Authors: Stephanie Laurens
BETWEEN CHAPTER 12 AND CHAPTER 13
and also can be accessed via the TABLE OF CONTENTS
THE DAREDEVIL SNARED
The Adventurers Quartet: Volume 3
Responsibility knocks, and a reckless, hedonistic man responds and opens the door to love—thus is a daredevil snared.
New York Times
bestselling author Stephanie Laurens brings you the third installment in THE ADVENTURERS QUARTET, continuing the drama of Regency-era high seas adventure, laced with a mystery shrouded in the heat of tropical jungles, and spiced with the passionate romances of four couples and their unexpected journeys into love.
Captain Caleb Frobisher, hedonistic youngest son of a seafaring dynasty, wants to be taken seriously by his family, and understands he has to prove himself sufficiently reformed. When opportunity strikes, he seizes the next leg of the covert mission his brothers have been pursuing and sails to Freetown. His actions are decisive, and he completes the mission’s next stage—but responsibility, once exercised, has taken root, and he remains in the jungle to guard the captives whose rescue is the mission’s ultimate goal.
Katherine Fortescue has fled the life of poverty her wastrel father had bequeathed her and come to Freetown as a governess, only to be kidnapped and put to work overseeing a child workforce at a mine. She and the other captured adults understand that their lives are limited by the life of the mine. Guarded by well-armed and well-trained mercenaries, the captives have been searching for some means of escape, but in vain. Then Katherine meets a handsome man—a captain—in the jungle, and he and his crew bring the sweet promise of rescue.
The sadistic mercenary captain who runs the mine has other ideas, but Caleb’s true strength lies in extracting advantage from adversity, and through the clashes that follow, he matures into the leader of men he was always destined to be. The sort of man Katherine can trust—with her body, with her life. With her love.
The first voyage is one of exploration, the second one of discovery. The third journey brings maturity, while the fourth is a voyage of second chances. Continue the journey and follow the adventure, the mystery, and the romances to the dramatic end.
Praise for the works of Stephanie Laurens
“Stephanie Laurens’ heroines are marvelous tributes to Georgette Heyer: feisty and strong.”
“Stephanie Laurens never fails to entertain and charm her readers with vibrant plots, snappy dialogue, and unforgettable characters.”
Historical Romance Reviews
“Stephanie Laurens plays into readers’ fantasies like a master and claims their hearts time and again.”
Romantic Times Magazine
THE DAREDEVIL SNARED
CAST OF CHARACTERS
Frobisher, Caleb –
Hero, youngest Frobisher brother and captain of
Fortescue, Katherine (Kate) –
Heroine, missing governess from the Sherbrook household in Freetown
Frobisher, Declan –
Caleb’s older brother
Frobisher, Lady Edwina –
Caleb’s sister-in-law, Declan’s wife
Frobisher, Robert –
Caleb’s older brother
Hopkins, Aileen –
Robert’s intended, Lt. William Hopkins’s sister
Staff in Declan & Edwina’s townhouse:
Wolverstone, Duke of, Royce, aka Dalziel –
ex-commander of British secret operatives outside England
Frobisher, Fergus –
Frobisher, Elaine –
Frobisher, Royd –
Caleb’s oldest brother
head clerk, Frobisher Shipping Company Office
Holbrook, Governor –
Governor-in-Chief of British West Africa
Eldridge, Major –
Commander, Fort Thornton
Decker, Vice-Admiral –
Commander, West Africa Squadron
Winton, Major –
Commissar of Fort Thornton
Babington, Charles –
partner, Macauley & Babington Trading Company
Macauley, Mr. –
senior partner, Macauley & Babington Trading Company
Undoto, Obo –
the Naval Attaché
nephew of Major Winton, Assistant Commissar at the fort
At Kale’s Homestead:
Kale’s lieutenant in the settlement
Fifteen other slavers, including “the pied piper”
In the Mining Compound:
leader of the mercenaries, presumed French
Dubois’s lieutenant, second-in-command, presumed French
Dubois’s second lieutenant, English
Plus twenty-eight other mercenaries –
of various ages and extractions
Dixon, Captain John –
Hopkins, Lieutenant William –
navy, West Africa Squadron
Fanshawe, Lieutenant –
navy, West Africa Squadron
ex-Wolverstone agent, governor’s aide
Frazier, Harriet –
gently bred young woman, Dixon’s sweetheart
Wilson, Mary –
shop owner-assistant, Babington’s sweetheart
Mackenzie, Ellen –
young woman recently arrived in the settlement
Halliday, Gemma –
young woman from the slums
Mellows, Annie –
young woman from the slums
Mathers, Jed –
Plus eighteen other men –
all British of various backgrounds and trades
young boy, seven years old
young girl, six years old
boy, ten years old
Plus sixteen other children –
ranging from six to ten years old
Plus five other children –
all British, ranging from eleven to fourteen years old
Fitzpatrick, Lieutenant Frederick –
Wallace, Mr. –
Bosun, goes into the jungle but returns to the ship
Quartermaster, goes into the jungle and remains with Caleb
Hornby, Mr. –
goes into the jungle but returns to the ship
goes into the jungle but returns to the ship
Foster, Martin, Ellis, Quick, Mallard, Collins, Biggs, Norton, and Olsen
– midshipmen and experienced seamen who go into the jungle and remain with Caleb.
