Eleanor had only been in her office for a few minutes when the door flung open and Scott hurried inside.
“Eleanor,” he began urgently.
“What is it?” Eleanor asked, Scott’s tone and manner causing her heartbeat to quicken with worry. “Scott,” she demanded a moment later, her voice high and sharp as her nerves started to get the best of her.
Eleanor’s mind went to Max, she remembered hearing Max’s screams piercing the night air and the sight of Max battered and covered in blood, cowering on the ground. A part of Eleanor knew that she had only just left Max minutes ago and that surely nothing so dire could have happened to her in such a short period of time, but another part of Eleanor knew that a second was enough to change everything. It was unlikely, but something could have happened. Something could have …
“It’s Flint,” Scott said, turning to check that the office doors were firmly shut before he strode towards Eleanor.
Eleanor’s heartbeat began to slow, relief flooding through her.
Max was fine.
Nothing had harmed her.
Eleanor released a shuddering breath and her mind – now free from fear – began to clear, allowing her to focus properly on what Scott was saying.
“What about Flint?” she asked.
“He’s back,” Scott stated, coming to a stop in front of Eleanor. “He’s here. The Nebuchadnezzar found his crew … what was left of his crew,” Scott amended, “on an island to the south.” Scott paused for a moment, and then sighed and lowered his head, giving it a faint shake. “He’s asking to see you.”
Eleanor’s heart began to pound anew, this time with excitement instead of worry, and it took all of her concentration not to let the smile she felt in her heart show on her face.
She’d known he wasn’t dead. She’d felt it in her bones. Yes, obstacles had been thrown in their way, but she and Flint were not people to be defeated by challenge. They were people who rose to the occasion, who pressed coal into diamonds. They were survivors, they were thrivers. They had nine lives.
“Where is he?”
Scott sighed deeply, but the wings of hope fluttering in Eleanor’s chest would not let her be swayed by his disappointment.
“Scott,” Eleanor said, looking at him reproachfully. “Where is he?”
“With the Barlow woman.”
“I see,” Eleanor breathed out, her gaze drifting to the side for a moment as she lost herself in thought. “Will you accompany me?” she continued, leaving speculation behind to deal with the here and now. “I feel more confident in all things with you by my side, but I understand if you cannot.”
Scott watched her for a moment, his expression indecipherable, and then he extended his hand in Eleanor’s direction and said, “Come.”
Eleanor smiled at him and moved into the center of the room to join him. Scott’s expression remained cool as Eleanor smiled at him, but she would not be dissuaded by him pulling a face, so she kissed his cheek and then linked their arms together, leading him towards the door.
“You’re a mad girl Eleanor,” Scott sighed as they exited the office. “This man is cursed. Everything around him dies. First Billy, now Gates-”
“Gates?” Eleanor gasped, turning to look up at Scott, surprise writ clearly on her face.
Scott nodded solemnly.
“Fuck,” Eleanor breathed out, pained.
She had liked Gates.
Scott stopped walking and their linked arms meant Eleanor was quickly drawn to a halt too.
“Eleanor,” Scott said lowly. “I beg of you. Do not continue with this doomed pursuit. Cut him loose while you still can. Your life is more important than your investment.”
Eleanor gazed up into his serious, pleading eyes, and she breathed in deeply.
“He’s not cursed, Scott,” Eleanor breathed out gently. “I know you have my best interests at heart, but I assure you so do I. Flint is not haunted by the Furies. The gods do not hate him,” she continued softly, smiling good-naturedly at Scott. “I will be cautious, but I must hear him out. For the moment we are still partners, and … he is also my friend. I shan’t turn my back on him without letting him have his say,” Eleanor continued resolutely. “Will you take me to him?”
“Yes,” Scott sighed.
He was sure she was walking them into disaster, but he could not turn his back on her.
“Thank you,” Eleanor said sincerely.
Scott sighed again, deeply, but nonetheless turned his eyes towards the exit and began lead Eleanor towards it, resigned to his fate.
