They met in the brothel, surprise of all surprises.
That morning, Eleanor and Vane had had one of their arguments. She had given a superior lead to Captain Flint and Charles had not been happy. He was obsessed with the ridiculous notion that she held a torch for the aging Captain and when she had tried to storm out, he had thrown the closest thing to hand after her. The pyrite paperweight – a mineral also known as fools gold – had struck Eleanor between her shoulder blades and drawn blood through her shirt.
When she had turned around to confront him, Charles had fled. The wound was not that bad and after awkwardly cleaning it with rum-soaked cloth, Eleanor had set out to find Vane and apologise. Her fruitless search ended in the brothel and, finding it to be Vane-free, she had discovered the brothel’s stash of rum. Then she had discovered a dark corner and, a moment later, she had discovered the most beautiful woman she had ever seen.
All of Noonan’s women were beautiful, but this woman was exquisite. She had the most beautiful eyes, so dark that they seemed almost black until the candlelight caught them, setting them gleaming the very richest of browns, bright with life and laughter. Her skin – and Eleanor had the good fortune of being able to feast her eyes on a good deal of it – glowed a deep, flawless bronze that turned rosy at her cheeks and pinker still at her lips. And what lips they were; full and tempting as they twisted up in a smile. Her hair too was quite remarkable, curling and gleaming with a perfection that Eleanor had only seen in paintings and the fine sculpture work of the classics. Curves she had too. Small and slight though she was, she had curves enough to make Eleanor’s mouth water and her body thrum. If Eleanor believed that there had ever been an Eve, then this woman, she was sure, would be the image of her. She could tempt even the most devout of men to sin, and Eleanor was far from devout.
“Fuck,” Eleanor breathed, dizzy from desire. She could not remember when she had felt the like of it. Perhaps never at all. Women always did seem to have a way of making her lose her sense quicker, even if the endpoint was more or less the same. Well, not quite, but that was all part of the fun, was it not?
So laden was Eleanor’s gaze, that the woman on whom it was trained seemed to feel it. She found Eleanor’s eyes immediately through the heavy crowd when she turned from the privateer she was entertaining. At the sight of Eleanor, her lips quirked up into a wicked smile and she dipped her head in hello.
Without so much as a word of goodbye to the man beside her, she plucked up a fresh glass from behind the brothel’s modest bar, sauntered slow and seductive across the room, and slipped into Eleanor’s lap as if she belonged there.
Eleanor, who was not unused to being in such a position, even if it had been longer than she cared to remember, leaned back to accommodate her.
“I thought that you might want this,” the woman purred, the rich tones of her voice sending a pulse through Eleanor’s body. The accent Eleanor picked up straight away as being French, but not the French of France, not exactly. Somewhere else. A colony, perhaps. Eleanor hoped so. She had no more love for the French than she did for the Spanish. Nor the English, for that matter. Colonies of such nations always took to Nassau better than anyone else. Eleanor supposed that it came from a resentment of authority. Or perhaps that was just her.
With so many thoughts clouding her mind, Eleanor did not reach out to take the proffered glass. Instead, the woman took the bottle of rum from her unresisting hand and poured out two mouthfulls. Eleanor watched, enthralled, as she brought the glass up to her lips, let her eyes flutter closed and supped half of the dark liquid. Her tongue came out to lick the liquor from her lips and she opened her eyes with a sensuous slowness, holding Eleanor’s gaze as steadily as if her she had never broken it.
When Eleanor took the half-emptied glass, she let her fingers brush against the other woman’s wrist, her skin tingling where they touched. The woman on her lap smiled and Eleanor held her gaze even as she knocked back her rum, challenging her. In response, the woman took the glass and bottle and setting them aside. Then she looped her arms around Eleanor’s neck and leant close enough to kiss.
“I ‘ave not seen you in in ‘ere before,” she said, her voice the sensuous softness of a woman’s hand snaking up your thigh. “I would ‘ave remembered such a pleasure. What is your name, ma chére?”
If it had not been for the rum, Eleanor’s mouth would have been too dry to speak. “Mistress Guthrie, to most people.”
The woman’s eyes widened and she smiled. No one in Nassau did not know that name. “But I am not most people. Your father’s name is not quite so pretty, I would wager, as yours is. I would most like to ‘ear it.”
Even though the woman must know it, Eleanor complied.
“Mmmmm, Eleanor. Such a pretty name.” When this stranger said her name, it sounded new to Eleanor’s ears, as if no one had ever said it right until that moment.
“My mother, she named me for a queen,” Eleanor found herself saying, though she could not for the life of her understand why. “Eleanor of-”
“Aquitaine,” the woman interrupted, smiling slyly like she knew just how surprised Eleanor would be at a whore knowing that. “A fine Frenchwoman, though not so beloved to you English. Such a namesake you ‘ave. Max is not so lucky.”
“Max? Is that really what your mother called you?” Eleanor could have died from how impolite it sounded. She never did have control of her tongue. “Sorry, I did not mean it like that. I just mean… Well, it’s quite… unusual.”
Max laughed. “Max is who I am. Does it matter if my mother would agree?”
Eleanor smiled. This was what she liked about Nassau. Nothing that came before mattered to anyone on her shores. Everyone lived for the moment and one or two for the future. None gave a toss about the past.
“I suppose not,” Eleanor conceded. “It is nice to meet you, Max.”
“The pleasure… it is all mine,” Max purred as she stirred in Eleanor’s lap, drifting closer and shifting her weight to press between Eleanor’s thighs.
Eleanor gasped and arched her back, and Max smiled triumphantly.
It was with absolute honesty that Max said, “And I would very much like to return the favour.”
Desire spread like wildfire through Eleanor’s body, robbing her of rational thought and taking her close to the edge. She could not breathe from it.
“That’s it, ma chére,” Max murmured, her breath hot on Eleanor’s ear. She tilted her head and pressed her lips to Eleanor’s neck, warm and damp, as her hand slid into Eleanor’s shirt.
