Authors: Alexandra Benedict
Tags: #Fiction, #Romance, #Historical, #General
To Tina for believing in my work.
To Lucia for taking a chance on a newbie.
And to May for your wonderful counsel.
Thank you, ladies!
The earth was sound asleep, lulled by a soft chorus…
Damian needed money. Lots of it. Ironic, really, that he,…
“He’s to be our new navigator?”
The hammock rocked gently, Mirabelle nestled inside.
“Oh, good. Someone to keep me company. I can’t stand…
The sounds coming from the belly of the ship had…
Dinner was over. Mirabelle found herself in the mess, surrounded…
The gentle pitch and roll of the rig did nothing…
The sailors erupted in a chorus of hoarse guffaws.
Damian slammed against the wall, then toppled to the floor.
Damian sensed a moist cloth bathing his chest, the soothing…
Damian battled the turbulent waves, the chill of the water…
“That does it. I’m going to kill him!”
To hell with both their lives?
“Wake up, Belle.”
Damian had made a terrible mistake. It was one thing…
Damian slammed his boot into the iron bars.
Mirabelle hammered away. It was dark out. Only a small…
Mirabelle counted off her fingers. Six chickens. Check. Three barrels…
“What the hell do you think you’re doing, Damian?”
In the faint light of the breaking dawn, Mirabelle sat…
The large London square was bustling. Harlequins in bright costumes…
A peck on the cheek and Henry was off. “I’ll…
“Who lives here?”
Damian burst into his bedchamber and marched straight over to…
Mirabelle crouched in the corner of the dank dungeon cell,…
An explosion rocked the castle.
Damian took in a ragged breath, lost, the chaos in…
Mirabelle jerked the key in the lock.
Mirabelle inhaled the dewy morning air. Gripping the balcony ledge,…
Damian waved his hand, clearing a path through the cloud…
he earth was sound asleep, lulled by a soft chorus of chirping crickets. Into the soothing surroundings intruded the distant hail of creaking wheels. Fast approaching, a rickety carriage jingled along the pebbled road, each squeak of the axle muffled only by the exuberant squeaks of the wench within.
“Why, ye wily devil.” The doxy giggled in her drunken stupor, fumbling with the laces of her corset, trying to fasten the garment in mock gentility.
“Now, now, luv. Let’s have none of that.”
A robust hand brushed her gawky fingers away from her bosom. She dipped her head back in a peal of laughter, all but toppling off the hard set of thighs she was straddling.
Damian Westmore, the Duke of Wembury, dubbed the “Duke of Rogues” by his peers, was slumped back in his seat, mesmerized by the pair of plump breasts bobbing in rhythm to each lurch and wobble of the carriage. He was in no hurry to see the bountiful mounds tucked back into the shelter of the corset, and with a wicked grin, he cupped one heavy breast, raising the puckering nipple to the tip of his lips, and blew.
The wench giggled, then moaned with pleasure. In a lanky stroke, Damian licked the rosy bud, nipped, then licked again. She bucked in his lap, groaning, the sweet sounds of carnal hunger making him stiff and ready for her.
“Ride me,” he growled.
Slipping her shaky hands beneath her skirt, the giddy wench grappled with the buttons of the duke’s trousers.
And so the impassioned couple dallied in such a manner for the rest of the journey, insensible to the distraction their fervid voices inflicted on the poor coachman.
It was an hour later the screeching wheels—and voices—came to a whispered halt before the ancient dwelling.
A black leather boot kicked open the carriage door, and out stumbled the inebriated duke.
“Wait here,” he gave the rough command to the driver, and then with a seductive growl, ordered the accommodating wench to do the same. “I’ll be but a minute, sweet.”
With a bubbling laugh, she collapsed against the cushioned seat and rucked her skirt up over her knees. “Hurry back, Yer Grace.”
His eyes went to those finely curved calves and glossed over firm, smooth thighs, as she lifted her skirt higher and higher.