Max was in the kitchen helping to prepare jugs of coconut water and lime juice for later that night, when the more affluent customers had arrived. When added to rum, the coconut water and lime juice created a drink that Max called Ambroisie. The concoction had been extremely popular among the moneyed patrons the previous night, and Max did not want to run out of ingredients as they had the night before. The coconut water and lime juice cost virtually nothing, but the nobles were willing to pay twice the price of a shot of rum for the ‘exotic’ drink, which made it in Max’s best interests to ensure that the supply would be able to keep up with the demand.
Max looked up from the cutting board to find one of her girls, Marie, walking quickly towards her, looking flustered.
“What is it?” Max asked.
She put down the knife she had been holding and wiped her hands on her apron.
“Two pirates out there,” Marie said, pointing emphatically at the doors of the kitchen. “They’s started talkin’ real mean to each other and I knows it’s gonna get worse. They ain’t using fists yet though so Abe don’t wanna do nothing ‘bout it.”
Max sighed and removed the apron. She would need to have a little talk later with Abe about the importance of preventing conflict so that one would not have to worry about having to clean up in the aftermath of a conflict.
“Show me,” Max breathed out, and Marie led her away.
When they reached the public area of the main floor it did not take Max long to spot the trouble. What she saw were two men were hurling curses at each other in loud voices, but no weapons had been drawn yet and no tables had been turned over, which was something at least.
As Max approached the arguing men, she saw Abe finally making his way towards them and held up her hand, silently telling him to stay where he was. She was out there now, so she’d try to deal with it, but if the pirates became belligerent she’d need to make use of him.
“Bonjour messieurs,” Max began, smiling brightly as she walked up to them. “Is there a problem? Per’aps Max can ‘elp.”
There was a problem, but it was difficult for Max to determine exactly what it was when both of the men turned to her and began to talk loudly, quickly, and at the same time. However, from the way they were both gesturing at one of her girls, Mercy, Max felt comfortable assuming that the problem between the men had to do with her.
“So what the fuck are you gonna to do about it?” the larger of the men finally hurled in Max’s direction before both of the men fell silent, and stared at her, awaiting an answer.
“Mercy,” Max called out lightly, turning from the men to face the young woman who was hovering near the stairs. She motioned at the girl to come towards her. “Viens ici.”
“What the fuck do you got to talk to her for?” the large man asked, taking an aggressive step towards Max.
Max stood her ground when the man’s towering figure approached her. She could already tell that he was more bark than bite. If he was going to get violent, he would have done it already, before she even had time to get out there. He was toothless, a peacock fanning his feathers. All she needed to do was be firm and stay calm and …
“Watch your fucking step!”
A low, menacing voice that was not Max’s cut through the air.
Anne, Max had just enough time to register before a blade appeared in front of her, and she jerked back in surprise. The sudden appearance of the weapon startled Max, but when she turned her head and was able to lay eyes on Anne, the sight of the redhead calmed her.
“Ain’t none a your business, Bonny,” the man declared fiercely, even as he raised his hands, showing them to Anne as he took a step away from Max.
“Makin’ it my fuckin’ business, Hoskins,” Anne sneered, holding her blade on him steadily despite his backward movement.
“Oh, come on Bonny. She ain’t spreadin’ for you no more. What’s it to you?” Hoskins complained.
Anne’s blade flashed and a tear appeared in Hoskins shirt.
“You ain’t bleedin’ yet. Talk again and ya will be,” Anne said warningly.
Indignant and offended, Hoskins defied all logic and turned to Max for support.
He did not find any.
“Well, fuck you then,” he spit out angrily, looking hostilely at Anne and then at Max in turn. “See if I fuckin’ come back here,” he hurled at Max, and then he stomped off towards the doors.
Max was so unconcerned with his tantrum that he had not stormed more than a meter away before she turned her back to him. She would not miss his business, but when he couldn’t take a piss without it burning he would certainly miss her establishment and the cleanliness and good health of her girls.
“Congratulations,” Max breathed out, a smile touching her lips as faced the remaining man. “You are familiar with the ‘ouse rules, yes?”
The man nodded.
“Then ‘ave fun … and do come back for the show,” Max breathed out, holding out her hand to Mercy, who stepped forward from the side to take it.
