you, back with me.”
She pushed away from him, drawing her knees up to her chest.
“You’re crazy, Rick. Do you actually think you’re going to get out of here alive, let alone with Blackbeard’s treasure?”
“Honey, I plan to get out of here with not only his treasure, but his damned head as well.”
She flinched. He was indeed insane. What had happened to him? “Rick, you’re not making sense. His head?”
“You remember Chuck? And the expedition he was getting ready to embark on?”
“I remember you mentioning it.”
“Yeah, well, you know he’s always been a history nut. Now he’s into treasure hunting.”
“And what does that have to do with me?” She was impatient. Here he was plotting some insane plan to steal treasure, and to kill Jack, and here they were discussing old college buddies. She wasn’t sure who was the crazier of the two.
“He’s searching for Blackbeard’s treasure, and I kind of got caught up in it with him. Not only have we been searching for buried treasure, but there is more. I want his head. I want to intercept it before it becomes legend and lore—I want to be the person who twists time and owns Blackbeard’s Chalice.”
“Blackbeard’s Chalice?” Her voice rose in question.
He stepped closer and whispered, his eyes dancing with excitement. “Yes. It’s a silver-plated chalice made from his skull.”
“Damn, Rick, that’s morbid.”
He nodded his enthusiasm. The sinister side of him was gone for the moment. He was almost child-like. “Blackbeard’s skull, yes. And Claire, there is actually a secret society, a cult if you will, that worships Blackbeard, even in our time, and they drink from the chalice. The chalice is power. Chuck and I went to a meeting. Actually, several.”
Amazed, she sat up. “You and Chuck drank from his skull?”
“So where is it now?”
She nodded. Rick glanced at the opening to the quarters. “Right now it’s still attached to his body.”
She grimaced. “God, Rick, you’re gruesome. What are you going to do, chop off his head in his sleep?”
“No. All that will be taken care of, tomorrow.”
“What do you mean?”
“Tomorrow is November 22, 1718. The day all the history books claim as Blackbeard’s last. Alexander Spotswood’s soldiers will sever his head, and I will be ready to snatch it up. I have twenty-four hours to get him to tell me where his treasure is buried. I’ve really been working on him the past few days. He thinks I’m some kind of a seer. Once he tells me, then all I have to do is wait.”
His face suddenly took on that sardonic look she was beginning to hate. “If all goes as planned, we’ll be sliding into Teach’s Hole by evening. I’ll take care of your lover tomorrow and be back in the 21st century with Blackbeard’s head in my hand, the location of his treasure, and you on my arm within the day. We’ll be quite wealthy, to boot.”
He peered closer. He was ugly, deceitful, and vindictive. How could she have ever thought she loved him?
“How do you know Jack will be here tonight?”
He snickered. “I know things, Claire, remember? I just know.”
“Rick, please. Jack has done nothing but fall in love with me. Leave him alone.”
“That’s not the problem, Claire. The real problem is that you’ve fallen in love with him.”
She turned away. Yes. She did love Jack. “Then kill me,” she said. “Let Jack live. Kill me and then take your precious treasure back to the future and let my soul rest in peace in this century.”
His gaze narrowed. Gently, he reached out and grasped a thin tendril of her hair. He tugged at it ever so slightly. “No, my dear Claire,” he murmured on a breath. “You are much too valuable to me. Much too. I will see your lover dead tomorrow.”