Belladonna’s First Drink

Excerpt from Black Venom

The Incubus put in at La Laguna on Tenerife; not so much to resupply as to get information. The port was the last stop before crossing the Atlantic for many ships sailing from western Africa or the Mediterranean. Viktor wagered that La Forte probably used it as a supply point in his slave trade route. If so, someone there might be able to give them an idea of where to look for the man.

It also served to give the crew some sporting time. Vik and Grimm had both decided years before that it was best to let their men have time to enjoy the shares they got from any prize taken. Where some pirates would hoard their wealth and were stingy with their crew, Brandee and the Reaper had never been that way. Having all the treasure in the world meant nothing if you were never allowed to enjoy it.

The cadre took the night watch on board, which freed the rest of the crew to go ashore. Grimm opted to stay aboard, as well.

Viktor figured he was going to set to taming Brianna. He knew his first mate hadn’t bedded the girl yet. His heightened senses would’ve let him know if Hezekiah had. As it was, her scent was barely discernible any distance from the cabin she was being held in.

Amazingly, for such an important port, there were only two taverns. They were owned by brothers who had tailored their individual businesses to specific clientelle. The Drunken Goat catered to the working classes on the island and the crews of any ships in port. The Singing Mermaid was set up more toward the tastes of the ships’ officers and the wealthy land owners.

The crew of the Incubus descended on both taverns like locusts. It was one of the benefits of being pirates. They could care less about class divisions. Of course, it was also fun to go in and take over an establishment where they obviously weren’t welcome, but no one dared to throw them out.

Viktor and Belladonna headed to the Mermaid. Jon-Jon went to the Goat. The latter stood a better chance of getting information at the dockside tavern than his captain did. In a port that made such a fuss about class distinction, a ship’s captain would be viewed with distrust by the Goat’s regulars.

The rest of the crew split fairly evenly between the two taverns.

The packet and pirate they had recently taken had left them flush with gold. Viktor decided he would try a business approach to getting information before resorting to force. He could spare the gold, but the time a fight and its aftermath would cost was something he didn’t want to spend.

Since about half of the crew was in the tavern, as well, he hadn’t bothered trying to get Belladonna to wear a dress. He just felt grateful that she no longer fought him about wearing clothes at all.

Although the locals were distracted by the influx of pirates, all eyes turned to the vampire and the siren when they entered the Singing Mermaid. Belladonna’s blood-red hair and curvaceous figure clad in a loose shirt and form-fitting leather breeches drew the gaze of every male in the room, save for the pirates.

The women there with their husbands might have been jealous had they not been so taken with Viktor’s tall, raven-haired form. His emerald eyes were already glowing faintly from the scent of several women’s arousal at one time.

He picked a table near a wall and sat down. He smirked and Belle sneered at the sight of the two serving wenches nearly racing each other to come take their order. Both women arrived at the table about the same time.

“Welcome to the Singing Mermaid,” the first one said. “My name is Clara. May I get you something to eat or drink?”

Before Vik could reply, the other one said, “Hello, sir, madam. I’m Janine. Is there anything I can do for you, anything at all?” Clara spared her a quick frown before she turned back to smile at the handsome pirate.

Belladonna sat back and gave an amused snort. She began to enjoy the rivalry between the two human females.

Viktor made a point of raking his gaze over both of them. “Oh, I can think of several things you could both do for me.” He chuckled. “However, for now I’ll take two bottles of your best rum, Clara. Janine, pet, you can have a seat and keep me company for a while.”

Clara instantly bristled. “Janine, no! With Sharon too sick to work, I can’t do all the serving by myself!”

Viktor grasped her jaw and forced her to look at him. His eyes flared, and his voice breathed power. “Bring me what I asked for, pet. You’ll have your turn with me later.”

Obediently, Clara’s smile returned as if she’d never been angry. “I will be right back with your rum, sir. Will there be anything else?”

“Not right now, pet. I’ll let you know.”

She left to fill the order, totally oblivious to the absence of Janine’s help. Viktor turned his attention to Janine.

“Have a seat, pet.” He indicated an empty seat.

The serving wench looked at the siren. “Is that all right with you, miss?”

Belle blinked in surprise at the courtesy. This proved to definitely be a higher class of establishment than the pirates usually frequented. She smiled and replied, “I’ve a feeling it is necessary.”

Reassured, Janine sat down. No sooner had she settled than the vampire leaned over and kissed her passionately. In the midst of it, he nicked his tongue with a fang and passed the blood on to his victim. Janine’s will instantly succumbed to his.

In a low voice, so as not to draw unwanted attention, he began to fire questions at her.

“Does Quentin La Forte use this port?”

“Yes.”

“Do you know how frequently?”

“Maybe once or twice a year.”

Viktor frowned. It meant he might have missed La Forte by months. “When was the last time he was in this port?”

“Seven months ago.”

“Can you tell me anything about him? Does he come to this tavern?”

Janine bit her lip in thought. Finally, she answered, “He has been in here a few times. Clara dealt with him more than I did. He felt like an evil man the one time I served him. He tried to assign me, but I refused him. Clara took him on, instead.”

“Hm, thank you for your help, pet.” He handed her a small bag with some gold coins in it.

“Ah, Clara, pet!”

The woman smiled at his greeting as she set down the tray with two bottles and three glasses. At his unspoken command, she took the seat Janine had just vacated. He lifted one of the bottles and uncorked it. After he poured a small amount in one of the glasses, he tasted it. Both his eyebrows raised in approval of the flavor.

“Not bad at all. A few Jamaican rums are just as rich, but this still has something unique in the flavor. It’s almost smoky. Is it local?”