When Mercy reached her, Max leaned over and whispered in the girl’s ear for a moment. When she was through she pulled back and held Mercy’s eyes for a second before she nodded at the girl and then transferred Mercy’s hand over the waiting man.
Mercy began to lead the man away and Max motioned for Abe to join her.
“Stay close to them. And make sure ‘e knows you are following ‘im,” she said, pointing her finger at Abe to emphasize the importance of that point. “I want ‘im to know ‘e’s being watched. Do not leave Mercy’s door until ‘e leaves ‘er. Are we clear?”
Abe nodded and then headed after Mercy and her client.
“Thank you,” Max said softly, finally turning to face Anne.
“You’d a put ‘im in ‘is place,” she muttered. She’d seen Max’s brain solve problems as well as her blades could, even better in many cases. “My way just involved less talkin’.”
Max smiled at that, her eyes turning soft as she gazed at Anne. She had not seen much of the woman in the days that followed their split, and after those first few days she had not seen Anne around at all. The arrangements for the show, the daily operations of the brothel and her dates with Eleanor had kept Max’s mind occupied almost constantly over the past couple of weeks, but standing opposite Anne presently, Max realized that she had missed her.
“’ow ‘ave you been?” Max asked.
She wanted to reach out and draw her hand down Anne’s arm, she wanted to offer some affection, but Anne’s posture was tense and Max knew that she would not be receptive to such a gesture.
“Fine,” Anne grumbled, looking everywhere around her but at Max. “Joined up with Naft fer the moment,” she added, chancing a quick look at Max.
“Naft?” Max asked, bemused.
Naft ran a very different type of boat than Vane had and Max was surprised that he would have sought out someone with Anne’s reputation – and disposition. Max knew that there was softness and decency in Anne Bonny, but the pirates of Nassau did not, and given everything Max knew about Naft, she would have thought him likely to steer clear of Anne.
Anne shrugged then muttered, “Apparently, Blondie put in a good word fer me.”
“Oh,” Max breathed out, unable stop her lips from twitching up the slightest bit.
She hadn’t known that Eleanor had spoken to anyone Anne’s behalf, but upon hearing it she wasn’t surprised. It was the type of thing Max was coming to realize Eleanor did quite often, acting kindly in secret, like a compassion vigilante, helping others but seeking no acknowledgement or reward for her actions beyond the knowledge she herself had that she had done what she believed to be right.
“Was it nice to be on the water again?” Max asked.
Anne smiled one of her rare, full smiles, and the sight of it brought a sweet smile to Max’s face.
“It were okay,” was what Anne muttered in response to Max’s question however, and upon hearing that Max’s smile grew even more.
“The place looks good,” Anne commented then, not wanting to talk about her feelings anymore. “Saw ‘ow busy it was last night. You must be ‘appy.”
“I am,” Max replied softly. “These things are never certain. It is a relief to know I ‘ave not led myself to ruin,” she continued, smiling a little.
Instinctively, Max took a step towards Anne, wanting to take Anne’s hand, but Anne jerked away from her, preserving the distance between them.
“Pardon,” Max murmured, rooting herself in place so as not to spook Anne again. “I did not mean to-”
“No … I … sorry,” Anne sputtered, cutting Max off as she averted her gaze. “Just wasn’t expectin’ … nevermind,” Anne sighed as she glared at the floorboards.
Anne was quiet for a few moments then. Her posture was tense and her eyebrows were scrunched together in a scowl, which Max knew meant Anne was deep in thought, puzzling over some problem.
Max remained silent, giving Anne the time she needed to work through her thoughts.
“She bein’ good to you?” Anne asked finally, looking over at Max.
“She is,” Max breathed out, her expression softening unconsciously at the thought of Eleanor.
Anne looked away from Max, and then bobbed her head up and down a few times before she muttered, “Good.” She was silent for a moment after that, but eventually she looked over at Max again with an expression of resigned acceptance.
Anne tilted her head in the direction of the bar.
“Gonna get a drink.”
“Okay,” Max breathed out, graciously allowing Anne to escape.
“Best a luck tonight,” Anne murmured, tipping her hat towards Max before.
“Merci,” Max said softly.
Anne nodded her head in acknowledgement of Max’s words, and then she turned and headed towards the bar.
