Tin Man: Pirates of the Nonestic

Chapter Twenty-three

Her storming stride took DG all the way to the galley. She thought about going up or down to continue marching off her anger, but decided she didn't want to get in the way on deck or hide in their…. The tears finally spilled.

How could Cain believe she was more important than some innocent little girl? How could he not have any faith in her? Why had she let herself hope that he saw her as a person and not as a doll to be guarded?

She scrubbed her face with a dishrag. She'd go back to Betsy's room once the men left and see what kind of alternate sleeping arrangements they could make. In the meantime, she stoked the stove's fire. She had no idea what to cook, but at least it gave her something to concentrate on besides the ruins of her relationship with Cain. Back in Kansas, she had baked when she felt miserable as an excuse to eat the cookie dough. DG peered at the oven. It was something to do. Hopefully, the crew would appreciate sugar cookies.

DG had buried herself into the ingredient hunt, she didn't hear anyone enter the galley until Hodges spoke behind her. "That role reversal didn't last long."

Hodges sneered at her as he leaned against the mast. Her heart thudded harder as she realized he cut off her escape. Can't show fear. Can't show fear. She shrugged and moved spice bottles in the cabinet again while keeping Hodges in sight. The cast-iron skillet hung on the hull under the cabinet. "Pregnancy craving, but if you're going to be nasty about it, you won't get any cookies."

Hodges's sneer morphed into a half-leer. "You've been crying. Honeymoon over already?"

"Do us all a favor and take a long walk off a short pier." He snarled and lunged forward. DG swung the skillet with a backhand of perfect form. It hit him in the shoulder.

He shoved her against a hull rib. "You bitch!" He held her arms so she couldn't swing the skillet at his head. "You worthless slave slut! I will take that out of your hide!"

"I'm not a slut!" DG hit his knee with the skillet and slammed her heel down on his foot. "And even if I was, I wouldn't fuck you!"

Hodges released her, but there wasn't enough room to maneuver around him. DG brought the skillet up to swing again. He reached for her, but two large hands wrapped around Hodges's upper arms and jerked him backwards.

Cain's face was beet red as it appeared over Hodges's shoulder. "You have no clue when to quit," Cain growled in a quiet tone that frightened more than his shout. "So I guess you need it beat into you." His blue eyes flicked to DG's. "Hit him."

So she did. The bottom of the skillet hit Hodges upside the head. His eyes rolled back and he slumped.

The blond man maneuvered Hodges's body around the stove and pitched him into the waiting arms of two other crew members. "Mr. Hodges won't be eating with us tonight. Put him to bed, please. And you might want to spread the word how handy my wife is with a skillet." Cain turned back to DG as the men carried Hodges out. "I'm sorry."

She hung the skillet under the cabinet. Of course, he would blame himself for her getting into trouble. "I stormed out. I should've gone to our quarters and locked the door."

Cain shook his head. "That's not what I'm apologizing for." She frowned in confusion at him. He sighed as he hugged her. She couldn't relax against him. "I want you out of danger because I love you. I'm sorry I didn't explain myself."

"I just want to help. Why is that so wrong?"

"It's not wrong." He stroked her hair. "I'm afraid of losing you, my darling girl. I want us to raise our child together."

"So I'm not just a job?"

He cupped her face before kissing her deeply. Damn him for knowing exactly how to make her knees go weak. "I shouldn't have said that." His thumbs stroked her temples and cheeks. "All I can plead is temporary insanity because of you."

"Me?"

"We had a way out that the Captain would not have fought, and then you wrecked it by letting your compassion take over. Putting your safety aside, it was a poor negotiation move. We could've gotten rid of the collars in exchange."

DG blinked as his hands dropped to her shoulders. "You don't negotiate; you're just supposed to do the right thing."

"At some point, we need to go over how your nurture units raised you." Cain shook his head. "'Cause I think they got the principles right but skimped on the practicalities."

She crossed her arms. "Are you implying I don't know how the world works?"

"No, I think you've had too many sources of information plus too many expectations slammed down on you for one person to make sense of." He kissed her forehead. "And I want you to start using that compassion you have for everyone else on yourself. Now out of the way."

DG moved to a corner and left the cooking to Cain while she mulled over what he had said. What compassion did she deserve when she had wrecked everyone's perfect lives they'd had before the witch? She tucked her feet on the seat of the chair made from a barrel and hugged her legs. That hid her face.

