Devilfish (Octopian Shifters Book 1)

Elliot feels the call in his blood and his bones, an inexorable siren’s song tied to the moon and the tides. Declan offers his ship, his crew, and his body to protect Elliot while they uncover Elliot’s connection to strange creatures in the ocean’s depths, even as doing so reignites their feelings for each other.


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Chapter One

At the sound of breaking glass, Elliot Bishop closed the book he was reading. He hadn’t put the latch on the front door for the night because he often received late messengers from one of his warehouses. Besides, burglary was uncommon in uptown Port Townsend, unlike the petty thievery and debauchery that occurred every day and all night downtown. He listened hard. It had been blustery all day; if someone had left a window open somewhere, perhaps the wind had simply blown something over. 

The floorboards outside his study creaked, and Elliot set his book aside and got up. Grabbing a poker from the fireplace, he crept to the half-closed door to the study. He pressed against the wall behind the door and waited. The door slowly opened further, and Elliot tightened his grip on the iron shaft. 

The shadowy figure moved into the room and Elliot rushed from behind the door, poker lifted in both hands to smash down on the intruder’s head. A gloved hand stretched up and caught it before it made impact. Elliot kept hold of the poker in his left hand and drove his right fist into the intruder’s side. The man twisted under Elliot’s arm, tearing the poker from him and tossing it onto the carpet behind him. 

The only sources of light in the room were the fire and the small oil lamp Elliot had been reading by, so it was too dark to see the intruder clearly. Elliot blocked the man’s left hook but flinched at a right jab into his ribs. They fought for a few furious minutes until the man hooked his leg behind Elliot’s and jerked his feet out from under him. He fell on top of Elliot and drove the breath from Elliot’s chest. 

Elliot scrabbled a hand on the floor, feeling for the poker, a chair leg, anything to smash into the man’s head. And then the man chuckled next to his ear, a sound he’d know anywhere. He froze so that he didn’t arc up against the now-familiar weight pressing down on him.

“Declan? What the hell are you doing here?”

Declan chuckled again, his breath raising the fine hairs on Elliot’s neck. “You’re a little rusty, aren’t you? Gotten a little soft with all your fine living?”

Enough of this. Elliot hooked his leg around Declan’s, pushed his left hand into Declan’s shoulder, and leveraged his right elbow to flip them over, pinning Declan beneath him. 

Declan grunted. “Not that rusty after all, eh?” His breath smelled like whiskey, and Elliot couldn’t stop a shiver of pleasure at being this close to Declan after all these years. 

Declan tapped him on the shoulder twice. “Let me up, you big oaf.” 

Elliot got up before he could do anything he’d regret, like crush his lips to Declan’s or bury his face in the man’s neck. He reached a hand down to pull Declan up, then took a few steps back toward the fire and the armchair he’d been sitting in. 

“What the hell are you doing here?” he repeated. 

Declan’s eyes roamed around the room and caught sight of the half-empty tumbler on the table near Elliot’s chair. 

“Well, I was looking for a glass of quality whiskey.” He headed straight for the sideboard, pulled his gloves off, and poured himself three fingers from the decanter. He saluted Elliot with the glass and took a long swallow.

“Ah,” Declan sighed. Elliot shivered again, remembering the last time he’d heard Declan make sounds of pleasure like that. Declan winked at Elliot. “Much better than the swill they serve at the Delmonico.” A soft smile lifted his full lips and crinkled his green eyes. “It’s good to see you again, man,” he said. The firelight gleamed on his disheveled hair, turning it chestnut and gold.

Before Elliot could respond, he heard another noise outside the study and tensed. It was only Celeste, hovering tentatively in the doorway, clutching a pale blue dressing gown around her.


Declan’s head turned at the sound of her voice, tracking her movements as Elliot held his arm out and drew her into the room. Celeste tucked her hand under his elbow and looked curiously from Elliot to Declan. 

Elliot sighed internally. It would have been easier if she’d stayed upstairs in the guest wing while he dealt with Declan, but he couldn’t very well refuse to introduce her now. 

“Celeste, allow me to introduce Mr. Declan Fitzgerald. Declan, this is Celeste Brady, my fiancée.”

Declan glanced at Elliot, a startled look on his face. “Your fiancée?” Then Declan stepped forward and bent over Celeste’s outstretched hand.

“Captain Fitzgerald,” he corrected. “But please call me Declan. After all, we’re about to be family. I’m Elliot’s brother.”

“Stepbrother.” Elliot’s turn to correct Declan. “Declan’s father married my mother when I was an infant.” He flushed at Declan’s knowing glance. Why did he feel the need to clarify that they weren’t blood relations?

“Wait…Captain?” he asked, turning to Declan. “Your father let you get your master’s certificate?”

Declan still held Celeste’s hand and bent over it, brushing his lips across her fingers. Ignoring Elliot, he said, “It’s an honor to meet you—Celeste, was it? I can’t imagine what my stepbrother did to convince any woman to marry him, much less a woman as beautiful as you.”

Celeste blushed prettily and pulled her hand from Declan’s—reluctantly, it seemed to Elliot—and dropped a small curtsy. “The honor is mine, Captain. It’s a shame you missed our dinner party this evening.”

Declan picked up his glass and leaned against the sideboard as Elliot tugged Celeste an appropriate distance from him. “And when is the happy event to take place?” he asked, eyes flicking between Elliot and Celeste over the rim of his glass as he sipped from it.

“Tuesday,” Celeste answered, before Elliot could. “I do hope you’re staying for a few days, Captain, and will stand up for Elliot at the wedding. I hope we get to know each other, as well. Elliot hardly talks about his family.” 

Declan gave Celeste the full, slightly crooked smile that Elliot had seen charm every woman he came across, ladies and parlormaids alike. He lifted his half-empty whiskey glass to them and drained it.

“It would be my pleasure to get to know you, my dear. You must tell me how you managed to entice my brother into matrimony.” He glanced sideways at Elliot. “Not a state I’d ever expected him to embrace.” 

Elliot squelched a flash of irritation. Of all the times for Declan to stroll back into his life. Elliot had spent the last five years building a safe, comfortable life and in only a few days, he’d be married. Why now, after all these years? 

As if on cue, Declan bowed slightly to Celeste and said, “My apologies for getting you out of bed at such a late hour, my dear. Your intended and I have some family business to discuss. You surely have a hundred things to do before your big day. Please don’t let us keep you up any longer.”

Celeste looked at Elliot as if deciding whether she wanted to insist on staying. He smiled and gently steered her toward the door. “It’s nothing you need to concern yourself with, darling. I’ll see you in the morning.”

He kissed her on the cheek, and she smiled back at him. “I was just checking to see if I left my reading glasses down here.” Elliot found them on the corner of his desk and handed them over. Celeste drifted out of the room with a last curious glance at Declan. 

