Read Don't Tempt Me Online

Authors: Julie Ortolon

Tags: #Contemporary, #Fiction, #Romance, #General, #Love Stories, #Man-Woman Relationships, #Contemporary romance, #Uncles, #Galveston Island (Tex.), #award-winning author, #Texas author, #USA award-winning author, #Pirate treasure, #Galveston Island, #Corpus Christi Bay (Tex.)

Don't Tempt Me (3 page)

BOOK: Don't Tempt Me
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"Do you know why Lafitte called it that?"

"No. I only know that every treasure hunter out there thinks there's a chest of gold somewhere, and that ---as a Kingsley descendant ---I should know where it is. Only, there is no chest of gold. It doesn't exist."

"What if" ---Adrian looked directly into her eyes ---"I told you the powder horn was worth more than gold?"

Chapter 2

The waitress picked that moment to arrive with the dessert and cappuccinos. Jackie waited impatiently for her to leave before turning to Adrian. "What do you mean, the powder horn is more valuable than gold?"

Rather than answer, Adrian picked up his fork and took a bite of pie made of coffee-flavored ice cream smothered in chocolate and whipped cream. "Mmm. This is good. Here, try some."

"I don't want dessert, I want you to answer my question."

"Come on ..." He waved the folk, tempting her. "One bite."

Holding back frustration, she opened her mouth, then smothered a moan of pleasure as the frozen treat melted on her tongue.

"Let's go back to your conversation with Scott Lawrence a couple months ago," Adrian said as he swirled his fork through the whipped cream.

Jackie recalled the day clearly. The author had started out asking if she were, by any chance, descended from Jack Kingsley. She'd tried to deny it, knowing that the instant the truth came out, he'd start asking about the treasure, and he had.

In a moment of sheer frustration, she'd told him about the letter she'd inherited. It had been written by the first mate of the
, Jack Kingsley's ship, to Kingsley's illegitimate son, describing the incident that had taken the captain's life. The letter, combined with stories handed down through the years, painted a fairly detailed picture of what had happened that stormy night during the Civil War. The stories had grown into the Legend of Pearl Island: a tale of ill-fated love between Captain Kingsley and Marguerite Bouchard LeRoche, the beautiful wife of a Galveston shipping baron.

Jackie sat forward, lacing her fingers. "Like I told Scott Lawrence, the crew members who overheard Jack Kingsley shouting that he wouldn't leave the ship without the treasure assumed it was something valuable. They didn't know its only value was sentimental."

"Because it reminded Jack of all the things he didn't want to be," Adrian said, surprising her. "All the reasons he wanted to be an honorable man rather than to follow in his father's and grandfather's footsteps and be a pirate."

She stared at him in shock. "How in the world do you know that?"

"Because my ancestor Marguerite wrote about it in her diaries." He shrugged as if his knowing her family secrets were nothing. "She asked him once if the rumors were true, that he'd inherited Lafitte's missing treasure from his grandfather. He laughed as if it were an inside joke ---which I guess it was ---and said that yes he had it and he kept it in his cabin as a reminder of his goal to give up smuggling. Unfortunately, he never told her what the treasure was, so there's no mention of the powder horn in her diaries. That's the link we're missing in our research, and the reason we need your letter. The Historical Commission won't grant the permits we need to hire an archeologist unless we have compelling evidence that the powder horn was on board when the ship went down."

"Marguerite wrote about Jack Kingsley?"


Jackie's skin tingled at the thought that someone had written about her legendary ancestor. Her namesake. Not word-of-mouth stories that grew with every telling, but firsthand accounts. What was he like, really? Brave and valiant as his first mate claimed? Or another charming opportunist like so many men in her family, including her own father?

"I need to know one thing," Adrian said. "What exactly did the first mate say about the powder horn?"

She hesitated, too used to avoiding all talk of the letter to discuss it openly. But as Marguerite's descendants, Adrian and his family were a part of the tale. And they held the answers to questions she'd kept locked in her heart all her life. "He, uh, he said Jack had always wanted to pass the treasure on to Andrew, his son, to help him remember why a man should strive for honor rather than easy riches."

