Beth looked over at Spike, who said nothing but grinned insanely. "You're sure about this?"
"As sure as I am about anything, Captain," Spike said. The house was as fine as one could see anywhere on Jamaica-- the outer walls whitewashed, three floors tall, with a roof clean enough than one could eat a meal off it. Which, Beth understood, was the point, as clean roofs were the only way to collect clean water. Few put so much effort into maintaining their house in such order. Somehow, this was not what she had expected when she'd asked Spike to take her to the finest bordello on the island.
She was ashamed to admit that she'd expected less.
She used the knocker twice, hoping to hit the correct balance between request and demand.
A woman opened the door, an attractive European with the sort of blond hair found only in the Netherlands and eyes as blue as a quiet sea over white sand. She glanced at Spike, and then back at Beth. "Can I help you?" she asked, her accent confirming her heritage.
"I... I understand what your business is, and I'd..." Beth tried to find words for what she wanted, but they failed her.
The woman gave Beth an almost pitying smile and said, "We have recently acquired more than we really need, and-- are you sure you would want to get into this line of work?"
Beth blinked. It had never occurred to her that they might think she was looking for hire. She laughed aloud, taking the other woman aback. "No, I mean, I'm here as a, a customer."
It was the blond woman's turn to be taken aback. "You're not from the town," she mused as she gestured for them both to come inside. She closed the door behind them. She looked them up and down, her eyes lighting on Spike's clothing and Beth's twin pistols. "You have been here before," she said to Spike before giving Beth another look. "Wait a moment. I know you. You're Bloody Beth."
Beth sighed inwardly. She hated the moniker storytellers had hung about her neck like a millstone, a nickname that she hardly warranted. She had rarely killed anyone herself; the men who drowned after their ships had been shot out from underneath their feet were not just her doing. She decided to deal with it as she always did. "Do you have a problem with privateers?"
"No, not at all. I'm Lofn." The woman gave an almost imperceptible bow.
"Beth, then. And you know Spike."
"Not by name," Lofn said. "But I take it he has a favorite."
Spike nodded, the gaps in his teeth clearly visible in his open-mouthed grin. "I'm especially fond o' Melina. Is she about?"
"I'm sure she can be made available for the usual price." She turned to Beth. "I'll have you know that my house is the cleanest on the isle and we like to keep it that way. At night, the nobles, governor's men, merchants, and the few privateers who've made their booty mingle here without concern for their safety. Even with the price on your head, you could spend the night without fear, Beth. I would hope. See to it that you honor my establishment with respect to other visitors." Beth nodded. Lofn continued, "I take it that it is your sex and your... interest that have sent you here in the heat of the afternoon?"
Beth nodded, shame creeping into her warming cheeks. "It is something I'm new at, but not in my, my... not in my dreams."
"I see," Lofn said. "Well, I'll tell you this: you aren't the first or the last invert that I'll ever see here."
Her use of the word 'invert' sent a chill down Beth's spine. She was no invert! She was just... curious.
Lofn continued, "We have two ladies from town who would much rather spend their afternoons with us than with their husbands or any of the fine young men that they have available to them. Their husbands have no suspicions. Oh, they don't come here; we send one or two of our girls to their plantations as friends. Someone might hear, but it's just the giggling of feminine company, not a thing of which to be suspicious, right?"
"In any event, I have just the thing for you. I assume you can pay?" Beth showed some coins and Lofn nodded. "That is more than enough." She reached into a bag she wore over her shoulder and pulled out a small bell. Within seconds a young woman wearing little more than a frock and a man's shirt came out. "Yes, Mother?" she asked. Her age and tone made it clear that 'Mother' was a title and not the literal truth.
"Elva, see if Amalynn is awake, would you? If she is, tell her that she is released from her duties for the day; a favorite of hers has come calling." Lofn looked up. "Amalynn has many qualities you will appreciate. She is good with women. She is good with new people come calling. And she dreams of being a pirate someday. The last, we hope, never happens, for she is too beautiful to let wander away."