Declan sat down in Elliot’s chair near the fireplace and stretched his long legs out with a sigh. When he closed his eyes and turned his face to the fire, Elliot gave in and let his eyes travel the length of Declan’s body. His black coat was tailored to fit his broad shoulders, and his white lawn shirt gleamed crisply in the firelight. His vest was black too, or maybe dark blue. Silk, Elliot thought, with leaves and vines embroidered in silver thread. Black trousers hugged his hips and strong thighs, ending over a pair of short black boots, recently shined. 

“Captain, eh?” Elliot asked. “Looks like you’ve done well for yourself.”

Declan shrugged. “Thought it was time to start dressing the part.” He winked at Elliot. “Couldn’t very well show up at my brother’s wedding dressed like a common seaman, now could I?”

Elliot didn’t point out that Elliot hadn’t known where to send news of his engagement to Declan. Then Declan ran his fingers through his hair, brushing it out of his face and tugging it free of the leather thong that held the unfashionably long strands at the nape of his neck. His thick, glossy hair fell nearly to his shoulders, and Elliot snorted. It was reassuring that Declan seemed to be the same near-pirate as ever underneath his fine clothes. 

He crossed to sit in the other chair in front of the fire. “Why are you here, Declan?” he asked quietly. 

Declan sighed and looked directly at Elliot, his green eyes boring into him. “Father’s missing. I need your help to find him.”

“I’m sure he’s fine. You know half the time his voyages take longer than he expects.”

Declan shook his head. “This is different. We were supposed to meet at the usual place in Friday Harbor. I waited there for a week, but he never made it. The lighthouse keeper at Cape Flattery hasn’t gotten any messages from him, and neither have any of the usual message drops. I’ve spent the last several months sailing up and down from San Francisco to Nootka Sound, and no one’s seen or heard from him.”

“That doesn’t mean he’s missing. Maybe he’s just laying low, or looking for other buyers to avoid paying duties on his most recent cargo.” 

“If that were it, he’d have found some way to leave a message for me.”

Elliot shrugged. “Well, what do you want from me?”

Declan looked at him like he’d suddenly sprouted tentacles. “I want you to help me find him. He’s the closest thing you have to a father, and he’s missing. Not to mention he’s your primary source of those fancy goods you sell in your fancy uptown shops.” Declan paused and took another sip of whiskey. 

“I think he was close to finding out what happened to your mother when she disappeared. If only for that reason, I thought you’d want to come with me.”

Elliot ignored the cold shiver that came over him every time he thought about his mother and her disappearance. “He always thinks he’s close to finding out what happened to her. And yet he’s never found any real answers. What makes this time any different?”

Declan pulled a folded square of paper from his inside coat pocket. He opened it and spread it across his knees, angling it toward the lamplight. The paper was soft and grubby from passing through who knows how many hands. The top right corner had been torn away, leaving a jagged, curved edge. 

“Father left this for me in Friday Harbor.”

Elliot leaned forward and examined the faint drawings and intersecting lines scattered over the paper. “It’s a chart.”

“Of course it’s a chart. Look, here’s Vancouver Island.” Declan pointed to an elongated shape on the map. “And these are meant to be the Queen Charlotte Islands, I suppose,” he jabbed his finger at a smaller triangular shape above Vancouver Island. “But this spot here,” he traced lightly around a small dot marked farther west of the other islands on the chart, in what looked to Elliot like the middle of the Pacific Ocean, “is on none of the charts I’m familiar with.”

Declan sat back in his chair and looked expectantly at Elliot like all this was supposed to mean something to him. Elliot scrubbed his hands over his face. The adrenaline from Declan’s unexpected arrival was wearing off, and he’d already had a long day. He was tired, and thinking about the night his mother disappeared always made him feel ill. “So, the Captain sent you an old, inaccurate chart. I still don’t see what this has to do with me.”

Now Declan sighed, like Elliot’s tutor used to when he caught Elliot daydreaming instead of conjugating Latin verbs. “Elliot, this is a chart showing an island more or less due west of here that no one’s ever charted before. And it came from Father. He left it for me for a reason. I think it’s the best clue he’s found about where she went.” 

Elliot launched himself from his chair to stand before the fire, holding his hands out to it against the sudden chill in the room. He’d been a boy of eight when his mother had drowned in Port Townsend Bay. At least, that’s what his stepfather had told everyone in town. Except Declan.

Declan spoke softly from his chair behind Elliot. “Don’t you want to know? Find out for sure what happened to your mother?”

Elliot turned back to Declan, the fire barely warming him. “My mother drowned, Declan. In a storm that flooded half of downtown. I miss her every day, but drownings aren’t that unusual here. I know the Captain thinks she was spirited away against her will or something, but there’s no reason to think she’s still alive.” 

Or that she wants to come back if she was, Elliot thought but didn’t say out loud. The Captain had married his mother when Elliot was six months old, and since she had never given Elliot his name, most of the town gossips assumed she’d finally run off with whoever Elliot’s real father was. And yet, the Captain had convinced himself the truth was far more complicated than simple infidelity.

Before Declan could say anything more, Elliot dropped back into his chair and held up a hand. “I’m tired, Declan. Can we talk about this in the morning, please?” 

Declan drained the last of his whiskey and stood up. “Fine.” Two long steps forward and he was crowding against Elliot, hands braced on the chair arms. He bent his head, and Elliot was suddenly sure Declan was going to kiss him. He couldn’t decide whether to push him away or grab the back of his head and pull him the rest of the way down.

Declan’s eyes narrowed as he looked Elliot over. “Tired, eh? Already experiencing wedded bliss with your fiancée? Does she like it when you—” 

Elliot shoved Declan backwards, cutting off the rest of his sentence. “No! Damn it, Declan, shut your filthy mouth. I won’t have you talking about her like that. She’s properly chaperoned by her maid and staying in the guest wing. And she’s about to be my wife. If you can’t show her some respect, you can get the hell out of my house.”

Declan shrugged and held his arms out in surrender. “Sorry, little brother. I’ll be on my best behavior, I promise. I’m just a little surprised to find you engaged, that’s all. Especially after…” He looked Elliot up and down with a lewd expression, and Elliot blushed.

“That was a long time ago, Declan, and we were just boys. It’s time for me to grow up and settle down. Past time for you to consider the same.”

Declan winked at him as he took a few steps back. “Never, Ellie, my lad. You know I’m not cut out for that. Too many places to see and people to do.” Smiling in spite of himself, Elliot stood up and let Declan clap him on the shoulder and steer him toward the study door. 

Declan slid a hand down Elliot’s hip. “Once more before your wedding, for old time’s sake?”

Elliot shoved him again, but playfully this time. “Not a chance, Declan. Your old room is still at the end of the hall. And don’t make me lock my door against you.” 

