A PIRATE’S WIFE FOR ME: Governess Brides #11
Once upon a time, in a country called Scotland, a headstrong young noblewoman fell in love with a idealistic young exile, and he loved her in return. But he was a prince in disguise and when he left her, she became bitter, wild and unruly, until the day she ran away to help overthrow an evil tyrant on the island of Cenorina…
On this mission, Caitlin MacLean met her lover again. Taran Tamson was no longer a youth, but the commander of a pirate ship, a stern warrior determined to fulfill his destiny by any means…and determined to hold her at any costs.
They were united in purpose, but she had grown into a woman cold, practical and accomplished, and she had no use for love. For how could she ever again trust this harsh, ruthless man who had broken her heart?
ExcerptPoole, Dorset, England, 1843
In all his degenerate life, he had seen only one woman who walked like that — like a great cat, pacing along, stretching out her legs in a slow, pantherish stride that made a man turn and look, and wonder with fascination how it would be to part those legs and ride.
Would she scratch? Or would she purr?
Like all the other sailors in the pub, he turned to watch her stroll past, a flowered carpet bag clasped in her narrow fingers. He saw the auburn hair, tucked tightly into a chignon, the tall, lithe figure with its tiny waist and high breasts, and the green, lucid eyes which wavered neither right nor left, but gazed directly at Cleary, the pub owner.
And he knew she would scratch. And purr.
What in the hell was Miss Caitlin MacLean doing at night in the roughest dive on the Poole docks?
Silence assaulted Cate as she made her way across the uneven wooden floor. She ignored the aggressive masculine stares. She was used to attention. One didn't get to be twenty-five, six feet tall, and blessed with red hair without knowing that when one stepped into a room of strangers, a hush would fall, followed by a flurry of whispers.
She never took notice. Nor did she now.
She kept her gaze fixed on the large, battered, middle-aged man behind the bar. He stood polishing a glass with a grimy towel. The stench of body odor, ale and cigars assailed her. Cheap candles smoked in their sconces set on ash-darkened walls. Sailors scattered as she approached. Placing her hands on the battered plank that was the bar, she leaned forward, and in a low tone, asked, "Are you Mr. Cleary?"
"Aye, that I am." He bent toward her until his bulbous, red-veined nose almost met hers. "Who th' hell are ye?"
She adjusted the heavy traveling bag in her grip. "I am Miss Cate MacLean, and I'd like to rent a room for the night."
He rocked back on his heels. "No. Get out of here. I don't keep doxies in me pub."
She couldn't help it. She laughed. "Don't be ridiculous, my good man. I am most certainly not a doxy! Unless doxies have taken to dressing in black bombazine." Black bombazine which buttoned all the way up to her throat, she might add. "You're expecting me. I'm –" She glanced around. Every eye was fixed on her. In a voice pitched to reach Mr. Cleary's ears alone, she said, "Mr. Throckmorton sent me."
He froze. He darted a glance over her shoulder. As if receiving a command, he nodded. She wanted to look behind, to see who directed him, but he returned his attention to her. "Upstairs, last chamber on yer left. Lock th' door, don't open it until th' Cap'n comes up."
Turning, she sought the man who had commanded Mr. Cleary. The man who would command her. She looked through the pall of smoke at the gauntlet of sailors and drunkards, thieves and fools, seeing each one, but allowing her gaze to linger on none. In the eight years since she'd lost her reputation, she'd perfected the trick. Only the most degenerate of men could imagine that cold, impersonal appraisal indicated interest.
Unfortunately, as she'd discovered, a great many men inhabited the world, and some of them were, indeed, most degenerate.
One, a broad-shouldered creature with black hair to his shoulders, stood with his back to her, talking in a low tone to a shorter fellow. Was he the man she'd been sent to seek?
Perhaps. Perhaps not. In this underworld of criminals and spies, she dared not make assumptions.
Mr. Cleary thrust a lit candle and a large, iron key at her. "Take this and go upstairs, Miss. Ye'll cause a fight if ye don't."
She clasped the iron ring and strode across the taproom to the stairwell, and up. She heard no sound from any of the rooms, but light shone around the casement on the first door, and she walked quietly past.
Don't call unnecessary attention to yourself, Mr. Throckmorton had instructed, yet always maintain an imposing demeanor. His gaze had flicked over her six-foot tall frame. But you already know that.
She did know it. She had learned much in the long, lonely years while all her playmates met and married. A single woman could go all the places that a married woman went, as long as she moved with confidence, as if she owned the earth.
Going to the last door on the left, she opened it cautiously. The raised candle illuminated a small, well-maintained bedchamber. Shutting the door behind her, she fit the key in the lock and turned it. She deposited her traveling bag and her candle on the table, and removed her black leather gloves.
There. She dusted her fingers. So far everything about her assignment had gone flawlessly. Of course, that included nothing more than traveling from London to Poole on the train, finding the tavern, and getting a room, but each success built her confidence. She could do this. She had to do this. She owed it to her brother. To Kiernan.
A knock sounded on the door.
The Cap'n. Or perhaps … someone less benevolent.
Going to her bag, she pulled out her pistol – loaded, for she hadn't dared to come to the docks unprotected – and slid it under the pillow. Accessible, but not obvious. Going to the door, she leaned against it and asked, "Who is it?"
A deep voice answered. "The Cap'n."
She turned the key, opened the door, and stepped back. In the darkness of the corridor, she could see nothing but a tall, broad outline of a man in a collarless white shirt and black, form-fitting trousers. He was taller even than she was – a rarity. His shoulders spanned almost the entire doorway.
Then he strode into the room, and the pale light of the candle illuminated his countenance. Gray eyes, chilly as sea fog. Black hair, straight, cut too long, and tied at the back of his neck. Features sculpted by heredity and harsh experience. A trimmed black beard. Wide, plush lips that looked as if they knew how to kiss a woman to ecstasy … as she knew very well they did.
She had hoped never to see his face again.
Taran. Taran Tamson. Her friend. Her enemy.
Her first and only lover.
And the man who had broken her heart.
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