Authors: Susan Sizemore
Tags: #Romance, #Historical, #Fiction
wasn't going anywhere but in to dinner on her father's arm after
the guests had all been greeted. Despite the escape route behind her
she was trapped by the benign gaze of her father beside her, and by
the crowd's awareness of her wretched behavior a few nights
She would do nothing to cause any further comment. She
carried the blood of a famous actress in her veins, so she could act
the perfect hostess and paragon of virtue for a one-night
performance, surely? She wanted the reviews to be spectacular, to
replace everyone's memory of her last poor performance.
Sometimes it seemed that life had become nothing
performance, but with nothing else to live for, she was going to do
it well. Even though that performance now consisted of facing this
man she despised. She was nearsighted, but not so blind that she
couldn't tell that the handsome guest's gaze lingered on her a
moment too long before propriety dictated that he move on to pay
his respects to the duke. "I hope we can talk later," he said, and
took the necessary step away from her. She did not let her gaze
follow him as he moved away. She smiled a slight, stiff
acknowledgment at the next person who approached, and said
something appropriate—though she didn't see them and had no idea
what she said. Her thoughts were much too far away for that.
"You can't be separating us!" Derrick protested to the guard. "I
can't go to the Citadel. It's a prison. I've heard what happens to
foreigners there. Who'll take care of me there? Honoria, help me!"
"No one will harm you," she promised, burying her own fear
under a briskly confident facade. Derrick had regaled a drawing
room full of fascinated listeners with tales of wicked corsair
practices on their last evening in Majorca, so she knew how
prisoners languished in the dungeons and cells of the Citadel while
they awaited ransom. Those with no hope of ransom were claimed
as property of the Bey—forced into work gangs, or auctioned off
for the Bey's profit. Derrick had passed over the details of the dire
fates of women prisoners, and Honoria refused to dwell on the
things he had only hinted at. Derrick needed her, and that was all
"Hush, my dear." She ran a hand through his hair. "All will
be well. Let the man help you to stand. I'll help to hold you up."
"He can stand on his own. He is a man, isn't he, fox-hair?"
Honoria had not been aware that the Spaniard had followed
his guards into the crowded hold. She gave up trying to cope with
the feverish Derrick as he flailed ineffectually at the man who was
attempting to help him stand. Indignation boiled out of her at the
Spaniard's callous words. She rounded on the true source of their
troubles, spinning so quickly that her spectacles were knocked
"Leave him alone!" she demanded of their captor. "Can't you
see he's ill?"
The corsair took a moment to straighten her glasses on her
nose. "He'll live."
She'd been shocked by the effrontery of the gesture, but more
than shock raced through her when he took her arm. Reaction
blinded her to everything but his tactile presence; her universe
spun around and around, and she and he were the only things in
that universe for a moment.
"Honoria!" Derrick called, casting out a lifeline with his
voice. "I need you to care for me!"
"But who will care for you, fox-hair?"
She fought to ignore the Spaniard's sarcasm and concentrate
on the voice that reminded her of duty, of truth, and of pure
unselfish love. She was surprised at how hard it was to drag her
attention from the threatening sensuality of Diego Moresco.
"Coming, my love!" she called, but she could not look away
from the Spaniard. "Take your hands off me, swine!" The words
were spoken with indignation, but no great conviction. Did he hear
it? Did he know how her pulse was racing? Was that amusement
glittering in his honey-colored eyes, along with a banked fire of
"Hand," he corrected. "And I'm barely touching you."
But the point is, you
"Perhaps you should get used to being touched."
Honoria bridled with indignation; it hid a shiver of fearful
anticipation. "By you?"
He tilted his head to one side. "By men in general." He gave
a slight shrug. "A slave goes with who she is told."
She tore her arm out of his clasp and faced him with her
hands on her hips. "What are you talking about?" she demanded
angrily. Her knees were shaking and she feared she would sink to
the deck in terror, but she did not show it, would not show it.
Not to this creature who was the dregs of the dregs of the
Mediterranean. "We are to be ransomed. I wrote the letters you
wanted. You'll be paid the price you demanded within a fortnight."
He shrugged again. Suddenly she could read nothing in his
face. His eyes became blank, hard amber. He jerked a thumb at
Derrick and at Huseby, who had come to stand by Honoria's side.
"They go to the Citadel. You are to be sold."
"Help me," Derrick said, lunging away from his guard to
clasp Honoria's hands. "Don't let them take me to the Citadel. You
promised you would help me."
Honoria looked at her hands. They felt as cold and numb in the
stuffy warmth of the hall as they had that horrible moment in
Algiers when she'd been informed of her fate by the faithless, lying
"What are you thinking, my dear?" her father's genial voice
asked, close to her ear, but sounding very far away.
"Just that I really must have these gloves burned, sir," she
replied, in a voice that sounded surprisingly normal.
"They don't look soiled to me."
