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Authors: Susan Sizemore

Tags: #Romance, #Historical, #Fiction

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bring herself back to this room, to this time, and to push

the past back into the dark abyss where it belonged. She

found that she was seated behind the desk. While memory

had played its evil trick on her, her hands had broken the

seal on the letter. She'd crushed the dried wax, and it had

mixed with damp sweat of fevered memory so that her

fingers were stained red with it. The pristine linen of her

nightgown was also marked with the color, red on white.

Like blood on a bandage.

She held her hands up before her. She knew she was

staring at sealing wax—tinted and scented beeswax, and

no more. But she saw the blood, and the scent in her

nostrils was of gunpowder.

"I'm shot!"

Though Derrick's lips were close to her ear, she

barely heard his words over the pounding bellow of

cannon fire. Not that she needed words to know the truth;

she held him in her arms and his blood was on her hands.

All around, people screamed and shouted and ran.

Swords clashed and guns roared. Clouds of stinking gun

smoke hung in the air, choking her, further dimming

Honoria's frail vision. It was all so confusing, so

frightening. Three pirate galleys had come up on the

Manticore
with surprising speed. Though the
Manticore

was equipped with modern cannon, it was no war ship. Its

crew was outnumbered by the sailors who manned the

banks of oars on the corsair galleys. Barbary pirates

normally preferred to just threaten European merchant

ships and collect bribes for safe passage through

Mediterranean waters, but these outlaws had attacked

without warning instead.

"Desperate men," she'd heard Derrick say to the

captain as the attack began. "Looking for booty and

slaves. Taking what they can while they can."

"
Desperate because of your efforts, sir," the master

of the
Manticore
had replied. "If they know the Scourge of

Algiers is aboard, they'll kill you for sure
!"

Derrick laughed recklessly. "Then we'd best see that

they don't get the chance to board your ship, sir."

After that the fighting began in earnest. Honoria was

sent to hide in her cabin, but after a while she could take

it no longer and ventured onto the deck to see if the

Algerian scum had been driven off yet. But instead of the

victory she expected, the ship was being overrun with

boarding parties from the three galleys.

She frantically made her way to Derrick's side, and

he took a bullet in the shoulder just as she reached him.

He collapsed to the deck in her embrace and Honoria

forced her own terror aside as she concentrated on the

man she loved.

"I'm shot," he repeated, his tone disbelieving. He

grasped her hand so tightly she thought her fingers would

break. "Tell them nothing!'" he warned. "No matter what

they do to you, don't let them know who I am or I will

surely die." He gasped in pain, but went on bravely

despite it. His gaze burned fervently into hers. "They

know I courted a duke's daughter. Keep my secret, girl.

Do you hear me?"

She understood, and her heart sank even further at

the knowledge. She nodded. But before she could make

her promise to the brave man she loved, a hand grabbed

her arm and hauled her roughly to her feet.

"What are you doing on the deck, woman? Do you

want to die?"

The voice shouted in Arabic and she answered in

kind as she was whirled to face her captor.

"What does it matter where I am when you kill me,

you filthy animal?"

He wasn't filthy. The big man who held her was

dressed in sparkling white. He held a cutlass in one hand,

her in the other. His hair was hidden by the folds of a

turban, his lower face covered in a neatly trimmed brown

beard.

Without her glasses, the world around her was

mostly a blur, but her captor's face was crystal clear to

her in all the chaos. Cannon roared and guns continued

to fire, men shouted and swore and screamed, but around

Honoria the world went suddenly silent. Energy prickled

along her skin, arced like lightning between her and the

pirate. He smiled, bright teeth flashing in a wide,

sensuous mouth. It was not a kind smile, yet it sent a

shiver of response through her. His eyes were vivid and

beautiful, the color of amber and warm honey, the lashes

long and thick. And they were full of wild fury. They told

her that reviling him was a deep, dark mistake on her

part. When he threw back his head and laughed, she knew

that she would pay dearly for the words she had spoken.

"This is intolerable," Honoria announced. "Insufferable."

She would not think about any of it, or either of them.

She most certainly would not think about
him
. Diego

Moresco held no power over her now. So why was it she

could close her eyes and still feel his hands on her flesh?

Why was it that ashes that should have been long cold

still burned deep inside her? "Because you're a fool!" she

angrily answered her own questions. And to distract

herself from thinking about one of the males she hated,

she opened the letter from the other man who had

betrayed her.

"It was her?"

It was not right, it was not fair. It could not be. And

of course, she had run away. What more proof did he

need, James wondered bitterly. "Yes, sir."

"Lady

Alexandra?

Pyneham's

daughter?

Impossible."