Lascelle, Phillipe –
Captain, privateer, longtime friend of Caleb’s
Bosun, goes into the jungle but returns to the ship
Quartermaster, goes into the jungle and remains with Phillipe
Fullard, Collmer, Gerard, Vineron –
midshipmen and experienced seamen who go into the jungle and remain with Phillipe
Plus four other seamen –
all of French extraction, who go into the jungle but return to the ship
Jungle east of Freetown, West Africa
Caleb Frobisher moved steadily forward through the jungle shadows. His company of twenty-four men followed in single file. No one spoke; the silence was eerie, stretching nerves taut. Beneath the thick canopy, the humidity was so high that forging ahead felt like walking underwater, as if the heavy atmosphere literally weighed on their limbs.
“Hell’s bells,” Phillipe Lascelle, at Caleb’s heels, breathed. “Surely it can’t be much farther.”
“It’s only midmorning,” Caleb murmured back. “You can’t be wilting already.”
Caleb continued along the path that was little more than an animal track; they had to constantly duck and weave under and around palm fronds and low branches festooned with clinging vines.
Somewhere ahead lay the slavers’ camp they’d come to find—or so Caleb fervently hoped. Despite his determination to unwaveringly abide by the rule book throughout this mission, thus proving to all and sundry, and his family especially, that he could be trusted with such serious endeavors, sometimes instinct—albeit masquerading as reckless impulse—proved too strong to resist. His brother Robert’s hand-drawn map described the location of the slavers’ camp—Kale’s Homestead—when approached from the west. However, Caleb had studied the camp’s position and decided to come in from the north. From all he’d gleaned from Robert’s notes, the slavers would be alert to any incursion from the west; they would almost certainly have lookouts posted, making west not the wisest direction from which to approach if one’s intention was to seize the camp.
Which was, rather plainly, their purpose; why else would twenty-five strong men all armed to the gills be trooping through such a godforsaken place?
Three nights before, Caleb, in his ship,
, closely followed by his old comrade-in-adventure, Phillipe, in his ship,
, had slipped into the estuary on the night tide. They’d kept to the north shore, well away from the shipping lanes leading into Freetown harbor, and sailed deeper down the estuary and into Tagrin Bay, reducing the risk of detection by any naval vessels going into and out of the harbor; according to Robert’s information, the West Africa Squadron should now be in port, and Caleb would prefer to avoid having to explain himself to Vice-Admiral Decker.
They’d anchored off the southern shore of the bay at a spot Caleb judged was due north of Kale’s Homestead. According to Robert’s map, miles of jungle lay between the slavers’ camp and the ships’ positions; Caleb hadn’t known how passable that jungle would be, but his confidence had been bolstered by the intelligence they’d gained from natives living in a village nearby. Phillipe had a way with languages—another excellent reason for inviting him along—and he’d quickly established a rapport with the village elders. The villagers had known of the slavers’ camp, but, unsurprisingly, avoided it with a near-religious fervor. Sadly, they’d known nothing about any mine or similar enterprise anywhere in the vicinity, but they’d been happy to point out a narrow track that, so they’d insisted, led more or less directly to the slavers’ camp.
Unfortunately, the villagers hadn’t known the name of the slavers’ leader. Caleb clung to the hope that he and his men weren’t going to find themselves at some other slavers’ camp entirely—and trudged on. They’d set out on the previous morning, leaving skeleton crews on their ships and taking the strongest and most experienced of their men. Seizing a slavers’ camp would be no easy task, especially if there were any captives currently in the slavers’ clutches.
Turning that prospect over in his mind—wondering what he might do if it proved to be so—Caleb led the way on.
He almost didn’t trust his eyes when, through the dense curtain of trees, palms, and vines, he glimpsed a pale glow—indicating a clearing where daylight flooded in, banishing the jungle’s pervasive gloom.
