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Authors: Christina Courtenay

Trade Winds (Choc Lit)

BOOK: Trade Winds (Choc Lit)
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Trade Winds

Christina Courtenay

 

 

Copyright © 2010 Christina Courtenay

First published 2010 by Choc Lit Limited

Penrose House, Crawley Drive, Camberley, Surrey GU15 2AB

www.choclitpublishing.co.uk

The right of Christina Courtenay to be identified as the Author of this Work has
 been asserted by her in accordance with the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988

All characters and events in this publication, other than those clearly in the
 public domain, are fictitious and any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, is purely coincidental

All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording or otherwise, without the prior permission of the publisher or a licence permitting restricted copying. In the UK such licences are issued by the Copyright Licensing Agency, 90
 Tottenham Court Road, London, W1P 9HE

A CIP catalogue record for this book is available
from the British Library

 

 

Mobi ISBN-978-1-906931-43-8

 

 

 

 

For my father

Kenneth Brian Tapper

1933–2004

Acknowledgements

First of all, I would like to say an enormous thank you to all at Choc Lit for liking my story and for being such lovely people to work with!

Secondly, I can honestly say I would have given up long ago
if I hadn’t joined the
Romantic Novelists’ Association
(RNA). In particular, I’d like to thank Margaret James and Nicola Cornick (the organisers of the New Writers’ Scheme), Katie Fforde, Eileen Ramsay, Rachel Summerson, Hilary Johnson and Mary De Laszlo for their encouragement and kindness.

Some of my friends deserve an extra big thank you – Henriette Gyland and Gill Stewart, my brilliant critique partners, Giselle Green, Victoria Connelly, Catriona Robb and Myra Kersner who all refused to let me quit when the going got tough, and Tina Brown and Caroline Dahlén, who are always there for me. Cecily Bomberg and her writers’ circle – Neil, Lorraine, Caroline, Helen and the two Killian’s (sorry guys, but I just had to borrow your name for this book!) for valuable critique and
 encouragement.

At the Gothenburg City Museum Agneta Hermansson and her staff were
extremely helpful, making my research time there a very enjoyable experience –
tack Agneta och dina medhjälpare
!

And last but by no means least, thank you to my family and friends and all those who truly believed in me. You
 know who you are!

Chapter One

Edinburgh, Scotland

August 1731

 

‘You have the devil’s own luck, Kinross, but it can’t last. Just one more throw of the dice and you’ll see I’m right.’

Killian Kinross stared at the man sitting opposite him and weighed up the risk. On the table between them lay the money he had won so far and it was a fair amount. He was too canny these days to trust the fickle Lady Luck completely though. As usual, he had taken the precaution of slipping some of his coins into his pockets when the others weren’t looking, just in case of an emergency.

He glanced at the winnings again. It was very tempting to just pick it all up and leave, but gambling was his only income and he was known as a man who rarely refused to play. For the sake of future earnings, he wanted it to stay that way.

‘You’ve nothing left to play with, McGrath,’ he drawled. ‘Shouldn’t you go home and lick your wounds?’

The other two men sharing the table muttered in agreement, their words slurred from too much wine. McGrath wasn’t as far gone and glared back. ‘There’s still my ship. I’ll wager that against your entire night’s winnings.’

‘That old sieve?’ Killian scoffed, even though he’d never actually seen it. ‘What would I want with that? Besides, you’ll need it yourself now I’ve cleaned you out. How else will you make a living?’

Although McGrath was an uncouth man who deserved no consideration, Killian didn’t want to bankrupt anyone he gambled with. It would be stupid to acquire a reputation for such things, then others might refuse to play with him. That would be nothing short of a disaster.

‘If I don’t win back what I’ve already lost, I can’t afford to buy a cargo in any case,’ McGrath growled. ‘So I might as well take the chance.’

Killian studied the man for a while longer, considering his options. He could lose a huge amount of money. On the other hand, if he refused, McGrath might think him a coward and spread rumours to that effect. He made up his mind.

‘Very well, if you’re hell-bent on destroying yourself, so be it.’ He sounded more confident than he felt. The odds really were in McGrath’s favour and they both knew it.

McGrath smiled, a wolfish grin that showed Killian just how sure he was of winning this time. ‘Excellent, but first, some more wine. You there, girl,’ he shouted at a serving wench who was passing by, ‘bring some more of that piss you call Burgundy.’

The girl threw him a look of acute dislike, but did as she was told. When she returned, she made a point of standing next to Killian rather than McGrath. She leaned over at just the right angle to give him an eye-full of her assets. Straightening up, she touched him on the arm and said, ‘Anything else for you, sir?’ Killian shook his head with a smile and watched her sashay away to the next customer.

‘You’re too damn handsome for your own good.’ Rory Grant, his long-time friend and gambling companion, cuffed him jokingly on the shoulder. ‘Should leave some ladies for the rest of us.’

‘And you shouldn’t drink so much, then they might look twice at you too. You’re not much use to them in that state,’ Killian shot back.

‘Rory’s right though.’ The fourth man at the table, Dougal Forster, nodded in exaggerated fashion. ‘With you around, the rest of ush don’t get a look-in. Sh’not fair.’