Diego—James, as he tried to remember to think of

himself—dropped his head into his hands. His elbows

rested on the polished wood of the writing table in the

viscount's study. He had spent many nights in this quiet,

book-lined room since journeying to London with his

father. It was his favorite place in the townhouse. His

father thought it an unpretentious place for a man of his

social standing to dwell, but Diego—James—thought the

place quite grand, though he'd had larger gardens at the

houses he'd called his own. His soul loved gardens,

fountains… small, private places of beauty surrounded

with walls so the outside world could not see—

"
La señorita duquesa
," he said. He lifted his head

and looked toward the study window.

The heavy red drapes were drawn, of course, against

the mild chill of the English night. He longed to escape

into that night. Gas lights and candles and the hearth fire

did too good a job of lighting the room. There were

places he could go with shadows enough to hide him, and

oblivion could be bought for a few hours, places where he

could be alone of his own free will instead of abandoned

by another's. But the window was too small for James's

wide shoulders to fit through, and his father took care to

stand before the door. There was no other exit. He could

leave if he truly wanted, but then he would have to face

his father's disappointment when he finally crawled home

hung over and battered from brawling. Because he
would

come back eventually. Having a home and someone who

wanted him meant too much to him, despite his lapses.

Better not to have lapses at all, he'd learned. James had

found out the hard way in Malaga that he would rather

face death, or even
Mamacita's
wrath and heavy hand,

than his newfound father's hurt look.

"I want," he said now, "to run away." To abandon

her before she abandoned him, perhaps? To end the game

before it started? He sighed. He'd made a vow; honor

dictated he at least try to fulfill it.

Edward Marbury put his hands behind his back. His

voice was calm and uncompromising. "No doubt you do."

"I thought I was prepared." There was a plan in

place; he knew his role, knew exactly what to do. His

world was in fragile order, but he had believed he was

beginning to make some sense of it, to find a path out of

the dark toward a high, honorable goal. James shook his

head again.

"You're sure it's the same girl?"

His father's suspicions rankled, but he understood

them. He looked up to meet the older man's worried gaze.

They had the same eyes, he and his father. Cat's eyes, she

had called them, and other things after they made love

that first time. He could still smell the jasmine on her

skin. James sighed, too confused to be angry.

"I was sober, sir," he reminded his father. "Taken by

surprise, yes, but I made no mistake." Besides, what other

woman in all the world had such height and hair? And he

remembered all too well the sweet curves of her body.

His mouth almost watered at the memory of that amazing

body. Frustrated, he ran his hands through his neatly

trimmed hair, then tiredly down the sides of his now

beardless face. Oh, he had made mistakes, all right. Many

of them. The worst mistake of all, eight years before.

Don't be a fool,
Diego told himself, as he laughed and

angrily pulled the tall woman closer. She fitted perfectly

against him, hip to hip, with the buxom, lush body of a

real woman beneath the concealing layers of heavy

clothing. She was dressed all in black, as he was all in

white. Her hair was loose about her shoulders, a tangled

mass whipped by the wind, blazing in the sunlight. It

should have been modestly covered. Her eyes blazed as

well. Without a veil to cover her emotions, her face

showed the world that she was utterly without fear, full of

brave passion. It was obvious that no one had ever

commanded this woman, that she didn't think anyone

could
.

Ibrahim Rais will call it your mistake if anything

happens to a valuable hostage,
he reminded himself, as a

bullet slammed into the deck near where they stood
.

You'll pay the price if she gets herself killed.

The woman, with her fiery temper and hair to match,

provoked him, with her words, with the wild anger she

turned on him. It wasn't only his temper she aroused,

either. In the midst of a battle when he had far more

necessary things to do, he came upon this milk-skinned

black-clad bundle of fury, and

"You speak Arabic!"

"Get your hands off me, pig."

When he responded to this insult with a few very

rude words in Spanish, her cheeks flushed bright red, and

she slapped his face. Diego laughed again, though his

cheek stung fiercely

but not as fiercely as the joy that

flooded him. "A scholar." He pulled her even closer,

putting his lips close to her ear. He whispered, "Tell me,

fox-hair, can you read
?"

She struggled in his embrace. "Let me go! I have to

help Der

my fiancé
."

"I should have let him die," James murmured. "That was

my worst mistake. Pity the wound wasn't deep enough to

do the job."

"Your temper, James…" His father paused, and then

he laughed. "All right, son, I won't try to talk you out of

that particular urge for revenge." The viscount crossed to

a side table and came back with snifters holding a small

amount of brandy for each of them. He handed James

one, then took a seat in a nearby chair. "I think we need to

revise our strategy, don't you?"

James tasted the powerful spirit, then answered,

"None of this makes sense to me, sir."

"Quite understandable. Or rather, quite confusing."

The viscount put his untouched glass down on the desk.

He looked intensely curious as he leaned forward and

said, "I hate to harp on this subject, because I'm sure you

trust your perceptions, but how is it that the Lady

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