Then their narrow track ended, opening onto a wider, better-maintained path, one clearly frequently used.
Caleb stopped and held up a hand; the men following halted and froze. He sent his senses questing. A rumble of male voices was faint but discernible.
Phillipe leaned close and whispered, “We’re twenty to twenty-five yards from the perimeter.”
Caleb nodded. “This wider path must be the one between the camp and the mine.”
Rapidly, he canvassed his options. Although Phillipe was the more experienced commander, he waited, silently deferring to Caleb—this was Caleb’s show. Another reason Caleb liked working with the man. Eventually, he murmured, “Pass the word—we’ll creep nearer, keeping to the jungle, and see what we can see. No reason to let them know we’re here.”
Phillipe turned to pass the order back down the line. Of their party of twenty-five, thirteen were from Caleb’s crew and ten from
’s. Because of Caleb and Phillipe’s previous joint ventures, their men had worked together before; Caleb didn’t need to fear that they wouldn’t operate as a cohesive unit in what was to come.
After one last searching look around, he ventured onto the wider path, placing his feet with care. He followed the well-trodden trail, but halted just before a curve that, by his reckoning, would expose him to those in the clearing. Instead, he slipped silently sideways to his right, into the cover of the jungle. Quietly, he skirted the edge of the clearing, continuing to move slowly and with care, shifting from north to west. Eventually, he reached the western aspect; on spotting a clump of large-leafed palms closer to the clearing’s perimeter, he crouched and crept into the concealment the palms offered. A swift glance behind showed Phillipe following him, while the rest of their men hunkered down, strung out in the shadows, their gazes trained on the activity in the camp.
Caleb returned his attention to the clearing and settled to study Kale’s Homestead. He recognized the layout from Robert’s notes—the horseshoe-shaped central space with a large barrack-like hut across the head and four smaller huts, two on each side. Caleb and his men were at the open end of the horseshoe, virtually directly opposite the main barracks. According to Robert’s diagram, that meant the path from Freetown should be somewhere to their right; Caleb searched and spotted the opening. The path he and his men had briefly followed entered the clearing to the left of the main barracks, while another path—one Robert had deemed unused—straggled away into the jungle from the right of that building.
Having established that reality matched the picture of the camp he’d carried in his mind, Caleb focused on the people moving in and out of the huts and sitting about the central fire pit.
Phillipe settled alongside him, and they tuned their ears to the low-voiced, desultory chatter.
After a while, Phillipe leaned closer and whispered, “That large one—he acts like the leader, but from Robert’s description, he can’t be Kale.”
Caleb focused on the slaver in question—a heavyset man, tall, and with a swaggering gait. “I think,” Caleb murmured back, “that he must be the man who leads Kale’s men in the settlement.” After a moment, he mused, “Interesting that he’s here.”
that he’s here,” Phillipe corrected. “If we eradicate all here, chances are Kale’s operation won’t simply rise again under some other leader.”
Caleb nodded. “True.” He scanned the area and the huts. “It doesn’t look like they have any captives—the doors of the smaller huts are open, and I haven’t seen any hint there’s anyone inside.”
“I haven’t, either.”
Caleb grimaced. “Kale’s not out there. Is he here, but in the barracks, and if so, how many men are in there with him?”
Phillipe’s shoulders lifted in a Gallic shrug.
Just then, one of the men hovering about the large pot slung over the fire pit raised his head, looked toward the barracks, and yelled, “Stew’s ready!”
Seconds later, the barracks’ door opened. Caleb grinned as a slaver of medium height and wiry build, with a disfiguring scar marring his features—from Robert’s description, the man had to be Kale—emerged, followed by three more men.
“How helpful,” Phillipe murmured.
Another man emerged from the path to Freetown. Caleb nudged Phillipe and nodded at the newcomer. “They did have a lookout on that path.”
Phillipe studied the man as he joined his fellows. “It doesn’t look as if they’re seriously concerned over unexpected company—odds are there was only the one lookout.”
“That’s the way I read it, too.”
“All told, that makes thirteen.”
His eyes on the scene unfolding about the fire pit, Caleb merely nodded. Phillipe settled again, and they watched as Kale, handed a tin plate piled with stew by one of his henchmen, sat on a log and started eating. His men followed suit, sitting on the logs arranged in a rough circle around the fire.
They’d barely taken their first mouthfuls when the muted tramp of feet had everyone—Kale and his men, as well as Caleb, Phillipe, and their company—looking toward the path from the north. The path Caleb believed led to the mine—the same path they’d briefly been on fifteen or so minutes before.