Max stepped to the side so that she was not obscured by the crowd and motioned to her bartender. When he caught sight of her and focused his attention on her, Max pointed to Anne and signalled to him that Anne was not to be charged for any drinks.
It was not much, but it was a gesture that she knew Anne would accept, which was the best that she could do at the moment.
Max sighed deeply but still turned to face the girl that was calling her.
“What is it?” she asked tiredly when Ivy came to a stop before her.
“Jack wants you,” Ivy said breathlessly, her plump cheeks pink from the exertion of rushing to find Max. “Pilar’s having a problem with her dress.”
“Of course she is,” Max muttered, shaking her head.
Pilar was the opening act and her routine was to set the excessively decadent tone of the night. Pilar’s act was supposed to make the audience salivate as they wondered what extraordinary delights the rest of the night would hold if the show started out with something so spectacular.
“Take me to ‘er,” Max said.
Eleanor slipped her way into La Maison de Renard just as the torches were being dimmed for the first performance of the night. Her conversation with Flint had kept her for some time and could have kept her for some time longer, but she had finally had to cut him off with an apology, murmuring of a prior engagement and a promising a return visit the next day before she hurriedly left.
The torch over the table where Eleanor had been seated the night before had been put out, casting the space in near perfect darkness, so after she slipped onto the bench it took Eleanor a moment to realize that she was not alone at the table.
“Bonsoir,” Max breathed out. “Max was beginning to think you were not going to come.”
“Forswear your words,” Eleanor said, sliding closer to Max on the bench until they were side by side, arms brushing against each other. “They dress me in false robes.” She leaned down so that she was speaking into Max’s ear. “I swear to you,” Eleanor began softly, “I am not that sort of woman. I promised you that I would be here.” She took Max’s hand into her own. “There is nothing that could have stopped me. There is nothing that I would not have forsaken to be here with you.”
“Mon petit romantique,” Max sighed, squeezing Eleanor’s hand with her own before she leaned up to press a kiss to Eleanor’s cheek.
Most people did not see it, but most people did not truly see Eleanor. They did not know the softness that lay beneath Eleanor’s fierce exterior. They did not know Eleanor’s compassion, or her playfulness, or her bouts of childish pouting, or the way her eyes sparkled with a light to rival the sun when she was excited about something. They did not know how giving Eleanor was, or how self-critical she could be. They did not know that Eleanor’s lips, which hurled such foul-mouthed curses during the day, could also perfume the air with the sweetest of words. They did not know. They had no idea who Eleanor Guthrie really was.
Before Max had moved to Paris and been forced into doing what was necessary to survive, she had dreamed of romance and being on the receiving end of poetic declarations of love. Long before she arrived on Nassau’s shores however, Max came to believe that no one would ever be stirred to cast such loving words upon a whore, but there was still a romantic soul trapped deep inside of her, and on occasion she had not been able to stop herself from dreaming of love.
Then, in the most remote location she had ever lived, in a town populated by barbarians, cutthroats and thieves, in the most desperate circumstances she had ever faced … Max had met Eleanor. Eleanor, who was as dashing, damaged and dangerous as any Gothic hero. Eleanor, who looked at her with awe, and spoke to her with respect, and doted on her without expectation. Eleanor, who treated her like a person with thoughts and feelings, instead of like an object to be put to use. Eleanor, who fought for her honor and was now fighting for her heart. Eleanor, with whom she had discovered the difference between fucking and making love. Eleanor, who was moved to cast such loving words upon a whore. Eleanor, who dared to love her.
“Je t'aime,” Max breathed out, blinking quickly as she gazed up at Eleanor, trying to stave off the tears she could feel welling in her eyes. “Je t'aime,” she whispered again before leaning up to capture Eleanor’s lips in a deep, searching kiss the likes of which they had only ever shared behind closed doors before.
“We must stop,” Eleanor gasped a minute later. “We’ll be discovered,” she whispered urgently, twitching in her seat when Max’s hand began to run up her naked thigh.
Max’s hand crept a little bit higher and Eleanor’s breath hitched.
“C’est dommage,” That’s too bad, Max murmured, drawing her hand out from under Eleanor’s dress.