They waited in silence for a few minutes. The oppressive heat of the Jamaica summer seeped into every corner of the building, making Beth feel drowsy. The sound of solid, well-shod footsteps echoed across the wooden floor. Beth opened her eyes to find herself looking at a woman clearly from southern Spain, the Moorish Country. She had the dark skin and eyes of those people, a defiant smile, and the most lovely gown Beth had seen since the night her father's house had been burned by the governor's men. Beth felt a blush glow back into her cheeks immediately as she felt herself grow wet between her legs. Her sex yearned to be explored by this woman, and that might happen if all went well.
Lofn spoke to Amalynn in a language that Beth did not recognize-- the tongue of the Moors, perhaps. Amalynn looked puzzled, then resigned to some instruction, but when she looked over at Beth her expression was one of immediate pleasure. She replied to Lofn in what must have been the same tongue, and Lofn placed her hand on Amalynn's shoulder with a final word. "Come," she said.
They walked over to where Beth and Spike were waiting for them. "I would like to introduce you to our newest customer, and to introduce her to you. With your help, she might yet become a regular of our humble establishment. Beth, this is the woman I feel is most capable of lightening your heart. Her name is Amalynn. Amalynn, this is your customer for the day. You might know of her. She is Bloody Beth."
Beth almost protested at the hated nickname, but the look of wonder and open-faced desire on Amalynn's face told her not to make the protest now, or too strongly later. For the kind of attention she was seeking, she could put up with the name for a couple of hours. Amalynn held out her hand, offering it to Beth. Beth took the hand and watched, amazed, as Amalynn did a perfect curtsey, the kind of thing Beth's nanny had once done in front of her father. "I am honored to meet so fine a warrior as yourself," Amalynn said, her voice smooth and rich with an accent mixed in equal parts Jamaica and Spain.
It was suddenly clear to Beth that there would be a division of duties between the two of them that would be somewhat like what men and women did. Amalynn, being the one doing the selling, expected to play the part of the woman, leaving the acts of masculinity to Beth. She wanted to protest yet again: she had no idea what to do! She was sure that Lofn had told Amalynn of her newness to inversion. She just hoped that it all would make sense when they got behind closed doors. She found her voice again to respond. "And I am delighted to meet a woman as lovely as yourself, Amalynn."
Amalynn smiled, apparently delighted. "Come, My lady Beth. I will show you to our special rooms. We shall treat you as no less than we would treat the Governor himself."
The thought that this beautiful woman had ever treated that villain threatened to churn Beth's stomach. She fought the urge to scowl.
Amalynn recognized Beth's ill-concealed discomfort. She said, "I will not speak of him again. I know how much trouble he has been to you and your men."
"I thank you for that," Beth replied.
Amalynn led her down a hallway and through a door. The room was appointed in the manner of a boudoir of leisure and pleasure. A four-poster bed, of the kind pirates dreamed and no gentleman or lady of Jamaica could live without, occupied one corner of the room; from it hung the mosquito netting that served many a night. A chair and dressing table were set next to it. A chifferobe occupied another corner of the room. Double doors with inset panes of leaded glass led out into a rear courtyard. From where she stood Beth could see two women working in the garden, their hands covered in cloth gloves, their heads covered with bonnets to keep out the noonday sun. The sense of luxuriant wealth seeped into Beth and threatened to make her sick for a home she could barely remember and knew no longer existed.
Amalynn turned to her and took her hand. The warmth of that touch turned Beth's thoughts in the direction of satisfying her strange curiosity. She looked into the sweet eyes of the woman who was here to help her with that satisfaction.
Amalynn then released Beth's hand, reached behind her own back, and tugged at something. She then presented her hands. "Undress me, my lady Beth?"
Beth took the cuffs of Amalynn's dress and pulled on them. The fabric of the dark girl's white dress flowed over her shoulders like a stream from the mountain, pouring down over her body and falling to the floor. "Do you like what you see?"
Beth nodded, unsure if she should say anything else.
Amalynn turned around and presented her back. "Unlace my waist?"
Beth's fingers trembled as she reached for the thin cord that held the girl's dress cinched. She pulled the lace free and then parted the reinforced fabric of her cinch, pushing it apart, exposing Amalynn's dark skin to her eyes. The rounded curvature of Amalynn's full buttocks came into view with excruciating delay. She was clearly taking her time to let Beth's desire build.
