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DARE THE WIND (Touch the Wind Book 3)
by Erinn Ellender Quinn
Length 68,069 words
Release Date April 1, 2017
Amazon e-book http://mybook.to/TW4
BLURB: Irish sea captain Tristan O’Dea still feels the sting of rejection when he sails to Havre with a warning of danger to his commander Justin Vallé’s family and an offer of safe passage for his half-brother and sister and their mother, once Vallé’s late father’s favorite mistress. Expecting to find Madame Visconti, Tristan is met at the door by an artist’s model wrapped in a sheet and looking like moral sin.
Living near poverty, Vallé’s widowed half-sister Jessenia Bougeureau has been forced to pose for a sculpture. She is living at the mercy of an unscrupulous man who holds a portion of her mother’s property as collateral for loans that they cannot replay. So far, she and her brother Nicolai have managed to keep their mother’s death a secret from him. Captain O’Dea’s offer represents a chance at a new life, a new world for Jess, and safety for her brother until the danger posed to their family is past.
Jess is a harpist and a composer. She hasn’t written music since her husband died. Watching the giant Irish sea captain, with his Celtic knotwork tattoos and sculpted body, during morning exercises, for the first time in years, she feels inspired. Rescued by Tristan, free to choose, she’s about to make him an offer that he cannot refuse.
“Do you know what I am?” she asked him.
As ucht Dé. For God’s sake, she was every man’s fantasy come to life and here alone with him. He was captain of this ship and responsible for everyone aboard, including her and her swordsman brother.
“First and foremost, ye’re Justin Vallé’s sister, and I swore him an oath that I would take care of ye.”
That’s exactly what Jess was counting on.
“I am a muse,” she told him. “It’s what I do. I inspire, with my music, with my voice, with my body. My husband was a poet, did you know that? He made me look him in the eye while he took my maidenhead. He committed it to memory and described it in glorious detail in his next book. He invited the world into our bedroom. Men and women everywhere wanted a taste of the passion he described. I was ashamed, and angry. I grew tired of constantly fending off advances. I became a recluse for a time. Bernard lived for his art, and went to salons filled with his adoring fans. Some were single. Some were married. He died in a dual with but one of many cuckolded husbands.”
Jess closed her eyes and took a breath, and let it out softly, slowly, gathering herself. When she opened her eyes and looked at him, the Irish giant nearly took her breath away. She’d never felt such motion in his stillness, like a coil wound tight, ready to be unleashed.
What she did next was risky, but she needed to know. “Tell me of the vicar’s daughter.”
O’Dea rubbed his jaw, as if wondering at the wisdom of answering. “She married the Spaniard.”
“Tell me about the vicar’s daughter.”
The Captain blew out a harsh laugh and shook his head. “And what would ye have me say? That I offered for her, too? That I made her faint when I kissed her? That she landed half naked in my arms and for months, all I could see in my dreams were small, coral tipped breasts?” By the time he finished, he was talking through clenched teeth and was close to tossing her out.
She pretended not to notice.
“Did you cry?” she asked.
He looked at her with some confusion, as if he was uncertain that he’d heard her correctly. “What?”
She angled her head, studying him. He did not like being caught off guard. He did not like being off balance. She would have to be careful with surprises.
“When you learned that she chose another, did you cry for her?”
“No,” he shifted, uncomfortable in his chair. “No. Not that it’s any of your business.”
“But it is,” she insisted. “Anyone worth having is worth a tear or two. If you did not cry, she was not meant for you. She would not have made you happy. I propose,” she said, “that we help each other. You need to forget the Spaniard’s wife, and I need to remember what it is like to make love to a man of my choosing. You promised to take care of me. My question is, will you, or not?”
REAP THE WIND (TOUCH THE WIND BOOK 3)
by Erinn Ellender Quinn
Release Date February 1, 2017. Length 67,061 words.
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Kidnapped, rescued, framed for murder, Michal Bethany Lovett is torn from her old life and must now make another. When an Irish sea captain and the son of a Spanish spy both offer her a future, she must choose between a gentle giant and a man who sleeps with a dagger beneath his pillow and a loaded pistol by his bed. But only one of them has the magic of Spain in his blood….
Michal Bethany Lovett has led a rather quiet life. As the vicar’s firstborn child, she is expected to care for her eleven younger siblings and help meet the needs of her father’s congregation. While sitting with a widower’s six children, Michal is mistaken for his wife and is kidnapped. Her abductors encounter a group of escaped prisoners and offer her up as a distraction that allows them get away. The arrival of a third group sees her rescued before her virtue is lost, but they take her back to their ship, where she lands half-naked in an Irish giant’s arms.
Tristan O’Dea sails for Justin Vallé and commands the Yseult. His orders are to eventually see the young woman home, after deeming it safe to return, or take her wherever she wishes to go. But first, they need to know why she was in the home of the prison guard who’d been bribed to allow the escape. Remembering the feel of her in his arms, not trusting himself around her, he leaves the questioning to Vallé’s lieutenant, Rafe Quintanal.
