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Authors: Sara Ramsey

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Duke of Thorns (Heiress Games 1)

BOOK: Duke of Thorns (Heiress Games 1)
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Contents

 

Title page

Dedication

Poem

Prologue

Chapter One

Chapter Two

Chapter Three

Chapter Four

Chapter Five

Chapter Six

Chapter Seven

Chapter Eight

Chapter Nine

Chapter Ten

Chapter Eleven

Chapter Twelve

Chapter Thirteen

Chapter Fourteen

Chapter Fifteen

Chapter Sixteen

Chapter Seventeen

Chapter Eighteen

Chapter Nineteen

Chapter Twenty

Chapter Twenty-One

Chapter Twenty-Two

Chapter Twenty-Three

Chapter Twenty-Four

Chapter Twenty-Five

Chapter Twenty-Six

Chapter Twenty-Seven

Chapter Twenty-Eight

Chapter Twenty-Nine

Thank you

Books by Sara Ramsey

About the author

Copyright

 

DUKE OF THORNS

 

 

 

AN HEIRESS GAMES NOVEL

 

Sara Ramsey

 

For Katie, my favorite grasshopper

 

Disturb us, Lord, when we are too well pleased with ourselves,

When our dreams have come true

Because we have dreamed too little,

When we arrived safely

Because we sailed too close to the shore.

 

Disturb us, Lord, when

With the abundance of things we possess

We have lost our thirst

For the waters of life;

Having fallen in love with life,

We have ceased to dream of eternity

And in our efforts to build a new earth,

We have allowed our vision

Of the new Heaven to dim.

 

Disturb us, Lord, to dare more boldly,

To venture on wider seas

Where storms will show your mastery;

Where losing sight of land,

We shall find the stars.

 

- Sir Francis Drake, 1577

 

 

 

 

PROLOGUE

 

 

Somewhere on the Atlantic Ocean - February 1813

 

She was going to die.

And when Callista Briarley found her watery grave, as her father had six years earlier, she would deserve it.

The rasp of blade against bone drew her attention as soon as she entered the officers’ dining room, new and horrifying enough to bring it to the fore over the firing of twenty-four pounders and hoarse, shouted orders from the deck above. Callie swallowed.

Briarleys always died pursuing something stupid. Callie should have known this voyage would kill her.

Captain Jacobs had assured her it would be an easy victory, a matter of minutes. The merchant ship they were trying to capture was outmanned and outgunned. But he hadn’t anticipated the appearance of a British warship. That’s when he had ordered her below, sending his cognac with her — as though she was cargo, and not the ship’s owner.

It was her fault the injured man was here. It was her fault they were all here. If she survived the battle, she would have to fix it.

She waited until the surgeon had finished, not wanting to distract him with her presence. Callie’s maid, Mrs. Jennings, and two cabin boys held the injured sailor down in case he awoke before the butchering ended. She swallowed again as the saw slid through the last bit of flesh. The surgeon grunted as he caught the arm, then handed it to the cook’s mate, casually, like it was a shank of lamb instead of a man’s limb.

She took a breath and joined her maid at the head of the table. “How can I help?” she asked.

“You shouldn’t see this, miss,” Mrs. Jennings said.

“No one should. But since I am here, I may as well do something.”

The surgeon ran a knife through the flame of the lamp, heating it until it was red hot. She forced herself to watch as he pressed it against the stump of the man’s arm. She didn’t bring a handkerchief to her nose as the smell of burning flesh overwhelmed her. The sailor stayed blessedly unconscious, but Callie watched it all, bearing witness.

She had agreed to let her men become privateers. Captain Jacobs’ persuasive nature, so like her father’s, had convinced her.

But this…

The sizzling stopped. The cannon fire continued.

The surgeon ordered one of the cabin boys to swab and sand the floor in preparation for more patients. The cook’s mate and the other cabin boy carried the sailor off to a berth. Callie waited until they were gone, then started to pace again.

“Don’t even think of going above, Callista Briarley,” Mrs. Jennings warned.

Her lady’s maid, who had been her nursemaid as a child, knew her too well. “I want to do something,” Callie said.

“You have to learn someday that you cannot fix everything,” Mrs. Jennings said. “This is something you cannot fix.”

Callie stared at her for a moment. Mrs. Jennings somehow looked serene, even with blood splattered over the apron she’d quite sensibly donned before assisting the surgeon. Her hair had greyed a bit since she’d left England with the Briarleys nearly twenty years earlier, and she’d added at least two stone of weight to her short, formerly slender frame. But she was just as imperturbable as always.

Callie, by contrast, was perturbed.
Very
perturbed. And she was sure she looked wild enough to give her emotions away.

“I will fix it,” Callie said. “I will fix all of it.”

“You can’t very well fix that poor man’s arm,” Mrs. Jennings said gently. “Nor can you decide whether we drown. You’d do much better for yourself if you had a bit of whisky and waited for this to be over.”

Sometimes Callie hated how well Mrs. Jennings knew her.

“Captain Jacobs gave me cognac,” she said, trying to lighten the mood. “I don’t think I have the stomach for cognac and whisky both.”

“I’m sure you would if you tried. You can stomach more than a lady should.”

“Are you encouraging my hoydenish ways now?” Callie asked. “If I’d known a sea battle was all it took, I would have done this years ago.”