And building it was. Her heart thudded against her chest with lust and alarm. Was she really going to closs over and discover the shame within her? Were the forbidden lusts of women away from men to be made hers? She feared for her immortal soul, already so threatened by what she had had to do to stay alive.
But there was no denying the beauty of Amalynn's flesh. The dress dropped to the ground and Amalynn stepped out of it, the whole of her body before Beth's eyes. The piratess's eyes swallowed the feast before her even as Amalynn turned round. Her breasts were of no remarkable size and with a tendency to lay down flat against her chest. Her belly was smooth and flat and dark as coffee, and between her legs lay a dark thatch of promise that Beth already yearned to touch and explore. She felt her own sex begin to weep with joy at the prospect.
"I am at your leisure," Amalynn said.
"You will make my knees buckle with that voice of yours, Amalynn," Beth sighed. "I do not know what to do. I am new to this. If you are at my leisure, then show me what we do next. My heart is there, Amalynn, but I cannot imagine what two insides do with one another."
"That is the easy part, my lady Beth," Amalynn said, stepping forward. She reached out for Beth's blouse, a true pirate's blouse, nothing a woman had ever worn before, and began undoing the frogged buttons that held it closed. Beth's mind reeled as she understood that this woman wanted her to become as vulnerable as she was, naked. To put aside her guns and her leathers and her chain and just be a woman, exposed to the world. She rarely did that on the Jacob's Ladder. Now she was being asked to do it here, on the island ruled by the man who had destroyed her family and sought her life.
She resigned herself to it. Her desires were too strong to resist, and she just hoped that she and Spike had made the right choice in coming here. She allowed Amalynn to continue.
Amalynn undid each button with deliberation, teasing Beth with each moment that passed. Beth could not take her eyes off the Moorish girl's face, and the other gave her an insouciant smile. "All is well, my lady." As the button at Beth's navel came loose, Amalynn reached into Beth's shirt, parting it as little as necessary, her open palms revealing themselves to be cooler than Beth's skin as they pressed down onto the piratess's belly. Beth's soul reacted with fire, a warmth growing from her feet and licking within her thighs and womb.
Amalynn leaned forward, her head bent down to kiss Beth's skin just below the neck, just at the top of her chest. "My lady?" Amalynn asked. "May I... may I stray outside my duties for a moment and ask what may be a rude question?"
Beth found the question perplexing. "Of course, Amalynn," she said anyway.
"When was the last time you had a bath?"
Beth laughed. "Oh, Amalynn! It has been years since I washed in anything but the rain. Why, have you an idea?"
"I do!" Amalynn said with a smile. "Elva! Elva!"
"I am coming, Amalynn!" said a cheerful voice tripping down the hallway.
"Elva, how soon can we draw a bath for Lady Beth here?"
"The coals kept through the night so the pot is hot. I can probably make one in a short while. Make your way to the room; I will bring water shortly." The slip of a house servant disappeared again.
"Come, Beth. Let us pretend we are civilized ladies."
"You more than I," Beth said. "A bath would be most welcome."
Amalynn led her across the hallway and through two more rooms, each decorated in a different royal style. Their destination had a brick floor with two depressions in it, each large enough to hold a full-grown man, each sloped at one end. She opened a sluice and allowed water to flow into one of the tubs until it was half-full. A moment later, Elva entered with a pot almost as large as she was on a wheeled trolley. "You began without me," she objected.
"I thought to save you effort," Amalynn said.
Elva grinned. Using a cloth to protect her hands, she pushed the pot on the trolley over, allowing the water to pour into the tub. Steam billowed forth until Amalynn said, "Wait. Beth, is this to your liking?"
Beth tested the water and found it delightful. Not so warm as to oppress further in the summer's heat but not so cool as to be uncomfortable. "It's perfect."
"I'll leave the pot, then," Elva said, "and go put on another for your sisters." She disappeared through another door. Beth and Amalynn were again alone.
Amalynn sat down on the stone. "Come here, Beth." Beth shifted closer. Amalynn continued as she had begun, undoing Beth's boots and putting them aside, then placing Beth's belt and guns at the top of tub, near the slope. "You can reach them if you need them," Amalynn said. She helped Beth out of her blouse and finally her pants. Beth sniffed herself delicately and decided that Amalynn was correct; she could use this bath, although its blessings might well be short-lived. "Into the water, my lady."
