Capture the Wind

Capture the Wind
Virginia Brown

October 2012 $14.95
ISBN: 978-1-61194-211-8

A rogue pirate. A beautiful Englishwoman. Who would win their battle on the high seas?

 
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Synopsis | Reviews | Excerpt

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He took her captive.

She stole his heart.

"I came down here to terrorize you into submission. I did not expect such easy capitulation.”

"How dismaying for you. Should I put up a defiant front to assuage your disappointment?”

"You’re a cool one, Miss Angela. I’ll give you that much.”

"Are you what they say you are, Captain Saber?”

A slight smile tilted his mouth up at one corner. "And what do they say I am, Miss Angela? Murderer? I’ve killed men, though I can’t say I’ve derived any satisfaction from it. Pirate? Quite true. Though at times, I’ve stolen things that belong to me, so I’m not quite certain what that does to my redoubtable reputation as a thief and scourge of the seven seas.”

He took a step closer, his voice lowering to a husky timbre that sent chills chasing down her spine. "That I am known as—let me see—a defiler of damsels? As for that reputation, I gladly plead...” His hand shifted, fingers tightening in her hair to draw her head back. "Guilty.”

Virginia Brown is the bestselling author of more than sixty novels including the bestselling Dixie Divas mystery series.


Reviews

"Virginia Brown always gives me what I need!" --Elizabeth Wentworth, Netgalley

"Capture the Wind is laced with humor and mystery… the perfect escape for readers who yearn to curl up in a leather chair before a roaring fire on a wintry day!" -- Cindy Vallar, Pirates and Privateers

"…the characters were quite funny and a strong heroine is my cup of tea!" -- Maria Cristina Nardini, Libri Tudine

"The book is a historical romance that was fast paced and enjoyable with the foul mouthed Lory (a parrot) and swashbuckling pirates topped off with a damsel who is running away from arranged marriage." -- Beckey White, GoodReads 

"…interesting premise, sexy hero, feisty heroine!" -- Margay Roberge, NetGalley


Excerpt

Prologue

London Docks, 1788

"Is that the ship, Charles?”

Elaine Davenport indicated a vessel docking at the Pool below London Bridge. Wind thick with the smell of foul water and rotting wood dislodged strands of her pale hair. Her gloved hand tucked the strays back into place, then pressed a scented handkerchief of Belgian lace to her nose. Her words were muffled. "I don’t see a dark-haired child among those along the ship’s rail.”

David Charles Edward Sheridan, Fourth Duke of Tremayne and heir to the fortunes of Sheridan Shipping, frowned at the ship nosing into its berth against the broad stone quay. There was the sharp, sour smell of refuse and fish. A forest of masts swayed in the river: huge East Indiamen, galliots, whalers, and tea clippers. Raucous sea birds swooped and circled above quays teeming with activity.

Charles shrugged. "I don’t see him either. Frankly, it’s been so long, I might not recognize him. Ten years, you know. I suppose he’s no longer a small child, as in the miniatures I’ve shown you. Christian would be... oh, he would be nearly seventeen now” Charles shook his head. "The time has passed so swiftly. Plainly, we should be looking for a youth instead of a small boy.”

Elaine glanced around the dock. Her fingers curled around Charles’s arm, and she murmured disdainfully, "Such riffraff gather here on the docks. It would have been much better to have waited for Filbert to bring him to the house, as I tried to tell you...”

Charles shot her a frown. "I was quite anxious to see him and did not wish to wait. He’s been gone so long, and with pirates, for the love of God—I want to see for myself that Christian is all right.”

"Yes, so you said.” Elaine released his arm to smooth a hand over the folds of her immaculate brocade skirt. "Well, I’m certain that once we are wed, I can help you eradicate some of the taint that stains his character. Imagine. It took four of Sir Ramsey’s men to coax him off that ship. Pirates. Dear Lord, and he’s been living among them since...”

She halted when Charles gave her a pained glance. It had taken him some time to accept his wife’s death and his small son’s disappearance. Now that Christian was finally coming home, his betrothed’s reminder of those painful years was a sharp jab. Elaine leaned close.

"If I’ve provoked uncomfortable memories, I apologize. It’s just that I am so distressed for what you must have suffered.”

Charles’s stare was level. "You should be more distressed for what poor Christian has suffered. To be kept in the care of pirates sailing the Spanish Main cannot have been pleasant. There is absolutely no way of knowing what he has been through in that time. Sir Ramsey’s letter mentioned that Christian was rather surly and distrustful.”

"Yes, I can imagine.” Elaine patted an offending curl of blond hair back into place and frowned daintily. "Still, it will take time and a great deal of discipline to remove the stain of years of piracy from the boy. You will have your hands full. Fortunately, my father has recommended an excellent school. It has only the best tutors for his education, and is known for the severity of its discipline when it comes to unruly, disobedient boys. I am certain it will do Christian a great deal of good to have the discipline he has certainly lacked in these past ten years.”

"Unruly?” Charles shook his head. "Not Christian. He was always timid to the point of annoyance. Scared of his own shadow. I cannot imagine how he survived all those years with pirates.”

"Can’t you? I should think...”

Charles tensed. "Look. The ship is lowering its ramp.”