Four men—slavers by their dress and Kale’s men by their composure—appeared. They hailed Kale and exchanged greetings with others in the group.
“So you got our recent guests settled, then?” Kale’s words came in a distinctive, gravelly rasp, further confirming his identity.
The man who’d led the group grinned. “Aye—and Dubois sent his thanks. That said, he made a very large point about needing more men. Emphasizing
. He says he wants at least fifteen more.”
Kale swore colorfully. “I’d be thrilled to give him more if only those blighters in the settlement would just let us do what we do best.” He grunted, then shook his head and returned his attention to his plate. “Sadly, they’re the ones who pay the piper, and they pay his highness Dubois, too, so he’ll just have to make do with those we can give him.” Kale waved the newcomers to the pot. “Sit and eat. You’ve earned it.”
The four did, gratefully settling with the rest.
Conversation was nonexistent while the men ate. Caleb would have felt hungrier had he not insisted that his party consume a decent breakfast before they broke their temporary camp that morning. He’d never favored fighting on an empty stomach, and he’d felt quietly confident that they would find Kale’s camp that day.
“That’s seventeen now,” Phillipe murmured. “Not quite so easy.” He sounded, if anything, pleased.
Caleb softly grunted. He verified Phillipe’s headcount and, again, thanked the impulse that had prompted him to invite Phillipe and his crew to join his mission. A day out of Southampton, one of
’s main water kegs had sprung a leak. Determined to adhere to the maxim of “take no unnecessary risks,” Caleb had made the small detour to the Canary Islands. Before he’d even moored in Las Palmas harbor, he’d spotted the distinctive black hull of
. While the keg was repaired and refilled and his men arranged for extra supplies, Caleb had spent an evening catching up with his old friend. And on discovering that
, along with its experienced crew and captain, was presently unengaged, Caleb had invited Phillipe to join him on his mission. He’d made it clear there would be no payment or likely spoils, but like Caleb, Phillipe was addicted to adventure. Bored, he’d jumped at the chance of action.
Phillipe was a lone privateer, and while he’d originally sailed for the French under Bonaparte, exactly who he sailed for these days was unclear. However, the war with France was long over, and on the waves, any lingering political loyalties counted for less than longtime friendship bolstered by similar devil-may-care traits.
To Caleb’s mind, twenty-five men against seventeen was precisely the sort of numbers he needed in this place, at this time, to eradicate Kale and his operation. The slavers would fight to the death and would do anything and everything to survive. Caleb didn’t want to lose any of his men, or any of Phillipe’s, either. Twenty-five to seventeen...that should do it.
By the time he’d sailed into Las Palmas, he’d already discarded the notion of leaving Kale undisturbed and, instead, picking up the trail north from the “Homestead” and making directly for the mine. That was his mission, after all—to locate the mine, learn what he could of it, and then get that intelligence back to London. However, heading north to the mine with Kale and his men effectively at his back didn’t appeal in the least. More, returning to London without eliminating Kale and his crew would simply leave that task to whoever returned to complete the mission. No commander worth his salt would attempt to attack and capture the mine with Kale still in his camp, a potential source of reinforcements for whatever forces were already at the mine.
But Kale had to be removed in a way that would not immediately alert the villains behind the scheme—the “blighters” Kale had referred to—or Dubois and any others in charge at the mine. That was Caleb’s first hurdle—the first challenge on this quest.
“If we’d arrived earlier,” Phillipe murmured, “while they’re all gathered as they are, distracted with eating, would have been a good time to attack.”
Caleb shrugged. In days gone by, he might have leapt precipitously at the chance and rushed in, but for today and the foreseeable future, he was determined to adhere to the script of a reliable and responsible commander. He could almost hear the voices of his three older brothers, all of whom would lecture him to take his time and plan, and find and secure every advantage he could for his men in the upcoming skirmish, which was guaranteed to end as a bloody massacre.
He, Phillipe, and every man in their company knew and accepted that they would need to kill every slaver in Kale’s camp. That Kale and his men were engaged in trading in others’ lives—men, women, and children, too—had made the decision, the resolution, that much easier to make. The men gathered around the fire pit ranked among the lowest of the low.
Kale spooned up the last of his stew, chewed, swallowed, then looked across the fire pit at the large man Phillipe had earlier noted. “Rogers—you and your crew can rest up, then head back to the settlement midafternoon. If you don’t find a message from Muldoon waiting—no suggestion of who to grab next—use your own judgment. See if there are any more sailor-boys we can snatch. Dubois, at least, will be grateful.”