"We need specifics, though." Adrian leaned closer, his expression intent. "On the phone with Scott, you said the letter states very clearly that the 'treasure' was a powder horn that Lafitte gave Kingsley's grandfather."

"It does."

"Perfect." He relaxed visibly. "That's exactly what we need in order to plead our case to the Historical Commission."

She nearly pulled away at the mere mention of the government agency that so hated scavengers like her and her father, but the lure of Jack Kingsley held her in place.

"Okay, now it's your turn for show-and-tell. Why is the horn so valuable?"

"After Scott got off the phone with you, he did some research about the powder horn and found out it has quite a history. And I mean
a history." His brows rose as if he had to struggle to take it all in. "Did you know it originally belonged to George Washington? And that he carved his initials into it?"

Her head dropped forward in surprise. "You're kidding."

"Finally caught your interest, eh?"

"No. Not at all."

"Liar." He held another forkful of dessert before her and she took it without thinking.

"So" ---she held a hand in front of her mouth ---"how did Lafitte wind up with it? Did he steal it from somebody?"

"Nope." Adrian sliced off another bite for himself. "During the Revolutionary War, a very young Andrew Jackson served as a messenger for the militia. On one occasion, Washington hid a message in his personal powder horn, and gave it to Jackson to carry behind British lines. Jackson kept the horn as a souvenir and had it with him in 1814 at the Battle of New Orleans. Since your ancestor sailed with Lafitte, I assume you know the Barataria pirates were instrumental in winning that battle."

"I know a lot about the cutthroats who hid out in the Louisiana swamps. They were a horrible, brutal band of thieves. Captain Reginald Kingsley may have been an exiled British noble, but he fit right in."

Adrian nodded in agreement. "From what I've read, I think 'cutthroat' sums them up accurately enough, but they did help defeat the British."

"One good deed does not a good man make."

"True. But when the battle was over, a celebration ball was held. At the ball, Jackson presented the powder horn to Lafitte. Lafitte made a lavish speech and claimed he would treasure it forever in remembrance of serving such a 'fine leader of men.'"

"Good ol' Jean." Jackie toasted him sarcastically with her cappuccino. "He knew how to make speeches ... even if half the words that fell from his lips were pure lies. That one being a perfect example, since he didn't keep the horn forever. He gave it to my ancestor Ruthless Reggie."

"So we hope to prove ... with your help."

"But what's in it for you?" Jackie asked. "Like I said, the state of Texas doesn't grant salvage rights. Anything you bring up will belong to them, so you have nothing to gain."

"Actually, we have a lot to gain." He smiled. "It's called tourism. The Legend of Pearl Island attracts a lot of guests to our inn, especially those who want to scuba dive around the wreck site. Try to guess how much our business will increase if the commission uncovers more of the ship with a partial excavation?"

"Then there's no talk of raising the ship?"

"No. They only care about the items that went down with the
, not the ship itself. Plus we'll have had all that lovely media about the history surrounding the wreck." His smile broadened. "God, you can't buy better publicity than that!"

"True. And I can see how it will be good for you. However ..." She rested her elbows on the table and laced her fingers together. "I fail to see what's in it for me."

"Ah. What's in it for you, indeed?" He pushed the dessert plate away, and leaned forward on his forearms. With his face so near, she watched candlelight play in his blue eyes. "We'd like to work out a deal with you similar to what we have going with your friend Captain Bob."

She frowned at the mention of the casual friend they had in common. Bobby Johnson had lived in Corpus when she first started chartering her ship, but later he'd moved to Galveston to start his own tour boat business. He'd been the one to tell the St. Claires about her ship. "What does Bobby have to do with this?"