“Hoydens are more useful in sea battles than ladies are,” Mrs. Jennings said frankly. “Drink your cognac, and we can discuss your manners in the morning.”

Callie smiled. But she didn’t take her maid’s advice. She paced instead, waiting.

It felt like an eternity, but it must have been only another five or ten minutes before she heard a most welcome sound. The shouting above turned, in an instant, from battle cries to celebration. And Callie realized the guns had stopped.

She rushed out of the cabin and scrambled up the ladder-like stairs before Mrs. Jennings could remind her to behave herself. The deck teemed with men — most of whom appeared to be whole — and was partially shrouded with fallen sails. She looked instinctively to the mast. Her colors still flew.

She whooped — a scream of vicious, victorious joy that a woman wasn’t supposed to feel, let alone give voice to. If she were gentler, more ladylike, she would have immediately thought of the loss of life and limb, of the brutality of men and their warlike ways. She probably should have fainted, or at least pretended to.

But despite all her misgivings, she still liked to win. And the fact that her men had won — and against the British in the bargain — gave her swift, sharp delight. If she’d remembered her hat, she would have tossed it in the air.

Captain Jacobs was too observant to miss the moment when her voice joined the din. “Ahoy, Miss Briarley,” he shouted from his post near the wheel. “I give you His Majesty’s
Adamant
.”

He gestured grandly toward the ship next to them. It had suffered more than her own
Nero
, which was a rather stunning fact.
Nero
was a sloop, designed more for speed than direct assault, and had been refitted for battle only a few months earlier.
Adamant
had been purpose-built for combat, but had somehow been outgunned despite its superior strength.

Some of her men had boarded
Adamant
and were herding the British sailors below decks. She watched the proceedings for a few moments, her pleasure slowly cooling. By taking a British frigate in his first engagement of the cruise, Captain Jacobs would be more convinced than ever that privateering was their destiny.

She picked her way over the ropes and rigging to join him near the wheel. “You must be pleased with yourself, Captain Jacobs,” she said as soon as she could talk without shouting.

The captain laughed. “Cognac settled your nerves, did it? Always knew you’d come around. I told you this would be over within minutes.
Nero
can prevail against all but the worst enemies.”

Even though he had just won a great victory, Callie privately doubted that
Nero
was as good as he boasted.
Nero
had started as a merchantman, part of the fleet her father, Lord Tiberius Briarley, had won at a card table in Jamaica in ’05. The man he’d won it from had shot himself as soon as he’d sobered up and realized what he’d lost. Lord Tiberius had relocated with alacrity to Baltimore, taking Callie but leaving her mother’s grave behind.

She’d never quite forgiven him for that. Not that it mattered. Tiberius did what Tiberius wished to do.

And when he had wished to seek out a new fortune in the Orient in ’07, Callie had stayed in Baltimore. She’d left enough homes behind. At seventeen, she was more interested in refurnishing the Baltimore house than she was in smuggling opium.

At eighteen, when she got word that he’d gone down with his ship, her desire for a home only grew.

But homes required money. And the only money she had was tied up in Tiberius Shipping. In the last five years, Callie had grown it into a thriving business, with Captain Jacobs ostensibly at its head. His wife had chaperoned her, rather ineffectually, and they had both let her have her way with the enterprise. Between Callie’s business sense and the captain’s knowledge of the ships under their command, Tiberius Shipping had become a significant part of Baltimore’s maritime economy.

The war, though, had changed everything. And with the embargoes against American commerce in Europe and the British blockade descending around Baltimore, there was more money to be made from privateering than from commerce.

Provided, of course, that one didn’t think too closely about the danger of such endeavors.

She wished Jacobs had confined himself to their agreement, looking only for easy targets. “It’s a shame you had to shift your efforts to the frigate instead of taking the merchant prize,” Callie said.

Captain Jacobs grinned. He was in his early forties and had spent nearly his whole life at sea, adding deep grooves to the corners of his eyes and a dark tan that Callie might match if she kept forgetting her hat. But for all the discipline and difficulty of life on the water, the captain still had a sense of humor.

“I didn’t say I failed to take it,” Jacobs said. “I merely forgot to present it to you.”

He gestured starboard. At a distance of nearly half a league, the merchantman should have been able to escape them while they dealt with
Adamant
. But she had been completely unmasted and now floated, helpless, waiting for capture.

Callie held out her hand for Jacobs’ eyeglass. She brought the ship into focus and saw men standing, rather glumly, along the rails, watching
Nero
for their next maneuver.

“How did you take them both?” she asked.

“That ship,
Crescendo
, must have the worst luck. She could have escaped when
Adamant
arrived — we’d only exchanged two or three volleys, suffering no injuries ourselves, but we had to turn all our efforts to
Adamant
. But
Adamant
, in one of the worst displays of gunnery I’ve ever had the privilege to witness, overshot us completely with their first round and took
Crescendo’s
mast clean off. If the captain isn’t court-martialed for it, the British have gone soft.”

“And where is the captain of
Adamant
?” Callie asked.

“Surrendering his sword to my first mate, if he knows what’s good for him,” Jacobs said. “My first mate will take
Adamant
to Havana for the prize court to distribute, if it’s not too damaged to sail. And we’ll continue there as well, either towing
Crescendo
or sinking it if we need to set a faster pace. Once we’re all safely arrived there, you can buy passage on to England as you planned.”

BOOK: Duke of Thorns (Heiress Games 1)
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