The Pirate’s Defiant Houri

Daring Damsels Book Two

The Pirate's Defiant Houri by Lis'Anne Harris

“Lis’Anne Harris’s gorgeous storytelling will sweep you away!” ~ Valerie Bowman, best-selling author of historical romance

 

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LADY JOANNA BENTLEY has been sold into sexual slavery by her greedy guardian. While sailing en route to Istanbul, she jumps overboard in the dark of night in hopes of reaching a nearby island. Alone, scared, and faced with the overwhelming odds of escaping unscathed, she has to put her trust in a British rogue who claims he was sent by her sister to rescue her.

PIRATE CAPTAIN RICHARD TREVANIAN has grown weary of roaming the seven seas and finding a mistress in every port. Left with a legacy of heartbreak and abandonment, he returns home to the Cornish coast to rebuild his crumbling castle. But a plea from a friend sends him out on one last adventure to save an English lady from her Topkapi Palace prison. He discovers it may be the most dangerous escapade yet…to his heart.

Excerpt

Chapter One

Bentley House, Mayfair
September 1784

Her bedside lamp hit the floor as she kicked out. Glass shards skittered across the polished wood. Oil fumes permeated the air.Joanna swung her fist with every ounce of strength she possessed. An electric shock of pain raced through her knuckles. His head snapped back with a grunt. Her spurt of satisfaction was short-lived as another brute wrapped his arms around her waist. She gritted her teeth and tried to twist free of the black-hearted foreigner holding her prisoner. Panic crawled up her spine.

She dug her teeth into the hand over her mouth, gaining a moment to ground out, “Why?”

“Well, well, Joanna.” Her step-brother’s ugly, whiny voice stopped her struggles. “Surprising to find you have somewhat of a backbone after all, though little help it does you.” His hand whipped dismissively through the air. “Gag and tie her up. It appears my sister is not anxious to meet her intended.”

This couldn’t be happening. “For the love of God, Horace, tell me why are you doing this to me? Who is my intended?”

He turned back, an expression of utter contempt contorted the features of his pock-marked porcine face visible in the glow cast by the flickering hall light. “You shall soon find out.” His evil laugh shocked her to her core. “Your father owed me more than the pittance he left. I am taking my share.”

“How could you expect to inherit something to which you have no right?” A sob of pure terror threatened to choke her.

A jagged streak of lightning split the night sky through the bedchamber window, its earsplitting thunder vibrated within Joanna’s chest. Her step-brother startled at the sudden noise. He wouldn’t answer. He knew she was right.

Horace Pecklewhite narrowed his bulging bloodshot eyes. “Her prince awaits. Take her away.” He sneered.

“Who?” What prince? One man shoved a wad of linen sheeting into her mouth and tied a strip of material around her head to hold it in place. The other brute trussed her like an animal. Wild desperation, abject fear, utter despair sank in as they hauled her through the darkened halls and out the stately double doors of Bentley House. Rain soaked her navy-blue riding habit, mixing with the tears trickling down her cheeks.

They tossed her in the waiting coach as if she were nothing more than old luggage. Her back hit the bench; pain radiated down her legs. She struggled to sit up and watched her home disappear from view. None of the servants, sleeping peacefully and tucked away under the eaves on the fourth floor, could’ve heard her brief cries for help before she was silenced.

Lizbeth. Dear God, how she needed her sister. Surely her brother-in-law Robert could put a stop to this, but they had no clue this devious plot was afoot.

Pain screamed through her arms wrenched at an awkward angle behind her back. She slid and bounced on her seat in the hack as it careened wildly through the streets of London. Joanna caught glimpses of the men in the passing street lamps and the last bit of hope of convincing them to free her died.

She eyed them with alarm, noting their odd clothing and turban-wrapped heads. They wore over-long beards and were swarthy complexioned. Unnerved by their blatant disregard, she closed her eyes and laid her head on the cracked leather seat. The moment she had retired for the night and heard the key turn in the lock of her bedchamber door she knew something dreadful was underway. It all made sense now. All the clues to her impending demise had been there if she’d only understood the significance of her step-brother’s newfound preoccupation with all things Turkish.