Declan looked wounded. “I never go where I’m not wanted.” Elliot snorted but wrapped an arm around Declan’s shoulders as they went up the stairs together. God, it was good to have him back, whatever his reason for coming home. At the top of the stairs, Declan turned right willingly enough and Elliot called softly after him. “Good night, Declan. I’m glad you’re home.” 

Declan threw a blinding smile over his shoulder. “Me too, man. I’ll see you in the morning.”

Elliot reached his bedroom and closed the door, hand hovering over the lock. He doubted that Declan would sneak into his room, but he knew he wouldn’t be able to resist him if he did. Locking his door would send the right message: that he was serious about putting their past behind him and committing to his marriage to Celeste. Which he was, of course. He’d introduce Celeste properly to Declan tomorrow. Once Declan saw how happy she made Elliot, they could settle back into a normal, brotherly relationship. With a firm twist, he locked the door and got ready for bed. 

Chapter Two

Even with his late night, Declan’s habit of rising with the sun meant he was the first up the next morning. Not much had changed in the Bishop house in the years he’d been away. The upstairs hall was quiet, bedroom doors closed, but he could hear faint stirrings in the kitchen downstairs. Sally Jenkins, housekeeper and cook for the Bishop household since before his father had married Elliot’s mother, rose even earlier and would already have coffee brewing. He’d get some breakfast and catch up with Sally before discussing with Elliot what he knew about his father’s most recent voyage. 

Declan passed Elliot’s bedroom and heard a soft groan from the other side. He paused. He’d only been teasing Elliot last night about taking up where they’d left off, but he wondered how much Elliot thought about those days. Another low moan, and Declan shook his head but kept walking. It wouldn’t do to be caught listening outside his stepbrother’s bedroom door while Elliot pleasured himself. He made a mental note to tease Elliot about investing in some thick curtains to muffle the sounds from his marital bed. For the servants’ sake, at least.

He jogged down a few steps, then heard a louder groan, and something that sounded like a drawn-out protest. That didn’t sound like pleasure. He went back up the stairs and pressed his ear to the door. Elliot was breathing heavily, harsh pants that sounded like he was running hard, away from something.

Declan tapped lightly on the door and called Elliot’s name softly. Elliot had been plagued by night terrors as a boy, ever since his mother disappeared. He used to crawl into Declan’s bed in the middle of the night for comfort, which was how things started between them, after Elliot got old enough to crawl into Declan’s bed for a different sort of comfort. 

The nightmares happened less and less as Elliot got older, but Declan had never left Elliot to wake up from one on his own. He couldn’t just walk away from him now. He knocked again, a little louder, then looked over his shoulder at the other doors along the hall. Elliot surely wouldn’t appreciate him calling the whole house’s attention to his nightmares. But the noises he was making were louder now, so it was just a matter of time before someone else heard. Declan turned the knob on the door. Locked. Damn it. 

Declan tapped his thumb against his bottom lip, thinking. It stung a little that Elliot had followed through on his threat to lock his door last night. He’d never made uninvited advances to anyone, male or female, and had plenty of other sources for companionship these days. But Elliot wasn’t waking up on his own, and he sounded truly frightened now. Declan would slip in quietly and shake Elliot awake, that’s all. 

The lock was easy to jimmy with his pocket knife, and Declan eased the door open and slipped into the same room Elliot had slept in since childhood. The same four-poster bed, same bed curtains that kept winter drafts at bay, tied back at the posts despite the damp early spring chill. Declan focused on the figure thrashing under the twisted bedclothes. The air was close and musty, with the sharp smell of Elliot’s fear-sweat. Heavy, dark curtains were closed against the early spring air, and the coal in the fireplace had long burned down to cold ash. 

Declan approached the bed and reached for Elliot’s shoulder. Elliot slipped from his grasp as he rolled onto his side on the far edge of the bed. He wasn’t wearing a nightshirt and when he turned over, he pulled the bedclothes with him, balling them up against his chest, exposing his back to the cool air. Declan couldn’t help gazing at the smooth expanse of muscle and the narrow channel of his spine. He pulled his gaze away from where the curve of Elliot’s ass disappeared under the bedclothes. Elliot was whimpering quietly now. It was past time to wake him up.

He had to kneel up on the bed to reach Elliot’s shoulder, hot and damp under his hand. “Ellie,” he whispered, squeezing firmly and shaking him a little. “Time to wake up, lad.” 

Elliot flopped over onto his back but didn’t wake up. He’d stopped whimpering, at least. Declan shifted position to lie on his side along Elliot, propping his head up on his right hand and stroking his left over Elliot’s sweaty forehead. He pushed the damp strands of hair off Elliot’s face and murmured, “Come on, man. Wake up now.” He hummed soothingly, a wordless lullaby he’d used on nights like these when Elliot was a boy.

Elliot’s face relaxed, and his hands loosened the grip he had on the bedclothes. His eyes moved under his lids but didn’t open. Declan kept stroking his forehead, smoothing his hair back and still humming. Elliot’s body gradually relaxed, and his breathing changed from the harsh pants to soft sighs that suggested he was falling back into regular sleep. Declan debated waking him all the way up, but decided it would be better if he left before Elliot knew he was there. He stroked a hand down Elliot’s stubbled jaw, over his collarbone, and down a firmly muscled arm just once. Then he pressed a light kiss to Elliot’s forehead and shifted to get off the bed. 

“Declan?” Elliot murmured. His eyes were still closed and he rolled onto his side again, this time right up against Declan. The warmth of his damp skin seeped through Declan’s shirtfront, and he slung his arm over Declan’s waist. “You came back,” he whispered into Declan’s shoulder. 

Declan’s heart ached. He hadn’t wanted to leave in the first place. Declan didn’t want to think about how he’d woken up after a night of carousing in Delmonico Saloon to find himself aboard the Argonauta, sick as a dog, with his father standing over him, a thunderous expression on his face. Not while he held Elliot’s sleep-heavy body in his arms this morning. 

“I came back,” he agreed. Only to find that Elliot had gotten over him and decided to marry. He supposed it was no more than he deserved. Probably the right choice for Elliot—a normal life with a proper wife and helpmeet to support his position as a prosperous uptown merchant. Not the sometime paramour of a smuggler and sailor like Declan, away at sea as often as he was in the various ports he called in to on his voyages. He had his crew to take care of, anyway. He lifted Elliot’s arm and tried again to slide out of his bed, but Elliot rolled on top of him.

Fuck, this was exactly how things had started between them. Declan had woken one late night to Elliot’s mouth on his cock, Declan’s hands fisted in the bedclothes, ready to burst as soon as Elliot moved his tongue the slightest bit. While he was away, he’d tried very hard not to think about the number of times that happened, but that familiar desire for Elliot had never really gone away, and Elliot’s hard length pressed against his thigh made it difficult to concentrate on anything else now. Declan’s own prick was rapidly filling, and he couldn’t stop himself from pushing up, seeking friction through the layers of cloth separating them.