Beth sighed with pleasure as the water surrounded her. Fresh water, hot and clean, the like of which was never to be found on a pirate ship, and although every man on Jacob's Ladder was a near and true compatriot they were all filthy, ragged men to be sure, men who thought baths were the work of the Devil and the province of Jews. She closed her eyes.
"My lady," Amalynn's voice cooed in her ear. "Be still." A hand touched her chest, a cloth in that hand, and Beth smelled the scent of lavender and coconut-- a liquid combining two cleansing oils, one native, one not. She recognized it instantly; her father had given her some many years ago. The cloth was neither loving nor demanding but efficient, and she felt Amalynn's hands scrubbing what must have been years' worth of dirt from her flesh. Amalynn deliberately avoided Beth's sex as she worked off the sweat from legs, knees, feet. When her hands abandoned the cloth to just rub Beth's feet insistently, Beth feared she had drowned in the tub and gone to Heaven instead. It was only the gentle caress of small hands on her breasts that made her warm with more than just the weather and the bath.
"I'm going to water your hair," Amalynn said. And warm water coursed through her hair, poured over her and soaked into her. Amalynn's hands worked the cleansing oils into her hair, massaging her head. Beth drowsed in an unknown ecstasy. She could live this way forever.
Then, delicate fingers were in the hair of her sex. She startled momentarily, but did not open her eyes. They stroked her pudenda, and two hands on her thighs told her to part her legs. She did as she was asked. One finger, a woman's gentle finger, probed between the lips of her sex, pushing them apart as the hand had her thighs. She felt the rush of water as it reached into her inner core. A softer cloth this time touched within her most private places. Her head began to spin and she realized that she had been holding her breath. With one explosive gasp she let it out, taking in that needed air.
The cloth drifted away in the water and now it was just Amalynn's skin caressing her sex, the palm of the girl's slim hand covering her secrets. Beth remembered to breathe even as one finger slipped into her body. Amalynn's touch explored her with a gentleness that might have come from an angel. Beth did not know how much more she could take. But here she lay, naked in a bath, with another woman's hands in places no man had seen or touched with such attention.
A finger-- no, a thumb-- pressed against Beth's pudenda and a powerful wave rolled through her belly. Amalynn slipped another finger into Beth's sex even as her grip became stronger and more insistent. That thumb, that accursedly talented thumb, was touching some place Beth had never explored or seen herself, somewhere so shockingly powerful that it must have been invented by the Devil himself as a temptation to women. Beth was losing her mind in the pleasuring heights Amalynn teased from her. Her sex felt so full and heavy she feared it could pull her down into the bathtub, were the water any deeper. Amalynn's hand was so strong, so irresistible.
And then the young, soft-voiced creature that held a scourge of the Spanish Main in her hand leaned over and kissed Beth's mouth with her own. Beth's passion unleashed itself in a volley of kisses like a line of riflemen. Amalynn's fingers plunged deep into her body, her thumb and palm caressing the outsides with heated demand.
Beth could not contain herself any longer. Her body exploded like a bag of powder put to the fuse. The force of a broadside slammed into her soul and a scream of sorcerous origin filled her ears before she realized the voice was her own.
The waters subsided before she understood that it was the thrashing of her own body that had whipped them near to froth. The weight of a warm body against her own reminded her of the source of such pleasure, of the dark girl who had shown her a truth she hadn't anticipated. "Amalynn?"
"You survived la petit mort?" Amalynn grinned, apparently enjoying her own little pun. "I am glad. I have brought pleasure to many women, but never to one who is as lusty as you, my lady Beth."
Beth kissed the other girl's forehead. "I think I am clean now. Is it time for me to go?"
"Only if you wish. I have not heard the first bell of evening, so we have much time. You are a customer, my lady, and I would not think of rushing you."
Beth rose from the tub, choosing a towel with which to dry off. "You have one thing to teach me, Amalynn: how you did that."
Amalynn's smile widened. "Of course, my lady. Although now that we are bathed, perhaps I shall have a chance to show you more."
"There is more than that?" Beth asked, unbelieving.