Eleanor was lost. She did not even stop to think what on earth she was doing as she turned her head and sought out Max’s lips.
“Eleanor!” Vane’s voice was sand made sound. It sliced through Eleanor’s desire and killed it dead. Her skin flushed hot, then cold and Max grew tense on her lap. “What the fuck are you doing?”
Eleanor flew to her feet, managing by some miracle of instinct to guide Max to her feet with an arm around her waist. But that was where her grace ended. She stalked shakily to Vane’s side, red-cheeked and panting. If it hadn’t been for the possessive man standing before her, Max would have sworn that Eleanor hadn’t been touched in months. She had barely begun to work her charms on Eleanor and she was already half fallen apart.
“I was looking for you,” Eleanor said, her voice still breathy. “Seems that I was right. The brothel was your destination.”
“And yours.” He looked past Eleanor to Max, his look one of absolute hatred.
Max wondered how long he had been watching them, wondered if he had seen how easily she had roused his girl’s desire. She smiled defiantly and he growled back.
“Come along, Charles,” Eleanor said, putting her hand on his arm. “I have received some information that you might find profitable. A Spanish galleon out of Havana. If you and your men are quick, you might intercept her before another crew spots her. Mr Scott has sent her course to Mr Rackham.”
The promise of coin seemed to calm Vane’s anger, or at least to postpone it, and he turned his attention finally to Eleanor.
“This ain’t over,” he warned her.
Though Eleanor kept her chin high and defiant, Max thought she saw Eleanor flinch a little and knew from that the measure of this man.
“Come,” he growled, before turning and walking out the door.
With one last apologetic look back to Max, Eleanor took a deep breath, dropped her head and followed.
The pursuit for the Spanish galleon had begun. With his Ranger, Vane had commandeered two smaller ships – the Porpoise and the Scimitar – to make for himself a temporary fleet. That left only the Andromeda in Nassau. Angry at being overlooked, Captain Holt had last been seen entering Eleanor’s tavern, whilst his crew had taken refuge in the brothel. With all of the other women engaged for a discounted price – pleasure, like all things, was cheaper when bought in bulk – Max had been sent to find the captain and complete the set.
Barely five minutes after Max arrived at the tavern, she found what she was looking for. She had placed herself in a shadowy corner and ordered a glass of the tavern’s cheapest rum. Exactly across from her were the double doors leading to Eleanor’s study, from behind which came the sounds of raised voices. It seemed that Captain Holt was taking out his frustrations on the only person left in Nassau with whom he could lay the blame.
When Holt emerged from Eleanor study, his face was red with rage and his fists were clenched at his sides. He looked as angry as a man could be and the tavern’s patrons shrunk back at the sight of him. Max, however, showed no fear. Only disgust. He was an ogre of a man and Max let her face show her distaste, for she knew that in her corner she was hidden by the shadow of the upper floor.
This man with whom Max had been charged with seducing was as steep a step down from Eleanor as it was possible to be. In all of her time in the brothel, Max had never seen a woman in its walls who was not a prostitute nor their madam. Eleanor was the first and the sight of her had made Max come alive. She had cast aside the man she had been persuading into bed – despite his reputation as a good tipper – and had instead gone to Eleanor’s side, unwilling to let such an opportunity pass her by. She had been rewarded with the best few minutes she had ever spent with a prospective client. Even if she hadn’t been paid. Perhaps she could find Eleanor instead of Holt. If what she had heard about the Guthrie fortune was true, Eleanor would have more than enough money at her disposal to outspend a captain. Especially given the permanence of her residency in Nassau.
Now that Vane was out at sea, there would be no one to interrupt.
“Fuck you,” Holt spat, turning back to leer in the direction that he had come from. “Yer no better‘an an whore!”
Max’s hair stood on end at the word. It did not bother her as a rule, not in itself, but she had never heard it spoken with such venom.
“Grovellin’ at Vane’s feet and beggin’ ‘im ta let you suck his cock, I’ve no doubt,” Holt continued as Eleanor emerged gracefully from the office to stand before him. “The Ranger ain’t the only ship capable o’ leadin’ an attack on a galleon, yet she’s the only one gettin’ the leads. If your father knew the only reason that the Ranger is your star earner is cos his daughter’s so hungry for her captain’s-”
“Shut your fucking mouth!” Eleanor swore, her tone ice-cold and final. Her eyes blazed with a cool, blue fire and her cheeks were coloured high in anger. Where on Holt the flush had made him look sweaty and pathetic, it made Eleanor look dangerously alive.
In her dark corner, Max’s pulse quickened and her breath caught at the sight of this hurricane made flesh. A great weight pressed down on her rooting her, captivated, to the spot.
“One more fucking word and I’ll have Captain Hornigold sink your fucking sloop into the fucking sea.” Eleanor bit. “The reason – the only reason – that the Ranger and the Walrus are the only ships I send after galleons armed as highly armed as la Liebre de Oro and man-o’-wars is because they’re the only pieces of shit timber out of Nassau with captains who don’t piss their pants at the sight of the fucking Navy.”
Holt’s flush deepened and the African man who had served Max her drink smiled as he wiped down the bar.
“And being a Spanish galleon laden with treasure, I’d wager that there’ll be at least three Navy scooners with her, if not a goddamn fucking Spanish man-o’-war!” Eleanor continued, walking forward with a slow menace that had Holt backing up, colliding with a table and knocking over a chair. “We’ve been sinking and stealing their ships long enough by now that they don’t send the real prizes out without fucking protection. Can your pathetic little mind comprehend that or do you want me to have Mr Scott here carve a diagram onto your fucking chest?”
Holt dropped Eleanor’s gaze, as meek as a lamb, and Max felt her stomach flutter.
