Authors: Marie Caron
Published by Liquid Silver Books, imprint of Atlantic Bridge Publishing, 10509 Sedgegrass Dr, Indianapolis, Indiana 46235. Copyright © Published 2013, Marie Caron. All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic, mechanical, recording or otherwise, without the prior written permission of the author.
Manufactured in the United States of America
Liquid Silver Books
This is a work of fiction. The characters, incidents and dialogues in this book are of the author’s imagination and are not to be construed as real. Any resemblance to actual events or persons, living or dead, is completely coincidental.
Before being accused of a crime he did not commit, Jack O’Bannon, sea captain and handsome rogue, had firmly believed he was the master of his own destiny. But the chain of events that is set in motion will make him question everything—and everyone—he’s ever believed in. Will the love of one woman be enough to free him and guide him to his future?
Lady Katherine Conlon had led a sheltered life, protected by everyone around her, including a boy in her father’s employ. Never did she dream that one day she would return the favor, saving the boy and loving him as only a woman can love a man. But can she overcome the differences between them and take control of her own destiny?
This book is dedicated to my friend Pauline Fitzsimmons for her encouragement and love.
Many thanks to my readers in the fan fiction genre for your incredible support over the years.
June 1822, British colony of Ceylon
The tinkling laughter of a small child echoed through the decaying walls of the abandoned house, a remnant of the Dutch colonization that had flourished there for generations. A tall gangling boy of twelve, barefooted, and dressed in the plain white pants and shirt of a plantation worker, heard the giggling and knew exactly where his prey had chosen to hide—behind the vine-covered lattice in the dooryard, just as she always did. He grinned and was about to call her out and end their game of hide-and-go-seek, when two boys came racing up to him.
He recognized them as the two sons of the Earl of Pembroke; the earl and his family were visiting from India. What the boys wanted with him, he had no idea. After all, he was just a servant, while they were practically royalty.
“Quickly, give it to him!” one of the nattily dressed boys insisted, and the other one shoved something against Jack’s chest. He caught it, and the two boys ran away laughing.
The something was wrapped in a woven tapestry. It filled his arms, though whatever the tapestry hid, it did not weigh very much. “My thanks, I think,” he said more to himself, lifting his eyebrows in confusion.
Curious, Jack was just setting the bundle on the ground, intending to open the tapestry and inspect this uncommon gift, when he heard a man cry out, “There is the thief! Catch him!” Rising to his feet, a startled Jack stood firm as three turbaned men, obviously plantation workers from India, surrounded him, their black eyes burning with rage.
“Where is your cohort?” one asked him. “We know there are two of you.”
“I have none. I’m here alone,” Jack replied, darting a swift glance toward the dooryard.
had nothing to do with this, whatever
was, and he prayed she’d remain hidden.
“Why did you take Shiva?” another man asked him.
“I didn’t!” Jack responded adamantly, but he thought he knew who had. The same man pulled on the tapestry and out rolled a statue the length of Jack’s forearm. He recognized it as one of the gods the workers worshipped. He had seen statues like it sitting in the shrines the Indian men had been allowed to build. It was said they worked better when they could pray to their gods. The men looked at him, their expressions fierce.
“The evidence does not lie,” the third man stated smugly, and then all three men began hitting and kicking Jack, while cursing him in their own language.
The next thing Jack knew, his father’s employer, Sir John Conlon, was standing over him, as his father wiped the blood from Jack’s bruised and battered face. Nearby, Sir John’s great horse, Jupiter, whinnied, pawing the ground, impatient for his exercise.
“I didn’t take it,” Jack mumbled through his split and swollen lips.
“We know that, lad. My daughter saw everything and told us what happened,” Sir John informed him. “Do not concern yourself. I have been assured by his Lordship that his sons will be punished for their prank.”
Jack doubted that very much, but at least the Tamil men were gone, and four-year-old Katherine was safe. She stood at her father’s side, her big blue eyes filled to overflowing with tears, and Jack’s heart ached to see her so upset on his account.
“I ran as fast as I could,” she said, gulping back a sob.
“Do not cry; I am all right. You saved me, Lady Katherine,” Jack assured her as he rose to his feet. Even though his face hurt terribly, he was smiling. He would always have a smile for her, always protect her.
August 1844, on the high seas
Jack was smiling fondly at the memory from his youth, when his trusted friend and crew member found him gazing out to sea.
“Do ye think we’ve lost them, Captain?” the grizzled, bent old man asked, as he squinted in the same direction.
“For now,” came the captain’s short reply. Dressed in yellow, snug-fitting breeches, a long-sleeved white linen shirt, and a brown leather jerkin, he was taller than the average man. Dark brown leather boots encased his long, lean legs. Although the gray streaks in his shoulder-length, dark hair bespoke of the hard life he had lived, he was still a handsome man.
The old man looked up, studying Jack through rheumy, blue eyes. “I would’na want the
to have to face a ship of that size,” he said, his face paler than death. Then he turned and stared back the way they had come, as though wishing they were sailing hundreds of miles in that direction instead of so close to the enemy.
The sea had finally calmed, and the captain breathed a sigh of relief knowing he would reach the familiar island chain within a few days’ time. Running from the British navy was one thing, but doing it in stormy seas was quite another, and he was dead tired of it. Since leaving port, rain had poured down upon them, and the ferocious winds had nearly torn the sails to shreds. There had been times when he’d feared he would lose his ship, that the
would flounder in the rough seas, but the sky was clear at last, and it looked like they’d gotten away from their pursuers.