Elaine’s reply faded into the rising hubbub around them as Charles strained to catch the first sight of his son. Dray wagons rumbled by loudly, wheels clattering over rough stones. Long brick warehouses stretched behind the quays, and stacks of cargo waiting to be loaded rose like small buildings. Charles shifted impatiently, staring past Elaine to the lowered ramp nudging the stone quay. He frowned.

"Where the devil could he be? I was certain Filbert would be right at the rail with him, knowing how I’ve longed for this day.”

Elaine tugged at the sleeve of his frock coat with a decisive note of censure in her tone. "Do not appear overeager, Charles. It’s unseemly in public.”

He turned, brows lifting. "Unseemly? To want to see my son after so long? You overstep your boundaries, Elaine.”

His reproof had the desired effect; she looked down, dark lashes lowering over remarkable green eyes. The soft bottom lip that so many men had gazed at with longing began to quiver slightly. Charles’s voice softened.

"I appreciate your desire for proper etiquette, but I cannot think of a previous example for a man’s son being returned to him after long years aboard a pirate ship in the Caribbean. There are no proper rules in this instance, I believe.”

Her voice was distant and cool. "I am certain you are right, but I do believe we should maintain proprieties, even on so joyous an occasion.”

"For God’s sake, Elaine—” he began in an irritable tone, but was interrupted by a commotion on the deck of the ship.

They both turned, just in time to see a uniformed seaman go tumbling over the rail and into the narrow space between ship and quay. A loud splash sent up a geyser of water, but did not drown out the lurid string of curses that accompanied the man’s fall.

These curses did not come from the sailor, however, but from the mouth of a youth being wrestled along the deck of the ship by no less than five men. Charles and Elaine watched in stunned horror. The knot of flailing arms and legs lurched closer, then balanced at the edge of the ramp leading to the quay below.

Ship passengers and those on the stones of the quay gave a concerted gasp. The tangle of struggling combatants swayed precariously, threatening to tumble into the narrow ribbon of water below in the same manner as the unfortunate sailor. Above the grunts and curses that accompanied the tussle rose a shrieking litany.

"Slash ’im! Stick ’im! Belay, mates! Ship to starboard! Awwk!”

A flash of scarlet dipped above the heads of those involved in the conflict; the beat of wings snapped against the wind. Charles and Elaine exchanged glances of dawning horror. They moved forward to arrive at the bottom of the ramp leading from the ship just as the combatants lurched onto the quay.

Flushed faces were a blur, then a burst of curses and dark hair exploded from the center of the men onto the flat stones and landed in a half-crouch. Snarling with a ferocity that would have done a Bengal tiger proud, the panting youth shoved a brown fist into the air and shook it.

"Bloody buggers. If I ‘ad my saber, I’d cut you inta too many pieces ta feed ta th’ bloody sharks...”

A flash of scarlet squawked again and settled in a whir of wings onto the boy’s shoulder. "Bloody buggers!” came the shriek, and the bird tilted its head to one side as if expecting confirmation. A brown hand stroked the wings, and then the boy turned in a whirl, eyes raking over Charles and Elaine with a hot blue gaze.

"Christian,” Charles said in a strangled croak. "Are you Christian Sheridan?”

A harsh laugh cut the air, and the boy’s lips curled in a sneer. "Not I, guv’nor. They calls me Tiger.”

"How appropriate,” Charles murmured in obvious relief. His gaze shifted to the breathless man limping forward. "Filbert,” he said faintly. "You look—dreadful.”

"Aye, Your Grace.” Filbert shot the youth a baleful glare. "Lord Christian seemed to find it an inconvenient time to disembark. We tried to persuade him differently, but he was rather... firm... in his decision to remain aboard.”

Charles slid a horrified gaze back to the boy. "This is Christian?”

As Filbert nodded morosely, the boy snarled, "Bloody ’ell! My name ain’t Christian. It’s Tiger. ’Ow many times do I have ta tell ya that, ya...”

He reeled off a list of colorful titles for the long-suffering Filbert, including several comments about the doubtful legitimacy of his parentage, while Charles listened in growing dismay and Elaine began to make gasping sounds of shock. As if just noticing her, the boy shot Elaine a raking stare.

" ’Ello, love. Ain’t you a bit young ta be with this ole geezer? I can toss yer skirts for ya if ya need decent diddlin’...”

Charles stepped forward and clapped a hand over the boy’s mouth. Reaction was swift. The youth turned in a savage whirl, a bare foot slamming into his father’s middle as he jerked away. The Duke of Tremayne made a muffled sound and slipped to his knees, while the men who had wrestled Christian from the ship to shore grabbed him.

Above the chaos, the scarlet bird circled gracefully in a screeching frenzy. "Bloody hell! Bloody hell!”

With a low sigh, Elaine Davenport, the daughter of the Earl of Southwild, slipped into a dead faint on the soiled stones of the quay.

Christian Sheridan stared at her with an expression of grim satisfaction, ignoring the clutching hands that held him still. A brisk breeze lifted his dark hair, stirring it against his bare shoulders and tugging at the bright red sash around his waist. Below the ragged knee-length trousers he wore, his legs and feet were bare. Sunlight glinted from the dark teak of tanned skin and immature muscle, and made the diamond earring in his left lobe glitter.

But it was his face that commanded the most attention, a caricature of youth with deep blue eyes that looked older than time. A faint scar ran from his left eyebrow to his cheek, and when he smiled, as he was now, he looked more like a dangerous predator than a boy of sixteen.