“Wonderful,” Eleanor smiled, as bright as the midday sun. Her voice was mild now, free of that razor sharp edge that had so frightened Captain Holt. “Now get the fuck out of my tavern and make sure that your crew are fit to set sail at first light. There’s a ship bound for Boston that I want taking and you’re going to board it for me. Is that understood? I don’t want your men pissing the night away in the brothel. They can have their fun, but then I want them sobered up and on the Andromeda by the sunrise, or I’ll make sure that that she has a new captain by week’s end.”
“Of course, Mistress Guthrie,” the captain promised, a different man entirely from the one who had stormed from Eleanor’s study. “You won’t regret it.”
Eleanor’s eyes narrowed before she plucked up an onion bottle from a nearby table and strode back into her study. “See that I don’t.”
Though Holt walked right by her, Max was too captivated to stop him. It seemed to her that Eleanor was the very definition of captivating. From the moment she had burst after Holt, Max had been lost. All thoughts of charming her for coin fled from Max’s mind, yet she found herself at the doors to Eleanor’s study, her now empty glass held loosely in her hand.
“What is it now?” Eleanor huffed, her back to the door and the bottle of rum in her hand.
“I thought that you might want this,” Max said. Soft, so as not to startle her.
When Eleanor turned and saw Max once more offering her a glass for her rum, her eyes widened and mouth fell open in surprise.
Max took the moment of silence to close the door behind her and cross to stand before Eleanor, glass outstretched. “I ‘ad ‘oped to share another drink with you.”
Eleanor’s eyes narrowed, just as they had with Holt. “What do you want?” She sighed and threw up her hands, sloshing the rum about in its bottle, spilling some over her hand. “Stupid question.”
“Max is not ‘ere to part you from your coin,” Max smiled, shaking her head.
What she wanted was to part her from her clothes; to push her up against her desk and take her. She wanted Eleanor’s hands all over her, wanted to part her thighs for her. She wanted Eleanor Guthrie more than she had ever wanted anyone else. Yet the thought of talking to her, of sitting close enough to feel the heat of her body or seeing her smile was just as dizzying as the thought of fucking her. With that thought, Max vowed never to play the whore to Eleanor. She wanted more than that.
“Not that your charms are not considerable,” Max continued, “but Max does not wish to exchange money with you. Just to share a drink.” She smiled again and tilted her head. “Just a drink, for now.”
Eleanor’s frown deepened, but she gestured for Max to sit on the chair before her desk. Max smiled but declined, making instead for the couch and patting the space beside her for Eleanor to take.
“Come. Let us drink. It ‘as been a long day, I think, for the both of us.”
Reluctantly, Eleanor gave in.
They drank almost all that was left of the rum, their tongues loosening as the night turned to morning. Max saw yet another side to Eleanor. She had seen her quiet and seductive, enjoying having Max in her lap and more than happy for Max to know it. Then she had seen her vulnerable, trying and failing to hide her fear at Captain Vane’s anger. Next, she had seen her as a quiet hurricane, tearing down all that stood in her path and not letting a soul forget just how unforgiving she could be.
That had been what had done it for Max. That had been the moment that her interest had flared to deep desire and then something else. Something that desired Eleanor no less, but wanted too to just be in her company, to see her smile and hear her laugh. To her great surprise, that was what she got. The rum had turned Eleanor from mistrustful to open and joyful, if a little shy.
Friendship kindled between them so quickly that Max could almost not believe it. She had no true friends in Nassau and had never had a friend like Eleanor. No woman of Eleanor’s standing and breeding had ever so much as looked at Max, never mind laughed with her. Though their friendship came easy, as if they had known one another all of their lives, it was a constrained sort of friendship.
Max saw her desire for Eleanor reflected in those sea blue eyes and every time they touched, a spark ran between them. They both knew that if it had not been for Eleanor’s relationship with Vane – however absent he was – they would never have made it to the couch. They might not have even made it to the room’s bed. Max’s ideas for putting Eleanor’s desk to use were many and varied, and she knew that those ever so graphic images would be enough to get her through pleasuring her patrons for the foreseeable future. Even if, for the first time, the distaste she felt at the thought of her work came not just from a dislike for the profession itself, but from a strange sort of guilt.
“Mr Noonan will be wondering where you are,” Eleanor said reluctantly as she watched the sun begin to peek through the curtains. It was winter and though the sun seemed no colder, the days were shorter and it was later than the low light would have you believe.
Max groaned. She had her feet pulled up under her and she was as comfortable on that couch beside Eleanor as she would have been in her own bed, despite the fact that she had been sat there for long enough that the rum had almost completely worn off. The thought of leaving the couch and Eleanor to return empty handed to the brothel made fear stir cold in her belly.
“I should not ‘ave stayed so long,” Max breathed, furious at herself.
Something in her tone made Eleanor frown. She looked down at her glass and swirled the remaining liquor. “Will he be very angry?”
Max looked away. She knew where that line of questioning was heading and she would not take Eleanor’s money, not for sitting and talking, and drinking all of her rum.
“Please, Max. Let me at least send something with you.”
“Max will not ‘ave you pay ‘er. If you do, neither of us will know the truth of what the other says,” Max warned. “I would rather suffer Noonan’s anger than that. It is far briefer.”
Eleanor’s mouth opened to protest, but a smile turned up the corner of her lips before she could utter it.
“What if told Mr Noonan that you had taken ill and I had sheltered you for the night? I could say that you fainted before I could get your name and, having never seen you before, did not know where to send word until you woke this morning.”
Max smiled and shook her head. “We were seen together at Noonan’s. The girls will tell ‘im and that will be that. ‘e will be ‘arsher if ‘e thinks that I am lying to ‘im.”
Eleanor huffed and stood, the picture of a petulant child. Max found it endlessly endearing. She knew it was dangerous, but she could not help but let her affection for Eleanor flourish. Not when every news side to her that she saw was more perfect than the last.
“Then I really cannot see any way around it,” Eleanor said firmly. “I am not letting you return to Noonan only to be flogged or whatever it is that he does when his women disobey him.”
Then another idea struck her. Vane would not be pleased, but his quest would see him gone for at least ten days and Max’s need was immediate.
