Fire in the Hole by Alex Westmore
- Historical Adventure
- 75,000 Words
Fire in the hole! Those were the last words Quinn Gallagher heard before her mighty ship sunk beneath the waves. Now she’s adrift in more ways than one as she attempts to flee from all those who would push her under… underground, under water, and of course under the covers.
The Spanish Inquisition, the angry Queen, Moroccan pirates, and even those she once thought of as friends, all pursue her doggedly forcing her to delve even deeper into her tumultuous pirate persona.
Quinn still wants to figure out who she really is, but will she ever get the chance? Or will finding herself also mean finding her end?
Read an Excerpt
If ever Quinn felt at home somewhere, it was aboard the Malendroke, which currently was a bustle of pre-cast-off activity. Sails were being tended to, masts were being checked and double-checked, supplies were being loaded into the galley, and the men worked side by side, telling jokes and singing nasty ditties.
Grace O’Malley’s pirate ship had been Quinn’s home for nearly seven years now, and she loved every moment of it. From the bloody sword fights to the incredible amount of drinking they did, Quinn had learned to love everything about being a pirate.
And right now everything included getting the ship ready to take to Spain–a dangerous voyage undertaken at the request of Mary Queen of Scots.
Well, it wasn’t so much a request a debt owed.
When Grace O’Malley had been captured and imprisoned by one of Queen Elizabeth’s advisors, Mary used her influence and substantial purse to bribe the guards into freeing Grace.
Quinn had never been more relieved than when Mary sent a message saying she would happily bribe the guards in exchange for the release of her friend. Because the thought of killing other Irishmen in an effort to free Grace left a bad taste in everyone’s mouth, she’d sent Tavish, the only Scot on the ship.
The Queen responded quickly requesting gold and a favor to be returned. That favor now sent them into the waters where Spanish Galleons lurked seeking plunder and booty. Still, as long as Grace O’Malley was no longer in prison, Quinn and the crew woudld have faced the Devil himself to keep her out.
Everyone had a job to do to get the ship prepared for the short journey to Spain. Quinn’s job had been to procure smoked meats–a task Grace had assigned to allow her time with Becca. She’d also checked in on Grace’s son Tibbott, who had stirred up something of an uproar with some of his anti-English speeches. Tibbott, like his mother, had never hidden his anti-English sentiments. Even after his mother had been captured, he continued spouting his rhetoric.
This made Quinn quite nervous, and she’d mentioned as much to Grace, who shrugged it off and said he’d never been one to keep his opinions to himself.
Like mother like son, Quinn had thought, but she kept her own opinions to herself.
Once Quinn had purchased the meat, she ran up the gangway, excited to be pushing off once more. She had only been to Spain once and then had only been around the port area. She longed to see more of this exotic land.
Her wanderlust was the final piece of the puzzle that, when completed, showed Quinn’s transformation from noblewoman to pirate.
It was complete now.
Her desire to get back to the sea had long since stopped surprising her. With the exception of Becca and Fiona, there was little of interest to her on the land. It was filled with corrupt politicians, English plantations, people who were poor, and others who no longer had the strength to keep fighting for their country’s independence. The land now felt like an anchor to her, dragging her back to a life she barely remembered and did not want.
It was as if she had always been a pirate.
Maybe, deep down, that was truer than she realized.
Life at sea, as a man, was so much more fulfilling than anything she’d experienced as a woman.
She was free.
Like Connor, her best friend, had said to her several years ago when she had first come aboard, “We’re free to fuck, fight, and find trouble.”
And boy, had they.
She’d long ago lost count of the men she’d run through with her swords. The number of women she’d had carnal relations with numbered two dozen. And trouble? So far, she’d been imprisoned, stabbed, beat up, suffered typhus and hangovers, and had her life threatened more times than she could remember. She’d met queens, other female pirates, and infamous corsairs. She’d eaten everything from camels to yaks and more than a few dishes she couldn’t name. She’d slept with French women, Scottish women, Spanish and Portuguese women, a Moor, two Moroccans, and an Algerian. She’d plundered, pillaged, and plucked the crew from certain death on more than one occasion.
Yet even with all of that excitement and adventure, what she longed for every time she returned to sea was the crew.
If someone had told her seven years ago that a bunch of gnarly, dirty, foul-smelling, skirt-chasing lovers of wine, whiskey, and wenches would become her family, she would have thought them daft.
But there they were.
Connor, the one responsible for bringing her to the ship all those years ago, had taught her so much about what needed to be done to keep a ship moving and winning battles. His knowledge about not only the sea but Grace O’Malley as well had helped her learn very quickly the ways of the Malendroke. She would have been so lost without him those first six months on board.
Innis had started out an enemy but had become one of her closest confidantes. As first mate, he often issued their orders whenever Grace was not on board. It took a while, but eventually Innis and Quinn had managed to get over their differences to become good friends.
One Eye was a cat with nine lives who had escaped death more times than she could imagine and who was fiercely loyal to captain and crew.
Fitz was a former highwayman who, along with his three cousins, had ended up on the Malendroke after a roadside skirmish with Quinn had ended not in blood but in friendly words and Quinn’s recommendation that they join the crew of the Malendroke. Fitz had more than proven his worth in the years since and was now a better friend and pirate than most.
Kwame had been mistaken as a slave and captured by the English. Quinn had helped him return to life as a free man, and for that he constantly risked his life for her.
And finally there was Tavish McGee. Tavish had worked as a guard for Fiona, who paid Grace to allow Tavish on board the Malendroke. Her instructions were for Tavish to protect Quinn, which he had done over and over. He’d now become one of her dearest friends and closest confidantes. Tavish was one who knew her true identity and did not love her less for it.