The ominous clink of the key locking her bedchamber door as Joanna slipped beneath the covers of her bed sent warning bells clanging through her mind. She should’ve left off the dratted stays, the tangled knots of the lacing dug into the small of her back even now. Five minutes more and she would’ve been out her window and down the ivy-covered trellis. Five minutes more and she would’ve had the bit between the teeth of her beloved Annan. A stinking five minutes more and she would’ve been on her way to Lizabeth in Cornwall.

Robert had tried and failed to win the court’s guardianship appointment. Joanna silently railed at the corrupt British judicial system. No doubt her step-brother easily bribed the judge presiding over her stewardship.

She hadn’t a clue what awaited her. A shiver of fear rippled down her back. The stench of rotting fish gagged her behind the rag stuffed in her mouth. The unmistakable sound of lapping water indicated the Thames nearby. She tugged at the rope binding her wrists, but the rough hemp scraped her flesh raw. There had to be some way out, some way to save herself.

The coach came to a rocking halt on its squeaky springs. The smaller man flung the door open and stepped out while the other hauled her from the bench. He slung Joanna over his shoulder and carried her onto a wharf where the masts of large ships loomed like an eerie forest of giant straight-limbed trees. She twisted her head from side to side trying to spy anyone who might help her. None but a few drunken sailors stumbled aimlessly in the rain. Her whimpers were lost in the whipping wind and waves lashing against the hulls.

They carried her onto the deck of a mid-sized ship then down to a dark cabin. Her captor dropped her onto a soft bed. He lit a hurricane lamp swinging on a pivot affixed to the wall. The yellow glow of light illuminated her captor’s black eyes and shaggy beard. She stiffened when his rough hands touched her ankles. A moment of relief flooded through her whilst the rope binding them was cut and he released her bound wrists. The pain of stabbing needles struck when she attempted to bring her numb arms back to her front. Joanna spat on the man the moment he removed her gag. “Filthy pig. May you rot in hell for your part in this evil deed.”

A lecherous grin, revealing a row of perfect white teeth, split his face. Joanna recoiled. He spun on his heel and left. The cabin door shut and a key turned in the lock. She was left cold, wet, and alone. Within moments the loud clatter of a heavy chain rattled and rocked the ship.

Blood returned to her tortured extremities. Joanna rolled off the bed and tried to lift the door latch, even knowing it was useless. She ran to the bank of windows at the rear of the cabin, opened one pane and stuck her head out. Nausea roiled in her belly at the great distance between her and the water below. ‘Twouldn’t do any good to jump unless she was ready to commit suicide—she didn’t know how to swim. She looked upward and gasped. A row of men stared down at her, no doubt prepared to recover her if she dared to take her chances in the river.

Deflated, Joanna pulled her head in and latched the window. There wasn’t anything for it but to wait until they reached land to find a way off the ship. She curled up on the bench seat below the windows, shocked at how easy it was for her loathsome step-brother to do this to her. If only her father hadn’t died…if only Lizbeth and Robert had succeeded in gaining her guardianship…if only she had thought to eavesdrop on Horace at every opportunity.

If only…

A key jiggling in a lock roused Joanna from semi-wakefulness. The rising sun bathed the cabin in hues of peach. She swung her legs over the edge of the seat and brushed her tangled hair from her eyes. A brightly dressed dark man entered with a large tray. He placed it on a very low table surrounded by cushions set in the center of her prison. The exact opposite of the man last night, this one smiled rather benignly at her.

He bowed low. “Vali Ahad Zevcesi, welcome aboard the Seven Winds.” His voice was melodic and heavily accented. “I am Akbar. Mahamet, Jani, or I will serve you and see to your needs. Jani will arrive shortly to begin your personal care. Whatever you desire, ask and we will provide—if possible.” He bowed then started to back out of the cabin.

“Wait. Where are you taking me?”

“To the prince, Vali Ahad-i-Sultanat Ahmed. He has provided his private ship and personal cabin for your comfort.

“Prince Ahmed?” Joanna couldn’thave been more taken aback. “I do not understand.”

Akbar directed his reply to the floor. “Your guardian has contracted your marriage to the great prense. The ceremony will take place upon your arrival at Topkapi Palace.