“There is service you could perform for me. One that is legitimate and that I could pay you for. It would keep you here for – oh – a week I should think. At least.” Eleanor stopped and her cheeks coloured. “As long as you can read and write, that is.”
She looked nervous then, as if she might have just insulted Max.
“Max can read and write French and English. ‘er mother taught ‘er,” Max confirmed, pleasantly surprised that Eleanor had not assumed her uneducated. She was no scholar, but her mother had been a kitchen maid to a merchant in her younger days, and that had given her the tools with which to teach Max literacy and numeracy at the very least. “What is this service that Max can perform for you?”
Eleanor’s smile brightened and she strode over to the gated portion of the room that served as her bedroom. In it, there was a bookcase, from which she took five small identically bound books.
“Ships logs that came in with The Walrus the last time she was in port,” Eleanor explained. “All in French. I can barely read a word of it.” She handed them to Max. “They detail cargo and routes, I think. Some of them yet to take place. If I can find out when and where these ships will be in our waters, then I can take them. If I know what sort of cargo they are going to be carrying, or even that they usually carried in the past, it will make the leads I give to my captains a good deal stronger.”
Max opened the first book and saw it to be French shorthand in a fine looping script. She could certainly read it, but some of the shorthand and naval language might take a bit of deciphering. She would probably need Eleanor’s help for that. A job like this would not only keep Noonan happy and her out of trouble for her night of freedom, but it would also keep her out of the hands the brothel’s patrons and beside Eleanor for quite some time.
“What do you think?” Eleanor asked, seeming suddenly nervous that Max might refuse. As if she could refuse work like that when the alternative was being pushed down on her knees by an endless stream of pirates.
“Oui, Max will do it,” Max agreed, smiling. “But I fear that it will take longer than week. It is in shorthand and is full of words that I do not know the meaning of, never mind the translation. I will need,” she paused and smiled, wanting to flatter Eleanor a little, “that ever so sharp mind of yours to ‘elp me decode it.”
Eleanor’s smile clean melted Max’s heart. “I think I could do that.”
Max arrived the next morning clothed in a contradiction. She wore a dress the colour of sea foam, each strip of material a different shade. Around her waist was a sash of pure white and her hems were tipped with the finest lace. The dress fell respectably to the floor, yet her neckline was brazenly low and wide, baring the curve of her breasts, held high by her corset. It was by far the richest dress that Eleanor had ever seen on one of Noonan’s girls and the pureness of the white silk spoke of its newness. In fact, Eleanor could pinpoint exactly the prize with which it had come in and she knew exactly why Noonan had bought it.
“It won’t work,” she told Max, determined it would be true, “Noonan’s scheming.”
Max smiled and inclined her head. Whether she was pleased at Eleanor’s words or amused at the thought of Eleanor trying to stick to them, Eleanor could not tell.
“You are right about Mr Noonan. ‘e is practically salivating at the thought of ‘aving you as a regular patron,” Max agreed, her expression unreadable as she stood almost primly before Eleanor. “‘e ‘as ‘aerd of many such arrangements on other islands, with wealthy and important people such as yourself paying to keep a whore just for themselves. ‘e ‘as designs on making me your whore and making ‘is purses fatter.”
Eleanor tried not to be distracted by the way Max’s chest rose and fell. It was a battle that she knew that she was going to lose, but one that she would certainly try to fight nonetheless.
“He’s wasting his time,” Eleanor said calmly, forcing her to look at Max’s face. Not that that was any better, she had the most beautiful of faces.
Max smiled again, dropping her head to make a show of trying to hide it. “Oui, with both of us.”
“Both… err, I mean, good. Good,” Eleanor stammered, her cheeks flaming with embarrassment. She did not lose her composure, nor did she stutter nor misspeak, not before the most feared pirates in the West Indies and certainly not before a woman as unimposing as Max. Except that was a lie. Max scared her more than the most fearsome of pirates. Max made her feel things that she could not afford to feel. Desire alone was easy enough to suppress, but the disappointment she felt at Max’s ‘with both of us’ comment would be harder to conquer.
“Bon,” Max echoed, her eyes raking up Eleanor’s body, making Eleanor even more confused. “Now, where is it that you want me?”
“Pardon?” Eleanor chocked, her eyes wide. A series of graphic images flashed through her mind and her cheeks reddened.
“Where am I to work?” Max rephrased, her smile one of satisfaction. She was enjoying herself. Eleanor was sure of that.
“Here,” Eleanor said with a quick exhalation. She turned from Max and strode over to an ornate, dark wooden desk. “You can start on volume one, copying down the translation into this book.” She picked up a wide leather-bound book and wiggled it in the air. “Then, when you’re done, you can start on volume two and so on.”
Max crossed to stand before her again, each step slow and careful. Eleanor clenched her hands on the book to keep them from trembling. She could not understand it. No one had made her feel this weak, not ever.
“And what ‘appens,” Max began, reaching for the book in Eleanor’s grip, her fingers closing gently over Eleanor’s, looking up at her from beneath her eyelashes, “when I come to something that I cannot conquer alone?”
For some reason, Max’s closeness saw some of Eleanor’s composure return to her. She smiled as wickedly as could be, her eyes glinting like the treacherous sea.
The work was not hard, but it was time consuming. Max spent the next two days in the corner of Eleanor’s study, bent over her small wooden desk and two leather bound books, the tide coming in and going out behind her and Eleanor’s many business meetings taking place as if she weren’t there at all.
Every now and then, Eleanor’s chair would creak and she would appear a moment later at Max’s shoulder. She would smile down at her work with a kind of satisfaction that came from more than just the acquisition of valuable intel. Sometimes, when the men whom Eleanor did business with had left, she would lean down to whisper in Max’s ear some insult for the man and Max would giggle and try not to look too in awe of all that Eleanor managed to achieve.