Rafael Antonio Santiago Quintanal is the bastard son of Spain’s greatest female spy. He was born. Trained. Instructed in weapons and martial arts. Taught to obey without question and do his duty without fail. To safely return the vicar’s daughter means learning who she is, but she is a distraction he does not need. An inconvenience at the least. A liability if he lets her be one.
He’s never before let a woman that close—another thing he can place at his madre’s door. He doesn’t intend to start now.
Rafe watches her from a distance, curious as to what makes her tick. Like the workings of a clock, what gear engages her hands to shape a subservient pose, clasped primly at her waist, head slightly bowed, even when one corner of her mouth is curved with secret humor? What wisdom makes her fair skin seek the shade, and what lures her out, to lift her face to the sun before retreating to the safety found in the shadows? What kind of woman is she, to be associated with a beast like Lewis Simon, the night guard at Port Royal prison who enjoys making men cry? Is she so innocent, to know nothing of the man’s nature?
Who is she?
And why does he care?
Return proves impossible when O’Dea and Quintanal learn that Michal is wanted for murder. When both men offer her a chance at a future, the vicar’s unconventional daughter must choose between a gentle giant and a man who sleeps with a dagger under his pillow and a pistol by his bed.
This book is written as a standalone but continues the timeline that starts in TOUCH THE WIND (TOUCH THE WIND BOOK 1). Written for ages 18+.
Rafe could feel the Anglo’s eyes on him. He tried his best to ignore it, tried not to think of how she’d been described by the men, who had seen her twin jewels when she’d been taken, and again, when she’d been brought aboard the Bold Avenger. Capitán O’Dea had actually blushed beneath his beard.
She was a distraction he did not need. He’d been trained since childhood to analyze, to fight, to survive. Right now his instincts were telling him to stay as far from the Anglo as he could, without being discourteous. It was not her fault that she was in the wrong place at the wrong time. The only reason he would have to speak to her was for information. They needed to know how much she knew of the prison break and Bryce Vallé’s betrayal, and the extent of her involvement. He needed to learn who she was before he could determine the best way to be shed of her.
Rafe knew Vallé. Nothing as simple as marooning her would do, or foisting her off on another crew headed for Jamaica. No, someone would have to take her back.
Chances were, that someone was him.
Rafe Quintanal tested the weight and balance of the sword in his hand. Pity, there was no one to really engage with. None here came close to being his equal. Instead, he trained the others. Only a few had begun to grasp the nuances of the different lineages. One of his instructors was a purist. Libro de las Grandezas de la Espada had been his Bible. His deepest regret was that Rafe, being base-born, would never be allowed into the Order of Santiago.
Through the years, his other instructors were students of the French, German, Italian and Spanish schools of the sword. And in a class by himself, Sir William Hope, the renowned Scottish fencer and swordsman who died from dancing, having overheated himself at an assembly.
Rafe had learned many disciplines, including the long and short sword, the longer rapier and the smaller espadin, sword and capa, sword and knife—alternately wielding the navaja, the long Spanish knife, or a finely balanced Italian dagger. The circumstances of his birth that made him Spanish but precluded him from the Order of Santiago had not blinded him to the richness of diversity. It appalled his mother that he was so fond of the Italian school, favoring it over the Académies du Roy.
Calmness, vigor, judgment. He lived and breathed them, from years of discipline, practice, and training. Between sets, he allowed his gaze to wander to the yellow-haired waif in absurd, borrowed clothes. The only things plainly hers were her stockings and the spectacles perched on her nose.
In an odd way, she reminded him of his mother. Most young women would not be flattered by the comparison, but then, they did not know his madre, whose skills with a dagger nearly matched his own. No, it was the serenity that came with acceptance, like water forced to flow one way, seemingly unresisting but effecting change nonetheless. Given time and persistence, water carved rock. Her presence changed everything.
Michal went up on deck. The moon was still bright, and the clouds had cleared, revealing a canopy of stars that stretched past the far horizons. The Spaniard came up with her. She should have felt protected—she’d seen his morning exercises—but something about him was unsettling.
She wrapped her arms around herself and shivered.
“Are you cold?” he asked, all solicitousness.
“Spanish is such a musical language,” she said abruptly, refusing to admit she was cold or frightened or both. “I wished I knew more of it. I know some Bengali, mostly Choltibhalsa, but with so many dialects, I found it more confounding than anything. Fortunately, Liam became fairly fluent.”
“Your brother,” he said, as if it answered some question in his mind.
She caught her bottom lip between her teeth and pushed up her glasses. “What will happen?” she asked him bluntly. If it all goes wrong, and I can’t go home.