"In addition to his regular Galveston Bay boat tours, Captain Bob and his wife, Paige, do a Haunted House Lunch Run every Saturday that has been extremely profitable for all of us. They ferry tourists from Galveston's historic district out to Pearl Island, where we serve lunch on the veranda that looks out over the cove. We even wear costumes to give people the illusion of stepping back in time. Tourists love it, and pay a nice price for the meals we serve."

Jackie raised both brows, remembering the costume Adrian had worn at the Buccaneer's Ball. It was far more elaborate than the costumes she and her crew wore on occasion. Lord have mercy, if that's what he wore to serve lunch, no wonder the lunch run was so popular. Any woman with a pulse who saw him wearing that red jacket and those tall jackboots probably had pirate/captive sex fantasies for months. She'd certainly had a few.

Just thinking about it stirred heat low in her belly. "So ... you, um" ---she cleared her throat ---"do this lunch run thing with Bobby ..."

"And my sister Rory, the brainstorm kid, started thinking, wouldn't it be great to take it a step further?"

"Go on."

"I need you to fantasize for a moment here." His gaze held hers and her mind drifted back toward erotic images of him in that red jacket. "You already know how much people will pay for dinner and an evening of sailing on an authentic Baltimore schooner. Think how much more they'll pay to take a trip on that ship to Pearl Island, where the notorious Henri LeRoche once entertained smugglers in his mansion."

Longing tightened her chest, since running the
Pirate's Pleasure
as a fully functioning cruise ship had been a lifelong dream. "A lot. They'd pay a lot"

"Yeah." He smiled and candlelight danced over his features. "We'd do it as a joint venture, sharing the cost of promoting it, then each of us profiting from our end. You from the cruise, us from the dinner and the increased attention for our gift shop and inn.
you're interested."

For a moment, one tiny moment, she let herself dream. She pictured paying her slip rental without cringing, hiring more hands, replacing tattered sails.

"All you have to do," Adrian said in a low, intimate voice, "is help us convince the commission that the powder horn was on the
when she went down."

Her fantasy of new sails and solvency burst like a bubble. He might as well have said: All you have to do is stand naked before a crowd, tell them all your sins, and wait to be stoned.

She closed her eyes as regret filled her. "I'm sorry. Really. It would be great, but ... I can't." Before he could respond, she leaned back and flagged down the server. "Excuse me. We're ready for our check."

Adrian shook his head to clear it. "What do you mean, you can't?"

"Exactly that. I can't help you."

The server arrived with the bill. Adrian's wallet had barely cleared his pocket before Jackie stood, eager to leave. He left a hefty tip rather than wait for change.

The minute they were out the door, she turned and offered her hand. "Thank you for dinner, but if you'll excuse me, I have a huge catered dinner party on board tomorrow night, so I need to be up early to get ready."

He took her hand as if to shake it, but held on. "I'll walk you back to your ship."

"No need for that."

"We're going the same way," he pointed out. She looked ready to argue but voices drifted toward them Glancing up, he saw another couple coming down the pier toward the restaurant. "Come on, walk with me. That was our deal, after all. I buy dinner. You hear me out"

"I did hear you out. My answer is no. I can't help you."

"Okay. Explain that to me." He turned and started down the pier, slowly, to give them time to talk. "I offer you a deal where you have everything to gain and nothing to lose, and you turn it down flat."

"It's not that simple. Taking my ship out for an evening cruise is one thing, but it took me two weeks to get her seaworthy enough to sail all the way to Galveston last time. And that was without passengers on board. To offer multi-day cruise packages, I'd need more sailors and galley hands, not to mention finishing out the cabins. I can't afford it."

"Sorry, I don't buy that. The point is to make money, and I think we'd make a bundle. All we're asking is for you to let us use your letter." He watched as she thought it over, her emotions hard to read in the faint light along the pier.

"Why do we have to go after the powder horn to do the cruise packages?" she finally asked. "You're right, it's a solid business idea and could be profitable for all of us."

And if he agreed, she'd never share the letter. "Sorry. No letter, no deal."

BOOK: Don't Tempt Me
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