Elliot ground his hips against Declan’s. He started panting again, his breath warm against Declan’s shoulder, humping faster and faster until, with a low groan, he shuddered and slumped bonelessly against him. Declan couldn’t keep himself from wrapping his arms around Elliot and holding him close. Until Elliot jerked his head up. 

 “Declan?” Elliot stared down at him. His hazel eyes were wide awake now and flickered from Declan’s face to Declan’s clothed body and his own half-naked one sprawled on top. “Oh, God,” he said hoarsely. He rolled immediately off Declan and plucked the damp sheets away from his skin. Covering his face, he demanded, “What the hell are you doing in here, Declan?” 

Declan rolled off the bed, stood, and adjusted himself. He’d been desperate for his own release but that was fading in the face of Elliot’s reaction. He crossed the room to the tall casement windows and pulled the drapes open. The gray morning light brightened the dim room.

“You were having a nightmare,” Declan said, still looking out the window. The Bishop house was built on a bluff overlooking the harbor, the bay shimmering silver in the haze. White plumes of fog rolled across the bay, obscuring and then revealing the greenery on the small island across the bay. The rooftops of downtown businesses were just visible on Water Street when he pushed the windows open and leaned out a little. A pair of gulls circled overhead, shrieking at each other, and the cool, damp February air blew in, clearing Declan’s head and freshening the stuffy room.

Declan heard the bedclothes rustle as Elliot rose and poured water from the pitcher on the washstand into the bowl. “So, you broke into my room to wake me up?” His voice was muffled as he splashed water over his face. “I’m perfectly capable of taking care of myself, Declan.”

Declan turned around and glanced deliberately at the sheet Elliot had wrapped around his hips. “Yes, I see how good you are at taking care of yourself.” 

Elliot flushed red, water droplets still dripping off his chin. He scrubbed at his face with a towel, then tossed it on the washstand, and ran his fingers through his hair. “You shouldn’t have come in here, Declan.” 

There was a perfunctory knock on the door and the clang of a coal bucket set down outside. “Morning, Mr. Elliot,” a young feminine voice called out. Declan raised an eyebrow at Elliot as her footsteps clomped along the hall.

Elliot sighed. “One of Sally’s girls. They work as housemaids. They just leave the coal and hot water outside my door.”

Declan couldn’t resist a small chuckle. “Like Sally used to, when we were boys? Guess it’s a good thing she taught them about privacy in this house.” 

Elliot glared at him. “I don’t need that kind of privacy any more, Declan, because the things that used to happen between us are not happening again.” 

Declan glared back at him. He kept his voice low as the housemaid clomped past Elliot’s room again and started down the stairs. “You tell yourself that, Elliot, but I didn’t start anything here. You were making enough noise I could hear it from the stairs. I came in to wake you before you woke the whole house. What the hell kind of dream were you having anyway, that sounded like a nightmare and ended with you rubbing off on me?” 

Elliot drew himself up to his full height and crossed his arms over his chest. He wasn’t the lanky seventeen-year-old boy Declan had known anymore. His shoulders were broad, his chest filled out with strong pecs and defined abs. He shook his head as Declan’s eyes flicked down to where a thin line of hair disappeared under the sheet wrapped around his hips.

“My dreams are none of your damned business anymore, Declan. And none of that would have happened if you’d respected my privacy the way everyone else in this house does. Next time you hear any noises from my room, do us both a favor and stay the hell out.”

No matter what Elliot said now, Declan knew he hadn’t misheard the sleepy happiness in Elliot’s voice when he rolled into Declan’s arms. He held Elliot’s gaze until Elliot flushed again and turned back to the washstand. He wanted to demand that Elliot face up to what just happened, but Declan knew he’d lost his place as first in Elliot’s affections when he’d left five years ago. The rest of the house was stirring anyway and it wouldn’t do to be caught here, so he left Elliot’s room and softly closed the door.

“Another nightmare?” 

Declan jumped. Elliot’s fiancée, Celeste, stood a few steps down the stairs, looking back up at him as he came out of Elliot’s bedroom. He sighed to himself. So much for keeping that a secret. 

“Good morning, Miss Brady.”

She nodded at him and then at Elliot’s door. “I’ve heard him, you know. These last couple of nights. I asked Sally about it. She says he has nightmares every now and again?”

“Now and again,” Declan acknowledged. Once a month, more or less, when Declan was living here, but he didn’t know how much Elliot had confided in the girl. If she had to ask Sally questions about her fiancé, Declan would guess not much. He doubted that Sally told her much more than absolutely necessary, either. He almost pitied the girl for marrying a man with so many secrets. 

She was reasonably pretty, he supposed. Tall for a woman, maybe four or five inches shorter than his own six feet, and slight, with dark hair pinned up in a practical chignon. A few escaping tendrils curled around her ears and at the nape of her neck, and a short curled fringe framed her pale face. 

“I’m glad you woke him from it,” she said, looking up at Declan. Her eyes were large, round, and the color of amber, the pupils wide in the dim light. “Sally said not to let it bother me, but it seemed like someone should do something to wake him up.” She lowered her eyes, then glanced up again at Declan. “It’s not as if I could. At least not yet.” 

Declan tried not to imagine this girl sharing Elliot’s bedroom after they wed. He came down a few steps, planning to pass her and head for the breakfast room. She was dressed in a loose smock with long, wide sleeves and had a covered basket over her arm. “A bit early for shopping, isn’t it?” he asked, largely to distract her from further questions about Elliot’s nightmares. 

She smiled and her eyes crinkled, her slightly stern features transformed into real beauty. “I’m off to the shore. It’s time to feed my cephalopods.” 

Declan stared at her, not familiar with that word. “Beg pardon?” Before she could answer, Elliot’s door opened and he appeared, washed and fully dressed, his damp hair slicked back from his face, dark brown ends curling around his ears.

“She has some sort of contraption that traps sea creatures in the water down past the end of Water Street. Goes out every morning and evening to observe them.” 

Celeste smiled a good morning at Elliot and he smiled back, his eyes still shadowed and his face pinched, but clearly making an effort for his fiancée. 

“I’m about to submit my most recent observations to the Magazine of Natural History and I just need to verify a few details,” she said. She shifted her attention to Declan. “Would you like to see them?”

Startled, Declan looked from Celeste to Elliot. Elliot shrugged. “She asks everyone, but so far, not many have taken her up on the offer. Go on, if you want. I’ll catch up with you later.”

Declan was suddenly curious about this girl Elliot planned to marry. He offered an arm to escort her down the stairs. “Why not? Let’s get a bite of breakfast, and you can show me your cephalopods.”