Eleanor would come so close to her in those moments that Max could feel her warm breath on her neck and felt the strange thrill of being at Eleanor’s mercy. It made her blood rush to realise just how much power Eleanor wielded, to witness how she manipulated all around her and to know that, should she choose to, she could unseat Eleanor with a few carefully chosen words. There was power in that too and a nagging voice in the back of her head said that Eleanor meant to make her an equal. Someone dangerous enough – someone who knew just enough of her secrets – that she would not feel guilt for wanting her.
And want her Eleanor did. That became more and more apparent every day. Their friendship grew, but so did the tension that crackled between them. By the evening of the third day, Max had decided to do something about it.
When Eleanor dreamed, it was of Max.
They were on a beach, miles and miles from another soul. Eleanor lay on her back on a bed of pale pink sand, the honeyed sun warming her skin as blue-green waves lapped gently at her feet. She saw these perfect surroundings for the briefest of seconds before her eyes closed in bliss. For it was Max pressing her into the sand and Max’s body light atop her. It was Max whose fingers brushed over her cheeks and Max who was kissing her sweeter than she had ever been kissed before. Sweeter than she had ever wanted to be kissed until she had first seen Max and her heart had lept.
“Eleanor,” Max murmured, her voice like the sighing of the sea. “Eleanor.”
A hand on her shoulder brought Eleanor sharply back to the conscious world. She startled and blinked until her eyes adjusted to the candlelight. It had been light when she had sat down and now it was dark and her back and neck were screaming with pain. She had fallen asleep in her desk chair and was going to pay for it. To make matters worse, before her stood the woman about whom she had been having the most romantic of dreams.
I’m fucked, she thought, totally and utterly fucked.
Without any sort of grace, Eleanor moistened her dry lips and straightened herself in her seat, blushing when she realised that her almost innocent dream of Max had left her wet.
“I did not want to wake you, but the door was unlocked and anyone could ‘ave walked in and found you this way. Max was worried,” Max said, her voice soft so as not to startle Eleanor any more than she already had. Eleanor looked confused, still half-asleep and utterly adorable. Max’s heart was fluttering in her chest and she wanted nothing more in that moment than to reach down and brush the loose strands of hair from Eleanor’s cheeks. “I came to see if you wanted to ‘ave a drink with me tonight.”
Eleanor could not help but stare at her. Max was just as beautiful in the candlelight as she had been in dreamscape, and Eleanor felt her heart skip a beat. She and Max had dined every night and it had been torture for Eleanor to say goodnight gallantly as their evenings together ended when what she really wanted to do was kiss her and beg her to stay.
“That chair of yours does not look like the wisest place to sleep,” Max said with a sympathetic smile, “not when there is a bed only a few feet away. Though Max understands ‘ow tempting it is to just sleep wherever you find yourself after a long day, and Max does not work ‘alf as ‘ard as Eleanor.”
“That, I think, is up for debate,” Eleanor said, reflexively complimenting where with another she would just have agreed. She arched her back in attempt to dull the pain, but the movement only flared it, making her wince and her eyes flutter shut. “Fuck, that hurts.”
Eleanor opened her eyes to see Max the very picture of concern. Her arms were folded before her chest and she seemed to be deciding whether or not to speak. Eleanor had sent her away whilst she had a particularly sensitive meeting and had promised to send for her to return in the evening for their usual dinner. Eleanor always worked her well into the night and Max could not help but wonder if she was hoping to keep Max from her other work. If that was her intention, she was succeeding. The most she had been touched since entering Eleanor’s employ was the hand that Eleanor sometimes touched to her shoulder when apprising her work.
“I can ‘elp ease the pain, if you would let me?” Max said after a moment, her voice soft and encouraging. “Your muscles, they ‘ave tightened and need to be relaxed. If you leave them, the pain will only be worse come morning.”
Eleanor held her gaze, searching for a trace of an ulterior motive. Even if Max was not offering on the chance that it might turn into something that she could charge for, Eleanor was not sure that she could resist the temptation it would put her way. She had never paid for sex before, but for Max, she might be tempted. She was tempted every moment that she spent in her company.
“Alright.” Eleanor was, after all, always up for playing a dangerous game.
“Come,” Max said, her smile friendly and eager as she took Eleanor’s hand and led her to the bed, locking the door on the way. “Lie on your front. Your shirt you can either take off or leave on, but off is better.”
Eleanor, of course, took off her shirt, but she turned her back to Max to do it. There was really no point in keeping it on, was there? It was not as if she would let anything happen. She had promised herself that she would not. She was with Charles. He was useful and more than a little easy on the eyes. No captain crossed her with the infamous Captain Vane at her side. Those that did found themselves permanently landlocked. Locked under six feet of land, to be exact. Which put anything happening with Max out of the question. It would be an insult that Charles would not let stand and Eleanor was intimately acquainted with his temper.
Still, she could have a little fun, up to a point. And what Charles did not know would not hurt… anyone.
Determined that she would let herself enjoy what was to come, Eleanor settled herself on the bed, her head pillowed on her arms and her eyes closed contentedly. She was quite relaxed for all of a moment. Then Max straddled her thighs and Eleanor’s body came alive. Her breath quickened and the bedspread beneath her suddenly felt rough against her breasts. She shifted and a shiver of desire fluttered in her belly, and then tingled between her thighs. Every sense was heightened a hundred-fold and when Max’s hands found the warm skin of her back, she could not hold back a whimper, nor the moan that followed it.
“Apologies,” she whispered, though she really, really wasn’t sorry. Embarrassment had fled with the first heavenly tingles and the only reason she tried to hold back her moans was for Max’s sake. She did not wish to make her feel uncomfortable.
Yet when Max spoke, Eleanor could hear the grin in her voice and knew that Max was anything but perturbed. “Why should you apologise for giving Max a complement, hmm? If you are silent, ‘ow will she know when she ‘as found where it is that you are ‘urting? ‘oh will she know ‘ow ‘ard to press, or ‘ow fast to go? ‘ow will she know when it feels good?”