“If it is safe, you will stay. If not, we will take you elsewhere. You have family in England, perhaps? Capitán Vallé is master of his own island, in French waters. You will be safe, and there are other women, two near your age, you will not lack for company. They were discussing starting a school for the island children. There is need for a teacher. I say this only to remind you that you have choices, mi querida. A beautiful woman like you, you should be raising your own children, not someone else’s.”
Michal inhaled sharply at the sultry warmth in his voice. No one had called her beautiful since Bermuda. Not since Daniel….
“Tell me,” he whispered. “What is the sadness I see in your eyes? What made your padre take you to India? What did you learn of yourself while you were there?”
She’d never spoken of it, not to anyone, but he was sworn to keep her safe and in a few days she might never see him again.
She took a deep breath and told him of Daniel.
“I was fifteen,” she said. “There was a young officer, just rotated in, who came to an assembly, and we danced.” She could feel the music still, and let herself be transported for a moment. “He—we—formed an attachment. Father did not approve. He packed us up and moved us to India, and Patience blames me still. She’ll never forget it. Will never forgive me. She makes Liam and me pay daily for those rare times we escaped, instead of staying to share her misery.”
“Visiting temples with your brother,” he said. “Admiring the art.”
“That wasn’t the worst of it,” she admitted, studying the stars. “Here, everything is so young. In England, it’s hundreds of years older, but even dead rings of standing stones cannot compare to what you will see in India. It is…ancient and alive. There are…things there. Practices…” She slanted a look at him, wondering how much to share with a man who looked like a fallen angel, who called her beautiful and sounded as if he meant it.
Later. Perhaps later, she might ask him what he knew of the Sixty-Four Acts.
She’d said more than enough for tonight.
She fell asleep waiting for the men to return and was roused by an insistent rap on the cabin door. In her hurry, she did not stop to put on her glasses, but there was no mistaking O’Dea’s giant frame. The Irish captain looked concerned to see her so.
“Are ye well, lass?” he asked, daring to touch her face.
It was the first time he’d let himself, since the night she was kidnapped, when he had held her in his arms and had seen her naked breasts.
“Aye,” she whispered hoarsely, feeling the heat rise in her cheeks.
The light of concern shifted to a lambency that made his pewter gray eyes darken. The next thing she knew, he took her face between his two large hands and bent himself down, and he kissed her.
She’d never been kissed by a man with a beard. It was decidedly different. His wide lips were soft, but insistent, demanding a response. When she hesitated, he angled his head more and went deeper, skimming his fingers down the arch of her throat, feeling the pulse that beat quick in her veins. The ocean roared in her ears, and she must have swooned. When she came to, she was lying in the middle of the captain’s bed.
Rafe Quintanal was sitting beside her. The quirk to his lips bespoke his particular amusement.
“It’s not funny,” she whispered, closing her eyes and taking inventory. She didn’t hurt anywhere. O’Dea had stopped her from crumpling onto the floor.
“No, it is not,” the Spaniard allowed. “My apologies, mi querida.”
She did not have on her glasses, to look into his eyes and see. Forced to use her other senses, she listened to the meter of his breath, felt the pitch of the mattress change when he shifted his lean fencer’s body closer to her, heard the subtle difference in his voice—a nuance that would have been easily missed, were she not so focused on him.
“That’s twice you’ve called me that,” she whispered. “What does it mean?”
He looked at the window, searching for words. “It is a common phrase. A term of endearment, if you will. In English, you might say, oh, darling, or sweetheart, or dear. In Spanish, we say mi querida. For a man, you would say mi querido.”
“And how do you say ‘beloved?’ in Spanish?” she asked him, wondering why she did it, wondering why she needed to know.
“Mi amada,” he said, smoothing her hair away from her face. “Or mi querida….”
He did not take his hand away. He held himself, suspended. Then…there it was again, that perceptible shift that made her breath catch in her throat, and for the second time that day, a bearded man bent down to kiss her.
“Mi querida,” he whispered. The word vibrated against her skin as he brushed his lips against hers. His mouth was framed by a carefully shaped beard and moustache, neatly trimmed with an exotic appeal, to feel the smoothness of his upper jaw where he shaved it, and the masculine adornment worn in the Spanish mode. She felt her body quicken, felt a fullness in her loins that contrasted sharply with the empty ache she felt at the core of her being. When she touched his face and parted her lips, inviting him to deepen their kiss, he inhaled sharply and pulled back. He caught her hand and kissed her fingers, then lifted his head to look at her.
“No, mi querida. We cannot.”
She swallowed hard, thinking of India and wondering if he meant more than a kiss. Surely he didn’t think she could be tempted to lie with him? Dear heaven. It was bad enough that he had kissed her in the captain’s bed, but to think that she’d kissed him back, had responded to his advances….
Her body still thrummed, demanding more.
