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His identity is in jeopardy—and so is his heart…
When a number of ill-advised financial dealings threaten her father’s reputation, Lady Constance Danbury finds herself facing an arranged marriage to a cruel man nearly twice her age. Willing to do anything to escape the betrothal, she boards a merchantman bound for Spain to enlist her estranged aunt’s aid. But when the ship is overtaken by pirates, her dream of freedom disappears as memories of her mother’s death at the hand of corsairs flood her with determination never to bow down to a pirate.
Percival Avery, Duke of Blendingham, is a member of Nelson’s Tea, an elite group of patriots assigned to protect England’s shores at any cost. Service to the Crown requires heroic sacrifice, and for Percy, that means living a double life. On land, he is a mysterious nobleman, and at sea, he is a dangerous pirate infiltrating the underbelly of society. He takes great care to keep his two identities separate, but while investigating a notorious pirate ring, Percy finds them coming to a head. Now, he must choose between completing his mission and saving the life of the beautiful woman he recognizes as his commander’s niece.
Returning Constance to London isn’t easy, however. She will have none of it, even as her traitorous body longs for the devil who saved her. But she is not the only one struggling for control. Passion has no place in a world of intrigue and espionage, and despite his feelings, Percy swears to protect her—not only from the enemy but from himself.
EXCERPT FROM THE BOOK
The English Channel, 1804
Gently bred women did not disobey their fathers. But Lady Constance Danbury embraced rebellion with open arms the day she boarded a merchantman bound for Spain. After a series of failed investments threatened the reputation of her father, the Duke of Throckmorton, and his solution to rectify his debts required her to wed a much older, despicable man, Constance had been forced to find an alternative plan. She refused to sacrifice herself.
She could only come up with one fix, however: she could acquire her deceased mother’s trust, which totaled thirty thousand pounds. The problem was that letters to her aunt, Lady Lydia Claremont Vasquez, had gone unanswered, and the woman was in charge of the funds until Constance’s twenty-first birthday. Aunt Lydia lived in Spain, which was why Constance was aboard the Octavia that very moment, but the distance was not the only challenge. Papa still blamed her aunt for her mother’s death eleven years earlier. He wanted nothing more to do with Aunt Lydia or the Claremonts after the vessel Constance and her mother had obtained passage on had been attacked and sunk by pirates.
Nevertheless, desperation sometimes called for harsh measures. Constance was a lady, the daughter of a proud duke who happened to be destitute, though certainly not by his own design. Someone had tricked her father into making the bad investments, and she was determined to salvage her father’s good name, even if it meant facing her greatest fear—drowning at sea as her mother had.
The reality of how far her family had fallen in such a short time hit Constance full force when a shrill whistle sliced over the Octavia’s deck. She started as the ship recoiled and one thunderous volley after another discharged, vibrating the vessel from bow to stern. Lying in her bunk, Constance gripped its wooden edge, staring wide-eyed at the beams overhead and willing the deck above her to hold firm.
The ship’s mighty timbers groaned and convulsed again, and she heard a younger version of herself shouting Mama! in her mind.
Tormented by the age-old spasm of fright, Constance fought back the scream that was threatening to burst from her throat.
’Tis but another dream. It has to be!
But no, her eyes were open. She was awake!
Beads of sweat broke out on her skin. She knew all too well what awaited her if the Octavia sank. Shaking uncontrollably, she turned and looked around the cabin for her longtime governess and companion, Mrs. Mortimer. The woman had practically raised Constance ever since Papa had paid her ransom and gotten her back from the pirates, and now Morty stared back at Constance from her box bunk. They locked terrified gazes.
Constance jumped, and Morty cried out, “What is happening?” The pale woman gasped as the handle on the bulkhead joggled. “Are we in danger?”
Constance’s anxiety increased as the would-be intruder began pounding on the sturdy cabin door. Thankfully, the bolt she’d placed over it during the night was holding fast. With a racing heart, Constance pushed against the hull for purchase when another loud explosion boomed overhead.
She took as deep a breath as her lungs would allow. Her uncle, Lord Simon Danbury, had assured her that merchant vessels were not typically targeted, but it was possible that a French ship had gone rogue. Napoleon had recently proclaimed himself Emperor of France, and he’d enlisted the help of pirates to pillage foreign ships near its shores. France and Spain were allies now, too, making her journey to Spain even more treacherous. Of course, her uncle had informed her about this before she’d boarded the Octavia, but if Napoleon was sponsoring piracy . . .
Her chin quivered. She and Morty could be in mortal danger. The French were crueler than the Spaniards!
Please, God, spare us . . .
The Octavia had passed Quiberon and was headed deep into the heart of the Bay of Biscay. Corsairs plied their trade from Saint-Malo, to Cadiz, to Tripoli, so it was anybody’s guess when and where—and if—they would strike. But when they did, the poor souls aboard the unfortunate vessel were oftentimes ransomed for exorbitant sums, sold into slavery on the Barbary Coast, or worse.
“Lady Constance!” Lieutenant Henry Guffald’s passionate shout filled her with dread. In the five days they’d been at sea, the lieutenant had never once sought to rouse them from their slumber. Something was terribly wrong.
Constance sat up and cast off her wool blanket, her legs shaking as her feet hit the deck. She simply had to find out what was going on, no matter the impropriety or the hour.
“No, Constance,” Morty said, reaching out to stop her. “You are not properly dressed.”
Constance looked down at her night rail and grimaced. Morty was right. She grabbed her robe, shoved her arms through the sleeves, and laced it at the neck just as another explosion rocked the vessel. Constance was thrown into the washstand. The porcelain bowl clanged to the ground, smashing into pieces, and the blow left a paralyzing sting against her mouth and jaw. She tasted blood and tested her teeth with her tongue, thankful they were still sound.
Thump! Thump! Thump!
Dabbing her mouth with her fingers, she lunged for the door and lifted the bolt.
Lieutenant Guffald swept through the portal, pushing his way past her until he was inside the cabin. “Lady Constance! Pirates have drawn alongside us and plan to board.”
“Pirates?” The barely audible word rushed out of her mouth. Her horrifying nightmare had become reality.
“Yes,” he confirmed. “I fear the situation is grim. I have come to warn the two of you.” The lieutenant flicked a glance about the small cabin. “Stay here. Bolt the door, and admit no one until I return.”
Constance opened her mouth to speak, but no words came out.