The heels of Max’s hands pressed hard up the length of her back and out along her shoulder blades. Max had to be careful to avoid the bruises that peppered Eleanor’s back and sides, weaving between them to keep what should be about pleasure from turning into pain.
“Fuck,” Eleanor swore. If Max wanted her vocal, then she would not disappoint. “Lower, please. Just a bit- Ah, ah, that’s it. Just… Harder, please.” Her breath caught and her back arched, her muscles shuddering. “Fuck. Ah, ah, aah.”
Max was in hell. Her thighs were shaking and her heart was thundering in her chest. She could feel herself soaking through her petticoat and knew it was only a matter of time before Eleanor could feel it to. Having Eleanor beneath her, the golden skin of her bare back hers to touch was heaven, but it was not enough. It was not nearly enough. Especially not when Eleanor’s usually filthy mouth was uttering ‘pleases’ with her demands. If Eleanor did not stop moving beneath her, Max was not going to be able to stop herself from moaning along with her.
Just when he first shuddering moan threatened to spill from Max’s lips, Eleanor’s moans subsided and she fell still upon the bed. The knot in her back had loosened, and Max lightened her touch, her splayed fingers rubbing the length of Eleanor’s back to prolong the pleasure.
“Oh God,” Eleanor murmured, her voice dreamy. “That was… wonderful. You are wonderful.”
Max laughed softly, her desire taking a softer turn at Eleanor’s gentle tone. “There are many things that Max is good at.”
Eleanor hummed appreciatively, then asked with a hint of playfulness, “Like fixing my neck?”
Max leant forward until her lips brushed the shell of Eleanor’s ear.
“So demanding,” she breathed, far too far gone now to pretend that this was anything but a seduction. “Max likes it.”
Before Eleanor could do or say anything in reply, Max dug her thumbs into the back of Eleanor’s neck, drawing up into her hair, her fingers running along Eleanor’s scalp until Eleanor moaned for her once more.
Eleanor was in bliss. Her whole body was tingling, sparking in the wake of Max’s fingers and growing hot where they touched. Max’s body pressed down along the length of her back, the swell of her breasts through her gown, the perfect weight of her. Eleanor melted like butter beneath her, too lost in the bliss to listen to that sensible part of her and stop this before it went too far.
“Fuck, Max,” Eleanor whimpered, her voice full of want. “Please.”
Max’s eyes fluttered closed and she pressed a kiss to the back of Eleanor’s neck. She wanted Eleanor more than she had ever wanted anyone else. Her whole being cried out for her. She was grateful now for Captain Vane’s interruption in the brothel. She did not want other people’s eyes on them. She did not want Eleanor’s coin. She did not want Eleanor to fuck her because she was a whore and that was what whores were for. She wanted Eleanor to fuck her because she was all that Eleanor could think of. She wanted Eleanor to look at her and see a woman worthy of her desire and attention.
“Please what, Eleanor?” Max whispered, pressing a line of kisses down the back of Eleanor’s neck. Eleanor shivered beneath her and Max knew that Eleanor wanted this every bit as much as she did.
When Max drew her lips from Eleanor’s skin and sat up, Eleanor turned beneath her. Max eyes met Eleanor’s, finding them dark with desire and stormy like the sea. Then her gaze lingered on Eleanor’s rosy lips, which parted and damp, which she had yet to kiss. From there her eyes were drawn irresistibly down to Eleanor’s heaving chest. Her breasts were pale and full, and pink tipped. Max brushed her hands up over Eleanor’s ribs to fill her palms with them, finding them perfectly soft, firm and heavy. Eleanor’s nipples, which had been soft despite the flush of desire creeping down Eleanor’s chest, stiffened the moment that Max touched them. Eleanor’s lips parted and she whimpered, her head thrown back.
“Please, Max,” she begged, her voice barely a whisper.
A cold shiver passed through Max and she withdrew her hands and froze.
“What is it?” Eleanor asked once her head had cleared enough to speak. Her eyes were wide, confused. Adorably so. She blushed and looked away. “I apologise… I - I did not mean to assume that…”
“That because Max is a whore, she will fuck you?” Max asked, her eyes woeful and dull. This was not who she was. She was not afraid of what she did, nor what other people supposed of her. But the thought of Eleanor, who was so strong willed and free, thinking of her as no more than a whore made Max feel ashamed and unworthy.
“No, no,” Eleanor said quickly, sitting up and putting her arms around Max, holding her in the most innocent of ways, as if she were a scared child and a hug could chose all of her pain away.
Max had not been held in a long time and she shivered at the contact.
“I apologise,” Eleanor told her sincerely. “I misunderstood. I thought… I thought that you wanted this. I would never, ever take anything from you that you did not want to give. I promise, Max. That is not who I am.”
“Then you are not like anyone that Max has met before,” Max whispered, her eyes downcast. She was ashamed of thinking bad of Eleanor, but life had taught her to always expect the worst of people.
Eleanor smiled unguardedly and ducked her head so that she could catch Max’s eye. “You are not like anyone that I have ever met before either.”
Max sniffed and looked up. She remembered the bruises on Eleanor’s back and the cold glare of Captain Vane. “’e did that to you, your back and your side. Do not deny it, Max could tell the moment that you jumped at ‘is voice in the brothel.”
When Eleanor tried to look away, Max stopped her with a hand to her cheek. “Max would never ‘urt you. Max would worship you.”
Eleanor snorted disbelievingly. She knew herself too well. She knew how infuriating she could be, how obstinate. Once Max came to know her, she would learn that too.
“You were not mistaken. Max does want you. Max ‘as wanted you from the moment that she saw you. Then she saw ‘ow you ‘andled Captain Holt and Max wanted you even more. Then you smiled and laughed with Max and she could barely stand ‘ow much she wanted you. Every time that put a pirate in ‘is place or go against Mr Scott’s advice, Max’s want for you grows. Every day it grows. Every moment,” Max swore, her heart pounding and aching for Eleanor. “The more she knows you, the more she wants you. The more she wants to worship you.”