“Yes, sir,” Clara answered. “My employer distills it himself. He keeps the source of his molasses a closely-guarded secret.”

“I cannot fault him for that.” Viktor smirked and filled his glass, then poured some into the other two glasses. “I doubt he lets you have any very often. You can have some, too, Belle.”

“No, he doesn’t.” Clara quickly grabbed the glass as if afraid someone would take it away from her. She began to drink it, obviously forcing herself to sip rather than downing it rapidly.

Belladonna sniffed experimentally at the rum. She drew back and looked at it sideways before sniffing it again. Viktor smiled wryly at her approach.

“What’s the matter, pet?”

“It smells like a cross between Jon-Jon and Sniff,” she stated. “And I’ve never had drink before.”

“Oh, this should be interesting.” He chuckled.

She took a small sip and swished the liquid around in her mouth. She swallowed it. Her pupils dilated and she gave the glass of rum a strange smile.

“That is good!” The siren quickly downed the rum and held out her glass for more.

Viktor chuckled and poured her a second glass. “Easy, pet. This tastes strong. It may hit you hard and fast.”

She giggled. “It burns, but it makes me feel tingly inside, too.”

The liquor had another effect on the siren, one that Viktor did not care for. As she drank the second glass, he could feel the bond between them grow fuzzy. It did not dissolve, but he sensed a partial barrier and lag to the connection. Given that he was still unsure of how far Venoma’s influence stretched, he definitely did not like this turn of events.

“I think we should get back to the ship, pet,” he said as he corked the bottle. “Clara, join us. I need to ask you a few things, but this is no longer a safe place to do so.”

The serving wench stood and followed them out the door.

The tavern keeper didn’t see them leave, and had no idea what had happened to Clara. Janine didn’t even have a memory of Clara being there for work that day. She wouldn’t have remembered Viktor, if it hadn’t been for the coins he’d given her. She carefully kept those a secret.

*

Back aboard the Incubus, Vik locked Clara in his cabin before escorting Belladonna to her own cabin. She started shedding clothes on the short distance between cabins.

“Pet, stop that.”

“But it is so hot, and these things are so binding,” she whined. As she dropped the last garment she stretched, sighed, and then laughed. “Much better!”

“Belle, are you well?” Her behavior reminded him of how she’d been when they first met.

In answer, she hopped up and wrapped herself around him. She then kissed him soundly. When she pulled back, she said, “You tell me, Vikkie.”

“Don’t call me that. I think you are drunk.” He then set about disengaging her from him.

Jon-Jon picked that moment to come looking for the captain. “Oh, sorry, Cap’n. Didn’t mean to interrupt,” he said as soon as he saw them. He turned to give them some privacy.

Belle unexpectedly released the vampire and pounced on the second mate, knocking him to the deck. Jon-Jon managed to at least get face up, only to find the naked siren straddling him.

“So tell me, Mr. Jon,” she purred as she rubbed herself against him, “why do they call you Big Jon?”

Before he could think clearly enough to respond, Vik grasped Belle around the waist and lifted her off of him.

“That is enough!” he bellowed. “Mr. Jon, I suggest you go topside… now!”

As Jon-Jon scrambled backward in his haste to escape his captain’s ire, Grimm emerged from his own cabin.

“Captain? Is something wrong?” he asked.

The siren locked on him immediately. “Grimmy!” she squealed and beamed at him. She wasn’t really trying to get away from Viktor, though.

“Keep your distance, Hezekiah. She’s a bit out of control,” Vik said. He hefted her from behind and moved her toward her cabin. Grimm took in the sight of his captain, who looked a little frazzled, holding onto the naked siren, who behaved downright bubbly. His mouth quirked up in an amused smirk, but he avoided laughing.

Vik managed to get to her cabin door. As he tried to get her into the cabin, she extended her talons and dug into the door jamb. She left furrows in the wood as he forcibly pulled her in. He then turned her so she was facing him. On a gamble, he kissed her passionately.

The gamble paid off. The siren was distracted long enough for him to use his supernatural speed to push her away, get out the door and shut it, before she could grab him back.

“Vikkie, come back!” she whined through the door. The wooden door started to rattle. Before long, the sounds of scratching on wood could be heard.

Grimm wisely refrained from commenting on the pet name. She had called him Grimmy, after all. Instead, he said, “If we don’t give her someone, she’s going to claw her way through the door or the bulkhead.”

“Aye, and heaven help the first man she catches.” Vik nodded. Silently, he summoned the one crew member he believed she wouldn’t kill. “Mr. Brumble should be here soon.”

“Can we afford to lose him?”

“Not really, but I don’t think he’ll be in any real danger. She seems to think of him as a pet.”

“Ah.” He tried to keep quiet about the situation, but his curiosity got the better of him. “Any idea why she is like this today?”

Viktor actually looked embarrassed. “I made the mistake of giving her rum.”

“Let’s not ever do that again.”

“Believe me, I won’t. Ah, good of you to join us, Mr. Brumble,” Vik said as Zach joined them.

“You sent for me, Captain?”

“Aye, Belladonna is not well and is in need of someone to tend to her.”

Zach noticed the banging and scratching at the cabin door, as well as a pleading, whining sound. “Why is she locked in?”

“Safety of the crew.”

Before he could ask anything else, Vik unlocked the door and pushed him toward it. Belladonna squealed and snatched him into the cabin so fast it was a wonder his neck didn’t snap.

“Right,” Grimm said after a minute. “Well, if I’m not needed for anything right now….”

“Go on, Hezekiah.” Vik shook his head. “I need to find Jon-Jon and let him know he is not in trouble. I can smell his fear from here.”

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