"Tiger! Tiger!” the bird screeched, and settled with a flap of its wings onto the torn shoulder of Filbert’s once immaculate frock coat.

Filbert shuddered, and looked at the boy staring back at him with hot, resentful eyes. "Lord Christian, may I present your father to you, His Grace, the Duke of Tremayne.”

Christian spat onto the stones. The Duke of Tremayne rose shakily to his feet and took a step forward. His voice was slightly unsteady.

"Welcome home, Christian.”

"Go to hell,” the boy snarled, and Tremayne turned.

"Bring him to our coach, Filbert. If that is possible. Oh, and someone bring Elaine ’round from her faint. It’s time to go home.”

Tension crackledin the wood-paneled library of Greystone Hall as if a towering blaze. The duke eyed his son with a mixture of frustration and trepidation. He leaned forward, knuckles gouging into the polished surface of his desk.

"What do you hope to gain by this display of rebellion? There is no reason for it that I can see.”

"Aye, so ya keep saying,” the boy flung at him. He sprawled his lean frame in a chair as if daring the duke to protest.

Charles held his tongue, though Filbert would have been beside himself at the insult. No one sat in the presence of a duke unless given express permission. And certainly not a wild-haired boy with a foul-tongued bird perched on his shoulder. The duke studied the bird, grimacing when the creature made a deposit upon the Flemish carpet.

"I would much prefer that you confine that nasty parrot to a cage,” he said tautly.

Christian stroked the bird’s feathers with a tender gesture. "He ain’t no parrot. He’s a lory.”

"A what?”

The boy’s lip curled with superior contempt. "A bloody lory. Cain’t ya hear good—yer lordship?”

Charles stiffened. "Christian,” he began, but was cut off by a rude oath and defiant glare.

"I told ya—my name is Tiger.”

The duke’s mouth tightened. "And I told you that I refuse to call you by that abhorrent name. Christian is the name your mother and I chose to call you, and—”

"Don’t dare mention her to me!”

Lithe as the tiger of his adopted namesake, the boy surged to his feet in a fluid motion that made his father step back and the bird rise into the air with an indignant squawk. Christian vibrated with a rage that left Charles floundering for words.

"Whyever not?” Charles asked after a moment of smoldering silence. "Why should I not mention your mother?”

The lory settled back on Christian’s shoulder, muttering several vile phrases that Charles ignored with only a slight tightening of his mouth to indicate he’d heard them.

Christian jerked around and began to prowl the room. His tattered trousers flapped around his knees. The only concession he’d yet made to conventional fashion was a loose white shirt with flowing sleeves. A red sash still circled his waist, and the diamond earring winked in gray light that streamed through tall windows lining an entire library wall.

With one hand clenched into a fist, Christian dragged it along a mahogany edge of the gleaming desk, then turned to face his father.

"You’re not fit to have kissed the hem of her skirts.”

Charles lifted a brow. "How did you arrive at this conclusion? Not that I argue the point, but I’m just curious.”

Christian took a step toward him, eyes locked on his father’s face. His diction was perfect, the ill-bred accent vanished.

"Do you really think a child of six is too young to understand what he hears? That he doesn’t notice if his mother weeps into her pillow at night?” He dug a fist into his chest. "I noticed. And I noticed when you had those men follow us, too. I may have been young, but I’m not as stupid as you would like me to be.”

Charles took a deep breath. His face was set, and his gaze did not waver. "I never thought you were stupid. Just too young to understand the implications behind my actions.”

"Understand? What was there to understand?” Christian gave a harsh laugh. "You hired men to catch my mother when she left you. You didn’t think I could recognize the difference between real pirates and men masquerading as pirates, did you? No, I can see by the look on your face that you didn’t. But I did. Oh, not at first, true. But later, after my mother had been tossed overboard by your hired thugs and we sailed away on another ship, I discovered the deception. We were attacked and overtaken by real pirates, and I knew the difference.” He looked away and took a deep breath. "Oh aye, I knew the difference well then.”

"Christian—”

"No.” Backing away, he shook his head. "You killed my mother as surely as if you had been the one to toss her over the rail without a thought.”

"You’re wrong.”

"Am I? Can you stand there and look me in the eye and tell me that you did not send men after us? That you did not give them orders to take me and get rid of her?”

"I gave orders for her to be followed and you taken, yes, but I would never have given orders to throw her overboard. She could have gone on to meet the man she was fleeing to—or did you know that? Did you know she was leaving me for another man?”

Something froze in Christian’s face, and he took an involuntary step back. "You’re lying,” he said in a hoarse whisper. "You’re—”

"Am I?” Charles took a step forward. "I don’t have to lie. If you say you remember so much, then try and recall the nights she left you alone in your cabin. Can you?” He took another step while Christian retreated backward, pain and denial on his youthful face. Charles continued grimly, "Do you remember her returning, all flustered smiles and whispers? You should, my boy. Because you and she were on her lover’s ship.”

"No.” Christian halted at last, back to the bank of long windows. He stared up at his father’s face where gray daylight picked out the bitter grooves on each side of his mouth. Denial strangled his voice until it came out only a faint husk of sound. "You’re lying.”

Charles’s mouth twisted. "Oh no. Kill her? Why would I? She should have had to face her shame—and me. But Vivian St. Genevieve would never have done that.” Charles put back his head and laughed, but it rang into the study with a harshness thick enough to be felt as well as heard. "She knew I would not give you up, and that is why she took you from me. I would have followed her to the end of the earth for you, and I damn near did. If you think to hear an apology for her loss, you’re mistaken.”