Damian could feel the swelling in his groin again. He slammed the door shut to keep himself from pouncing back into the carriage.
“What a bird,” he whispered with a devilish grin. But upon pivoting to confront the imposing main doors of the castle, he found his humor had quickly vanished. “Let’s get this over with.”
Stumbling up the stone steps, he rattled the handles. Locked. Blast it! He pounded on the mahogany entrance, cursing all the while at finding his own doors secured against him.
“Jenkins!” he bellowed for the butler.
One door opened. “Your Grace,” came the stoic greeting, followed by a curt nod of obligatory respect.
Petulant after hammering on the door for some time, Damian demanded sharply: “Where is she, Jenkins?”
“In the parlor, Your Grace.”
Damian stepped into the dark entranceway and slammed the door closed with the heel of his boot. “Take me to her.”
Candle in hand, the old butler complied, and progressed through the stone-clad foyer and into the deserted corridor.
“What time is it?” snapped the duke, his deep blue eyes peeking into each of the desolate drawing rooms.
“It is shortly past nine o’clock.”
“So where the devil is everyone?” And then the piercing table corner jabbed him in the thigh. “And why the hell is it so bloody dark in here!” he blasted, and promptly kicked the insolent table for having found itself in his direct path.
Jenkins, not the least perturbed by his master’s display of temper, evenly answered both questions in sequence. “Her Grace has temporarily relieved some of the staff, and requested all but essential lights be extinguished.”
“Well, I am the master of this castle.” He pointed to his chest. “And
have not dismissed the staff nor ordered the house to be enshrouded in darkness. So fetch the servants back and light some infernal candles!”
“Yes, Your Grace.”
The butler resumed his steady pace through the corridor, the fractious duke wavering in tow.
The servant soon paused before the sealed parlor door and proclaimed: “Her Grace has been expecting you.”
Damian just bet the old nag was expecting him. Three days ago, his mother had dispatched a courier with a letter bidding him home
. He snorted. Urgent, his bleeding ass. He was accustomed to the woman’s skullduggery, and this letter was just another one of her shams.
It seemed his mother had no other purpose in life but to disrupt his own. First had come the scathing lectures on propriety and responsibility and other such reprehensible nonsense. Then, when she’d learned of the hedonistic revelry reigning within the walls of his ancestral keep, she’d packed her bags, abandoned London, and moved back into the castle, forcing him to search for amusement elsewhere—which he found readily enough in the many dens of gamble and drink.
Now, unable to follow her son into the lairs of decadence, but still intent on reforming his immoral ways, his mother had resorted to luring him
of his havens through such feeble means as a fabricated crisis. Well, he’d not stand for it a moment longer. The next “urgent” letter to reach him would find its way into the nearest fire. He’d tolerate no more of the woman’s interference, and he intended to tell her so that very night.
“Would you like me to announce you, Your Grace?”
“Not this time, Jenkins.”
The butler gave a stiff nod and moved away from the door. “I am sorry, Your Grace.” And with those cryptic words, he retreated down the corridor, the aura of candlelight receding with him and finally disappearing around the corner.
Damian stared down the shadowed passageway. “Babbling old fool.”
A senile Jenkins was soon dismissed from his mind. There was still his mother to confront, and with a deep breath to help sharpen his befuddled senses, Damian flung open the parlor door.
Emily, the Dowager Duchess of Wembury, sat poised by the low-burning fire, her stern face aglow, her fingers knit tightly together in her lap. She spared her son a brief glance before her lethargic gaze returned to the snapping flames.
“At least you’re appropriately dressed,” she said.
Damian examined his attire, unable to recall what he was wearing. He noted he was arrayed in all black. Boots, breeches, greatcoat fluttering about his ankles. All black. And with his long ebony mane secured at the nape of his neck with a strip of leather cord, he appeared every inch the dark devil so many had termed him.
Eyes elevating to his mother, he realized for the first time that she, too, was adorned in sable black. He had seen her in such macabre garb only once before, when his father had died.