Cain wasn't her parents or the nobles in the court. He cared how she felt and what happened to her. When had Cain ever been wrong? And he was at least consistent. Stop blaming yourself, take care of yourself, I need you, I love you; his message hasn't changed, just grown longer. I really don't deserve him.

But her Tin Man was adamant about their relationship not being a scorecard of who deserved what. She watched Cain stir ingredients into a pot. You were coming to see me? He hadn't expected her to choose him for a relationship. You could have any man in the Zone. I'm honored you picked me, even if I don't understand why. He never thought she would pick him. With the way the Queen had sent him packing, he probably believed he didn't deserve her.

DG felt indignation rising inside and hid her non-poker face against her knees again. Her body shook as she tried to choke down her anger. How dare she! How could she! It didn't matter if she was Queen or just good at being a manipulative bitch, Galinda had no right to say who worthier than anyone else! That's what had driven her out of the Palace for good.

And now they told her it was the only way to survive in court. That she had to stop helping people, and become the manipulative bitch to not get stabbed in the back. Even Cain thought so.

Afraid of what you could do with true loyalty, friendships are denied. DG looked at Cain again. He loved her. Even if she hadn't loved him back, he would still be loyal to her. He left only because Jeb was threatened. DG was still furious about that. Raw was loyal to her without a doubt, and she felt sure she could count on Glitch and Az. But what was so scary about their motley group? She couldn't quite grasp what the Shaman had hinted at, and now she was tired of trying.

The crew drifted in for the evening meal, and DG roused herself to help Cain serve it. There was no way to discuss anything now, so she ignored her worries. Spencer looked better compared to the last time she had seen him as he tucked his violin under his chin and tested the tuning. "I should warn you, Mrs. Cain." He spoke seriously, but his brown eyes twinkled. "There is a wager that you won't dare sing again."

"Why do they think I won't?"

He shrugged as he set the violin in its case. "Never ask a pirate for a reason unless you want to hear a dozen inventions before noon. Though I think the reason with the most votes is you're too embarrassed by the response the last time you sang."

DG huffed, "I'm sick of people assuming things about me. Unbelievably, undeniably sick of it." She thrust Spencer's meal into his hands and moved to the next smirking crew member. Sick of people thinking she was helpless, too nice, a slut; sick of it didn't cover it.

Cain touched her arm the next time she passed the stove. "What are you planning?"

"What makes you think I'm planning anything?" She blinked and widened her eyes to look innocent.

"Now I'm convinced. What's going on?"

"Just enjoy the show." She escaped his interrogation and slid the last tankards down the table to their drinkers. Most of the crew was in the mess. What to sing? Something with the sea. She planted her hands on her hips. "I hear some of you don't think I have the guts to sing again."

The majority of the men looked embarrassed and contrite. Jenkins slapped his thigh with a roar of laughter. "I told you lot you couldn't sneak the wager past her! You got a song in mind, Mrs. Cain?"

She nodded and started singing the ballad.

"Message in a Bottle" by Sting
Download the Tin Man: Pirates of the Nonestic Soundtrack here

Just a castaway, an island lost at sea, oh
Another lonely day, with no one here but me, oh
More loneliness than any man could bear
Rescue me before I fall into despair, oh

I'll send an S.O.S. to the world
I'll send an S.O.S. to the world
I hope that someone gets my
I hope that someone gets my
I hope that someone gets my
Message in a bottle, yeah
Message in a bottle, yeah

Jenkins strummed his guitar matching the tune, surprising DG. She didn't think he was good enough to get the tune from her a cappella singing.
A year has passed since I wrote my note
But I should have known this right from the start
Only hope can keep me together
Love can mend your life but
Love can break your heart

I'll send an S.O.S. to the world
I'll send an S.O.S. to the world
I hope that someone gets my
I hope that someone gets my
I hope that someone gets my
Message in a bottle, yeah
Message in a bottle, yeah

Walked out this morning, don't believe what I saw
Hundred billion bottles washed up on the shore
Seems I'm not alone at being alone
Hundred billion castaways, looking for a home

I'll send an S.O.S. to the world
I'll send an S.O.S. to the world
I hope that someone gets my
I hope that someone gets my
I hope that someone gets my
Message in a bottle, yeah
Message in a bottle, yeah

This time the crew clapped, probably because she hadn't slunk off, never to sing again. DG grinned and bowed.

"What does S.O.S mean?" Drake scratched his chin under his graying goatee.