"You bastard...”

"Am I? Tell me, Christian—whatever makes you think your mother is dead?”

"I saw—”

"You saw what she meant you to see. Dead? Vivian?” The duke laughed harshly. "Oh no, my lad, not by half. No, your precious mother is quite alive, more’s the pity. She has just chosen to... absent herself from England, as well as from her husband and son.”

"If she’d been alive, she would have come for me,” Christian said tightly. "She would never have allowed me to be taken away like that.”

Charles gave him a mocking stare. "You are so young and naive, my boy. And much too trusting in the gentle nature of women, it seems. Life has yet to teach you the realities of the fair sex, I see. A pity. Until you learn better, I fear you will suffer greatly.”

For a long moment, Christian stood there. The bird on his shoulder muttered something obscene, then lapsed into silence as if sensing disaster. Without another word, the boy turned on his bare heel and stalked from the library.

Charles stared after him long after he’d gone. Shadows melted into night, and a fine drizzle coated the leaded glass panes of Greystone Hall before the Duke of Tremayne left his library.


 

 

One

Atlantic Ocean, 1802

"Don’t be a goose, Emily. Whyever would pirates attack our ship?”

Angela Lindell gazed at her maid with fond amusement. Dear Emily, so addicted to fantasy instead of fact, even when it terrified her. It was one of her most endearing—and irritating—qualities, and Angela was frequently moved to tell her so.

Emily Carmichael glanced over her shoulder at the gray waves surrounding their ship, then shuddered nervously. She turned back to her mistress. "Oh, Miss Angela, it’s said that pirates attack ships in these waters with no rational thought at all. Why, only last month, that horrible Captain Saber took three ships from these very same waters. Killed the crew, stole the goods, and”—her voice lowered dramatically—"and ravished the women.”

"Did he. How energetic this Captain Saber must be.” Angela curled her gloved hands over the side rail and leaned into the wind until it tugged her hair loose from beneath her hat. She caught at the pale strands whipping against her cheeks and murmured, "If I were to believe all the tales I hear about him from you and theLondon Times, the man is a veritable genius at being in two places at once.” Tucking her hair back under the bands of her hat, she turned to smile at Emily when she made her expected protest.

"Emily, dear, you’ve been with me since I was twelve. I have considered you my boon companion for these past dozen years. I must confess, however, that I have noticed your tendency to ignore the disparate facts surrounding any romantic myth you stumble upon. While most of the time I find it quite entertaining, I admit that I am not very much entertained now. I am set on my course, and the Scrutinyhas sailed, so you may stop trying to dissuade me.”

Emily gave a half-sob and pressed her clenched hand to her mouth. Her brown eyes were wide and moist.

Angela sighed. "Are you going to be ill again?” she asked, but Emily shook her head.

Shiny brown curls whipped over Emily’s pale cheeks. She mumbled through her lace handkerchief and fingers, "Whatever will your parents say when they discover that you and I are gone?”

"I’m well past the age for them to dictate my actions,” Angela said after a moment’s pause. "I realize they love me and want what’s best for me, but we cannot seem to agree on just what that is.” She managed a small smile of reassurance. "Once Papa resigns himself to my determination to wed Philippe and not that wretched Baron Von Gooseliver—”

"Gosden-Lear,” Emily corrected faintly.

"I find Gooseliver more appropriate. At any rate, once Papa and Mama have become resigned to the realization that I will wed Philippe, they will come ’round. They always do.”

"I think,” Emily said in the same faint voice, "that you may have underestimated Mr. Lindell’s determination to marry you into an excellent family. He seemed quite set on it, Miss Angela.”

Angela tried to hide her impatience. "Papa has it in his head that Philippe’s royal lineage is not enough to make a good marriage. Normally, I would agree. But Papa took an immediate dislike to Philippe, and never gave him a proper chance to prove himself. It was all over a ridiculous misunderstanding, and quite frustrating. If I deem Philippe a suitable husband, I do not see why my family will not trust my judgment. It’s not as if I’m a chit barely out of the schoolroom, you know.”

Emily looked down at her clenched hands. "But you hardly know him, except for his letters.”

"Nonsense.” Angela stifled a twinge of irritation. "One can truly come to know a man by his correspondence, and though Philippe and I may have been separated by miles, we are very close in a spiritual sense. He has written me almost daily for the past eight years, and I have come to know his soul.”

Emily did not look up, her voice a low murmur. "Do you not think, Miss Angela, that Mr. Lindell may have a point when he said that Philippe du Plessis cannot support you properly?”

"I think it frivolous of Papa to decide that Philippe only cares for his money and my dowry. Though it is true that the du Plessis family was devastated by the ghastly revolution in Paris, and most of them foully murdered by the rabble, that does not mean that Philippe is bound to me only by necessity. We corresponded, remember, even before those terrible times.”

Angela jerked irritably at her gloves, dislodging a tiny pearl button from one cuff. It pinged against the wooden deck and rolled through a scupper and into the sea below.

Emily bit her lower lip. "Yes, I remember your corresponding then. But you’ve seen him so rarely, Miss Angela, that perhaps you don’t know him as well as you should.”

