Love and gold have one thing in common: they can only be buried for so long...***
Abandoned by her father and married to a deceitful man, Claire Gentry fled from her life. Disguised as a man, Claire wagers all she owns in a poker game to locate the treasure her father sought. While her disguise holds, it doesn't protect her when one of her opponents turns out to be the only man she ever gave her heart to.
Nate Carter is no fool. Raised in an orphanage and sailing as the mysterious pirate Sam Steele, Nate is looking to gamble for a map that will lead him to a treasure. But when he looks over his cards, he's reminded of a past he'd rather forget--and the woman who could have given him everything he truly wanted.
After Nate wins the map, Claire has no choice but to accompany her old love on his quest. But running for their lives soon replaced running from the past. And if they survive the bloody battle for the treasure, they may just realize that what they really have been searching for isn't riches--but each other...
The deck had been quiet then and it was even more so now. Peeking out from under the lifeboat, she couldn't see anyone about at all. Not even Vincent. She slid out from the boat, hesitated. No movement came from the quarter deck. Leaving her bag where it lay, Claire looked around. Vincent wasn't at the bow, she crept toward the stern, couldn't see any shadow or movements there either.
Her heart lurched when she heard whistling and she froze. Logically she knew she was being ridiculous. She wasn't doing anything wrong. Yet.
It took her a moment to realize the whistling wasn't coming from the deck, but rather from the galley below. She breathed a sigh of relief, slowly unclenched her hands. Luck had never been her ally and she hoped that the fact that Vincent was below and Nate was asleep was a sign that her fortune was changing. Not about to waste the chance if that was indeed happening, Claire stole over to the captain's hatch.
Her heart beat quickly with her intent and her palms were suddenly damp. She wiped them on her trousers and grabbed the handle. Biting her lower lip, Claire eased open the hatch. Thankfully Nate kept a well tended ship and the hatch swung open soundlessly.
No light came from below and as she strained to listen, the only sound was that of Vincent's soft whistling and the whisper of wind sliding between the sails. Claire swallowed hard, closed her eyes and said a brief prayer. Opening them again, she stepped onto the ladder.
With each step down she paused to listen. It was only once she'd made it far enough to be able to close the hatch above her that she heard Nate's even and deep breathing. Her shoulders sagged. He was asleep. The hatch closed as silently as it had opened.
Since it had been dim above deck as well, her eyes didn't need time to accustom to the darkness. Recalling where she'd seen everything earlier, Claire crept toward the berth. She'd hoped she'd step on some clothing as it would mean she could simply search through his clothes for the map, but her feet hit nothing but smooth wood.
She only dared breathe in short, shallow breaths. Soon she was at the bedside, her heartbeat thumping loudly in her ears. It seemed as though he'd fallen asleep without meaning to, spread out over the blankets. He hadn't even taken off his jacket.
Claire wiped her quaking hands onto her pants, reminded herself to remain steady. She could do this. She had to do this.
He was sleeping on his back and his large hands were at his sides. His head was turned slightly away from her. The part of her that remembered what they'd meant to each other, or rather what she'd believed they'd meant to each other, wanted to linger. It wanted to trace the arch of his brows and feel the roughness of his beard. It wanted to once again be taken in his arms and to be cherished.
For God's sake, stop it, she scolded herself. The map, remember the map. Remember the lies, the hurt.
To that end, she deliberately kept her gaze off his face. Reaching forward, she slid her hand into the pocket of his jacket. Her fingers brushed against the paper and Claire's heart leapt to her throat. She had it!
She slowly pulled her hand away. When Nate didn't move, Claire exhaled a trembling breath.
She looked at him once more, had a moment when she wished things could have been different. But knowing they weren't, could never be, she backed away from the berth, tucked the folded map into her undershirt and turned for the ladder.
She got as far as the base of it before she was grabbed from behind.
The scream ripped from her throat.
"Goddammit, Claire," he swore as she thrashed to break free.
Her arms flailed wildly, desperate to connect with some part of him that would make him release her. Her elbow struck his chest. Her foot came down hard on his. Growling, he spun her around. Her right knee came racing up.
"No, you don't," he said as he deftly wrapped a large hand around the back of her knee and held it there, a mere breath away from where she'd intended to strike him. His other hand grabbed her left wrist and held it shackled down at her hip.
Luckily Claire was right-handed. Smiling sweetly, she aimed for his jaw.