Joanna jumped to her feet, choking with outrage. “No. I did not agree to this. Horace cannot. He is not my legal guardian.”

“I know nothing of the details, Vali Ahad Zevcesi.” The man hurriedly bowed his way backwards toward the door again. “Please eat while the food is hot.”

She dashed around a desk and the ridiculously low table to the cabin door. She lifted the latch as quietly as possible and slowly opened it a crack to make sure no one stood on the other side. The dark companionway was deserted. Creeping out, she wasn’t sure which way to go, but up. If she could make it to the rail unseen, jumping into the Thames was her best hope of escape and survival. Surely a fisherman or other vessel could save her before she drowned.

The creaking of the ship hid the sound of the squeaking boards beneath her booted feet. A glimmer of light illuminated the steps to the deck above. She dashed up them, then cautiously pushed the door open to peep her head around. Several Turkish men pulled ropes here and there, but none noticed Joanna. Her navy-blue riding habit helped her to blend in with the waning shadows cast by the yellowish glow of lanterns swinging to and fro on hooks.

Slinking out of the door a little way, she discovered the man behind the great wheel of the ship stood a few feet above her on a higher deck. All he had to do was look down and she was caught. Joanna ducked behind a barrel and bit her lip, her heart about to beat right out of her chest. The lights of London glowed in the distance. She couldn’tsee any other vessels near enough to rescue her before she sank like a bar of soap to the bottom of the bath. What she needed was a large enough piece of wood to hang onto to keep her afloat. An oar from one of the boats lying on its side was her only option, but there was no way to reach one without being seen.

She’d have to run, grab, and jump. No hesitation. No second-thoughts as she climbed over the rail.

Joanna took several calming breaths to slow the rate of her pulse. Craned her neck to see the man at the wheel. His attention was diverted by another. She dashed from her hiding place, raced past piles of rope, barrels, and dodged lines running from rails to the sails.

She lifted the oar from the boat, surprised by its weight as she dragged it with her the few steps to the side of the ship. Joanna screamed in holy terror and kicked, dropped the large paddle and clawed at the arm around her waist. Her captor pulled her back, away from escape. He easily hauled her over his shoulder and carried her to her cabin prison. He flung her onto the bed. She bounced and hit her shoulder hard into the wall. Tears of pain and frustration flooded her eyes. The door slammed shut and the sound of the tumbler.

Screams tore from her as she bounded from the bed and destroyed everything she could get her hands on that wasn’t nailed down.

The red and black sheer curtains draping the hideously overcarved built-in bed hung in tatters. Billows of white and blue silk reminiscent of clouds and sky hanging from the ceiling looked like a raging tigress had shredded them. She kicked the tray of food with a spurt of satisfaction and watched the coffee pot sail across the room straight through one of the stern windows. The shatter of glass surely caught the attention of the men on the upper deck.

A wardrobe and a silk privacy screen sat opposite the bed. She ripped her fingernails down the cloth, ruining the sultry scene of naked women lying about a large pool.

The door opened.

She jumped over the pillows scattered on the floor to put the desk between her and whoever entered. If she could find a dagger, she’d use it. Joanna ripped a drawer from the desk and threw it at Akbar and another man approaching her with hands up, placatingly.

Her blood roared in her head, her chest heaved. They said something, probably words to try to calm her. Make her see reason. Joanna pulled out the other drawer. The bigger man dove across the desk and knocked her into the bench seat at her back. The wind whooshed from her lungs. She gasped for air, eyes wide with fear.

Akbar grabbed her arms and raised them above her head allowing great lungfuls of precious oxygen to fill her chest. The Goliath of a man tied her ankles together with a length of torn silk plucked from the ceiling. In a matter of seconds, she was trussed up once again and lying on the bed.

Hot tears burned the back of her eyes, but she refused to let them fall. “I will never submit. Never.”

Akbar exited the cabin.

Goliath bowed low to her. “I am Mahamet. I have been assigned to your care and training. I am sorry this marriage was not of your choosing. We believe you will change your mind as you come to see how beautiful our way of life is for the wives of Prense Ahmed. Please let us show you the way.”

Joanna clamped her teeth so hard it made her cheek hurt. “Never.”