Michal was mortified by her wanton thoughts. “You’re right, of course. I’m sorry. I—”
“Don’t,” he murmured. “You shall have me for a few more days yet. Capitán Vallé orders me to take you to Port Royal.”
“Aboard which ship?”
It was probably just as well she didn’t have on her spectacles. There was a world of weight in that single word.
Rafe stood, and the mattress shifted, missing his warmth and his mass. “I answer to Vallé, but we sail with O’Dea. We will not dishonor him.”
“You’re right. Of course.” She wished he would leave so that she could curl up and die.
“Patience, mi querida. I promise you, it will be worth the wait.”
Again, that subtle nuance, that let her know exactly what he pledged. And her silent acquiescence, letting him know that she agreed to his terms.
She had plighted herself to Rafe Quintanal. He was taking her to Jamaica, but somehow, somewhere, sometime before their paths parted, he would take her in his arms and kiss her again, and then…then, unless she stopped him, there would be no turning back.
He was there. Somehow she had wanted the Spaniard to come. She burned for him. There was no hope for her. She very much feared that she was already lost.
“Tears?” He was so attuned to her, he knew she was crying before she realized it herself.
“It hurts,” she admitted, gripping the railing.
“I know,” he said, maintaining distance, making no move to touch her.
“Is there nothing to be done?” she asked, embarrassed by the torment in her voice, wishing she did not sound so desperate, wondering what he must think of her. “I fear I do not have your strength.”
It was late enough, the rest of the ship was asleep, save for those on the far watch, or below in the wheelhouse. The Spaniard came to stand behind her. His breath was hot on the back of her neck. Dressed in breeches as she was, when he pressed closer, she could feel his arousal, proof that he was not unaffected.
The gentle breeze did nothing to cool the fever in her blood.
“When I was in India,” she whispered, aware of the need for quiet, “my brother got hold of a book, and a girl who could tell me what it said. There were pictures,” she said, “of men, with women. They practiced different forms of touching, different paths to pleasure. There are ways to satisfy…without—without…penetration….” Oh, if he only knew how hard that was, for a vicar’s daughter to speak it! “There are other ways, if you think it important that I be a maiden still….”
“Niña dulce. Sweet girl,” he said, and taught her but one of them.
He kept his back to the ship, shielding her with his body as he pulled her to him, keeping the sides of their hips against the rail. Reaching around, he undid the buttons of her jacket and pulled her shirt free of her breeches. He slid his hands up her body, under her shirt, and claimed her aching breasts. He whispered for her to unfasten the top two buttons of her breeches, and he slid his fingers down her belly and through her nether curls until he found the hot, moist core of her that lay beyond. There was a place that crowned it like a jewel, and he cherished it.
Michal turned her head, as hungry for his kiss as she was for the touch of his magician’s hand, but he denied her the taste of him. Instead he tasted her, the lobe of her ear, the side of her neck, and the base of it. When he found the spot at the top of her back that made her shiver, he bit it. Not hard, just the scoring of his teeth. the suction of his mouth, and the pressure of his tongue upon her skin. The pressure built, and a new tension took hold. If not for the railing, she feared her trembling legs would not have supported her.
He knew what to do, and she let him.
She bit his finger to keep from crying out when she shattered in his arms.
He was not through, cruel fiend, and broke her twice more before he unfastened the buttons on his breeches, took her hand, and wrapped her fingers around his manhood. It was long and hard, erotic and exotic, an experience to add spice to her life, to be savored and relived in her memory once he was gone. The contrast was intriguing: a sheath of supple skin over a pillar of hard, male flesh that more than filled her hand.
She tried not to think of how it might fit, or how it would feel inside her.
Rafe thrust his hips, pushing into her small hand, guiding it with his own and pumping until their fingers found the rhythm that he needed to achieve his own release. His breath grew harsher. His rhythm quickened, then broke. Inhaling sharply, he pulled her hand away but kept stroking himself, pivoting just in time to spill his seed over the side.
Keeping his back to the rest of the ship, he turned her to face him, tucking in her shirt, fastening her borrowed breeches, buttoning the jacket that hid the twin jewels of her breasts. He had a harder time—his body yearned for her still—but he finally managed the buttons on his breeches.
He smoothed the hair from her heart-shaped face and brushed her lips with his, a silent benediction, marveling that the vicar’s daughter was her own book of revelations.
“I’m sorry if I hurt you.” Michal lifted his hand and kissed the finger she’d bitten. “I didn’t realize what would happen when you—when I…when I…came apart.”
“The little death. La petite mort, the French call it. Some women know nothing of it, their entire lives.”
And she’d died thrice. How extraordinary.
Society might dictate that she should be ashamed, but in this moment, she felt deliciously relieved, and oddly grateful. Lifting her face, she met his enigmatic gaze and simply said, “Thank you.”
Those carved lips curved in a tender smile. His voice was like black velvet. “Gracias y de nada.”
She repeated it, and he rewarded her efforts with a true kiss.