Chapter Three

Elliot had his usual breakfast, served quietly by one of Sally’s girls. Eugenia, he assumed, based on the green ribbon in her hair, though Clarice liked to trick him into confusing her with her twin. He smiled his thanks when she brought him the morning paper, but found it hard to concentrate on the day’s news. He usually relished this quiet calm in the mornings, before his day started with the constant questions and demands made on him. The background sounds of Sally whistling and clanging pots around in the kitchen seemed louder than usual today, and Elliot massaged his temples against the headache that always accompanied his nightmares.

At least he’d woken up before the point in the nightmare when he started to drown. Or, been woken up. Elliot felt hot shame wash over him at how he’d woken up rubbing off on Declan. Five years since Declan left, and still Elliot threw himself at Declan like nothing at all had changed, despite last night’s resolve. How desperate Declan must think him. 

And yet, Elliot remembered the feel of Declan’s arms around him as he surfaced from the nightmare. That feeling of safety, a bulwark against the terrors in the night, Declan’s low rough voice in his ear, telling him that he was all right, Declan had him, would never let anything happen to him. Declan had made him feel safe and loved ever since he was a small boy, even if the depth and intensity of the feelings Elliot still had for Declan terrified him. 

Elliot glanced out the breakfast room windows. The fog had lifted a little, and he wondered what Declan thought of Celeste’s tanks and sea creatures. Eugenia and Clarice whispered fantastical tales to each other about Celeste’s devilfish. Celeste had tried more than once to explain that they were harmless, but Elliot usually avoided thinking about Celeste’s work as much as he could. 

He wasn’t sure he wanted Celeste to spend very much unchaperoned time with Declan. It wasn’t gossip or her reputation Elliot was worried about. Well, not really. Declan had a reputation as a rake when he lived in town, but no more so than the usual sailor. Only Elliot knew that he was as likely to pay one of the town’s prostitutes with whom he was friendly just to give her a night off as he was to take advantage of her services. 

He was more worried about what Declan might tell Celeste about their past than about Declan making any inappropriate advances. Celeste had a way of getting information out of people without them realizing she was angling for it. There were plenty of things she didn’t need to know about Elliot. 

Elliot pushed back from his chair and got to his feet. He’d join Declan and Celeste down at her waterfront tanks, be there while his stepbrother and fiancée got to know each other. Not to compare them, of course. But if Declan was planning to spend more time in Port Townsend, it might be nice to try being a family together. 

The cool briny breeze off the bay eased Elliot’s headache a little, and he whistled as he jogged down the steep steps to the lower part of town. He imagined Declan bringing presents from his voyages for Elliot’s children, who would scramble all over their uncle Declan, while Celeste looked on indulgently.

Elliot waved at Henry Landes, one of the trustees of the Port Townsend Southern Railroad, as he picked his way along the construction at the end of Water Street. Landes lifted a hand in response, but kept his head bent toward the foreman supervising the extension of the seawall west from Tyler Street. Once the railroad between Port Townsend and Portland was finished, Elliot might consider expanding Bishop Mercantile and opening an outpost near the train depot. In the meantime, this end of Water Street was marshy where the bay waters rushed in and crashed against the bluffs.

Declan and Celeste were perched on a jumble of rocks at the water’s edge, Celeste pointing and gesturing, pale hands flashing in the thin sun. Declan stripped his coat off and rolled his shirtsleeves to his elbows while Celeste sank gracefully down on a flat rock next to a small pool, tucking her skirts under her. Declan crouched next to her and pointed at something. From Elliot’s vantage point slightly above them, he could hear only snatches of their conversation. 

Celeste’s cheeks were pink and her eyes bright, the way she looked when talking about her work. She pointed at something and gestured with her other hand, explaining something to Declan. Declan nodded, and asked a question Elliot couldn’t hear. When Declan looked up, he caught sight of Elliot and waved him down. Elliot picked his way down the slippery rocks. 

“Celeste’s showing me her little collection of devilfish,” Declan explained. “Seems like an odd place for them to settle, with all the activity along the docks.” Declan gestured to the bustling hive of men loading and unloading the ships at the nearby Tyler Street docks and Union Wharf. “But she says she found them in these pools here and she’s got some wooden barriers set up so they don’t escape.”

Elliot navigated to the other side of the pool and crouched down next to Declan. Celeste was leaning over it, cooing at something barely visible underneath the surface. 

“Hello, my beauty. You’ve some special visitors, so come on out and show us how pretty you are, won’t you?” The pool was a couple feet deep, strewn with rocks of different sizes. Eelgrass and kelp clung in waving tufts to the rocks, and anemones waved spiny fingers in the gentle flow of water. A large, leathery, ochre starfish was plastered to the side of a large rock and a small mound of rocks were piled against a pair of larger boulders, clamshells strewn around it.

“That’s a den, you see,” Celeste pointed at the rock mound. “She’s hiding right now, but she usually comes out when I feed her.” Celeste reached into the bucket she’d brought with her and tossed a handful of clams in. Before the first clam drifted to the bottom of the pool, a thin, pale pink tentacle flashed out from behind the rock mound and grabbed it. Elliot jerked back. 

“What the hell is that?” he asked. 

“The arm of an octopus punctatus, a ruby octopus,” Celeste replied. “She’s a little shy, but give her a minute and you’ll get a good look at her.” 

Elliot wasn’t sure he wanted any look at the creature. Neither Celeste nor Declan seemed to notice his hesitation. Declan was gazing into the pool like he’d never seen something so interesting. Celeste grabbed a couple more clams from the bucket and dropped them in at the other end of the pool from the octopus’s den. 

A second tentacle unfurled from behind the rocks, questing along the sand for the clams. When it extended to its full length but couldn’t reach them, both tentacles withdrew behind the rocks. Then a misshapen, mottled red head squeezed through a tiny opening in the rock den, and the devilfish slowly unfurled. It splayed eight pale pink limbs out from a web under its head, as if stretching awake after a nap.

“There you are, Eleanor,” Celeste murmured. She turned to Declan, her eyes shining. “Watch how she uses some of her arms to walk across the sand at the same time these front two arms are reaching for the food.”

The octopus grabbed a clam in each of its front two arms. Elliot watched in uneasy fascination as the clams traveled up the octopus’s arms, sucker by sucker, and disappeared under the web where all the arms joined the rest of the creature’s body. The creature’s head turned a dark gray color as it curled its web around the clams tucked under it.

There was a faint crack, and the empty clam shells drifted to the sandy floor. “She’s got teeth under there?” Declan asked. Celeste shook her head.

“Not teeth, exactly. More like the beak of a parrot. She’s never let me get close enough to see it, but I’ve seen some excellent illustrations of cephalopoda beaks drawn by Mr. William Evans Hoyle in some detail.” 

