Here now, what’s this?” he said. “Ye’ll not come to any harm. Ye may despise me, Lady Nerissa, but I’d give me life before I let anythin’ happen to ye.” She wouldn’t look at him. Instead, she walked to the rail and leaned against it, looking out over the sea toward the frigate that was surely coming for her. Quietly, she said, “It’s not my own safety that concerns me.” He joined her, standing close enough that they could converse without their words being overheard. Softly, he asked, “Whose, then?” She just looked pointedly at him, then looked away again, her mouth a tight line. “Ah,” he said, and because her hand was only inches from his own, he reached out and covered it with his own. She did not pull away. Instead, her fingers—slender, soft and colored like the inside of a seashell—wound gently around his. She kept them that way for a long moment, gripping his hand with surprising strength and leaving him to wonder if hers would be the last female touch he ever encountered. One never knew, really, going into battle. “I don’t despise you,” she said. “Despite the fact you abducted me, starved me with the worst food I’ve ever been exposed to, and provided me with no change of clothing, you have been nothing but a gentleman toward me and I would hate to see anything happen to you.” He cocked his head and looked down at her. “What’s this? Have ye come to care about me, lass?” “Certainly not.” She let go of his hand as though his skin had burned her. The moment lay between them, still pulsing with life and bare, raw honesty. His gaze was drawn once more to her hand. A hand whose fingers had just entwined with his in fondness, in friendship, or maybe just in worry. He thought of where he’d like that hand to be. “Ah. Just wonderin’, then.” “Stop wondering, then. I don’t care about you. I just don’t want anything to happen to you.” “I could get blown to bits today, y’know. Won’t be anythin’ left of me for yer brothers to kill. Just think of it, Lady Nerissa! I could die this mornin’, perhaps in your arms… and ye’ll always lament the fact you didn’t tell me you cared about me.” “Would you stop it?” “’ Twould be a lot to lay on yer conscience, now, wouldn’t it?” “Stop!