Framing her face with his hands, he brushed his lips across hers, then claimed her mouth with his own. It was exquisite, like making love with mouths and lips and tongue. He was a magician, stealing her breath so easily, she marveled at it, until something broke the spell he wove.
felt him change, and knew the moment his awareness went beyond her, and years of training brought his survival instincts to immediate attention. She had no doubt, when real danger presented itself, they would both emerge unscathed.
Then another shift, and her heart sank to hear the sound of retreating footsteps, knowing only one man aboard with a giant’s stride. O’Dea. And she had hurt him.
“I will speak to him,” the Spaniard offered.
“No. Please.” Panic flitted across her face. She wondered how long he’d been there, how much he had seen.
“Just this,” he said. The last kiss.
She put her fingers to her lips. They still burned. And behind them, she still savored the taste of him.
Just the last kiss. If that was all he’d seen, she supposed she should give thanks. They might not have dishonored O’Dea in his bed, but she felt incredibly disrespectful at the moment. And yet, she was not entirely sorry that he’d come. Finding them above deck, kissing in the shadows, fully clothed…
It could have been much worse.
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Jessica: I’m never one to turn down an epic swashbuckler tale. (I’m also never one to not fantasize about Johnny Depp as Captain Jack Sparrow but hey, I know I’m not alone there.) So, in the spirit of all t…
TOUCH THE WIND (TOUCH THE WIND BOOK 1)
by Nia Farrell writing as Erinn Ellender Quinn
Swashbuckling Historical Romance
Length 91,357 words
Release date December 1, 2016
#FREE ON KINDLE UNLIMITED!
Amazon e-book http://mybook.to/TW1
Touch the Wind by Erinn Ellender Quinn is a swashbuckling historical set in 1727 Caribbean. Justin Vallé is a wanted man who demands the truth, and Christiana Delacorte has lived most of her life in deceit. But her father’s best friend is her best hope to save him. His price is her willing presence in his bed. Forbidden desires. Deadly secrets. A race against time, and a journey into dangerous waters. What happens if the man they hope to rescue is being used as bait?
#historicalromance #intrigue #swashbucklingpirates #oldermanyoungerwoman #decidedlydecadent
Christiana Delacorte’s father is languishing in prison. Accused of desertion and piracy, he’s being held without trial while the British and French fight over who will hang him. Determined to rescue him, Christiana approaches the one man she knows who might help: her father’s old friend Justin Vallé, the object of her adolescent fantasies, her first, most terrible unrequited love, when he was a prize for any woman and she sailed disguised as a boy. She can only pray that the French privateer doesn’t recognize her as the child who marked his face for life.
Mistaking her for a prostitute, Vallé fulfills her heart’s desire but shatters the mood by offering payment, forcing her to reveal her identity as well as her purpose. Vallé agrees to break her father out of prison, but his price is the gold she’s brought and her willing presence in his bed.
Justin has suffered a woman’s betrayal, and Christiana has lived most of her life in deceit. But there are forces at play beyond their reckoning, unseen enemies, and time is running out. The success of their mission—and any chance of a future—depends on whether they can learn to trust each other…before it’s too late….
This book is the prequel to Ride the Wind. Written for ages 18+
The resonance of Vallé’s baritone voice was unbelievably enticing, unbearably seductive, a whisper of velvet on Christiana’s skin that made her pulse leap, her every instinct come fully alive. She felt Vallé’s beckoning eyes on her but dared not meet them, lest he see the power he wielded over her with mere words.
“Oui, capitaine,” she murmured. “Je parle un peu français.” Actually, she spoke more than a little French, plus English, Gaelic, and a smattering of Dutch, Spanish, and German, but she hesitated to reveal too much of herself, not when so much depended on the outcome of this meeting.
Vallé blew out softly. “Bien.” Hearing the pleasure in his voice, she cleared her throat, intending to discuss O’Malley’s rescue, but at that moment a raucous shout rang out below. A chorus of laughter drifted up the stairs, accompanying the announcement that filtered in the door, burning her ears and warming her cheeks.
The swallow-cock had surpassed her old record and was still going strong.
Flustered, Christiana tore her eyes from the door—and immediately wished she hadn’t when she saw Vallé’s intense blue gaze focused on her own mouth. He lifted one hand. Long, strong fingers, as elegant as a magician’s, motioned her to come closer. She remained rooted, torn, knowing she should speak, should tell him what she’d come here for but frozen by hesitation. Vallé tilted his head and smiled a little. The curve of his mouth was both sensual and tender; the beckoning warmth in his eyes melted her resistance. He’d always possessed infinite patience; now he exercised it, clearly wanting her but waiting for her to come to him.
As if she had a choice. After all these years of wanting him, it seemed a shattering miracle that he should want her, too.
RIDE THE WIND by Nia Farrell writing her debut novel as Erinn Ellender Quinn.