Mahamet sighed. He bowed again and backed out of the room, leaving the door open. Akbar returned with an odd contraption with several long tubes sticking out of it. He pulled a chair up to the side of the bed. “I am sorry, Vali Ahad Zevcesi. You have given us no choice.”

He used a stick lit from a lantern to put fire to a small bowl on the side of the etched brass vase-like thing. A sweet curl of smoke rose lazily from what she now realized was some sort of pipe. Akbar drew a mouthful and blew it straight at Joanna’s face. She scrambled to the furthest corner and hid her nose and mouth in her hands, tied at the wrist.

“Nooo. Please…no.” A strange dizziness swirled in her brain. She didn’t know if it was from holding her breath or the effects of whatever he was forcing her to draw in. Strange feelings crept through her limbs, like her muscles turned to jellied aspic. Joanna’s hands fell away. Her head felt too heavy for her neck to hold up.

The tears she’dheld back fell freely as a devastating mixture of fear and freedom enveloped her.

She became peripherally aware of the two men and a young girl stripping her clothes off, placing her in a warm bath. Joanna tried to open her eyes, but it took entirely too much effort. She ineffectually slapped the hands away intimately washing her. Drifting in and out of awareness, she knew they had succeeded in bending her will to theirs. What they planned to do to her she had no clue and really didn’t care.Yellowish-orange light penetrated the backs of Joanna’s eyelids. It took monumental effort to lift her lashes. Her gaze landed first on the white-washed wooden ceiling. It wasn’t in the least familiar. At whose house had she slept? She didn’t recall leaving home. Joanna wrinkled her brow at the bizarre sleep she’d had. What on earth would make her dream her step-brother had sold her into a Turkish harem?

The smell of coffee permeated her senses, and though she wasn’t fond of the brew, her mouth was so dry she’d happily chug it. The clinking of china turned her head. She attempted to sit up, but her hands were stretched above her head and tied to the bedposts. Dread filled her. She yanked on the pieces of blue silk holding her fast.

Joanna squeezed her eyes shut, praying in earnest for the nightmare to end. “Please, please, please, let this all just be a bad dream.”

“Good morning, Vali Ahad Zevcesi.” She knew that soft voice dripping with honey all too well.

“No.” She shook her head in denial. This couldn’t be real.

“I will untie you if you promise not to fight or destroy everything in the cabin. No trying to escape.”

The man looked and sounded pretty bloody real to her. What was she going to do? There had to be a way to gain her freedom. Lizbeth would be sick with worry and fear. Robert, as a viscount, could surely petition the king to demand her return, but how would they even know what had happened to her? How would Horace explain her absence when her sister arrived to take her to their modiste as planned today?

Vali Ahad Zevcesi…”

Joanna turned her jaundiced gaze to Akbar. She had no choice but to acquiesce lest he drug her again. Part of her wanted those feelings coursing through her veins once more. She’d never been so free and contented in her life. But that was exactly what they wanted. Her docile and incapable of defending her right to control what happened to her own body.

“I will not fight or destroy everything, I promise.” She forced a fake tear to slip down her temple to prove they had subdued her.

He wore a white turban wrapped about his head. A billowing white shirt hung past puffy white pants gathered at the ankles. A red silk sash was tied about his waist and red beaded slippers were on his feet. His delighted smile didn’t put her at ease as he no doubt intended. Akbar untied her wrists. Relief washed through her.

Her arms ached from hours of being held in one position. As she brought them down, she rolled to her side and sat up. “What in blazes?” She stared at the clothes they had put on her. A long colorful skirt so sheer she could see her thighs through it. And a blouse that was naught but a wisp of cloth hanging from her shoulders, barely reaching to the bottom of her bare breasts.

“What have you done to me?” Joanna cried as she stood.

“Only begun the procedures necessary to prepare you for your marriage. We have many lessons to impart and must begin immediately if we are to have you ready in time.”

“What procedures? What did you do to me?” She was afraid to know where they’d put their hands. But she knew something didn’t feel right under the skirt. Her skin felt weird as the fabric slid against her flesh.

“It is customary for women to be denuded everywhere but their heads. The valide sultana, the Padishah’s first kadin, wishes the wives and odalisques in the harem to be plucked instead of shaved so there will be no accidental cuts, and it will not be necessary to remove your hair daily.”