"Nonsense. You haven’t read his letters. The written sentiments of the heart can be more revealing than physical closeness. Papa is being unnecessarily suspicious. Though I do understand his concern, I do not share it. He seems more worried about his plump pockets than my feelings.”

"Oh, that cannot be true,” Emily protested. "Mr. Lindell sets great store by your slightest wish, Miss Angela.”

"But not as much store as he sets by his senior partnership in City Bank, or his stock holdings in Sheridan Shipping, or all those sugar fields in the Caribbean, and tobacco plantations in the Americas—”

Angela halted abruptly. Emily’s soft brown eyes had lowered, and her teeth dug into her bottom lip to still its quivering. Her voice was shaky when she said, "I do not think that I shall care very much for this place called Louisiana, Miss Angela. It is said to be filled with hostile savages, and lizards large enough to devour entire villages.”

"More information from the Times, Emily?” Angela felt a surge of guilt at her maid’s dismay and put a comforting hand upon the girl’s shoulder. "I shan’t allow anything bad to happen to you. Haven’t I always been able to see us safe?”

"This is quite different than stealing away from Miss Hartsell’s Academy and making a day in Hyde Park, Miss Angela.” Emily drew in a deep breath. "Louisiana is far away from London, and far from Mr. Lindell’s protection.”

"True. But I’m quite capable in my own right.” Angela gave her a last pat, then turned back to the rail to stare over the choppy waves that seemed to stretch forever. It was nearing dusk. England’s shores had long since faded from the horizon, and she felt a swell of anticipation that bordered on excitement. A new world, a new life—and her beloved Philippe. What would he say when she arrived, and he realized what she had braved to join him? He would be overwhelmed, she was certain. This was, indeed, a drastic step for her to take, but it would be worth it when she saw his relief and joy.

She had several moments of pleasant reverie before Emily’s distress once more penetrated her dreamy haze. She sighed at the girl’s inability to envision their promising future and turned back to her.

"Emily, even Papa has always said that I am very resourceful. I beg of you not to distress yourself so. I have already written Philippe of our imminent arrival, so he will be expecting us. Once I am with him, Papa will be forced to recognize my determination and he will concede.”

When Emily still did not seem convinced, Angela shook her head. "At any rate, once Philippe and I are wed, you can return to London if you’re so very unhappy.”

"Are you certain your Philippe is in Louisiana?”

"Quite certain.” Angela’s hand dropped to the reticule dangling from her arm. She could feel the folded sheaf of paper in the small velvet bag that held her last communication from him. "He went to relatives in New Orleans after Papa’s abrupt dismissal of his suit. He was quite upset, you know.”

"I daresay,” Emily muttered.

Angela frowned. "You never have cared for him.”

Emily shook her head. "No, Miss Angela. I cannot say I have. But then, I do not care very much for foreigners.”

"That’s what comes of being born and bred in Yorkshire, I suspect. You should broaden your horizons.”

"Louisiana is broader than I should ever have wished to expand them,” Emily said so wistfully that Angela felt another sharp twinge of guilt.

"Oh, do not look so glum, Emily. All will be well. Let us not dwell on things too much.” She paused, then said, "I have honeyed dates below in my trunk, if you like. I know they are your favorite. Shall I fetch them?”

Even the promise of honeyed dates did not brighten Emily’s round face, though she finally nodded when Angela said she was going below to fetch the tin. "As you will, Miss Angela. Though it won’t help very much.”

Along with the guilt came a surge of exasperation. Angela dutifully tamped it down as she turned away from the rail and made her way to the hatch leading below the main deck. Emily had become more a friend than a servant over the years, but there were times when her timidity was a great trial. If there had been a way for Angela to travel without her, she would have done so, but she dared not flout convention any more than she was already doing. Besides, it would not be long before they were all back in London.

Of course, Angela mused as she felt her way along the narrow, musty passageway toward their cabin, she had never dared so much before. And there was the nagging worry in the back of her mind that despite her assurances, Emily’s fears might somehow prove true. However, nothing ventured, nothing gained, and she was convinced she was doing the right thing.

A thrust of pain at the memory of Philippe’s stalwart expression when Papa had ordered him from their home in Mayfair made her flinch. Poor Philippe. He had looked so despairing and heartsick at the betrayal. None of her protests had swayed her father, who stood firm in his belief that Philippe du Plessis would never be his son-in-law.

Why was she the only one who could see behind Philippe’s circumstances to the gentle, kind man he really was? She’d always considered her father more astute in his judgments. That he refused to reconsider his rash conclusion was painful.

After the scene in their parlor, Papa had arbitrarily announced his acceptance of Baron Von Gosden-Lear’s proposal of marriage for her; it had fused her burgeoning desire to flout convention, and she had immediately declared her intention to wed Philippe without parental consent. It had, of course, been a disaster.

Papa had bellowed and blustered, and Mama had wept and implored Angela not to even suggest such a thing. The dreadful interview had ended with Angela’s retreat to her room and nothing being settled. It had occurred to her as she lay sleepless in her bed, that her marriage to Philippe would be a very simple matter once it was a fait accompli. Papa would be forced to acknowledge Philippe as her husband, and Baron Gooseliver could slink off to propose marriage to some other young lady. She was made of sterner stuff than to meekly submit to something as important as marriage.