A paranormal historical romance ~ length 70,033 words / 244 pages
Release date October 1, 2016
Amazon e-book http://mybook.to/TW2
ASIN B01LX6ZVBS / ISBN 10: 1537491148/ ISBN 13: 978-1537491141
Captain Ian O’Manion is a man with three names and a perilous past….
As Ian O’Malley, he’s wanted by the English. He’s wanted by the French as Jean Delacorte. When he wins The Oaks, a Maryland horse farm, he takes a new name for his new life…until the past catches up to him, with a vengeance.
Ian returns to The Oaks with a festering gunshot wound, fractured bones, and a broken spirit. Haunted by abuses suffered in a Jamaican prison, devoid of hope after his botched escape, he believes that he’s come home to die.
Elsbeth Gordon is an indentured servant with dangerous secrets of her own ….
A young woman of power, Beth talks to trees, communicates with animals, and practices magick alone. When healing the Captain means sharing her secrets, Beth has no choice but to risk being burned as a witch. The psychically gifted beekeeper sees the promise of their future in his eyes…if they can survive an old enemy and an ancient evil that threaten to destroy them both.
Written for ages 18+.
Ian frowned to think that she was still reading his mind. Jaysus, Joseph and Mary, would he never have any privacy with her? he wondered. The idea was damned disconcerting.
“I expect we’ll be able tae move ye tae the big house in a day or two,” she promised, scooting off the counterpane and letting the insect netting close behind her. “It’s just tha’ here, ye’re closer at hand.”
“Wouldn’t want to inconvenience you,” he mumbled. He knew it was rather childlike but he was unable to help it. Months of torture and a botched prison escape had a way of making a man not quite himself, but he couldn’t tell her that, any more than he could tell her his real name, not until it was cleared.
“Please, call me Beth,” she offered, tossing another bone. “And ‘tis a matter of degrees,” she said. “Ye’re gang tae be a bother, regardless. I thought tae make it easy on me mam. She’s no’ getting any younger, ye ken.”
Thrilled to realize that his fevered brain could actually follow her reasoning despite the brogue, Ian waved his hand, bestowing absolution. The Widow Gordon was, what, in her mid-fifties? Staid, steady, and still able to tend the plantation’s medicinal herb garden when she wasn’t busy birthing babies or ministering to the sick. She had a passion for fishing and he wondered if she used the quiet time it afforded to pray the rosary for her heathen daughter or her late husband, whom he’d brought over to manage his stables. All three had been indentured for seven years. Fever had carried off the one, but the two females were left, his fisher midwife and his busy, busy beekeeper, together with a small village of other indentures who tilled the soil and reaped the harvest and mucked stalls and sheared sheep and spun and wove, while a pair of hired brothers bred his horses, whose lines had been vastly improved by the blood of Spanish Barbs and Narragansett Pacers.
Even before the late Philip Rhys Davies had raced off on and toppled with the promising Zeus, the prize of The Oaks plantation was a stallion named Zephyr, fifteen-and-a-half hands high and black as midnight, save for a brilliant white blaze that flashed like lightning on the track. Zephyr was a racer that sired other racers, but the pretty pacers he had thus fathered would be in demand with the fox hunting and pleasure riding denizens of the surrounding counties, once word spread. Right now his men were working to recover from the loss of Zeus, and Philip. They managed the breeding, kept Zephyr busy mounting brood mares, and cared for those expecting the next go-round. They evaluated the one-year-olds and trained the two- and three-year-olds deemed worth the investment, breaking and selling the rest as opportunities arose.
One of the hired brothers, the farrier Thomas, had let it slip that Elsbeth—Beth—Gordon had the real talent for culling goats from sheep.
Beth Gordon, who slept with foxes and talked to bees and communed with horses. Who worked magick at midnight and refused to let him die whilst she was doing it. Who’d fought with him and for him and climbed into bed with him when the only way to keep him here was the promise of soft pink lips and delicious pomegranate breasts and those pretty, pretty feet. Whose naked body could have been his for the taking, except…except…
Nothing. Nothing. Jaysus, don’t tell me it’s come to this.
In prison, he’d had time for reflection between the day’s beatings and the night’s violations, and during one of his bargaining sessions with God, should He deem him worth saving, Ian had offered to leave his sailing and smuggling days behind him and retire to The Oaks as just another gentleman farmer, above reproach of the law. His daughter’s marriage had started him thinking, had turned his thoughts to the future and whether it might hold someone to share it with.
Good luck with that, when Beth Gordon in her birthday suit couldn’t get a rise out of him.
Maybe it was the laudanum.
God, let it be the laudanum.