"A code, calling for help," she answered. Hopefully, they wouldn't want any more details.

He nodded, "Makes sense. How 'bout a round of "Drunken Sailor" before you sorry lads have to part with your money?" The majority agreed and Jenkins started a new tune on his guitar. Drake sang the first line of the verse that the crew then repeated twice.

"Drunken Sailor" by the Bilge Pumps
Download the Tin Man: Pirates of the Nonestic Soundtrack here

What do ya do with a drunken sailor?
What do ya do with a drunken sailor?
What do ya do with a drunken sailor?
Early in the morning?

Way-hay, up she rises
Way-hay, up she rises
Way-hay, up she rises
Early in the morning

Put a little lobster in his breeches
Put a little lobster in his breeches
Put a little lobster in his breeches
Early in the morning

Way-hay, up she rises
Way-hay, up she rises
Way-hay, up she rises
Early in the morning

Oh good, a song and not a drinking game. DG started cleaning as they bellowed the bawdy lyrics.

She and Cain had the dishes finished as the last crew members left. "I hope you don't want to go upstairs tonight." Cain banked the coals in the stove.

"I don't feel like any near death experiences tonight, so no. And we… we need to talk." She couldn't read the blank expression on Cain's face and wondered if that's how he got criminals to confess. Stay focused, girl. 'Cause you need to get this stuff straight in your head.

Cain didn't say anything until they reached their room. "What's on your mind, sweetheart?"

DG pulled up a sound barrier shield inside the walls. She wanted to pace, but with no room, she ended up rocking on her feet. "I don't want to turn into my mother."

"And that makes you different from every other person born how?" His half-smirk looked relieved as he sat on the bed.

"Because I've got you and perfect strangers telling me court will eat me alive unless I become a manipulative bitch!" DG stopped herself from clutching her hair.

"That's not what I was telling you. Besides, if you did, what possible need would you have for me in court?"

"I'm serious. We both know that we have to face them someday." Her fingers twitched to take an engine apart. "As tempting as waiting until the baby turns twenty is."

"Somebody will track us down before then. My money is on your sister."

"I can't go back to those suffocating games, Wyatt. And I don't want to raise our child in them either."

Cain sighed. "There's no way to compromise?"

She seethed. "I thought I was compromising. But how can it be compromising when the Queen doesn't give me anything in return? No choice in clothes, no choice in love, no voice in decisions made."

"If you ask me, she's due to fly the coop." Dani peered up through the bars of the birdcage. "She let the fox into the hen-house, and you put her back in charge? No wonder you need help."

DG turned to the cage in front of the barrels. "You haven't even said how you can help."

"And I'm not going to unless the pullet learns some manners." Her orange eye blinked at them. "You haven't introduced yourself or your rooster. Or let me out. I need to stretch my two legs same as you do."

DG flushed, realizing the bird was right, and separated the bars of the cage from the bottom holding Dani's nest. "Sorry. I'm DG, but we told the crew my name is Thea. And this is Wyatt Cain."

The chicken stood and flapped her wings as she stretched. "Pleased to meet you. I am Dani, daughter of Dora and Daniel."

"Are you a shapeshifter?"

"No, I'm a Chicken." Dani turned her head as she looked at DG and Cain. "So it's true, there are no more Animals in the Outer Zone."

"Only in history," Cain answered. "No one's sure what happened in the turmoil of getting Ozma the Great to the throne."

"Well," Dani clucked, "my own family started with a pair of ambassadors to the Land of Ev, then we got scattered throughout the Archipelago during the Upheaval."

"Upheaval?" DG turned between Dani and Cain. "And what do you mean there's no more animals? I've seen them."

He shook his head. "Talking Animals like Dani have been gone for ages. What were they teaching you for a whole annual?"

