once: deserting her father. Two years
ago, after a stormy row, he had challenged her tooth and nail, believing her to be her
mother. He had even aimed a pistol at her, thinking she was about to poison his food. She
had eventually convinced him she was his daughter, that she wasn’t going to harm him.
However, the traumatic affair had taxed her strength, her spirit even. Hopelessness had
filled her soul, and she had ruminated about taking a piece of the brigand’s treasure and
abandoning him to his madness.
But she had not.
Sophia wiped the sweat from her brow. She resumed her hike, passing tall stalks of
bamboo. She stil ed again.
Slowly she reached for the delicate white blooms, mesmerized by the miraculous petals.
She fingered the soft floral underside in awe. The bamboo flowered once every thirtythree years. She wasn’t likely to see it, feel it again in her lifetime. It was as old as…James.
Sophia closed her eyes, the sensuous blossoms stirring memories of the pirate’s sensual
touch, his breath. The buds had last sprouted around the time he was born…and now
again the year she had met him. Nature was like a calendar, marking time, recording
She scoffed at the romantic rot. The brigand had come from the mist and offered her a
dreamy tryst before he had vanished back into the blackness. She would not see him
again. It wasn’t providence, their meeting. It was random chance.
A Giant Swallowtail Butterfly fluttered across the dirt path. Sophia gazed at the black
creature with brilliant yellow stripes and a wide wingspan…as large as James’s hand.
She huffed and cut through the jungle. She saw James in everything, it seemed. It’d
been three days since she had parted from him, and still he pressed on her thoughts.
Meeting the brigand might not have been cosmically ordained, but he had uprooted her
weary world, and now she was filled with a keen hunger for a more intimate connection: a
Sophia slowed, crushed by the profound knowledge that she was all but alone on the
island. The little time she had spent with James reminded her of how much she needed
another voice—a sane voice—in the house, a warm touch, a bond that transcended
physical pleasure. The ache wel ed deep inside her, crippling her legs, and she stumbled,
overwhelmed by the truth that she might never form such a bond, that she might never
know true camaraderie or trust or joy.
A branch snapped.
Sophia’s heart pinched. She glanced over her shoulder and scanned the woods, but the
leafy stage was peppered with harmless plants and trilling birds. However, she had learned
to trust her instincts and slowly removed the pistol from the satchel strapped across her
She listened for foreign footfal s, but the pounding beats in her head muffled the noises
coming from her surroundings. She eyed the jungle instead, scanning the lush terrain for
movement…and spotted the rustling ferns.
Armed redcoats slunk through the dense vegetation, like two hounds stalking prey. The
bloodthirsty villains heralded strife and death, and she lifted off her haunches, blood
pulsing through her veins at a wild tempo, and pointed the pistol at one of the marching
men. She was a skil ed markswoman…but she was outgunned.
The soldiers stilled and aimed their muskets straight for her head.
“Put down the pistol,” ordered a redcoat.
Sophia considered darting through the bush. Musket fire wasn’t very accurate. But she
suspected, at such close range, the lead balls would find their way into her backside…and
then who would take care of her father?
“Now!” he barked.
Sophia maintained a firm grip on the weapon, her heart thundering in her breast. If she
lowered the pistol, she would be at the mercy of the ruthless redcoats. She might disarm,
even kill one of the villains with a single shot. The other, however, would strike her dead.
Fingers quivered with repressed rage as