Eleanor’s heart beat so fast that she trembled from it. No one had ever said anything of the like to her before. All sweet words had fled Eleanor’s life with the passing of her mother. Charles favoured action over words and the few he did speak were less than sweet, especially of late. In Eleanor’s life, Max’s words were an anomaly to which her brain knew not how to respond. With her mind still, her body acted quite independently, drawing Max towards her and kissing her.
As kisses go, it was slow and not at all what their rising desire had demanded. It was born not just of lust, but of affection too. Born of an up swell of emotion that Eleanor could not quite put a name to, but was ruling her actions nonetheless.
Max smiled and yielded into the kiss, finding in it the assurance that she was not just a whore to Eleanor, but someone worthy of kissing with care. She wrapped Eleanor in her arms, stroked her fingers over the fine bones of Eleanor’s clavicle, then sent her hands up to loosen Eleanor’s braid and set free her sun-kissed hair. Kisses were sweet, and their first was the sweeter than most, but Max could not leave this at a kiss. Not when she was trembling for Eleanor with affection and wanting. She wanted all of Eleanor, her body bare and her hair loose. She wanted to be as close to her as it was possible to be. She wanted to show Eleanor how it should be and wanted Eleanor to do the same for her. She wanted to prove to the both of them that they could take and be taken for something worth far more than any coin, be it promised plunder or fee paid.
“Please?” This time Max could tell that Eleanor was asking, that she sought permission like some shining knight in a courtly romance. Why was it always the women who were the gallant ones? Always the women who left Max so utterly undone.
“Yes,” Max panted. She could not remember the last time that someone had asked.
The permission that she sought granted, Eleanor smiled and laid Max down gently upon the bed.
“Let me,” she breathed; words that a whore never heard.
Another nod and Eleanor’s smile turned roguish as her hands went to Max’s gown. Noonan was no fool and so all of his girls’ dresses were unlaced in the front and easily so. Eleanor was not ignorant of the workings of a woman’s dress and a few competent tugs at ribbons and Eleanor had Max all but naked in the candlelight. She was bare to the waist, her bodice crumpled beneath her. Eleanor broke their kiss and drunk in the sight of Max, her gaze slow and deliberate.
“So beautiful,” she murmured and trailed her hand down Max’s soft belly to the buttons of her skirt. There were three of them, all pearls and all in a line. She opened the first and leant down for another kiss. At the second, her lips burned a trail down Max’s throat. At the third, she slipped her fingers just beneath the band of Max’s skirt – a tease – and brought her lips to one of Max’s breasts. She nuzzled the soft flesh and, when Max whimpered, she took her nipple into her mouth.
“Oh, Eleanor,” Max whimpered, her fingers finding purchase in Eleanor’s loose hair.
Eleanor smiled and grazed Max’s nipple with her teeth, nipping gently before soothing the bite with the flat of her tongue. Max arched beneath her and Eleanor could tell from her whimpers that Max was more than ready, but it had been a long, long time since Eleanor had been with a woman and she wanted to take her time. She wanted to taste every inch of skin and have Max writhe beneath her. She wanted to abandon herself to Max completely, but before she did that, she wanted Max at her mercy.
With a gentle nip to Max’s collarbone, Eleanor finally let her hand travel further down under Max’s skirt and felt just how much Max wanted her. Her fingers grew slick and she moaned her approval. Max’s back arched as Eleanor’s moan vibrated through her chest and she tightened her fingers in Eleanor’s hair. All patience fled from Eleanor at that deliciously tight hold. She withdrew her hand and sat up to set about removing Max’s skirt completely.
Max followed, seeking out Eleanor’s lips and making quick work of her skirt and petticoat. She pushed them off the bed and crushed Eleanor against her, fingers digging into the curve of her arse, bringing them finally skin to skin. Her thigh went between Eleanor’s and Eleanor moaned into her mouth, her hips bucking before she regained her senses and pulled away.
“What part of ‘let me’ did you not understand?” Eleanor said, smiling wickedly. She pushed Max back down onto the bed and kissed her soundly. Max surged up against her, but Eleanor was stronger and could hold her in place with one hand whilst the other sought between her legs.
Max smiled and bit Eleanor’s lip playfully. She was not used to lying back and being the one receiving pleasure, but Eleanor was determined and Max lost all thoughts of protesting.
Eleanor’s fingers stroked up and down, hovering over Max’s entrance for a split second before travelling up to stop just before her clit. When the thrusts of Max’s hips became impatient, Eleanor nipped at Max’s tongue and slowly pressed her ring finger inside of her. Max’s breath caught, her hips bucked and her grip on Eleanor’s shoulders tightened.
“Oui,” Max panted. “Mon Dieu, Eleanor. Oui.”
Eleanor swallowed Max’s words with a penetrating kiss and began to thrust, her pace quick then slow, then quick once more. Though her pace varied, each thrust was as deep as the last, powered by the thrust of her hips. Max writhed impatiently beneath her and Eleanor slid a second finger in alongside the first. Almost straight away, Max’s thighs began to tremble and Eleanor knew that Max was close. With one last deep thrust, Eleanor pressed her thumb down hard on Max’s clit and sent her over the edge.
Max’s world exploded into colour, a crescendo of pleasure painting the world behind her eyelids the rich yellow of the sun and the brilliant blue of Eleanor’s eyes. She crested the wave and Eleanor kept her there, thrusting still and stroking hard over her clit. The pressure inside of Max built and built until a second, stronger orgasm burst through the first, exploding out her and making her scream out Eleanor’s name.
As she came down from her high, Eleanor pulled her fingers free, leaving Max clamping down on something that was not there, desperate to have it back. She had felt for once the wholeness that such intimacy could bring and she did not want to be parted from Eleanor for another moment. She wrapped her arms around Eleanor’s neck and held on tight, trembling.
