had finally dozed off in a corner of the cage, but she jerked upright at
the sound of footsteps. Slavery had taught her that changes were
seldom for the better, and she’d been frightened ever since guards
brought her to the palace to confine her in this triple locked cage in a
strange, luxurious chamber.
first, the dim light of the single lamp showed only the arrival of a
tall, intimidating male. Then she recognized the European who’d
visited the slave market. She’d begun to wonder if he was a
hallucination, but he was real enough—a tall, powerful man with an air
of command. Those gray eyes and the fair hair sun-bleached to gold
had to be European. Involuntarily she rose and crossed the cage,
pressing against the bars as she studied him hungrily. The gaudy
uniform wasn’t British—perhaps German or Scandinavian.
clamped down on her longing by reminding herself that being European
didn’t mean he’d help her. Though she had instinctively
pleaded for his aid at the market, now that they were face to face she
reminded herself that Westerners who frequented the far corners of the
world were often adventurers and renegades. Perhaps this one had
asked the sultan for the use of the European slave woman.
matter. Even if his motives were vile, he was her best chance for
freedom, and she’d do whatever necessary to ingratiate herself so
he’d help her.
man halted with shock when he saw her. Glad that he probably
wasn’t responsible for her presence, she asked, “Do you speak
English? Parlez vous Francais?”
he replied in English. “How did you come to be in my rooms?”
have no idea.” Unable to repress her bitterness, she added,
“Slaves aren’t usually told why things happen to them.”
expression tightened. “I’m sorry—that was a foolish
she’d repaired her battered cotton shirt as best she could, she was
uncomfortably aware of how her breasts strained against the thin, worn
fabric. She was larger than most Island women, and there had been
no kebaya her size.
his gaze reached her breasts, he looked away in embarrassment. She
found that reassuring—a man with a sense of the decencies might be
more likely to help her.
stepped into the bedroom and returned with a neatly folded shirt.
“Would you like this?”
please.” He passed his shirt through the bars and she
immediately pulled it over her head. The garment fell almost to
her knees. Before rolling up the sleeves, she rubbed her face in
the crisp white fabric. “This smells so good. So clean.”
glanced around the cage, which contained nothing but her and a brass
chamber pot. “Do you need anything else? Food or drink?”
moistened her lips. Not having eaten or drunk since early that
morning, she’d spent her first hour in the cage staring longingly
across the room at a bowl of fruit on a low table. “Water,
please. And then…could I have some fruit?”
course.” He set the fruit bowl on the floor so she could reach
through the bars to help herself.
she peeled and ate a juicy local orange called a jeruk manis, the
man collected pillows from a bench and pushed them through the bars.
Gratefully she sank onto one. The last months had made her
appreciate even the smallest of comforts.
water, only rice wine, I’m afraid.” He settled on another
pillow outside the cage, holding a bottle and two glasses.
“Drink with caution. This has quite a kick.”
you.” The rice wine went rather well with the banana that she
chose, and she welcomed the spreading warmth that unknotted tight
muscles. She closed her eyes for a moment, reveling in the company
of her own kind. “I’m sorry, I’ve forgotten proper behavior.
My name is Alexandra Warren, and I’m English.”
Gavin Elliott out of Boston, and master of a merchant ship.” He
noted her gaze. “Ignore the uniform—it was designed only to
American? Not quite as good as a fellow Briton, but close enough.
“How did you come to be at the slave auction?”
chance. Sultan Kasan wants my trading company to become his
exclusive shipping agent, so he showed me his city.”
smiled cynically. “Did he also show you his pirate fleet?
Probably not—I think it’s on the other side of the island.”
stared at her. “The sultan owns pirate ships?”
not sure whether he is their chief, or merely allows them to use his
island as a base in return for a percentage of their loot. In
either case, dozens of pirate praus call Maduri home.”
expression turned forbidding. “I know that in this part of the
world piracy is considered just another family trade, but I don’t
share that point of view. You were captured by pirates?”
husband was in the army, and stationed in Sydney. About six months
ago, after his death, we were returning to England when pirates attacked
after a storm.” She shivered. “It might have been better
if we’d sunk. I tried to persuade our captors that we could be
profitably ransomed, but they paid no attention.”
She clenched the bars separating them, knuckles whitening. “My
daughter Katie was taken from me as soon as we were captured.”
caught his breath. “I’m sorry. How old is she?”