Then there was Grace.
Grace O’Malley, Queen of Connacht, Chieftain of the O’Malley Clan, Captain of the Malendroke, and one of the greatest mysteries Quinn had ever met— an enigma to any who knew her.
With a mane of thick red hair, piercing green eyes, and a stature that made most men cower, Grace was unlike anyone Quinn had ever met. That first day, Quinn had thought her a cold, heartless captain who cared only for the booty and tolls they claimed up and down the coastline. Her reputation had preceded her, and people tended to speak of her in hushed whispers that ran between abject fear and complete respect for her. Quinn just figured that a pirate was all about the booty and the gold.
She couldn’t have been more wrong.
Grace truly cared about her crew, but even more than that she cared about the fate of Ireland and its citizens. Grace may have been a heavy-handed taskmaster on board the ship, but she was also loyal, generous, and a superb leader of men. Over two hundred would follow her to the depths of hell if she asked.
And oftentimes she did, in fact, ask them to.
And somewhere along the line, she and Quinn had become nearly friends.
Grace, like Tavish, knew her secret and had kept it since Quinn had proven to be invaluable to the crew and to Grace.
When Quinn had contracted typhus, Fiona and Becca had nursed her back to health. That was when the three women in Quinn’s life had shared the truth about her gender and the fact that they did not care.
It also helped Quinn realize that Grace could be forgiving and that she cared for Quinn enough to forgive the lie and subterfuge.
Instead of kicking her off the ship for her betrayal, Grace had agreed to keep the ruse going because she felt Quinn a valuable member of the crew the men looked up to. It was a notion Quinn made damn certain of keeping, and she worked harder than most to prove to Grace that she belonged on that ship.
Not long after, Quinn had proven her worth by saving the crew once more.
“Ya gonna stand there daydreamin’ all day, Callaghan, or are ya gonna get some work done?” Murphy asked.
Looking up from her thoughts, Quinn grabbed her sack of dried meats for the galley.
“Dry meat fer ya, Murph.”
Murphy, a giant of a man who ran the small galley kitchen like a dictator, took the bag and peered inside. “Looks better than the last time, Callaghan. Good job.”
Quinn nodded once and turned to leave, when Murphy called her back. “Ya know I ain’t afraid of ennathin’, right, Callaghan?”
Quinn nodded. Once she, Murphy, and Grace had held off two dozen men. “I do.”
“Goin’ to Spain… ” he shook his head. “I got a bad feelin’, Callaghan.”
“Murph, nobody lookin’ at us can tell we’re not Catholic. We’ll be fine.”
Murphy ran a big paw over his salt-and-pepper grizzle. “It isn’t just that. I don’t like bein’ beholden to ennaone, and now we’re off bein’ errand boy fer the Queen of Scotland. I am tired of doin’ her biddin’. I don’t like it. I don’t like it one bit, and I am not the only one.”
Quinn lowered her voice. “Ya don’t have to like it, Murph, but ya do have to do yer part. Captain knows what she’s doin’.”
“Does she? What do ya know about these inquisitions, Callaghan?”
“Well, I know they torture people.”
Murphy shook his head. “It’s worse than that. They torture people to get them to confess to bein’ heretics and to name others who are as well. They use the rack fer men like me–men too big to keep free. The racks pulls yer limbs slowly from yer body. Pulls yer arms and legs right outta their place where they pop and rips the muscles so bad that ya can never use them again.” He shuddered. “Others they starve. Some they nearly drown. Still others they use strappado.”
“Strappado?” Quinn walked back toward Murphy.
“Aye. They tie yer hands behind yer back and then lift ya from the ground by yer arms. It pulls yer shoulders outta their… their… ”
“Aye. And that’s not all. They use thumb screws, heated irons on yer body, and lead sprinklers.”
Quinn suddenly felt nauseous. “Lead sprinklers?”
“Aye. Instead of sprinklin’ water like they use durin’ Mass, they fill it with melted lead and shake it onto yer body.”
Quinn felt sick. “Murph–”
“They have a thing that’ll tear yer tongue out and a breast ripper that cuts off women’s breasts.”
Quinn sat down heavily. “Murph–”
“And I heard they use this triangular-shaped chair called a Judas Cradle. They lower a man, arse first, onto the point of the metal triangle and… well, ya can imagine–”
Quinn held her hand up. “Murphy, enough. Why are ya gettin’ so overwrought about this?”
“Callaghan, we are Irishmen goin’ to the country that invented the revolvin’ drum and Spanish monkey as a way of gettin’ information. Ya hafta know what to expect if we’re not greeted with open arms.”
“The rest of Europe believes us to be Catholic, Murph, and fer the most part, we are. People like ya and me are in the minority now. But if yer worried, just wear a cross.”
Murphy blinked and nodded. “Are ya?”
Quinn shook her head. “No, because I am not worried about Spain torturin’ us, my friend. We come on behalf of the verra Catholic Queen of Scotland. We’ll be fine.”
“I hope yer right, Callaghan.”
As Quinn rose to leave, she put her hand over Murphy’s. “Captain would never put us in that kind of danger, right?”
Murphy nodded slowly. “Right.”
As Quinn made her way back up the steps, she wondered if maybe Murphy’s fears weren’t justified. The world had turned topsy-turvy when the cousin monarchs started after each other. Catholics were against Protestants and Protestants against Catholics, and every country was forced to choose a religion and a side. Everyone else just seemed to be a pawn in their game of wills. She could only hope that Murphy’s fears were just that and nothing more.
She could only hope.
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