Denuded? Did they pluck all the hair from her legs? Under her arms? Horror filled her. They had no right.

Joanna dashed behind the screen and lifted her skirt. Shock buckled her knees. She caught herself from falling with a hand on the rim of the bathtub. They had completely defiled her. She ran out and caught Akbar off guard. Beating with her fists on his chest and arms. Screaming, “You had no right. What in bloody hell makes you think you have the right to do this to me?”

He tried to capture her hands, dodging her fists. “You belong to Prince Ahmed and it is our custom.”

“He does not own me and your customs are filthy…depraved…untenable.”

Arms like bands of iron encircle her, trapping her in an embrace from which she couldn’t break free. Her legs flailed uselessly.

“Stop it, leydi. Now.” The sing-song in Mahamet’s voice was gone, replaced with a tone that brooked no argument.

If she didn’tcalm down, he might tie her up again. “All right.”

She relaxed and he let go. She crossed to the window seat and tucked herself into the corner, pulled her knees up to her chest to hide her near nudity. Joanna stared out to sea, praying for liberation from this nightmare. How was she going to survive this until she found a way to escape? Dear Lord, give me strength.

Someone sat down near her feet. “Your outrage over this is meaningless. It is the way of the harem and so you will become accustomed.” Akbar pleaded with her. “Please do not fight us.”

Joanna lifted her chin from her knees. Beseeched him with her eyes and words. “Escape with me. I can take you to my great mansion in the countryside. You will love it there and will be far happier living free than fearing for your life at every turn.”

The eunuch gave her a sad smile. “He would find us and send terrifying soldiers to kill us and those who helped to keep us hidden from him.”

“This world is big. I am sure my brother-in-law knows of a place the prince would never find you.” She dropped her bare feet to the plush gold carpeted floor. She grabbed his hands from his lap and shook them, imploring him.

Mahamet pulled the desk chair around to face her. “Leydi Joanna. We do not want to leave the harem. You will understand once you see the beauty and luxury. I promise you will fall in love with your new life and your great husband. One day you will be the head of all the kadins and will be loved, respected, and praised by all.”

Joanna slumped, realizing it was useless. She would have to bite her tongue and bide her time.

Akbar rose from the seat and took her hand. “Come.” He indicated she should sit on a cushion at the table. He tugged her down beside him. “Please eat while the food is warm.”

A very young boy garbed in the same garish livery slipped in and quietly shut the door behind him. He wore a red turban over his curly black hair, a pair of bright red taffeta pants, a white heavily embroidered shirt, a yellow sash tied about his waist, and blue pointy-toed slippers. He looked very familiar.

“Oh, dear God.” He was the girl who had bathed her in her dreams. He appeared around two-and-ten years old. He came to sit at the table with them. Mahamet introduced the boy with the face of an angel. “Jani is your personal servant. He is trained to arrange your hair and apply your henna and kohl as well as bathe and dress you.”

Joanna stared at the two. “A boy helps me in my bath? What is wrong with you people?” Both males simply stared back.

“You have nothing to fear. Jani is a full eunuch and has been since the age of ten.”

“How does his nationality figure into this?” These people and their customs were unfathomable.

Mahamet’s eyebrows rose. “A eunuch is a male who has been castrated.”

“Castrated? Like a gelding?” That couldn’t be right. At the man’s nod, Joanna snorted with disbelief. They were absolutely insane. “Why? Why would a man do that to himself?” She rubbed her fingers on her forehead.

“He did not do it. His master had it done to him so that he would have no urges of a sexual nature and therefore could be trained to serve in Prince Ahmed’s harem as a personal servant. You must treat him as you would a lady’s maid. Akbar and I are also eunuchs.”

Joanna shook her head, trying to understand such a barbaric practice and the unnecessary reason behind it. “Why not just have female servants see to the personal needs of the women?”

“They also serve in the harem, but male eunuchs are stronger and more capable of protecting the odalisques from defilement should an invader breach the security of the harem.”