“There came a point, we jumped ship, the three of us, Justin and Christiana and me. Our next berth was with a Welsh smuggler who plied his trade…here…and there. Then came the king’s pardon, that I couldn’t take under my own name, there likely being a desertion charged against it, so I took the name of Jean Delacorte, got pardoned, and found us—Christiana and me—a berth on a Dutch square rigger that plied the Atlantic trade. Back and forth we go. When I got to be captain, I did take us to Italy once. I’d promised meself to see Michelangelo’s chapel before I died, and I’m happy to say, I took it off the list.”
He paused, remembering the soaring ceilings, God’s outstretched finger imparting life to Adam. Adam, in his full glory, with the tiniest penis imaginable. If there’d been any competition, Eve wouldn’t have given him a second look.
“We saw the Sistine Chapel, and the Pope, and the Coliseum and other antiquities, but the city was pure filth, so we saw what we came to see and hied ourselves back to the Caribbean. There we sailed, all about the West India Isles, until Christiana was old enough, she needed to be in school, needed to learn to be a lady, which was nothing to be done aboard ship, so I took her to Havre.”
The Captain’s finger made a sad, slow line to France. “I left her with the Ursulines. She did fine,” he told himself. “She’s bright, and bold, and now she lives here.”
He pointed to the south side of Saint-Domingue. “Justin’s own island. Calls it Valhalla, a nod to him being part Viking and all. You’ll know it, soon as you see that white-blond hair. It’ll be worth laying odds to see what comes out on top, with the mix between the two of them. Christiana’s hair is dark, but her mother was a red head, and Christiana’s got the highlights.”
He angled a glance at her and pretended he was changing the subject. “You didn’t happen to see any red-headed grandbabies?”
“Aye,” she admitted, though they didn’t come from Christiana. It was too soon, and the future was not set. He still had healing to do.
She spoke to herself, but the laudanum seemed to let him hear it. Maybe it was just as well he thought it was about his other grandbabies rather than about her. About them.
He angled his head. When she ignored the question in his eyes, he shrugged a shoulder and turned his attention back to the map.
“All right, then. While Christiana’s in Havre, I’m…here, when I win The Oaks in a card game that lasted three days and nearly put me under the table, but I came out on top with the biggest purse I’d yet taken and still have yet to match. I’m…here,” he said, “when I win the Deirdre and get a second ship. I’m…here, at Mrs. Smith’s House of Entertainment in Road House, on Tortola, when I win the purse that lands me in prison…here.”
And there he was, back in the space of a heartbeat. Port Royal prison. A mute roommate who painted with piss. One guard who enjoyed torture, and another who enjoyed making men cry.
Beth’s heart hurt for him, for what he’d had to live through. Picking up a piece knocked loose, she tucked it away and anchored it with light and love and a wishful bit of pixie dust.
“You’re here, now,” she said softly, taking his hand and bringing him back to her. You’re here. You’re safe. I won’t judge you. I promise.
Suddenly, he stopped breathing. For a moment suspended in time, she did not move. Then, she rubbed slow circles on the back of his large hand, over the dark hair that dusted his knuckles and the scar where he’d startled his dog and it bit him. Her bottom hand was eclipsed by the width of his calloused palm, a captain come from the sea, bearing such terrible wounds.
“Aye, here,” he said, pulling free, breaking apart.
Feeling less than a man.
How could she tell him how special he was? He’d rescued his Marie from the uncle who’d have raped her. He’d saved his “niece” any number of times. Didn’t he know he was a man worth the wait?
She willed him to listen to her; the laudanum should let him. But she wasn’t certain he’d heard until he raised his head, and she looked in his beautiful green glass eyes and saw it for herself.
Ian blew out softly, frustrated beyond bearing, recognizing that lambent look in her eyes and knew that her interest in him had gone beyond tending his wounds. He might be better than he was, but he was still a broken man. He wanted her too, but wishes alone wouldn’t make that happen.
He wanted to feel her lying naked against him, with her wild red curls and eyes the color of Aruba and her pomegranate breasts and those pretty feet of hers. But she’d tended him enough, she’d seen his lifeless member when he should have been standing at attention and giving her a salute.
Adam might have had a tiny penis, but at least it worked. His hadn’t since Jamaica.
“Give it time,” she said.
As if she thought that’s all it took. But how could she know?
Eavesdropper. She gave him a smile, soft and sweet and full of hope. “Can ye nae feel the truth of it?”
“Aye,” he said, surprised. The first time she’d asked him that, he hadn’t been able to fathom it. But now….
Now he’d eaten a man’s breakfast. He’d eaten electrick strawberries. He’d put Jamaica behind him again, and told himself that would get easier with time. Time, the healer of most wounds, even if the scars remained.
For now, she was willing to wait, willing to give him however long he needed to be able to come to her and take what she would share. Their time had not yet arrived, but when it did, he was sure it would feel like heaven, and he would not be remiss if electrick strawberries were involved.