DG turned away from his concerned expression. "There was the three-month-long tour of all the major population centers with the time loop footage from the Tower to convince the population not to kill Az. When I got back, I was tossed into constant dance lessons, wardrobe fittings, and etiquette classes for a solid month to prepare for my rebirth ball. Then diplomacy lessons 'cause I don't have any, learning about all the treaties the witch broke and what reparations had to be made. Public appearances for almost everything that reopened in Central City. Then learning about the family trees of all the noble families I had to meet and foreign rulers, not my own 'cause of course I know if I had any grandparents, aunts, and uncles." Her voice went scathing. "Pathetic magic lessons with Tutor, who at least had the balls to tell me I was forbidden from learning real magic. Meetings with the nobles who wanted me to hire their daughters as ladies-in-waiting and their sons as honor guards. One count was pissed I wouldn't pick his terrified three-year-old boy! Then when Aedan joined the party, everything geared to what the Aurissauns expected out of a princess. When I asked why he wasn't conforming to what I wanted in a husband, I was told not to mess up the new treaty that would make everything better for the O.Z. Then I found out that wasn't even true." Anger leached out of her, leaving only despair. "She just wanted to throw me away again." She hugged herself. "It was easier to send me away with a prick I detested than face that I wasn't her Angel any longer."

Cain's arms pulled her to his chest while he kissed her temple. "You never got your memories back."

She turned in his arms to face him. "You're the only one who believes me. Everyone else acts like I'm faking to get out of something."

"Then they haven't bothered getting to know you at all."

"It has never bothered you, has it?" She stared into his blue eyes seeking confirmation.

He brushed her hair away from her face. "Other than a few panic attacks you would kill yourself by touching the wrong thing, no. You weren't the only one figuring out where you were and how you fit, my darling girl."

He grunted when she slammed their lips together, attempting to drive away the despair that no one wanted her with the physical proof that this man did. The only man she wanted, now and forever. She clawed at the clothes separating them.

Cain chuckled as he separated them and pulled off his black shirt. "And I thought I'd be in the barn tonight."

DG got her bodice off before pausing undressing. "Okay, barn equals doghouse. I considered finding a new room, but you apologized." She slipped off her capris.

His hands clutched her hips before he hugged her and nuzzled her neck. "I'm glad you changed your mind." His pants were already off, and he pulled away long enough to pull her shirt off. "You did change your mind, right?"

She crawled onto the bed, looking over her shoulder and not minding the way he stared at her ass. "I'm not going anywhere without you." She didn't even finish crawling into the bed before Cain was on the mattress and closing the shutters.

He grabbed her hips, stopping her from lying down. "This way, would it bother you?" His hands kneaded the muscles over her hips, down her thighs, across her ass, sending tremors through her core.

"No," she moaned. "Don't stop touching me, Wyatt, please." One of his hands moved around her leg to rub her clit. She spread her knees further apart as he moved over her. He kissed across her shoulders before blowing on the wet patch of skin. Her breathing hitched as the pressure coiled inside. Cain stopped rubbing to slide inside of her. He leaned over her back as she pressed her ass against his lower stomach. "Harder!"

He nipped her neck. "Hard, DG?" She moaned in response. He cupped her breasts. She rocked against him seeking the release of the building tension. He trailed his hands down her stomach to her hips. "Tell me."

She peered around her shoulder as Cain kept her hips pinned and unable to rock. His darkened eyes met hers with lust and something else swirling in their depths. "Love you," she moaned and the something else shone brighter.

"I love you too." His words were swallowed by the pleasure that took over her brain when he moved deep within her. Her voice keened with the fireworks. This love was a good thing, and she hoped they could show their child it was a good thing.

Cain straightened his back before crying out with his climax. He lay beside her and looked up at her face. He smiled without hiding it in a smirk. "How I love my wife." His hand caressed her face. "Do you have any idea how much I love you?"

She pressed her head harder against the palm of his hand. "Probably not, but you accept me for me. And it's not programmed or mixed with hating me for how I turned out."

"I'm not defending her." He wrapped his arms around her as she laid her head on his shoulder. "But your mother had only been ruling five annuals before the witch took over."

DG blinked as she picked her head up again. "She wasn't even Queen when I let the witch out?" Cain shook his head. "So she's afraid I will start another coup. That's why she kept me isolated." She held herself on her hands. "Is inexperience why she wants me married off to a prick who tried to rape me?"

He seized her arms. "What?" He didn't explode, he froze. He looked like Zero had walked into the room.

"Me and my big mouth."

"Sweetheart? Let it out." His hand caressed her cheek. "Please, you've held it in for too long. Talk to me."

"Boy, can I really spoil a mood or what?" DG let him pull her against his chest again. "I wanted to see the Western Guild Territories, not Aurissau."

"Why won't you tell me what happened?"

"Because he's not worth the bullet you will want to put in him." His hand continued to caress her shoulders and back. She pressed her face against his skin with a whine. "By the Winter Ball at the Northern Palace, Aedan had been around for a month and we were all sick of him."

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