"There is much more," Amalynn replied. "Come. Dry. We shall retire to my room."
Beth, refreshed from her nap yet worn from the demands Amalynn had placed on her, followed Amalynn back to the room where they had begun. There, Amalynn turned, reached out, and plucked the towel off Beth's naked body. They stood there, the two of them, naked before each other. Beth had never seen another woman's whole, unclothed body before and had nothing with which to compare the experience. She had seen Lady Speer in little more than her underthings, but that had been under circumstances that would not have permitted more. She knew that her own body was the kind men admired, a bit thick in the thighs and waist, a bit small up top, but at least the kind of body that healthy men desired. Amalynn was now examining her in the same way she had earlier eyed the Amalynn.
"Beth," Amalynn whispered, "You must touch me."
Beth could think of few things she would do, but she did not know where to start. Her hand, seemingly of its own will, found Amalynn's arm, then traced the line of her shoulder and throat. Beth was reminded of the few times she had killed men by running them through, and the one she had killed this way, at the throat; today she had her fingers, not a sword, she was touching flesh and bone and delighting in the pleasure of it. Her sex still flowed with desire for this beautiful girl, this gem plucked from the sky to please her. She closed the distance between them and, this time, she chose to kiss Amalynn. Her hands closed on Amalynn's small breasts, and the feel of those soft, small globes threatened to cause Beth to swoon. She could not have had a stronger confirmation of her inversion than that.
Amalynn's tongue taught hers its secrets as they kissed. "The bed," Amalynn whispered when she had the chance.
"Aye," Beth agreed.
For the first time, undiluted by water and undistracted by the passion she had reached earlier, Beth had an opportunity to really feel Amalynn's body against her own. A profusion of curves and caresses even when she was not moving, her body a soft pillow where a man's body held rough metal, Amalynn delighted her senses and awoke her desires in ways she could not begin to express. She allowed her fingers to sail over Amalynn's body and explore the dark places she had never seen even on herself. Amalynn turned over onto her back. "Come here," she whispered.
Beth sat up on the bed as Amalynn parted her legs. "Touch me, Beth. As I did to you."
Beth looked down between the girl's legs; under the tangle of hair she could see a line of bright, lovely pink. Moisture not entirely from the bath clung to Amalynn's pubes and gave her sex a celestial, magical appearance.
Beth's voice caught in her throat as she started to protest that she didn't know where to begin. She used both hands to part Amalynn's fur, exposing two lips surrounding another, smaller pair. She touched the outer lips and they parted easily under her caress, revealing a confusing wriggle of flesh underneath, an opening into Amalynn's body that Beth had never imagined. An inch above it sat a tiny, glistening pearl.
"My pirate," Amalynn gasped as Beth's fingers touched that spot of white gently, "kiss me. There." Amalynn touched Beth's fingers to make clear exactly what she meant.
Beth would never have thought to apply her mouth but the suggestion was undeniable in its attraction. She bent down, kissing Amalynn's thigh, tasting the Moorish girl's skin even as she reached down to that secret place. The strong scent of her washed through Beth like the scent of a cleansing storm and finally, completely, she knew that this was what she desired. She kissed Amalynn's sex, allowed the wetness of it to roll onto her tongue. Amalynn reacted with a soft moan. Beth could see the girl's fingers clenching at the bedsheets. "Aye, my pirate. Kiss me again."
Beth kissed Amalynn's sex again.
"Right above," Amalynn moaned. "The pearl. Kiss me there. Tongue me there."
Beth followed Amalynn's instructions. She had little knowledge of what she was trying to accomplish, except that she wanted to drive Amalynn to the kind of ecstasy she had felt earlier that day. She seemed to be succeeding, for as her tongue encircled Amalynn's pearl of pleasure the dark girl's back arched and her sweet voice clashed with guttural words coming in it.
Her hands clasped at Amalynn's thighs, her soul thrilled to the power in her mouth as Amalynn demanded more from her kisses, more from her tongue. Beth gave as much as she could, wishing she had more understanding of what she was doing. It didn't seem to matter. Amalynn's body surged, trembled forcefully, her throat trapped between a shriek of joy and a sigh of amazement, and then she collapsed onto the bed, seemingly exhausted.