Joanna breathed deeply through her nose to calm her pounding heart. If she didn’t escape, how on earth could she reconcile her life to such an untenable existence? How many women were in this harem place and why on earth did Ahmed need another one? The threat of defilement must be great to have to resort to castrating men to use as ladies’ maids. “Then send in a woman to see to my needs.”

“I am sorry, Vali Ahad Zavcesi. You are the only female on this ship. The female slaves of the harem must remain in the harem. We have each been chosen for our special areas of expertise in training the new wives for the prense. He especially selected Jani for his unique skills in dressing you and applying your henna and kohl exactly how your husband, Prense Ahmed, wishes it.”

“Cease calling him my husband.” Joanna closed her eyes in frustration.

“Yes, Vali Ahad Zevcesi.

“What does that even mean?” She threw up her hands, exasperated.

“It is your title as his wife.”

“I am not his wife and I never agreed to this marriage. Are women in your society so disrespected? Are women allowed no rights in your country? I will never willingly marry with Prince Ahmed.” She shook her head for emphasis.

“I understand this was not your choice, but women in our culture have their lives decided for them. I have heard in your country daughters have always had their husbands chosen for them, also, so in this respect we are no different.”

Joanna massaged her aching temples. She silently railed against fate, mankind, God for doing this to her. She was Lady Joanna Marie Bentley, daughter of the late earl of Bardwell, and heiress to a large fortune. How could this happen to her? She gritted her teeth.

Apparently, no man alive considered what a woman wanted. Arguing with the servant availed her nothing. Their lives weren’t their own to rule, as hers wasn’t. From her perspective, however, a huge difference existed. She would somehow gain control of her own life. If eunuchs chose to be subjugated it was their choice. A mind with a strong enough volition could find a way. Desperation and determination coursed through her.

Defeated for the moment, she moved on. She had to pick and choose which battles to wage. Some were clearly unwinnable. “Address me as my lady in whatever language you choose. I want no part of his title.”

Akbar bowed his head. “Very well, benim leydi.

“Where are my jewels?” The contents of the pouch she had tied about her waist beneath her riding habit was all she had left of her mother.

Jani answered. “They are in a box in the vanity drawer.

At least they hadn’t stripped from her the only piece of home she had left. Thirst and hunger got the better of her. She reached for the cup of coffee Mahamet poured, fully intending to find a way off this bloody ship.How in the world was he supposed to rescue an English chit from the arms of a Turkish Prince? If not for his school-hood chums’ plea for help, Captain Richard Trevanion would have been settled back in Cornwall by now, not posing once again as his alter ego, Tony Trevlac, to gain access to Topkapi Palace.

He still contemplated a plausible reason for visiting the Sultan of Istanbul. Though he had traded with the man in the past, the only thing in his hold worth offering was a small chest of rare gems taken from a Spanish galleon two months ago. He hoped the sultan would be suitably interested, thereby gaining him an invitation to the palace. It was a weak plan at best.

Richard knew where the seraglio was located, having been entertained by the sultan on numerous occasions, but of course he’d never been behind the well-guarded harem walls. He would be able to disguise himself as a Turk with ease, considering his darkly tanned skin gained from crisscrossing the open seas for the past decade. His black hair and brown eyes would make him look a natural. And by the time he reached the palace, his growing beard and mustache would help further his deception.

If all went according to his plan, he would be asked to stay the night and enjoy the sultan’s generous amenities. Under normal circumstances, the scantily-clad dancers would be a most pleasurable diversion, but not this time. Not while he contemplated the myriad ways the Sultan would choose to put him to death should he be caught stealing the Prince’s intended bride. Tony Trevlac would never again find safe passage through the Ottoman Empire, but, he’d had no intention of donning that guise again anyway.

Richard was tired of aimlessly roaming the world’s oceans. Bored with finding a greedy mistress in every port. His ancient castle on the Cornish coast called for him to restore it and settle into sheep farming. Perhaps rebuild the wheelhouses of the abandoned tin mines. It was a good solid plan only interrupted by the urgent pleas from Robert to rescue his sister-in-law from the harem. Once this deed was done—or he was dead trying—he envisioned a future of quietude and domesticity. Pirating pirates had finally worn him out.

