Read Teresa Medeiros Online

Authors: Thief of Hearts

Teresa Medeiros

BOOK: Teresa Medeiros
4.54Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

Claremont rose from the bed, taller than she remembered, all traces of both mockery and amusement erased from his face. “You don’t need to read fiction, Miss Snow. You’re living it. Despite your tender and hopelessly romantic fantasies, this fellow Doom is a desperate, ruthless bastard who has nothing left to lose and everything to gain.”

“You speak as if you know him.”

“I know many like him. It’s unavoidable in my profession.” For the first time since she’d known him, Claremont’s speech was underscored by the harsh cadences of the London streets. “And not one out of the bloody lot of them would let some lonely brat—”

Stung by his unfairness, Lucy cried, “But I’m not—”

His next words robbed her of her defense. “—no matter how breathtakingly beautiful, stand in the way of what they wanted.” Claremont caught her chin in an implacable grip. “If your path ever crosses Doom’s again, God forbid, don’t make the mistake of underestimating him. He might not be such a gentleman.”

Lucy blinked back tears. “So you think me a sentimental fool?” she whispered.

His grip softened. His palm wandered up to smooth a wing of damp hair from her cheek. Her breath caught at his scorching tenderness. “On the contrary, my dear Lucy. I think your noble Captain Doom a fool. If I had a woman such as you at my mercy, I’d never let her go.…”

THIEF OF HEARTS

Bantam Books by Teresa Medeiros

A WHISPER OF ROSES

ONCE AN ANGEL

HEATHER AND VELVET

THIEF OF HEARTS

FAIREST OF THEM ALL

SHADOWS AND LACE

BREATH OF MAGIC

TOUCH OF ENCHANTMENT

NOBODY’S DARLING

LADY OF CONQUEST

CHARMING THE PRINCE

THE BRIDE AND THE BEAST

A KISS TO REMEMBER

THIEF OF HEARTS
A Bantam Book / October 1994

All rights reserved.
Copyright © 1994 by Teresa Medeiros.

No part of this book may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopying, recording, or by any information storage and retrieval system, without permission in writing from the publisher.
For information address: Bantam Books.

eISBN: 978-0-307-78514-5

Bantam Books are published by Bantam Books, a division of Random House, Inc. Its trademark, consisting of the words “Bantam Books” and the portrayal of a rooster, is Registered in U.S. Patent and Trademark Office and in other countries. Marca Registrada. Bantam Books, 1540 Broadway, New York, New York 10036.

v3.1

F
or Rebecca Hagan Lee and Elizabeth Bevarly. Just when I thought I was too old to make friends like you, there you were

T
o Tim and Cindy Noel for loving Terri instead of Teresa

T
o Doris Knight, for being there when it counted most

A
nd for the captain of my own heart, the most uncommon man I know—my husband, Michael

Contents
P
ROLOGUE

London
1780

H
IS MOTHER’S SCREAM SLICED THROUGH the fabric of the night.

Its agonized timbre went unheeded amidst the rattling cart wheels, bawling street vendors, cooing prostitutes, and clamor of voices outside the narrow crib. The boy crouched beside a pile of quilts and pressed a rusted dipper against his mother’s lips. Brackish water trickled down her chin.

“There now, Ma. Try to drink a bit,” he urged.

As she attempted a feeble swallow, the boy’s nervous gaze flicked to her distended abdomen. Its bloated contours were an obscene contrast to her flaccid skin and prominent ribs.

She was too old to be having this baby, he thought frantically. Nearly a month past twenty-eight. Her fingernails dug into his knuckles as another bout of agony
seized her. The dipper slid from his hand. He clenched his teeth against his own cry of pain and held fast to her hands, fighting the despairing litany that drowned out even her screams.
Too old. Too thin. Too poor
.

Her fingers slowly relaxed as she lapsed into exhausted stupor. Her silence frightened him more than her screams. It was as if she’d surrendered her last pathetic hope of relief. He was reaching to shake her awake when the door behind him burst open.

A man stumbled in, his rumpled uniform marking him as a sailor. “Molly!” he bellowed, his breath reeking of gin. “Where’s my pretty girl?”

The boy leaped to his feet. “Out, damn y’! Y’ve no right to burst in here like y’ own the bloody place!”

The boy was shocked by his own virulence. The man might even be the father of this child, he thought, before realizing bitterly that it could be any one of a dozen men.

The sailor blinked stupidly at him, more addled by gin than given to petty cruelty. “Damn your insolence, whelp! I been at sea for ten months without so much as a kiss from a comely chit.” He lifted his fist to cuff the boy out of the way. “No need to be jealous, lad. There’s ample room ’tween thighs as willin’ as Molly’s.”

Futile rage tinged the boy’s vision with scarlet. Without even realizing the gravity of what he was doing, he snatched up the paring knife his mother had laid out to cut the baby’s cord. His ears roared with the remembered grunts and groans of all the men his mother had bedded to put bread in his mouth.

He brandished the knife like a sword. “Out of here, mate,” he said softly, “before I carve y’ a new gullet.”

The sailor lowered his fist, sobered by the unflinching light in the boy’s eyes. He’d sailed in the Royal Navy for over twenty years as an able seaman, thumbing
his nose at the death-spewing cannons of both pirates and Frenchies, but now his nostrils twitched as if he could already scent his own spilled blood.

Before he could retreat, a hoarse whimper, more animal than human, arose from the shadows behind the boy. The lad spun around and dropped to his knees beside the tattered quilts. The sailor peered over his narrow shoulders, catching a glimpse of sunken cheeks, stark eyes, and the tortured contractions of a swollen abdomen.

His stomach rebelled. Most of his mates were eager to spill their seed, but only too happy to be at full sail when it took root. He clapped a hand over his mouth and stumbled out of the hovel, knowing with a sailor’s instinct that he had witnessed not only impending birth, but impending death.

“The babe’s comin’, lad,” Molly whispered through cracked lips.

The intruder forgotten, the boy fumbled with the things she had commanded he fetch. A basin of cloudy water. A nest of rags. A length of dirty twine. Swallowing his fear, he drew back the sheet that covered her legs.

She arched off the quilts and bit her bottom lip until it pearled with blood, but she did not make another sound until the tiny creature spilled into her son’s waiting hands. A groan of pure relief broke from her throat.

The boy followed her whispered instructions, refusing to look at the cause of her pain, already hating it for what it Would cost him. He swaddled it in the rags, then laid it in the crook of her arm.

As she gazed into her baby’s face, the echo of a smile trembled on her lips, giving her son a heartbreaking glimpse of the beauty that must have once enchanted his father.

When he would have turned away from the sight, she clutched his arm, searching his fine features as avidly as she had searched the babe’s. “Y’re a good boy, son. Just like y’r pa. Don’t ever forget it.”

He closed his eyes against the bittersweet refrain. If his pa was so fine, why had he left them for the sea? Why had he chosen her salty grave over the adoration of a wife who would have waited forever for his return?

BOOK: Teresa Medeiros
4.54Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

Other books

Unbridled Temptation by Saint James, Elle
Protecting Truth by Michelle Warren
How to Write by Gertrude Stein
The Heroes' Welcome by Louisa Young