When it was done chewing its food, the octopus rose in a sinuous motion so it was standing on the tips of its tentacles, its bulbous head pulsing a little as it wandered closer to the edge of the pool. Celeste unbuttoned her cuffs and rolled her dress sleeves and the wide sleeves of her smock up to her shoulders, exposing both arms. When she shifted position and leaned forward, Elliot realized what she was planning to do. 

He took a step forward and grabbed her left arm just as she thrust her right arm into the pool. There was a flurry of motion under the water, and Elliot was suddenly doused with cold seawater. Celeste yanked out of his grip, unbalancing him. Declan lurched forward and grabbed Elliot’s arm to keep him from falling in the pool.

Elliot sputtered and blinked the water from his eyes. By the time he could see again, the octopus was half out of the pool, a pair of tentacles wrapped around each of Celeste’s wrists as she leaned over the edge, the rest of its tentacles splayed against the rocks, head lolling half under the waterline. Celeste was making those same cooing noises.

“Did he scare you, Eleanor? I’m sure he didn’t mean to.” She looked over her shoulder at Elliot. “She uses her siphon to shoot water. It’s how she propels herself along the ocean floor, you see. But she sometimes also shoots water as a playful warning, like that.” 

As she talked, the creature’s tentacles undulated up her forearms, extending and flexing, creeping slowly along her skin. “I have other cephalopods I observe, but Eleanor’s the most friendly. At least with me. Hardly anyone else comes to see her, much less interacts with her.” 

Declan leaned forward. “I’ve seen plenty of devilfish in the ocean. They trail along the ship sometimes. And I’ve eaten octopus before, of course, but I’ve never looked at one so close.”

“Devilfish” was an excellent name for a creature that didn’t look either friendly or playful to Elliot. Its skin color had deepened to an angry red, pimpled with raised white spots. Its head was about the size of Elliot’s outstretched hand, with protruding orange eyes that had horizontal black pupils. The devilfish’s eyes rolled around, taking in its surroundings, then fixed on Elliot, unblinking and eerie. 

The devilfish inched a third tentacle up the rocks, then another, reaching for Celeste. She shifted her arms and gathered the creature into them. Water streamed down the front of her smock as she allowed the beast to rest its head on her bosom. 

“See?” she grinned at Declan. “I told you she was friendly. You can touch her, if you like.” The devilfish slid a pair of tentacles over her shoulder, up either side of her neck, and twined around her ears into her hair. 

Declan reached a hand out and stroked his fingertips gently over the creature’s skin. “She’s so soft,” he murmured. He picked up the end of a dangling tentacle and stroked up from the tip, then turned it over and passed his fingers lightly over two rows of suckers lining the underside. He pressed one finger into the center of a sucker, then pulled back against the creature’s grip. “Look, Elliot,” he beckoned with his other hand to Elliot. “Touch her, see how strong she is.”

Elliot stayed away. “I’ll pass, thank you.” The tips of Celeste’s fingers were turning white, and patches of skin bloomed red from the strong grip of the creature’s suckers. He wanted to rip it off her and throw it back into the ocean. He’d known Celeste spent most of her days studying these creatures but seeing it crawl all over her was deeply disturbing.

“Put it back,” he ordered. “Before it strangles you.” 

Celeste ignored his demand. “She’s not hurting me, just exploring. She’s probably as interested in studying me as I am in studying her.”

Declan cupped a hand under the creature’s misshapen head and stroked the fingers of his other hand gently around its eyes and down the tentacles draped over Celeste’s arm. He and Celeste shared a smile over the ugly creature, like a pair of proud parents.

“What made you think of studying them?” Declan asked.

Celeste bent over the pool and dipped her laden arms under the water. It seemed like the creature gave one last squeeze with all its tentacles before it slid back into the water, withdrawing each tentacle from Celeste’s skin so agonizingly slowly that Elliot wanted to tear them from her. Celeste gave a fond smile to the beast as she pulled her wet smock over her head and fetched a towel from her basket. 

“For the sake of knowledge, I suppose. There’s so much we don’t know about these creatures. They’re so very different from us, but there are surely things we can learn from them.” 

Elliot couldn’t imagine what useful things she was expecting to learn from devilfish. When they married, he’d try talking her into leaving the creepy things alone. Surely there were other things she could study. Birds, maybe, or plants. Something that didn’t stare at Elliot like it knew all his deepest secrets and was just waiting for him to recognize them too.

Celeste rubbed at the sides of her neck with the towel. The skin just above the collar of her dress was reddened, and her arms were a patchy red and white where the creature’s suckers had attached. She noticed Elliot staring and rolled her sleeves down to her wrists. 

“The marks go away after a while. At least she didn’t shoot her ink at you when she sprayed you. That would have been messy.” She glanced at Elliot’s water-spotted vest and jacket. “Well, messier,” she conceded. 

Declan grinned at her, then smacked Elliot’s arm when he didn’t respond. “What’s the matter with you, Elliot? Your fiancée’s the most interesting woman I’ve ever met. And I’ve known some interesting women,” he winked at Celeste, then turned back to Elliot. “Smart, interesting, beautiful—what more could you want in a wife?”

It’s you that I want. The thought came before Elliot could control himself. That may have been true before Declan went away, but now what Elliot wanted was a quiet, respectable life in town. More than one of his business acquaintances had expressed surprise when Elliot had started stepping out with Celeste, telling him that most of their wives thought she was an odd duck. But they suited each other, and Elliot knew he could make her happy. She might share a little of Declan’s penchant for defying society’s expectations, but at least she wouldn’t leave Elliot the way Declan had. They’d be happy together, Elliot was sure. 

“Of course, I think she’s smart and beautiful,” Elliot replied, half-bowing to Celeste. “But we should be getting along, Declan. We need to discuss some business.” He kissed Celeste on the cheek. “I’m sure you can occupy yourself with your notes and things, my dear.”

Celeste smiled at Elliot. “Of course,” she replied. “I have plenty of observations to record.” She turned to Declan and held out her hand. “Thank you for allowing me to show Eleanor to you.”

Declan shook her hand. “It was my pleasure. I’ll never look at an octopus the same way again, I can tell you that.”

Elliot tugged Declan away from her and led him along the shore back toward Water Street and the edge of town. When he looked back, Celeste had a notebook open on her lap, pen dangling from one hand, and was gazing out over the water.

Chapter Four

As they neared the construction at the edge of Water Street, Declan veered away to keep walking along the beach. Elliot followed him, their boots crunching in step as they walked along the pebbled shore. Declan looked sideways at Elliot several times, like he wanted to say something, but didn’t speak. Telling Celeste that he had business to discuss with Declan had been mostly an excuse to get away from her devilfish, but if Declan wanted to show him something, Elliot could spare the time to follow along. 