Beth lay down beside Amalynn, convinced her duty had been done, and cupped one breast in her hand, stroking the still-erect nipple with fascination.
Amalynn turned her head weakly. "I have been conquered."
Beth giggled. "Impossible. You have not been unmasted."
Amalynn smiled at the joke. "I never put up my mast."
"You don't have a mast," Beth said, puzzled at the direction her banter had suddenly taken.
"Oh, but I do!" Amalynn said. "It is amazing what supple leather and sweet oils can be shaped into, my lady Beth. It is something to fulfill us on those nights when the memory of a man filling us is strong and hard to resist."
Beth found the suggestion incredible. "Show me," she said.
Amalynn reached under the bed and pulled out a small, leather harness to which a dingus of some sort had been sewn.
It was, thought Beth, a close travesty of the male member, but she could not imagine herself using it. "On those days, Amalynn, on those days I think I would still prefer a man."
The dark girl pouted. "So, you are not an invert after all?" she asked as she dropped it back whence it had come.
Beth seized Amalynn, threw her down onto the bed and pinned her with the weight of her body. "I am, and it shames me not, you tease, you!" She kissed Amalynn hard, and tiny noises from the other girl told her of the magic in her kisses. "Some old memories are just worth revisiting."
"Oh, Pirate Beth!" Amalynn gasped. "You are such a joy I am almost pained to ask for my fee."
"You have earned it. It is your due. You are allowed to enjoy it, much as I enjoy my life as a pirate, even as it is what I must do to survive." She leaned over the edge of the bed and spotted the chest from which Amalynn's dubious toy had emerged. "My clothes. They are in the room with the baths."
"I shall fetch them." Amalynn rose and walked out, leaving Beth to lie on clean sheets.
Beth enjoyed one last eyeful of Amalynn's sound, rounded buttocks as she left the room. The heat of their lovemaking and the day had taken their toll and she listened in a relaxed torpor to the sounds of the house. A large, deep gong of a bell rang outside, and she heard the sounds of running feet and the giggling of girls. That must have been the bell Amalynn had spoken of, the one that awakened the girls who had duty for the night and told them to prepare for the evening.
Amalynn returned with the clothes. She had a puzzled look on her face. "There is a very young man in the front room. He says he is from your ship and has come with a message that you must have immediately."
"Does he wear a white shirt with a yellow sash?"
"That would be William, my steward." Beth accepted her clothing from Amalynn and dressed. She did so with reluctance, even as Amalynn pulled on her own clothing. Before Beth was half-finished, the dark girl was again a vision of clothed beauty, her hair brushed into gentle waves down her back. She supposed that was a necessary skill for a fille de joie. "You are beautiful, Amalynn."
"And you are magnificent, Beth. I would beg of you to come back soon."
Beth smiled. "A steady customer?"
"And a favored one!" Amalynn said, even before Beth began counting out the coins. She left a healthy addition.
They walked out into the front room, where William stood, trembling at the sight of so many women. "Mr. William!" Beth said in a voice so familiar with command that the room came to a halt even as she said it. She leaned down and whispered. "What have you come for?"
He whispered in kind. "Mr. Bart sent me, captain, ma'am, to tell you that a new ship is come into harbor. A frigate from England. He said to tell you that it s being captained by Sir Joseph Defoe, and it comes with a noble carriage on board, ma'am, one Jacob Alexander Harcourt."
Beth felt a chill run down her back, one completely out of place with the desperately hot tropical sun outside. "Oh, God in Heaven," she whispered.
"Is there something wrong, Captain?" William asked, even as Amalynn looked on nervously.
"That depends, young William, on what you mean by 'wrong'. We must return to the Jacob's Ladder. Immediately." She turned to Amalynn and bowed. "Thank you so much for your kind service, M'Lady Amalynn. I look forward to seeing you again very soon."
"And I you. Good fortune, my lady Beth. Give the good governor and his men the thrashing they deserve. And come back to me."
"I shall do my best," she said, giving Amalynn's hand a gentle squeeze. "Come, William. Let us collect old Spike. We must be gone." As they left, they did not notice a dark, bald man watching them all with intense interest. He left shortly after they did, going up Capitol Hill.