Of course not—nor would he ever see how soiled his only
child was. He often told her how much she was like her mother,
and a part of him had died with that virtuous, spotless woman. She
feared his learning the truth about the wicked things she'd done
would kill him in fact as well as in spirit. He told her once that he
endured the loss of her mother because she was as much his angel
on earth as her mother was now in heaven. Her father was prone to
ardent sentimentality on this subject. He spoiled and protected her,
and she made it her life's work to do the same for him. She always
did whatever was necessary to protect the ones she loved.
This finally brought the thought that should have been in her
mind from the moment she first saw Derrick Russell's letter. What
the devil was the man doing here? She knew what his letter said,
but why had he written her, really? Had she not learned the hard
way that no man's word was to be taken at face value?
Frantic worry crawled suddenly along her nerves as she
recalled the duke's welcome to Captain Russell when Derrick had
turned from greeting her. It had sounded far too pleasant, as though
he was welcoming back an old friend. She knew her father was
being affable for her sake, because he'd taken it into his head that
languishing over Derrick was the reason for her retirement from the
world. Those who recalled that she had once been courted by
Captain Russell no doubt took note of both her and the Duke's
acknowledgment of him. Well, nothing had passed between them
that would cause any adverse gossip. That was one hurdle over
with; she would deal with Derrick soon enough, and in private.
Now all she had to do was correct the faux pas with Marbury.
Surely he had arrived by now. Though she did not let herself seek
him out among the blurred mass of people, she was somehow
aware that he had entered the room. She concentrated on protocol
and the performance of her life as she made out the approaching
figures of Viscount Brislay and his broad-shouldered, half-Spanish
She'd told herself that she was preparing to kill two birds
with one stone by facing both men at once when she prepared
herself methodically, wholeheartedly, and with a vengeance for the
evening. She'd chosen the armor of sophistication, wearing a rich
blue satin evening gown that showed a bit of shoulder and had
short sleeves and not a speck of lace. The hairdresser had been
forbidden from doing Honoria's hair in any a la mode style, but had
wrestled her thick natural curls into an upswept hairdo. She had not
dressed for fashion, but with style. As she looked in the mirror
when the maids and dressers were done with her, she found herself
wondering what James Marbury would think of this version of the
What Derrick Russell thought of her mattered not at all,
which was curious, considering what they'd once been to each
other. Marbury must be more on her mind because she truly did
owe him reparation for insulting him. She owed Derrick nothing.
Well, perhaps a bullet or sword thrust in the heart. What a pity
women weren't allowed to duel.
She'd been thinking about the Spaniard—no, she would not
call him that—for days. Probably to keep her mind off Derrick,
because what other reason could there be? Well, there were nerves,
and guilt. Blast, how she wanted to get this evening over with!
Why didn't the man get over here, make a leg, and let her do a bit
As the frustrated thought sprang to mind, the Honorable
James Marbury strode forward with a swift, brisk assurance, ail
grace and fire. Even if she had not caused such a scandal with him
a few nights before, Honoria believed all eyes would have turned
his way simply because he was in the room. It was not fair that he
could look his fill at her while she was limited to shadows and
outlines, though Lord knew the man was drawn on a large enough
canvas for even her to make out some detail. It was very tempting,
however, to lean close when the big man gracefully took both her
hands in his—and temptation was something she hadn't felt for a
"Stop that," she said, when his lips brushed across the back of
first one hand and then the other. Her words were spoken barely
aloud and with little conviction. She added with more aplomb, "Or
is that how it is done in Spain?"
"I don't know," he answered, his rich voice a low Arabic purr.
"I never kissed a
duchess in Spain."
There was something in his tone that said he intended to do
more than kiss her gloved hands. The intimation sent a shiver of
anticipation through Honoria that she fought down. His assured,
arrogant attitude did serve to reassure her that she had not imagined
the way he had touched her at the ball, or the sensual way he had
whispered in her ear when their bodies were so close together.
He had spoken to her in Arabic.
Marbury stood very close to her once more when he
straightened, as if he had a right, or even a need, to be near her. He
was so close that she had no trouble making out his boldly drawn
features. Not that she needed any assistance in knowing exactly
what he looked like. How well she recalled that characteristic tilt of
his head, the strong jaw, the heavy arched brows, the wide, full lips
and thick, dark lashes surrounding large, honey-amber eyes. She'd
hoped—all right, pretended—she had been mistaken at the ball.
She had told herself she was deranged, since that made more sense.
But here he was, larger than she remembered, more arrogant. Alive.
"Please call me James," he said with rote politeness, as he
switched back to lightly accented English. He calmly stepped back
to an appropriate distance for a man and woman together in public.
If he was aware of the attention swirling around them, he gave no
sign. "Though I suppose 'Mr. Marbury' and 'Lady Alexandra' are
the proper forms of address for two people who have such a short