“What’s happened?” he asked, some suspicion still enduring in his voice, for he had yet to determine whether this was a ruse of some kind.
“You haven’t heard?” Her eyes abandoned the fire to concentrate on her son. “Here I thought grief had delayed your return. I am such a fool. So where have you been these last three days?”
He said nothing. That seemed answer enough.
The hollow sound of her laughter filled the dimly lit room. “A trollop has kept you well entertained, I see.” She shook her head and returned her attention to the flickering flames. “I should have known. How could a man like you even mourn?”
Damian stepped deeper into the room. “Mourn?”
The newspaper spread out at his mother’s feet went sailing through the air, landing at his.
Pirates Strike Again!
Damian stared at the bold headline, his vision blurring, his head beginning to throb.
“What the hell is going on?” he demanded, this time more passionately.
“A matter of little consequence to you, I’m sure. But my life is over—now that Adam is gone.”
Upon hearing his younger brother’s name, Damian went still, very still. The room appeared to be spinning. Shadows mixed with the soft orange glow of the fire and whirled before him in a maddening dance.
He brought his fists to his eyes and barked impatiently, “Where is Adam?”
His fists fell to his sides, and he looked at his mother in disbelief.
“He was sailing home with Tess,” she recounted, her eyes still fixed to the hissing flames. “The ship was plundered by pirates. The vagrants took everything of value, bowed to the passengers in mock gratitude for their generous gift, and then aimed their cannons for the ship’s hull. No one survived, save the captain’s cabin boy, who clung to a piece of debris until he was rescued by a passing ship. The boy had time to relate the entire tale before a fever took his life.”
Damian’s dancing demons were back, clogging his vision, his mind. He brought his fingers to his temples in an attempt to slay them. But it did no good. They danced and laughed and chanted:
Adam is dead! Adam is dead!
He closed his eyes, willing the racket in his head to stop. Memories of Adam on his wedding day flashed through Damian’s mind. It was the last time he had seen his brother. He remembered Adam now, all clad in his finery, that silly grin on his face as he prepared to marry his childhood love, Teresa. It had been the talk of the
that the duke had arrived sober to the ceremony. But even he, impenitent sybarite that he was, would never blight the most important day of his brother’s life. Damian had come to the event to support his sibling, for he loved his brother, more than he cared to admit. Two months had gone by since Adam and Tess had embarked on their wedding tour of Italy. And the couple was expected home within a matter of days.
His chest ached; his heart grew sore. Damian opened his eyes and connected with his mother’s somber gaze.
“It’s all my fault,” she said.
“Yours?” He breathed raggedly. “How?”
“It was I who begged your brother’s return. Adam wrote to say he and Tess would remain another month on the mainland. They were happy in Italy. But I was miserable. You were disappearing for days and weeks at a time. The stories reaching my ears of your dissolute ways were growing more obscene. So I wrote back to Adam, pleading for him to come home as planned. I had hoped he could reason with you again. He always managed to pull you away from your wretched habits, if only for a short time…but now he’s gone.”
The woman’s apathetic features cracked. Her bottom lip quivered. Fat, soulful tears hung from her sooty lashes before dripping down her flushed cheeks.
“My son is gone.” She choked on her words, her glossy eyes pinned intensely on her only living child. “Your father was a scoundrel, you are a villain, but Adam…he was the last noble thing in my life.”
In that instant, every morsel of strength he had known his mother to possess crumbled before him. She sank to her knees and let out such a sorrowful sob, it echoed throughout the room, burning his ears. It was as though the walls themselves were wailing, the din was so great, and Damian found that even his hardened heart could splinter after all.
“Why?” she cried. “Why did it have to be Adam? Why could it not be you lying at the bottom of the sea?!”
And so she surrendered to her hysterics, crumpled onto the floor in a pool of black satin and lace.
Damian watched her for a time, knowing she would scorn any pitiful attempt on his part to comfort her. There was nothing he could do…except seek vengeance for his brother’s death.
Softly, he walked out of the room.