Looking down at the poor old fellow next to him, Jack smiled wearily. “Don’t worry, Jim, I believe they’ve given up. Besides, the
can take whatever the Royal navy can dish out, if it comes to that,” he bragged, lying through his teeth. His ship was no match for a navy gunship, and he knew it, but why worry his old friend? Besides, hadn’t his father always taught him that pessimism paved the way to ruin? “Now go below and see if you can get our guest to eat something.”
“I swear I believe she would prefer to starve to death, than eat anything I bring ’er,” Jim said, shaking his shaggy head. “I will try to get ’er to take something, Captain, but I doubt she will. She will’na even talk to me. Tis ye she wants to see, and ye know it, Jack,” he dared to say. Then he shuffled over to the ladder and descended, while the captain considered the old salt’s impertinent observation.
She wanted to see him, all right, and he wanted to see her…always had, always would. It was the words she wanted to say to him that had him worried. No doubt she was still angry about how she’d come to be aboard his ship. In truth he couldn’t blame her for that, but he’d had no choice. There was no way he would allow her to marry that pasty-faced dandy. The very idea that Katherine’s stepfather had promised her to that poor excuse for a man made Jack’s blood boil. How could he have done that to her? Viscount Richelieu might be young and wealthy, but he still wasn’t good enough for Katherine.
was good enough for her, and that was the problem in a nutshell.
In his heart Lady Katherine Conlon had been
since the first time he’d laid eyes on her, when she was naught but a babe in arms. He could still recall the day her mother and father had brought her home to the plantation on Ceylon where he had lived. Jack O’Bannon had been a boy of nine years of age, the son of the plantation manager, while her father, John Conlon, had been the landowner, having inherited the sprawling coffee plantation from his uncle, the then Earl of Sussex. Jack had been an unruly lad, always getting into mischief of one sort or another, but from the first time he’d set eyes on little Katherine he had curbed his appetite for misadventure. He’d been enthralled by the baby girl’s sweet face, her golden halo of hair, her sapphire eyes, and her sunny disposition, and he vowed to do nothing to put her in harm’s way. Indeed he had fallen in love with her back then, although he hadn’t known it.
When she was finally old enough to go out and play, he had begged to watch over her. He took the golden-locked four-year-old in the wagon to the estate’s cinnamon orchard, where he had taught her to play games like hide-and-go-seek, and to climb the tall, thin trees with their aromatic bark—an accomplishment her parents, when they learned of it, had abhorred and ordered her to never do again. When she was barely five he had taught her to ride a horse, a feat she accomplished easily, as though she’d been born to it. Together, the two had explored the plantation to their hearts’ content.
Life was good until her father had suddenly died. Not long afterward, her mother had remarried a man named Houghton. That same year they had removed to England so Houghton could further his career in the law, and Jack hadn’t seen Katherine since that time…until just a fortnight ago, when he had gone to Colombo to conduct some personal business.
A fortnight ago, British colony of Ceylon
What had started out as a successful venture had ended poorly for Jack. While celebrating in a crowded pub in town with his first mate, Ben, he had been falsely accused of stealing the purse of a white-wigged-fop-of-a Frenchman. And since Jack was traveling incognito and couldn’t prove himself to be an upstanding citizen of that or any other community—his business took him all over the world, but he called Hawaii home—he was arrested and hauled away to the city jail. Early the following morning he was taken before the magistrate, a man he recognized by name, if not by appearance.
It had been two decades since Katherine, her mother, and her stepfather, John Houghton, had sailed to London, and as the years went by Jack had reconciled himself to the fact that he would never see any of them again. And yet here was her stepfather, now a judge in the local English court system, about to pronounce sentence on him. Perhaps this could work to his advantage.
“Begging your honor’s pardon. If I may speak to you for a moment, I believe I can establish exactly who I am and what I am doing here in the capital.” Jack spoke as eloquently as he could.
Meanwhile, his accuser, the fancy Frenchman sat on the other side of the courtroom, holding a white linen handkerchief to his nose, hoping to ward off whatever bad smells his pampered nasal passages detected. In truth there were other cases waiting to be heard, and some of the accused didn’t look or smell all that clean, but their hygiene didn’t interest Jack. What mattered was that he needed to get out of here, so that he could get back to his crew and his ship and the money he had hidden on board.
The casket of five thousand gold sovereigns, even though rightfully his, was something for which he might be hanged, should he be faced with proving his case against the dishonest businessman from whom he had liberated it. But that was another story, and for now, that money was something this court knew nothing about, and Jack intended to keep it that way. If he could escape this farce of a trial, he would take the money back to his hideout in Hawaii as fast as possible, and there disperse it to the men who had earned it.
The judge waved Jack forward, and the French dandy stood and glared from one to the other, his blue-eyed frown settling on the judge’s stern face. “Mon Dieu! Surely you would not take his word over mine? I have been wronged by this…this pirate, and I demand satisfaction!” the fop railed, pointing a slender, bejeweled finger at Jack.
Jack let out a loud sigh.
Why, oh why did this worm of a man have to come along and mess up my plans? All I had wanted to do was have a few drinks with my first mate before starting the long voyage home. Instead, now I’m facing a jail sentence for something I didn’t do, all because this pampered, powdered, pretender of manhood bumped into me and claimed that I stole his purse.