He could wish Declan had chosen a different spot than this particular stretch of beach, but squelched such a childish reaction. Declan surely had no reason to remember why this beach was a place he didn’t much like to linger on. Before he could ask where they were headed, Declan cleared his throat and spoke. 

“What was that all about, man?”

“What was what about?” Elliot asked. The wind off the bay was a biting cold, but that didn’t slow the bustle of activity on the wharves jutting out into the bay ahead of them. He shoved his hands into the pockets of his greatcoat and hunched against a matching chill in his bones.

“Your hostility to Celeste’s scientific studies. Don’t tell me you’re one of those men who think women shouldn’t exercise their minds?”

“Of course not,” Elliot said, startled from the memories he was trying to keep away. He glanced at Declan and quirked the corner of his mouth up in a small smile. “Though Mrs. Rothschild and Mrs. Plummer have both informed me that their daughters are quite docile and compliant, for when I come to my senses in choosing a bride.”

Declan snorted. “I’ve had more intelligent conversation with Mrs. Viola and her girls at the Green Light than with either Mrs. Rothschild or Mrs. Plummer, so I can just imagine what their daughters are like.” He glanced sideways at Elliot again. “I gather Celeste doesn’t quite fit in with uptown society?”

Elliot shrugged. “She’s the Reverend Brady’s only child, and they say he spoiled her a little. He had an extensive library and let her read anything she was interested in. I think she got her interest in the natural sciences from him. When she was young, he’d take her on long walks and encourage her to write down her observations of the plants and animals they’d see along the way. As he got older, he couldn’t walk as far with her, and that’s when she started studying marine plants and creatures. So he could sit on the beach and keep her company while she observed things and collected specimens.”

The Reverend’s heart had given out the week after Elliot had asked him for Celeste’s hand, and he knew she still missed him. They’d postponed the wedding for Celeste’s mourning period, and Elliot himself had only recently stopped wearing a black armband in honor of the man who’d been almost a second father to him. 

“Before he died, the Reverend made me promise I’d support Celeste’s work after we married. I would have anyway, but his will stipulates that the small amount of money he left Celeste is hers alone to use for her research. He was very kind to me and he loved Celeste very much. It’s no hardship for me to comply with his wishes.”

Declan pulled his coat tighter around him. The wind had picked up off the bay and clouds were scudding across the leaden sky. “Then why were you behaving so oddly before?” Declan asked, ducking his head against a gust of wind. “Celeste showed me some of her notes. I didn’t understand all of it, but it seems like she’s spent a lot of time observing several kinds of devilfish. I had no idea they were so fascinating.”

Elliot shuddered. “I don’t think ‘fascinating’ is the right word for them.” 

“There you go again,” Declan said. “What’s your problem with her studies? Her devilfish scare you or something?”

Of course the damned things scared him. He cast a sideways look at Declan. “You don’t remember?”

“Remember what?”

Elliot stared out at the bay. “I saw something the day before Mother disappeared. I didn’t know then what it was, but when Celeste started showing me illustrations from her scientific journals…I realize now it was probably some kind of cephalopod.” He huffed a mirthless laugh. “That’s the scientific name for them, she says. Your name for them seems more…apt, I suppose.” 

Declan shrugged. “I don’t deny they’re very strange creatures. And sailors are a superstitious lot. But the sea is full of strange creatures, some even stranger than your fiancée’s pets.”

Elliot turned away from the water, but Declan stopped him with a hand on Elliot’s arm, and Elliot saw the understanding cross his face. “Your nightmares. They started after your mother disappeared.” He squeezed gently and tugged Elliot to a large driftwood log. Elliot sighed as they settled on it, side by side. How pathetic, to still be so frightened about something that had happened so long ago. 

“What did you see that day, Elliot?” Declan asked softly. He was facing forward, looking at the bay instead of directly at Elliot. It helped a little, not having to face him while he explained his childhood terrors.

“We were walking along the shore, here,” Elliot said, gesturing to the tracks they’d made along the pebbled beach. “I was throwing rocks and sticks in the water.” He remembered asking his mother dozens of questions about the ships tied up at Union Wharf and anchored out in the bay. His mother pointed out the Captain’s ship, which had come in a few days earlier. The Captain had brought his mother a bolt of sapphire-blue silk, which nearly matched the color of her eyes, from Shanghai. He’d brought Elliot and Declan presents, too, small trinkets Elliot still had, tucked away at the back of a desk drawer in his study. 

“It started off a nice day,” Elliot recalled. “But you know how the weather can change suddenly sometimes here. The skies darkened and the wind picked up and then suddenly, it was raining and I was soaked to the skin.” He glanced at the sky. Today’s weather seemed ominously like that day and he shivered, pulling his coat closer around him. A few fat raindrops fell, making dark splotches on the bleached driftwood log. 

“I tugged on Mother’s hand. I was wet and cold and couldn’t understand why she wasn’t already hurrying us back home. Instead, she squeezed my hand so hard it hurt and pulled me toward the water, murmuring something to herself I couldn’t hear.” Elliot stared out across the bay, remembering how the wind whipped the water into churning waves, whitecaps forming and breaking over the rocky beach, swirling around his mother’s skirts. 

“I could see Union Wharf from where we were and there were men rushing all around, tightening the lines tying the boats to the dock, packing up things that could blow away, tying down everything else. No one noticed us, especially when a small scow bashed against the dock and broke up into pieces.”

“I remember that storm,” Declan said quietly. “I was hanging around the Bishop warehouse, running messages for Father, when we heard the shouting from the wharf.” 

“Mother was splashing back and forth just at the edge of the water line. Like she was looking for something in the water, something she’d lost and had to retrieve before we could go home. The waves were getting bigger and her skirts were soaked to her waist, but she still wouldn’t come away.”

Elliot had looked frantically around for someone to help him, but the beach was empty and every man on the wharf was racing for higher ground. The larger ships anchored farther out in the bay listed crazily as the waves pummeled them. 

“I remember thinking to myself that no one was coming to help us. That I’d have to be a man and save her myself.” He rubbed at his burning eyes and then blinked the film of tears away. “I couldn’t, though,” he said. “I was too small.”

Declan gripped his upper arm and angled into Elliot’s field of view. “Of course you couldn’t,” he said. “You were eight years old, Elliot.” He shook Elliot’s arm. “And she was saved, remember? Once Father realized the two of you were down there, he grabbed me and we came running.” 

Elliot remembered the Captain picking him up and tearing up the beach before thrusting him at Declan. The sharp note of command in the Captain’s voice when he shouted, “Take him back to the house and keep him there until I come back. Go, Declan, now!” How Declan’s arms tightened around him when he struggled to get free and run back to his mother. 

Over Declan’s shoulder, he saw his mother chest-deep in the water, swimming out after something. Then Declan hoisted him more securely in his arms and carried him home. He got Elliot into dry clothes, tucked him into bed, and held him while Elliot cried himself to sleep. 