Angela pushed open the door to the tiny cabin she shared with Emily and lurched inside. Peeling off her gloves, she tried to keep her balance. The constant roll and pitch of the Scrutiny made her stumble about most clumsily. Really, you’d think that a shipping line as well known as Sheridan would offer better accommodations, though the purser at the main office had assured her that this was one of the best compartments available on a ship that did not normally carry passengers. Tucked into a corner of the ’tween-deck quarters occupied by the crew, the cabin had very little space, but did afford some privacy.

Angela eyed the narrow bunks with distaste and bent to fumble at the catch of her trunk. It had been stashed in a small space between bunk and wall; a tiny cupboard that held a washbowl and chamber pot was just above it. She tugged at the trunk, and succeeded in pulling it out enough to open the lid.

A sudden lurch of the ship slammed the lid shut, and she narrowly escaped having her fingers smashed. Without warning, the door to the cupboard slung open, and the washbowl and chamber pot tumbled out to roll across the dipping floor with a metallic clatter.

Mumbling to herself about the bleak comforts of a ship, Angela finally had them caught and stowed away again before she returned to her trunk. It took her a minute to find the tin of honeyed dates that she’d included at the last moment. A jumble of hastily packed clothes contended with gilt-framed miniatures of her family, hairbrushes, bottles of scent, and an assortment of odds and ends that seemed faintly ridiculous in retrospect. She smiled when she saw the porcelain music box she’d brought. Lifting it from the trunk, she turned the key to wind it. Light, tinkling tones were almost drowned out by the creaking and groaning of the ship, and she put the box to her ear and closed her eyes. Papa had given it to her for her tenth birthday. Scenes on the porcelain cover depicted unicorns and a maiden with long blond hair. Papa had said that he’d thought of her at once when he’d seen it, and had bought it for his own fair-haired maiden to enjoy.

A hot press of tears behind her closed lids made her sigh, and she opened her eyes and replaced the music box in the trunk. She could only hope Papa would understand and forgive her for worrying him. It had seemed like the only way to ensure her happiness with Philippe.

As she rose to her feet with the tin of comfits, the Scrutiny gave another heavy lurch to one side, then rolled so that she had to cling to the edge of a bunk to keep from falling to the floor. The rumble of pounding feet against the deck made her look up with a frown. She could hear the incessant piping of a whistle cut through the noise with annoying regularity. Why had she ever thought a ship would be relatively peaceful? It had seemed an idyllic interlude that would end with a joyous reunion with Philippe in New Orleans. She had quickly discovered that the ship was anything but quiet and idyllic, with piping whistles, the slap of canvas, humming lines, and roughly shouted orders.

Muttering to herself about shattered illusions, Angela made her way to the cabin door and threw it open. A shrill shriek gave her only an instant’s warning before Emily barreled into the cabin. Her face was contorted with terror and her words were an incomprehensible babble.

"Emily.” Angela gave her a slight shake by one arm that had no effect whatsoever. "Emily!”

"Oh... oh... oh Miss...”

Impatient with Emily’s hiccoughing hysteria, Angela gave her arm a sharp pinch that brought the girl to a gasping halt.

"Tell me what has you so distraught,” Angela demanded when Emily drew in a deep breath and seemed calmer. "Are you ill again? Why are you so hysterical?”

"P-p-pirates,” Emily stuttered, brown eyes as wide as saucers and her face as pale as milk. She clutched Angela’s arm. "Oh miss! We’re being chased by pirates!”

"Nonsense.” Angela’s tart denial was more to convince herself than Emily. "We’re barely two days out of England. Why would any self-respecting pirate be lurking practically in the English Channel?”

Emily moaned and closed her eyes. "I dunno, miss, I swear I dunno. I only knows that the c-cap’n told me to git below and s-s-stay here, as p-p-pirates are after us.”

It was evident by Emily’s descent into her broad Yorkshire dialect that she was beyond fear and bordering on mindless terror. Angela took pity on her, and gave her a gentle shove toward one of the bunks.

"Lie down, Emily. I shall go above deck and find out what is really going on.”

As she sank down onto the hard comfort of a bunk and put the back of a hand over her eyes, Emily said in a pitiful moan, "Don’t go up there, miss. Just the sight o’ that pirate’s black flag will give ye a fright. A saber. That’s what their flag has on it—a saber drippin’ with blood.”

"You’ve gone too far, Emily.” Angela tossed the tin of dates to the bunk and grabbed at the wall to support herself as the ship gave another lurch. "A dripping saber? It’s too melodramatic.”

Emily lifted her hand to peer at her with one eye. "Not this time. The Cap’n said it’s Captain Saber, the most dreadful pirate to ever sail the open seas. Oh miss, when I think of all those articles about him and what he does to the captives he takes...”

Having heard enough, Angela fumbled her way out the door and into the dank, musty companionway. It was evident that something untoward was happening, as even from below she could hear the thunder of feet and male voices lifted in excitement.

Still, the scene that met her eyes when she pulled herself up the ladder and through the hatch was a shock. Men in various stages of panic scurried over the decks, hauling lines, loosing sails, and jettisoning heavy cargo. It was the last that shook her most, the confirmation that something bad was definitely about to happen.

She made her way to the captain, ignoring his irate glance and brusque demand to know why she was above deck.

"Captain Turnower, what is happening?”

He grasped her by the arm, shocking her as he whirled her around and gave her a shove toward the hatch. "I don’t have time to stand here and explain anything to you. Get back below and stay there until you’re told to come out.”

