"Put me down!" Lily pummeled his gear-covered back.
Bud looked on with confusion while Petty Officer Stevens caught her by both wrists. "You might want to think twice, ma'am. LT's packing."
She stopped struggling long enough to blow the hair out of her eyes.
"Explosives." The petty officer said with an apologetic shrug.
"Put me down, now! You damn walking time-bomb!" Lily squirmed against the lieutenant's hold as he hauled her from the pilothouse.
"Not until you say, please."
Like she'd beg him.
Lily cursed the toad with every swear word she could think of guaranteed to make even a seasoned sailor blush.
"Tsk, tsk." He clicked his tongue. "Such unladylike language. Not sure I could contort my body like that. But I'm impressed by your imagination."
He carried her down the ladder of the superstructure, down through the quarterdeck, the main deck and all the way down to the freeboard deck. When he swung around Lily grabbed the nearest rung and clung to it for dear life. He broke her hold with a tug and swatted her bottom for the effort.
It was the final humiliation.
"PUT. ME. DOWN. NOW." She said between gritted teeth.
He came to a halt in the deserted passageway.
The carpeted paneling provided some soundproofing for the crew and passenger quarters located on this level. But if she screamed now someone had to hear her. Provided there was anyone left on this level to hear her. They were seriously undermanned. The majority of the compartments were unassigned and it didn't appear as if her crew was being held anywhere near the crew’s lounge or quarters.
She mumbled the word over her rump.
She didn't dare raise her head for fear of hitting it on the low overhead ceiling.
"Didn't hear you." He started forward again.
"Please." She spat.
"That's more like it." The pirate took his sweet time gliding her down the length of his solid frame before setting her on her feet. Somewhere along the way she'd lost a shoe. Her toes curled into the marine-grade carpet as if that could somehow prevent him from hoisting her over his shoulder again.
Her sweater had ridden up just beneath her breasts, exposing the warmth of her skin to that cold chest-mounted tank. His hand at the small of her back felt like aloe on a sunburn, cool and soothing, a shock to her screaming senses.
"Better?" he asked.
She refused to thank him for restoring what little dignity she had left.
Lily tried to pull herself together and away from him. But while the freeboard deck passageways were wider and the overheads higher than those below the waterline, he still took up an impressive amount of space. She imagined he'd have to walk angled and hunched through the hatches below decks.
He leaned in and she shivered at the warmth of his breath on her neck.
Oh, hell no. He did not just say that.
She shoved against his tank. "Let go."
"I'm not the one holding on." He held his gun-toting arms out as proof.
Lily glanced down at her bunched up sweater. Her button appeared to be caught on the nozzle of the mini O2 tank, attached to the underside of his rebreather. She tugged again and then let out a frustrated growl. "It's not coming."
Large capable hands covered hers, sending tingles up her arms and back down her spine. She made the mistake of lifting her head and looking into his eyes. They appeared to sparkle with something other than ice for a change.
"Go easy. And it just might.”
"Take it off. Or I cut it off."
She slapped his hands away. “I’m not taking off my sweater.”
"We've tried it your way." He reached for the knife strapped to his thigh and twirled the wicked blade with the precision of a circus knife thrower. "Now we'll do it mine."
"Don't you dare––“
"We're not talking body parts." With a flash of the blade, the threads freed and the button flew. He snatched it from the air like a frog on a fly and presented it to her. "That was good for me. Was it good for you?"
"You really are a toad." She took the button from him and shoved it into the pocket of her cut-off jeans.
"I thought we'd already established Toad is my call sign." He thrust his knife back in its holster. "Can you dig it?"
He tugged her errant sweater, minus one button, back in place. It gaped at her naval and his hands lingered too long at the curve of her waist. The lopsided curl at the scarred corner of his mouth could pass for a grin.
"No one calls themselves a toad."
"Not a toad, the Toad. Been called a lot of things, but that's the one that sticks."
She looked him up and down in his wetsuit. "Well, you're no Thaddeus that's for sure. Guys like Thad have country club memberships and walk around with turned up collars and cable knit sweaters tied around their necks. They carry tennis-rackets, not automatic weapons."
She could see by the twitch of his jaw she'd struck a nerve. "Clearly you're overcompensating for something. Maybe just a Tad." She pinched an inch of air right in front of his bent out of shape nose.
"Not even close. I'm the man who'll make you scream for Miles."
"You're so full of yourself Lieutenant Thaddeus Miles Prince. Navy SEAL." Like she'd ever forget his middle name. She'd etched every last detail of their encounter into memory so she could report him to the authorities. "Miles sounds like a lab rat. I can picture the rat. But somehow I can't picture you in a lab coat and glasses. And you're nobody's Prince. So Toad it is."
He stared at her for several seconds. "You're right I'm nobody's Prince. But I could be your Toad in shining neoprene if you'd let me."
That didn't sound like someone who wanted to hurt her.
Her heartbeat played a crazy little game of leapfrog in her chest.
She heard those whispered words again.
His voice. But unless he was a ventriloquist, not coming from his lips.
Lily blinked back the crazy feeling she was hearing things.
Either way, it didn't matter. Two could play this Toad's game.
Leaning in to the scarred side of his face, she let her cheek brush along his scar as she brought her lips to his ear. "So you think you can handle my little button, Lieutenant?"
"I've got all your buttons covered, Captain."
"Good." She pulled back to look at his smug face. "I'll get you a needle and thread and you can sew it back on. And if you put your hands on me again you're going to need that needle and thread for your split lip."
He reached out and brushed the pad of his thumb along her lower lip. "Sock it to me, Captain."