Eleanor breathed out shakily and shifted on the bench, trying to get as comfortable as it was possible to be in a state of arousal as high as the one she was presently in.
“This will cheer you up though,” Max whispered, snuggling against Eleanor’s side as the band began to play and Pilar took the stage. “You will like this,” Max continued, smirking at Eleanor as Pilar began to dance. “She takes ‘er top off early in this one. You get a very long look at ‘er breasts.”
Eleanor’s eyes widened and she looked down at Max both wounded and offended. She could not deny that she had a fondness – a great fondness – for Max’s chest, but that did not mean that she wandered through her days falling into a stupor at the sight of any generous bosom.
“I am not so …” Eleanor began indignantly, however a flash of colour on stage distracted her and she turned her head to see what was happening.
Her eyes widened as soon as they landed on the woman onstage.
Max wasn’t kidding. The dancer’s top really had come off early in the show, and for a moment, Eleanor was captivated.
“I…” Eleanor began again, focusing on Max once more.
Max simply smiled at her, her expression both smug and amused.
“The detailing on the …” Eleanor began.
Max shook her head and murmured, “Do not try.”
Eleanor sighed and leaned against the back of the bench.
“I’m sorry,” she moaned wretchedly, hanging her head down in shame. “I didn’t mean to.”
Eleanor’s hangdog expression made Max’s heart swell with warmth, and she leaned over and peppered a series of soft kisses onto Eleanor’s cheek until Eleanor smiled and looked over at her.
“Do not feel bad,” Max whispered as she nuzzled against Eleanor’s side again.
“But,” Eleanor began, still feeling bad. Her eyes may have momentarily wondered, but her heart hadn’t and wouldn’t. The woman on stage was lovely, but she did not tempt Eleanor in any way and Eleanor did not want Max to think that she did. Max was all she needed, Max was all she wanted, and…
“Do not feel bad,” Max repeated, interrupting Eleanor’s self-chastisement. She pressed her lips against Eleanor’s neck gently. “After all,” Max breathed out mischievously. “Max choreographed the routine.”
They were both still and silent for a moment, and then Eleanor’s lips curved up and her body began to vibrate against Max’s side as she laughed.
LATER THAT NIGHT
“What are you thinking about?” Max asked as Eleanor released a soft, wistful sigh.
They were nestled together naked on Max’s bed, exhausted – but happily so. Max was sat on the mattress with her back against the headboard, while Eleanor lay on her side, her head settled on Max’s abdomen. She had her arm curled under Max’s slightly bent knee, hugging Max’s leg loosely as her fingers indolently stroked the soft skin of Max’s inner-thigh.
“The banana I left on my desk this afternoon,” Eleanor replied longingly, which made Max laugh. “What? I’m starving,” Eleanor moaned pitifully. “I’ve hardly had a thing to eat all day.”
“This morning you said you did not ‘ave much to do. What kept you so busy you could not eat?” Max asked idly as she mentally went over the contents they still had stocked in the kitchen after the two night extravaganza.
“Flint,” Eleanor stated and Max looked down at her, her attention now sharply focused on Eleanor.
“’e’s back?” Max asked.
“Yes,” Eleanor whispered, before shifting on Max’s lap so that she could see her face. “He got it, Max,” Eleanor breathed out, her eyes shining with excitement. “He actually fucking got it.”
“The treasure is ‘ere?” Max asked, surprised.
Eleanor had been calm and focused on her all night and Max could not fathom how that could have been so if millions of dollars in Spanish gold were sitting somewhere in Nassau waiting for her.
“Well,” Eleanor began, drawing the word out for a suspiciously long period of time. “Not exactly,” she finally finished.
“What does that mean?” Max asked, though the timbre of her voice and the look in her eyes conveyed that her ‘question’ was really more of a command.