Dazed, and fighting the rising fear that threatened to choke her, Angela fumbled for a steadying grip on the iron rail that edged the hatch. She looked up and past the decks. Her eyes fastened on the ship bearing down on them. Above the sails, fluttering in the wind, was the banner that Emily had seen. White against a black field, a curved saber dripped with a few scarlet drops of blood. The insignia amply identified the ship.

Captain Kit Saber. His name prompted a shudder, and she recalled news articles about him that she had always regarded as pure fantasy. Rumors about him abounded, from the ludicrous tale that he was the son of a duke, to the much more credible story that he was the illegitimate offspring of a wandering Englishman and a West Indian whore. As a pirate, Kit Saber struck terror into the hearts of seafaring men everywhere. He’d been said to take as many as six ships in a single day—though that was deemed improbable by most—and left behind no survivors to tell the tale of his depredations. Only a lucky few had escaped to whisper of his crimes against them, of his fierce, ruthless crew rumored to drink the blood of their victims before shoving them overboard at the points of their swords. Among his crew was a giant, with ebony skin and a tattooed face, and he and the captain were said to be in league with the devil.

Another shudder made her ache, and Angela stumbled back down the hatch to her cabin. Emily still lay moaning with terror on the bunk, and Angela ignored her as she moved to her trunk again. Somewhere... she had seen it in here just a few minutes before... ah, there it was.

Triumphant, she held up Papa’s small pistol, which she’d tossed into her trunk. It held only two balls, but would at least be sufficient threat to hold a savage pirate at bay long enough to barter for their lives and freedom.

She looked up to see Emily watching her. Her grip tightened on the pistol. "Do what I tell you, Emily, and do not argue with me. There may be no time.”

"Captain Saber.”

Kit turned, sheathing his sword as he glanced down at his sailing master. "What is it, Mr. Buttons?”

Fading sunlight glinted in his pale hair as Mr. Buttons pointed toward a hatch that led below the Scrutiny’s top deck. "Trouble below, cap’n. Turk is there.”

"Turk? If he’s below, he’s capable of handling any trouble himself. Captain Turnower and I have some negotiations to conduct concerning the surrender of his ship’s cargo.”

"But Captain...”

Kit had turned back to the white-faced Captain Turnower. Smoke hazed the air, burning his eyes and lungs, and Kit felt a wave of impatience to have this done with. The Scrutiny had yielded with the firing of only a few token shots, but some idiot aboard her had managed to set fire to a pile of tarred ropes. Normally, the transferal of ship’s stores and cargo from one vessel to the other was quite satisfying, but the stench of smoldering rope was making his lungs ache.

Mr. Buttons loudly cleared his throat. Kit gave the sailing master a fierce glare that made him swallow hard, but he did not retreat.

"Captain, it was Turk who sent me to fetch you. He said it was ‘most imperative’ that you come at once.”

A faint smile tugged at Kit’s mouth at the awkward mimicry of Turk’s speech. He nodded. "Very well, Mr. Buttons. Let me assure the captain that I have not forgotten him.”

He slid his gaze back to Captain Turnower, who met it without flinching. No pleading or whining here, but a man’s acceptance of defeat. It not only made matters go more smoothly, but always saved lives when the prey surrendered.

With a slight bow, Kit said, "Do be seated, Captain. My sailing master will see to your comfort until my return.”

Turnower gave a short jerk of his head to acknowledge his agreement, though he could have done little else. His heavy-bottomed merchantman was too slow to outrun a ship much lighter in tonnage and built for speed. The Scrutiny was outmanned, outgunned, and outmaneuvered. Turnower had recognized that fact early enough to save the lives of his crew.

Grasping the edge of the hatch with one hand, Kit swung below in a single leap, landing on his feet in the dark passageway below. The lamps had gone out and it was gloomy. The air smelled of damp wood and lingering traces of spices from forgotten cargo. He walked down the passageway in long strides, moving toward a lantern outside an open door. He could see Turk’s huge frame barring the doorway, and he stopped.

"What have you found that you cannot handle, Turk?”

Despite Kit’s obvious amusement, Turk did not seem to share it. He barely turned his head; lantern light made the black skin of his bald crown gleam dully.

"This young lady desires to have a word with you, Captain. I exhorted her to defer it until later, but she seems a rather precipitate person, and insisted upon conversing with you immediately.”

Turk’s mellifluous tones rolled loudly in the dark, silent passageway, and Kit lifted his brow.

"A young lady? Aboard a Sheridan merchantman?”

"So it seems, Captain.”

Kit eyed Turk’s unusual rigidity and the way he stood in the doorway; and suddenly understood his stiffness. He stepped to the side to peer over Turk’s shoulder.

A young woman stood in desperate determination, a pistol trained on Turk with fierce concentration. Kit stifled a laugh. How incongruous for the massive Turk to be held at bay by a slip of a girl with a tiny firearm no bigger than Turk’s palm.

"Very well, Turk,” he said after a brief assessment, "I will speak with her. Do move aside.”

"Oh, no,” came a voice from inside. "He doesn’t move. If you would be so good, Captain, as to converse with me over his shoulder, I won’t get so nervous that I accidentally pull the trigger of this pistol.”