Someday he would make a trip to London during the Season to find a suitable wife, but not for many years to come. He was in no great hurry to marry having seen his father waste away, lose interest in everything and everyone at the death of Richard’s mother. ’Twould make no difference who he picked for a wife anyway. He had no intention of losing himself in one and ignoring his children like a lovesick fool.

“What is wrong, Captain?” William Corydon, his first mate, called up from the waist, taking the seven steps to the quarterdeck in three. His shaggy light brown hair whipped about his lean, sun-reddened face in the wind.

“Nothing. Why?”

“Well, the scowl upon your brow was mighty fierce, my friend, whatever you were thinking. Still is.”

Richard shook off his past. He cast his gaze out across the deck of his ship and lovingly caressed the smooth spokes of the great wheel. “I believe this will be my last voyage, Will. I have more than enough wealth and three estates I would like to see grow and prosper with my guidance. ’Tis time to transition into the next phase of my life.”

“We had a feeling you did not intend to sail again after we arrived in St. Ive’s. If not for Trevor and Robert’s request, you would not have, would you?” Will lifted one corner of his lips in a half-grin.

Richard tilted his head. “That obvious, was I?”

“The last year or so your itch for a good fight seemed to dim. Mark thinks the only reason you continued pirating was for the men.” He opened a storage box and removed a knotted rope and hourglass. Will appeared not to expect a response as he went about his task of determining their speed.

Richard stared after his first mate and wondered if he felt the same. Would he quit the sea, too?

Markus Willoby, his second mate, came to relieve him of his position behind the wheel while Will counted the knots in the rope he’d thrown off the back of the ship. “Speed?” Mark asked.

“Seven knots.” Will glanced back at Richard. “What manner of vessel is the Turkish ship, Seven Winds?”

“I do not know. Trevor did not take the time to find out before they hurried out of London to find us in St. Ives. I know your thinking. If it is a barque, we may only be a day or two behind at this point, but if it is a barquentine, it could be five or six days ahead of us. I am sure the prince would not have a corvette for his own personal use—‘twould not be majestic enough.”

Markus grinned. “I hope there is a lady somewhere who will thank you mightily for saving this wench.”

“I will be thanked, but not in the way your rutting mind dwells on.” Richard chuckled. “I really am sorry your wenching was cut short in St. Ives, but you will have plenty of opportunity once we have rescued the damsel in distress and return to Cornwall.”

“So do you really believe you will find a way into the harem?” Markus gazed at Richard, skepticism quirking one brow.

He shrugged. “My perfect record for stealing other men’s possessions unscathed might finally come to a bloody end.” While he didn’t particularly want to die, at least he wouldn’t leave behind a grieving family.

A pair of piercing blue eyes stared out at him as he reached for the spyglass in the binnacle cabinet. The oddly colored stow-away darted out past Richard in a blur of dark brown and tannish cream. The feline jumped to the rail at the left front on the quarterdeck and sat there, proudly, for a few moments as if surveying its domain.

It dove from the rail toward the larboard companionway door below. A bellow of rage drifted up. Richard chuckled as he stepped over to the edge to peer down. The cat had attacked the feather sticking from Albert’s tricorn once again. She was halfway to the fo’c’sle with it sticking from her mouth, pouncing from barrel to crate to pile of rope along the way.

“Give it up, man.” Richard called down with a laugh. “She is going to steal it every time.”

The old, crusty salt was sprawled on his back, angry red scratch marks streaked his bare, darkly tanned arms. “Mangy beast. I’ll catch ‘er an’ wring ‘er neck. See if I don’t.”

Richard chuckled. “Ten guineas she is hale and whole when we reach St. Ives.”

Albert climbed to his gnarly bare feet. Slapped the hat on his thigh. “Yer on.” His toothless grin split his wrinkled face. Hitching up his worn black knee breeches with one hand, he plunked the hat on his bald head with the other and set off toward the proud feline.

Times like these were what Richard would miss the most. He loved every single member of his crew like family. With that thought, the idea of an annual reunion ball was the perfect way to keep them close. On the heels of that plan, the reaction of his Cornish neighbors to a swarm of pirates descending on the coast brought a deep chuckle up from his gut.

He rubbed his hands together. Richard couldn’t wait for the shenanigans to begin.

Authorgraph Signature | Lis'Anne Harris

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