Eleanor explained the story to Max as Flint had told it to her earlier that day. A storm had raged while, unbeknownst to him, a mutiny was brewing. Gates suffered a heart attack and his death became the spark the mutineers needed to stir the fires of rebellion. Then a ship was sighted in the distance and Flint devised a clever ruse to get rid of it that almost worked. However, disaster struck and fire and death became the masters of Flint’s ships before he was suddenly plunged into the water. He washed up on shore, disoriented, wounded and hopeless. Then, while gripped in this despair, the shadowy figures of what was left of his crew surrounded him and got him to his feet. His crew led him up a hill, and when they crested it Flint found himself looking down to see sand sparkling with Spanish gold. Quick, vicious raids were carried out by small teams of what was left of Flint’s crew, attacking the Spanish survivors on the beach. Once the Spanish had been dealt with the crew dug day and night, working at a frenzied pace, until they were able to bury the treasure. Then it was simply a matter of surviving until a ship finally saw the smoke from their signal fire and picked them up.
“Out there,” Eleanor breathed out, “in turquoise seas to the south, there is an island of treasure that no one besides Flint, his men, and now the two of us know about,” Eleanor smiled. “All we need do is procure a ship and retrieve it.”
“Eleanor,” Max breathed out carefully, “you cannot afford to buy a ship.”
“I don’t need to,” Eleanor said excitedly. “Those foreign gentlemen you pointed out to me,” she continued, squeezing Max’s hand. “They are the solution.”
Eleanor paused then and took a deep breath, calming herself.
“If I am able to see my plan through, our portion of the treasure …”
“Our?” Max asked.
“Yes, ‘our’, yours and mine,” Eleanor replied firmly. “I love you, Max. I know what it is to be without you, and I would never know such heartache again. I wish to live my life with you, to share my life with you. I wish for this treasure to secure a future for us, together. That being said,” Eleanor breathed in deeply, building up her courage. “I have not - nor will I ever - forget the pain my association with Flint has caused you, and if … if you do not want me to pursue this any further, I … will not.”
“You would do this?” Max breathed out.
“Yes,” Eleanor replied looking pained, but sounding certain. “I told you earlier that once I give my word, I keep it. After the loss of the Walrus and the Ranger, my agreement with Flint is all but void. I would like to enter into a new one with him, but if you ask me not to, I will give you my word and be true to it,” Eleanor stated firmly.
The thought of having to give up her efforts to procure the Urca fortune was torturous, but Eleanor had already experienced the pain of losing both Max and the treasure, and the pain of losing Max had been far, far greater. She did not want to have to sacrifice the Urca, but she would … if she had to. She would for Max.
Max nodded her head to acknowledge that she had heard Eleanor’s words, but she was still lost in thought, fear and faith wrestling within her, fighting for dominance.
“You think you can truly recover the treasure?” Max asked finally, her tone inscrutable.
“I do,” Eleanor said softly.
“And you ‘ave plans already,” Max murmured, stating a fact not asking a question. “You know what you want to do.”
Eleanor closed her eyes, breathed out bracingly, and then sighed, “Yes.”
“Does ‘unting this treasure pose a danger to you?”
“No more so than any of my other business dealings,” Eleanor responded wryly. “The danger is mostly faced by those at sea, and I will be here – on dry land – with you.”
Max was quiet for a minute after Eleanor finished speaking, and it was one of the most agonizing minutes of Eleanor’s life.
“’elp Flint return to ‘is treasure island, if it is what you want,” Max finally breathed out. “Max will not stand in the way of your dreams.”
“This treasure is but a small part of my dr…”
“I know,” Max interjected gently. “You ‘ave told me,” she continued, stroking Eleanor’s cheek softly. “You ‘ave shown me. I do not doubt your love, or your intentions. If you wish to continue on with Flint, Max will not try to stop you.”
She had meant what she had said on the bridge to Eleanor all those months ago. Becoming Madame of the brothel had given her a perspective that she had lacked months before. Owning something, building something, being able to shape her own future, had helped Max to understand Eleanor in a way she had not before. Becoming Madame of La Maison de Renard had made Max realize that it had been naïve and unfair of her to expect Eleanor, at the drop of a hat, to give up everything that she had worked for and was dreaming of. Nassau could not love Eleanor back, but it was not just sand either. It was hope. It was possibility. It was freedom. Max saw that now, and seeing it, she would not stand in Eleanor’s way. She would not trample on Eleanor’s dreams. The world already did everything it could to cage them and break them. She would not aid it. Eleanor deserved to soar, just as she did. They had to help each other fly, not clip each other’s wings.