“Eight. Almost nine now.” Alex thought of Katie as she’d
last seen her. How much had her daughter grown? Where was
he said softly. “So young.”
the compassion in his face, she pleaded, “Can you help me, Captain
Elliott? If you will buy my freedom, I swear you’ll be repaid
frowned. “This afternoon I asked the sultan if I could do that,
but he said that that was impossible.”
he had already tried, and failed. Bitterly disappointed, she
asked, “Why won’t the sultan allow me to be sold? I’m
worthless. That’s been beaten into me every day since I was
Kasan has a…a complicated mind. Since I haven’t accepted his
offer, he might want to use you as a means of persuasion.”
absurd. I am nothing to you.” She reached through the bars
for another piece of fruit. “Why should my fate make a
difference in whether or not you agree to ship his goods?”
was obvious to him that I hated seeing a woman of my own people
enslaved.” Elliott’s expression became thoughtful.
“That must be why he had you placed in this room. If I was
concerned with the fate of a woman I didn’t know, I’ll be even more
concerned once we’ve become acquainted.”
rose in one lithe motion and circled the cage, testing the gilded bars.
“This is bolted to both floor and ceiling and the door locks mean
business. With time and the right tools you could be freed, but
there’s no way it could be done tonight so I could spirit you off to
my ship. All we can do is talk. Become friends rather than
strangers.” He shook his head with reluctant admiration.
“Kasan is diabolically clever.”
“So now I’m
not only a slave, but a pawn.” She wanted to weep with
frustration at being utterly dependent on the good will of a stranger.
Elliott seemed to be a decent fellow, but there would be limits to how
far he would go to help someone he’d just met. She buried her
face in her hands, close to despair. “To think that when I was
young, I wanted to be a boy so I could have adventures! I should
have stayed in England.”
of your daughter?” He sat again and replenished their wine glasses.
fighting for control. “Katie is so bright and blond and
beautiful. She was the happiest baby I’ve ever known. Now
when I try to sleep, I hear her screams as that horrible pirate carried
her away. I wonder all the time where she is. How she’s
being treated. How to get her back. If I ever escape this
damnable place, I’ll go to Singapore. Perhaps some Army men will
help because her father was a fellow officer.”
they’ll want to do whatever they can.”
reservation in Elliott’s voice, Alex said tightly, “You must think
I’m fooling myself to believe I’ll ever see my daughter again.
She’s probably hidden in a rich man’s harem, impossible to find
She…she might even be dead.”
more likely that she’s being treated well,” he said comfortingly.
“The people of the Islands are friendly and kind to children, and
she’s young enough to be adaptable. Though she was probably sold
as a slave, surely she’ll be cherished, both for herself and because a
beautiful blond girl child is rare and valuable.”
didn’t say that he thought Alex might see her daughter again.
“I pray that you’re right and she’s being treated kindly.
Can…can you imagine what it’s like to lose your child?”
After a long
silence, he said, “A little. My wife died in childbirth, and our
daughter a day later. We…we had named her Anna. She’d be
about eight now.”
Alex caught her
breath, shocked out of her own grief. She’d been looking at
Captain Elliott only in terms of how he might affect her plight.
Now she saw him for himself. He was a few years older than she,
somewhere in his mid-thirties, she guessed. Though his tanned face
was forceful, there was also humor and intelligence, and the hard-earned
wisdom of a man who’d lived a wide, full life.
He was also,
she realized, strikingly handsome. It was a measure of her mental
state that she hadn’t even noticed. “I’m so sorry about your
“One learns to endure.”
But the pain
never went completely away—she could see it in him still. “You
humble me,” she said quietly. “I…I hope I don’t have to
learn such strength.”
have. You’ve survived six months as a slave, and are
unbroken.” He sipped at his rice wine. “Have you been
awaiting sale all these months?”
“This was my
third sale.” She rested her head against the gilded bars.
“I’m not a very good slave. Two different men bought me for
their harems because I was an exotic foreigner, then decided I was too
unruly and rebellious to keep around. The second time my price was
lower than the first, and as you saw, this time I was gagged to still my
wicked tongue, and sold at a public market.”
He gave a low
whistle. “You’re an indomitable woman, Mrs. Warren.”
indomitable. Desperate,” she said flatly. “I fought so I
could go after Katie. If not for her, I might have surrendered.
It would have been so much easier.” And safer. She would
bear the scars of her intransigence for as long as she lived.
“Is Katie in
“A woman in
the first harem, Amnah, asked some questions on my behalf, and was told
that Katie was taken to a different island, but she didn’t know which
one. Katie could be anywhere.” Alex paused to send a
silent blessing to Amnah, who had been kind to a foreigner who was
half-mad with grief. “But I will find her if I have to spend the
rest of my life searching.”
should bear such a burden alone.” Expression taut, Elliott
reached through the bars toward her hand, then withdrew without touching
her when she instinctively flinched back. “I swear that you will
be free, Mrs. Warren. And I’ll do my best to help you find your