At the stables, they found that the Marshall men and O’Flaherty boys and Theo had everything under control. Ian still didn’t know why Red Beth had to drag him from his sickbed and make him walk all the way down here, feeling uncomfortably weak as a kitten, when she could just as easily have told him a bedtime story about it. But she’d insisted. Mindful of his indebtedness, he had humored her, and so it was that they had come to this, poised in the role of passive observers in an empty stall, until the mare was brought in. Red Beth excused herself and went over to talk to the chestnut, rubbing her head and whispering in her ear and adjusting the leather cover that would protect her neck from an overzealous stallion’s bites.
Zephyr smelled the mare, even before Thomas brought him into the stable. Outside, he whinnied his pleasure, and he came in dancing with an erection that hung to his hocks. Ian almost called out to beg her not to when Beth dared to approach his horse.
Zephyr reared up, and Ian swore that his heart stopped. It would have been too late; there was no way he would have reached her in time to save her, but the prancing, padded hooves miraculously cleared Beth as they came down. Ian exhaled sharply and released the breath that he’d been holding.
Thomas had his hands full, controlling the stallion and keeping an eye on Beth, who was talking to the beast, no doubt sharing a bit of breeding etiquette, warning him not to play too roughly. Zephyr whinnied, and Thomas waited until Beth was free and clear. She rejoined Ian in the empty stall, closing the short door behind her. Zephyr pranced up to the pretty chestnut mare, who had twitched her tail to the side to ease his way. She was good enough to welcome the stallion’s weight as he reared up and covered her, shoving his massive member inside her and thrusting home like the magnificent stud that he was.
And all the while, Beth stood, almost breathless, watching spellbound, wincing when Zephyr bit at the leather-covered neck. She gripped the door of the empty stall that was their viewing room, and Ian knew she was not unaffected. Forget Zephyr. He watched Beth watching the horses. He listened to her telling breath, and felt the hum in her body that sang to him as surely as the fiddle’s phantom tune.
And because they were in a place where they could see without being seen, Ian stepped behind her and slipped his hands around her waist and pulled her back against him. She shivered, and inhaled sharply, then forgot to breathe altogether. He leaned down, bending until his teeth found the base of her neck. “Red,” he whispered against her petal-soft skin just before he tasted it, tasted her, and asked her to take him home.
“Please,” the Captain begged when she stayed rooted, transfixed, watching his stallion cover the chestnut mare as he wanted to cover her. “Have mercy. Don’t do this to me. You don’t know what it’s been like.”
But she did. She did. She knew exactly what he’d felt. It was her gift. Her curse. Like now, feeling the blood pump in old haunts, the word made flesh, the promise of resurrection fulfilled. The Captain wanted her, and she wanted him to want her, and Herne would just have to understand.
The stallion finished and disengaged, dropping onto all four feet, with his penis tamed and near normal size already, while the Captain’s was just coming to life. She wished he could have taken her right then and there, amidst the sharp scents of the stable as they tumbled in the straw and hay.
They headed for the house, each one priding themselves on moving at a reasonable pace, when every step brought them closer to the bedroom upstairs, with its urn full of dead honeybees and a plate of herbs and sliced ginger root and an odd number of pinch-necked glass cups. Back in the day, Ian could have swept her into his arms and carried her up the stairs. Now it was all he could do to navigate under his own power and pray the feeling wouldn’t go away once they’d gotten to where he could do something about it.
When they reached the front door, he took her hand and pulled her through the house he’d won on a turn of the cards, gotten by chance and kept by pretense, until he could clear his real name. At least his Christian name was the same, and the subtle change from O’Malley to O’Manion was still a damn sight better than the years he’d played Jean Delacorte.
He counted the steps on the sweeping entrance stairs, marked the feet from the landing to his bedroom door, and numbered the eyelets on the back of her bodice as he put his fingers to the task of unlacing them. While he was busy in the back, she unpinned her apron front, reaching around and pulling one tie so that the thing fell free, landing in a puddle on the wide board floor. He opened his mouth on the back of her neck, and he knew she remembered his stallion, covering the chestnut mare, giving her that enormous member of his in a mating that was as intense as it was brief. A stallion did his business in a minute; it took three hundred forty days, give or take, for a mare to finish hers.
Beth felt the Captain’s breath on her skin, like dragon’s fire. No sooner did she wonder if he intended to consume her than he put an arm around her waist, pulled her back against him, and opened his mouth on the base of her neck. He scored it with his teeth, not quite biting, and then he did bite her, inhaling sharply with his mouth fastened on a spot that made her knees go weak. His hands skimmed up her sides and pulled down her bodice; he splayed his calloused fingers and lay claim to her breasts.
Ian wanted it to be good for her. He wanted it to last, but he couldn’t wait for layers of clothes and shoes and stockings, no matter how much he enjoyed a leisurely disrobing. For the first time in months, there was life in every part of him.
“Red,” he whispered against her hair. “I’m sorry, I can’t wait. Forgive me.”