Eleanor’s eyes squeezed closed, and she could not hold back the sigh of relief that escaped from her.
“Thank you,” she whispered, opening her eyes again.
“You do not need to thank me,” Max breathed out as she leaned down. “I love you. I do not want you to be un’appy.” She brushed her lips against Eleanor’s.
When Max pulled back from her lips, Eleanor gazed up at her tenderly for a moment before she pushed herself up onto her arms and then shifted so that she was resting with her back against the headboard like Max.
“I’m very fortunate to have a woman such as you,” Eleanor said softly, reaching out to stroke Max’s cheek gently. “And I am thankful for you,” she added leaning in to kiss Max’s cheek, and then her lips.
“Nothing in this world ‘as made Max as ‘appy as you,” Max sighed against Eleanor’s lips. “And I am thankful for you.”
Eleanor smiled at her brightly and Max beamed back at her before snuggling herself against Eleanor’s side.
“So?” Max prompted after a few moments of silence.
“So what?” Eleanor asked, confused.
“Tell Max ‘ow the foreign gentlemen are the key to getting your treasure,” Max said, pinching the flesh over Eleanor’s ribs lightly and then smiling when Eleanor squirmed.
“Well,” Eleanor began, wrestling with Max’s hands, trying to stop them from prodding at her again. “I won’t tell you if you’re going to harass me,” Eleanor continued, her tone disapproving and her gaze warning.
“Un bébé,” Max murmured, but she stopped trying to interfere with Eleanor and settled peacefully against her side again. “Max will behave. Go on.”
“Well,” Eleanor began, but she paused almost immediately and looked at Max suspiciously. Max did nothing to interfere with her however, and after a few moments Eleanor continued. “When I spoke with Mr. Tahan and Mr. Feng, mentioned being in need of experienced fighters …”
A content smile touched Max’s lips as Eleanor’s arm wrapped around her, holding her close. Max’s body melted against Eleanor’s, molding herself to the blonde’s side, and her eyes closed, enjoying the sound of Eleanor’s voice.
“So Max is to be part of your plan?” Max asked minutes later, when Eleanor paused and looked down at her.
“If Max wants to be,” Eleanor replied, smiling.
“What is in it for Max?” Max inquired.
“Besides my undying devotion?” Eleanor asked.
“Oui,” Max breathed out. “Max already ‘as that,” she pointed out, smiling up at Eleanor before pressing their lips together.
“I cannot contest your words,” Eleanor whispered, sounding completely content. “As long as I draw breath, you will never be alone in this world,” she continued, “but if you become a part of this alliance in your own right, it will secure a small fortune for you that is entirely your own. You could use the money to buy out Jack’s portion of the brothel, Max. You could make La Maison de Renard wholly yours.”
Max’s eyes lit up at the thought and for a moment she drifted, imaging the changes she could make without having to spend hours convincing Jack of the wisdom of her ideas. Jack liked the income the brothel provided him, but he had no particular interest in the place beyond the coin it brought him, which could make him difficult to deal with when she wanted make changes that would benefit the girls but did not have a clear monetary value for him. What Jack really wanted was to be back at sea, was to be part of a crew again, and valued. If she could offer him a chance at that, if she could pay him enough to procure a ship, she had no doubt that he would take the offer.
“You know Max very well,” Max breathed out, gazing up at Eleanor.
“As you know me,” Eleanor replied softly.
“Max would know you now,” she whispered, drawing her hand up Eleanor’s nude thigh suggestively.
“Eleanor will do as you command,” Eleanor replied, her voice soft and rough as she spread her legs to give Max access to her hidden treasure.
Max smiled and then leaned over, bringing their lips together as her fingers began to tease Eleanor.
Their lives were not perfect. They had struggled and they had overcome, but they would face hardship again. This was life, both glorious and tragic. However, as Eleanor gasped softly and Max’s fingers became wet with her desire, Max knew that they were luckier than most because they had each other, and that made anything that life could throw at them endurable. As impossible as the prospect of love had once seemed to the both of them, they had managed to find it with each other, and it was wondrous.
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