“Whatever your mother was doing on the shore that day, it’s not your fault, Elliot.” Declan got off the log and crouched in the sand in front of him. He rested one hand on Elliot’s knee and curled the other around the back of Elliot’s neck. Elliot wondered in the back of his mind whether anyone could see them like this. He didn’t really care when the broad bulk of Declan’s body blocked the wind off the bay and the warmth of Declan’s hand on his neck anchored him against the terror of what he’d seen that day.

He shook his head slightly, then rested his forehead against Declan’s and closed his eyes. “It was, though,” he whispered. “My fault. She told me when we set out that day that she had something to show me, something beautiful that she could show only me, not you or the Captain.” He lifted his head and looked at Declan through tears that filmed his vision.

“And I wanted to see it,” he confessed. “Mother used to tell me when she tucked me in at night that I was special, that someday she’d tell me who my real father was, and that I shouldn’t listen to the other boys at school who said I was just a bastard and my mother a whore who your father had only married for her money.” 

Declan stared back at him. “You never told me people said that.” His hand on the back of Elliot’s neck tightened, then relaxed when Elliot winced. He shifted back onto his heels and ran that hand through his hair, mouth pressed into a thin line, a muscle jumping in his jaw. “You should have told me. I’d have kicked those snotty prats’ asses off the bluffs.”

Elliot smiled slightly at Declan’s predictable protective reaction. “It doesn’t matter now,” he said. “What mattered then was that I thought Mother would finally tell me who he was, when she said she wanted to show me a secret on the beach.” 

He looked past Declan’s shoulder, out into the bay again. “She didn’t tell me, though. And I still don’t know what she meant to show me, but I definitely saw something in the water.”   

He couldn’t tell what it was at first, only catching glimpses of a dark shape floating within the waves that steadily rolled up the beach. The water was as warm as it ever got that early September day, but still chilled his toes as it spilled over the tops of his shoes. His mother didn’t seem to notice the cold, her skirt belling out around her just before the next wave brought the creature closer to her. 

“It was a devilfish ten times bigger than the one Celeste showed you. I felt a slimy arm brush against me as it grabbed Mother and pulled her into the water.” He didn’t mention how the creature lifted its bulbous head and stared at Elliot, nor the shock of recognition he’d felt when he’d looked into those huge, alien eyes. The creature had reached for Elliot too, and Elliot faintly heard a deep humming that made him want to swim out toward the thing.

He swallowed thickly, his skin prickling at the recollection of how the beast had felt brushing up against him. “You know the rest. The Captain grabbed me, you took me home and put me to bed. He found Mother and brought her home too, but the next morning, she was gone and I never saw her again.”

He sniffled and tried to pull himself together. Declan resettled himself on the log next to Elliot. He nudged Elliot’s shoulder with his own. “So, that’s why you don’t spend a lot of time with Celeste’s octopuses. Have you told her what you saw with your mother?”

“Of course not,” Elliot said. “And you are not to tell her. There’s no reason to dredge all that up again. She’s young enough that she doesn’t remember the scandal when Mother disappeared, and no one even talks about it anymore. Not to my face, anyway.”

Declan was quiet for a moment. “Keeping secrets from your bride doesn’t seem like a recipe for a happy marriage,” he finally said. His tone was mild, but the last thing Elliot wanted was marital advice from Declan, of all people.

“What do you know about happy marriages?” he said without thinking. When Declan put on a wounded look, Elliot’s heart gave a lurch. If Declan was about to tell him that he’d married, Elliot would—well, he wasn’t sure what he’d do. But then Declan shook his head.

Declan looked out at the ships in the harbor, then back at Elliot. “Might be that she’d understand, though. And she’ll eventually find out about your nightmares, unless you’re planning to sleep in separate rooms.” 

Which was exactly what Elliot was planning, though he hadn’t broached the subject with Celeste yet. He knew he’d have to perform his marital duties, but Declan didn’t need to know how hard it had been for Elliot to move on after he’d left. He stood up and brushed the sand from the seat of his trousers. 

“I’m not discussing my relationship with Celeste with you, Declan. Celeste and I understand each other. I’ll be a good husband to her, and she’s free to continue her work. I don’t need to know very much about it.” 

Declan looked up at him skeptically and drummed his fingers against one thigh briefly, but thankfully dropped whatever else he wanted to say. Elliot looked at the black clouds rolling in from across the bay, then caught sight of a familiar shape in the forest of rigging floating out there. “Is that the Black Dove?” 

Declan flashed a smile at Elliot and stood, brushing his shoulder against Elliot’s. “Bought her off Father when he bought a larger windjammer for his Far East voyages.”

Elliot stole a glance at Declan’s face. “She’s beautiful,” he said. 

Declan looked pleased at Elliot’s reaction. “Isn’t she?” he said. “She’s faster now, too, after making some changes to her rigging. Easier to outrun the revenue cutters.”

“What’s her crew?” Elliot asked.

“A handful of men I’ve sailed with on Father’s ship. A stowaway I gained while staying with Nance Carrigan, who’s turned out to be an excellent first mate. Couple more I picked up while wintering in the Caribbean. And Thomas, of course.” said Declan.

Thomas. Of course. Elliot knew about Thomas, the young cook the Captain had picked up somewhere along the Mexican coast, just before Declan started joining him on shorter voyages. Declan’s early letters to Elliot mentioned Thomas as being about Declan’s age and a good friend. Elliot wasn’t sure how he came to know that Declan and Thomas were sleeping together, since Declan had never confirmed it to Elliot and Elliot had never asked. 

Elliot could hardly expect Declan to stay faithful to him, especially since he was about to get married. But he’d never been able to stop himself from feeling a little jealous every time Thomas’s name was mentioned. Thomas got to have Declan these last five years, while Elliot had been left behind. He wondered who Declan would choose if he ever had to—Elliot? Or Thomas?

He shook his head and pushed the thought away. Declan would never have to choose between him and Thomas because Declan would never stay on shore long enough to choose Elliot. After a few more moments idly watching the activity in the harbor, Elliot took a deep breath.

“Why did you come back now, Declan?”

Declan glanced at him, then back at the Black Dove. “I told you, Father’s missing. I wanted you to come with me to find him.”

Elliot shook his head, and Declan sighed. “Of course. Can’t leave a new bride during your honeymoon. I’ll stand up for you at the wedding and leave Wednesday morning.”

Elliot nodded and didn’t trust himself to speak. He’d had five years to get used to Declan’s absence but just these few minutes sitting next to Declan, and suddenly he had no idea how he’d survive the next time Declan left him.

“Storm coming looks like a bad one,” Declan commented, as he stood up and dusted the seat of his trousers off. “Come on, I’ll buy you a drink at the Belmont Saloon, and we’ll toast your wedded life.”

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