Kit saw a muscle in Turk’s dark jaw clench, and he held his laughter. He didn’t know why he found it so amusing, given that most females didn’t know one end of a pistol from the other, hence being more of a danger in that respect than any other threat. And the glimpse he’d had of the feral little creature holding the weapon had been anything but reassuring.

Pale wisps of blond hair scattered her brow beneath the brim of a lopsided hat. Though she held the pistol with grim determination, he’d noticed the fine lines of stress on each side of her mouth. Any sudden movement might, indeed, cause her to squeeze the trigger. It would not ensure the accuracy of her aim, however, as the barrel of the pistol seemed to waver halfway between the cabin wall and the ceiling most of the time.

Kit drew back and leaned his shoulder against the wall of the passageway. "I am at your service, madam. Pray, make your wishes known, for I fear we are wasting valuable time.”

There were muffled whispers and scuffling feet, and he shot Turk a questioning glance. "What is she doing?”

"Predators of this nature seem to come in pairs, Captain,” the ebony giant observed. "We have a full complement of them in the cabin.”

"I see.” Suddenly wearying of the ridiculous delay in a play that had only one ending that he could see, Kit let his voice take on the hard edge that had been known to make men tremble. "Madam, if you value your life and health, put down that pistol before I take the decision from your hands.”

Silence fell. The ship creaked and groaned, and he could hear the thud of cargo bumping against hatches as it was transferred to his ship. He waited impatiently, and was about to repeat his demand in more explicit terms when he heard her refusal.

"No,” came the quavering reply. "If I relinquish the pistol, there will be nothing to stop you from doing your worst.”

"Damnation, there’s nothing to stop me now.” He levered his body away from the wall, patience rapidly waning, his voice sharp. "If you are foolish enough to shoot my quartermaster, you will very much dislike the results.”

"Not as much as he will, I would wager.”

"Perhaps not, but your fate will be more certain than his. If you shoot and miss, I will be no less angry than if you actually strike Turk. If you should be so unfortunate as to put a ball into him, however...”

He let his voice trail into significant silence. The promise of untold retribution would be much more effective than any wild threat he could concoct against an English gentlewoman at such short notice.

During the pregnant silence that fell, he noted the approaching ground swell from the slight shift of the deck beneath his feet. He flicked a glance at Turk, and saw that he had also detected the ship’s rising motion. It should provide a perfect opportunity.

"What will it be?” Kit demanded to distract the girl. "Do you surrender easily, or must we resort to extremes?”

"I... I only want mine and my maid’s safety guaranteed,” came the faintly breathless reply. Her voice quivered, not a good sign as far as Kit was concerned.

As the ship began a slow, stately rise, he moved forward a step, glimpsing the girl’s frightened bravado before the ship suddenly dropped again. The brief moment of abrupt weightlessness made the girl stagger, her pistol wavering. At almost the same instant as he, Turk leaped forward. A stifled scream sliced the air, and the booming report of a pistol deafened him as Kit lunged close behind Turk.

The sharp, acrid smell of sulphur filled the tiny cabin in a stinging wave. Turk gave a slight grunt. Kit had a brief impression of petticoats and slender legs in white stockings, then he had his hand around a fragile wrist.

With a jerk, he pulled forward a limp, pale-faced girl with a mop of brown curls. She promptly fainted with only a slight sigh, dropping to the floor by his feet. He turned his attention to the daring assailant, and saw that Turk had her pinned against the bunk with his massive bulk. The pistol lay on the cabin floor, smoke still curling from the barrel.

Kit scooped it up with one hand, tossing the unconscious girl to the bunk with his other. He stuck the pistol into his belt, then turned.

Turk’s muscled biceps were streaked with blood, and Kit muttered a curse.

"Bloody hell, Turk. She shot you.”

"So it would seem, Captain. I commend your acuity.”

Furious now, Kit reached for the girl, jerking her to him. Her hat was askew, dipping over one eye and half hiding her face. His hand tangled in a wealth of loose blond hair that had tumbled over her shoulder. It felt as clean and fresh as sunlight on a winter’s day; he dragged her close and tilted back her hat. When her small, patrician nose was only a few inches from his and he could see terror fill her grass green eyes, he said with deliberate cruelty, "I warned you that you would not like your fate.”

Her pupils expanded to darken her eyes with dramatic shadows. Fear shone in her gaze, fear and something else he could not place. He felt her muscles tense, saw the shadows in her eyes sharpen to purpose. Before he could react to this unexpected threat, the delicate little creature cowering in his grip brought up a swift, accurate knee.

Unprepared, Kit was caught in his groin by a blow only slightly softened by petticoat and skirts. He grunted in pain and released her to double over. There was a roaring in his ears as if he’d been standing too long on the gundeck. His vision blurred out of focus for a moment as he went to one knee and tried to hold the nausea at bay.

By the time he looked up again, his blond assailant was well in hand. Turk’s broad fingers curled around her throat in a menacing grip. Kit rose slowly and took a stumbling step, then another; he finally drew in a deep breath that felt riddled with needles. He straightened to his full height with only a slight wince.

"Take her topside,” he said in a voice that sounded strange. He eyed the girl’s flushed face for a long moment while Turk rearranged his hold on her. Turk seemed absorbed in the task of using her pink satin dress sash as manacles, and did not glance at him. Kit had the distinct impression that it was more because of a desire to hide his laughter than the pain the shallow burn across his biceps was giving him.

Kit turned away and, with only a slight limp, made his way to the upper deck.


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