Killian didn’t know whether to be amused or exasperated. He was well aware the ladies seemed to like what they saw when they met him. He had always refused to wear a wig and his thick auburn hair, bright blue eyes and even features usually made women stare at him with longing. It was something he’d become used to and he rarely gave it a thought. Besides, Rory and Dougie had their fair share of amorous adventures, even if they couldn’t compete with Killian when it came to looks. Tall, blond and easy-going, Rory could charm most ladies if he had a mind to, and although Dougal was shorter, with dark hair and eyes, he was so good-natured it was impossible not to like him. Killian let their comments pass. No doubt they’d have forgotten the conversation by morning in any case.

‘Are we playing or not?’

McGrath’s petulant voice brought Killian back to the matter in hand. He nodded. ‘Do you want to go first?’

‘Aye, I do.’ The man picked up the little container and rattled it, but stopped abruptly. ‘I say we ask for new dice first though. Just to make sure.’

Killian frowned. ‘Are you accusing me of cheating?’

‘No, no, but I’m not taking any chances. Why, do you refuse me the right to change them?’

‘Go ahead, it makes no difference to me. Just takes longer, that’s all.’ Killian shrugged, but inside he was seething. He had never cheated in his life, and he wasn’t about to start now.

After a lengthy delay, new dice were found, and McGrath picked up the container once more. He muttered some incantations for good luck in Gaelic, then shook the dice as hard as he could before rolling them onto the table.

‘A four and a six,’ Rory commented, as if they couldn’t see that for themselves. ‘You’ll have a hard time beating that, my friend.’ He tried to cuff Killian’s shoulder again, but missed and almost fell off his chair.

‘For heaven’s sake, Rory.’ Killian took a deep breath, trying not to let on that he felt as rattled as the bones they were playing with. He had already thrown double sixes twice this evening. There was no chance they’d come up again unless a minor miracle happened. He cursed inwardly.
I should have walked away with the spoils while I had the chance and to hell with the consequences!

But it was too late for regrets.

Scooping up the dice, he put them back in the container and
began to shake it in his turn. The sound was familiar, almost
soothing, but he knew it was a stupid way of earning a living.
Sometimes, like right now, he wished that he had found some
other means of supporting himself. He pushed the thought aside and spilled the dice onto the table with a flourish.

‘Hell’s teeth!’ Rory blinked and rubbed his eyes. They were probably smarting as much as Killian’s from the unwholesome atmosphere inside the tavern, a mixture of cheap, smoking candles and a fire made up with unseasoned wood that belched grey clouds into the room.

‘A six and a five? I don’t believe it.’ With a roar of rage, McGrath upended the table. Dougie, who’d been on the verge of falling asleep, crashed to the floor and sat there staring around him with an expression of total confusion. Most of the coins ended up on his lap, but he seemed not to notice.

‘You just can’t have that kind of luck, Kinross, it’s impossible!’ McGrath bellowed.

‘Meaning what?’ Killian narrowed his eyes at the man as righteous anger surged through him. He’d had more than enough of McGrath’s insinuations. ‘Be careful what you say,’ he warned. ‘I’d never seen those dice before and you know it.’

But McGrath was beyond listening to reason. His face was purple with rage and his throat worked as if he was having trouble making any sounds at all. Instead of replying, he launched himself at Killian, fists flying.

Throughout the taproom there was a mad scramble across stools, tables and benches as everyone realised there was a fight going on. No one wanted to miss such entertainment and a circle quickly formed round the two combatants. The crowd began to egg them on, shouting out advice and abuse in equal measures. Most of the spectators probably didn’t know what the fight was about, but they didn’t care. The thrill of it was all that mattered.

Killian ignored the onlookers and concentrated on the man in front of him. He side-stepped the first onslaught with ease, feinting left, then right, and lashing out with a quick fist. This wasn’t the first time he’d been challenged and he’d learned the hard way how to defend himself.

McGrath charged at Killian several times, but despite the rage that lent the man extra strength, Killian’s fast reflexes kept him at bay. Time and again, Killian’s punches hit their target, while McGrath’s mostly went wide. With a snarl of fury, McGrath finally stepped back and produced a lethal looking dirk from inside his sleeve.

‘Now we shall see,’ he muttered and with a triumphant smile he tossed the knife from one hand to the other, showing off his skills with the blade. Killian drew in a sharp breath and felt a shiver of unease snaking up his back. Fisticuffs was one thing, a knife fight quite another. He had to end this, and quickly.

When McGrath attacked, Killian danced out of reach of the flashing steel. Before his opponent had time to even blink, he retaliated with a lightning strike, faster than a viper’s bite. His knuckles connected with McGrath’s left temple, all the strength of his powerful arm and shoulder behind the blow. While the man was temporarily stunned, Killian reached for his wrist with both hands and twisted it until the dirk clattered to the floor.

McGrath tried to fight back, but with his flabby girth and a gut full of wine he was no match for the much younger and fitter man. Killian punched him once more and McGrath fell backwards into the crowd. With a cheer, they pushed him back into Killian’s path and Killian grabbed him by the throat with both hands and shoved him up against the nearest wall.

‘I never cheat,’ he hissed. ‘Do you yield?’

McGrath struggled for breath, glaring at Killian with murder in his eyes, but said nothing.

Killian slammed him against the wall once more and tightened his grip on the man’s windpipe. ‘You changed the dice yourself,’ he insisted.

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