“Shhh,” Eleanor soothed at Max’s whimpers, stroking her gently until her trembling calmed.
She kissed Max luxuriously and slowly Max’s strength came back to her. For a moment, they just looked at one another, caught in a moment of frozen time. Something inside of Eleanor lurched and her breath caught.
“Now,” Max panted, “is Max’s turn.”
Though Eleanor had already proven herself to be of superior strength, Max was quick and nimble and Eleanor found herself suddenly on her back, Max towering triumphantly over her.
“Kiss,” Eleanor heard herself demanding and Max laughed before complying.
“So needy already and Max has yet to make you come,” Max teased. Eleanor’s frown was petulant and Max suddenly longed to see Eleanor in the fuzziness after an orgasm.
Intent on finding out just what that would look like, Max trailed the back of her hand up from Eleanor’s belly and palmed one of her breasts roughly. Eleanor’s cry of pleasure was strong and loud. Max had seen first-hand how much Eleanor needed to be pleasured. Max had known it from the moment that she had felt Eleanor’s eyes undressing her in the brothel. No look ever penetrated her deeper than Eleanor’s. Eleanor’s body had been screaming for her from that first moment and Max would have her screaming for real before the night was through.
When her less than gently caresses had Eleanor writhing sufficiently beneath her, she pushed open Eleanor’s thighs and pressed two fingers inside of her. Eleanor cried out and arched up from the bed. Tears streamed down her face that Max kissed away as she set a hard, fast rhythm, stroking her clit with each thrust and bringing her quickly to the edge. Just before Eleanor’s could fall, however, Max withdrew her fingers and brought them up to her lips, waiting until she was sure that Eleanor was watching, then sucking them inside and moaning at the taste of her.
Eleanor whimpered piteously. She was so close that it hurt and Max had pulled away. She could not understand.
When she felt that Eleanor had suffered enough, Max bent her head to kiss Eleanor briefly, before trailing kissing down the softness of her belly to the juncture of her thighs. Max breathed her in, committing Eleanor’s scent to memory. She had always loved the scent of a woman’s arousal, but Eleanor was by far the most pleasing. It enticed her lips to part and her tongue to sneak out to lick a stripe up from Eleanor’s entrance to the hard pearl of her clit.
Eleanor gasped, cried out and bucked against her. No one had ever done that to her before and the perfect newness of the sensation made her vision blur. Max licked, nipped and suckled until Eleanor was at the edge once more. This time, she did not let Eleanor linger there, but shoved her over the edge instead. With a careful gentleness, she slipped her middle finger inside of Eleanor. Then, with less gentleness, she curled the finger inside of Eleanor and suckled at Eleanor’s clit. Eleanor came suddenly and loudly. Tears once more spilled over as she crested thrice in quick succession, the first large and earth shattering, the second two smaller but no less pleasurable, the pleasure drawn out by soft lapping of Max’s tongue.
Max crawled back up Eleanor’s body and kissed her softly. Her own orgasm and the exertion after it was making her sleepy and overly affectionate for such a new lover, but Eleanor returned her kisses just as softly and held Max as if she were her whole world.
“No on ‘as ever done that for you before, ‘ave they?” Max asked, pressing kisses to Eleanor’s cheek to show her that she did not mean to tease.
Eleanor’s already flushed cheeks turned scarlet with a blush. “I… No.”
Charles had been all well and good at first, but he was by no means the most skilled of lovers. He approached fucking the same way that he approached piracy. Fast, brutal, selfish and straight to the point. He was all about his own pleasure and Eleanor had been naïve – and young – enough that she had not known any better. Not that the women she had shared her bed with had been any more selfless. They had, all of them, been innocent when they had come to Eleanor. All of them daughters of men wise enough to keep their daughters away from wayward men, but ignorant enough not to think of the dangers of wayward women. Which, all together, had left Eleanor a little less than fulfilled and ever so slightly sheltered.
“Do not blush,” Max soothed, stroking the backs of her fingers over Eleanor’s heated cheek. “Max is ‘onoured to be the first. You deserve to be pleasured and Max takes great joy in it.”
“Max is very good at it,” Eleanor gushed and immediately blushed deeper. “What I mean to say is-”
Max interrupted her with a kiss. “Eleanor is not too bad ‘erself. Max ‘as not come that ‘ard in a long, long time. Never mind twice.”
Again Eleanor blushed. “It was… alright?”
A soft laugh burbled from Max’s throat and her eyes shone with mirth. “Vous avez très bien.”
She kissed Eleanor before she could pout any more, then dropped her head to rest on Eleanor’s chest. Max had a feeling that if she stayed the night, Eleanor would be curled up in her arms come morning, but for now she knew that Eleanor needed to feel sure of herself and in control. Max was more than willing to give her that.
“This is new for me,” Eleanor whispered into the night. Where with Charles she would always rise when the deed was done and leave – for she never let him have her in her own bed – she had clung to Max in her afterglow.
Max smiled and pressed a kiss Eleanor’s chest. She had woken minutes before to find herself still snuggled comfortably against Eleanor’s side with one of Eleanor’s arms around her, her hand resting a little possessively on Max’s arse.
“For Max too,” Max admitted. Sex and pleasure were nothing new to her, but intimacy of the kind that seemed to come so easily with Eleanor was virgin territory for Max. Her patrons always left after the deed and if they did not, she did. With Eleanor, it was different. With Eleanor, this part was almost as gratifying as the sex.
Eleanor dropped a kiss onto the crown of Max’s head. “Will you be here when I wake up?”
Her voice trembled ever so slightly and Max felt her affection for Eleanor grow even more.
“Unless you throw me out,” Max said playfully, plucking up one of Eleanor’s hands and kissing her palm. “There is nowhere that Max wants to be more than ‘ere.”
Eleanor let out a held breath and soon after her breathing evened out in sleep. When Max woke next morning, Eleanor’s was sleeping peacefully in her arms. She knew in that moment, as quick as it was. There was no going back now.