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He lost everything... but his duty to her brought him back to life.

Oriana Thorpe is a smuggler’s daughter hardened by a dangerous life lived on the edge. An innkeeper and tavern owner, she’s risked everything, including her safety, to protect an endangered lady and her maid from Oriana’s evil brother’s ambition. Determined to make things right, she decides to distribute the blood money her brother left behind to the widows and orphans nearby. When threatening letters arrive promising retribution, Oriana suspects one or more of her customers may be her despicable brother’s spy. But one haunted man promises to protect her, making her risk the greatest danger of all . . . falling in love.

Captain Pierce Walsingham should have died when his ship was destroyed by a vengeful smuggler, but he was pulled from the water by the Black Regent. In gratitude, Pierce takes the Regent’s place, allowing his name to be added to the list of the dead and vowing to protect the woman who saved his sister’s life. Though she survived, the smuggler has promised to return and finish what he started. There is no cause dearer to Pierce’s heart than stopping him, but the task won’t be easy. Strategic allegiances have replenished his enemy’s power at sea and Pierce must fight his desire for the resilient woman who fiercely defends her roost.

EXCERPT FROM THE BOOK

Miss Thorpe’s stillness gave Walsingham pause. She didn’t trust him, as well she shouldn’t.

I am going to betray her.

Those six words ate away at his gut as he gazed down at her glorious hair, fisting his hands to keep from touching her, spinning her around to face him, and taking her into his arms.

Oriana Thorpe was a desirable woman. He was uncertain what else she truly was, however. Girard and O’Malley claimed she was trustworthy, and the threatening letters she had received proved Carnage had a vendetta against her. And yet, if she was innocent, why hadn’t she turned in her brother’s gold? Girard and O’Malley didn’t know where it was, though they suspected it was in the cellar. If Miss Thorpe wasn’t involved, she’d be the only member of the family who hadn’t joined free trade. What were the odds? Or was she simply a brilliant actress? Marauders were content to wait out their enemies in order to succeed. Was it possible she was luring them all into a trap?

Therein lay the challenge. Miss Thorpe’s beauty had become an ensnaring temptation he was finding hard to resist. Her stubbornness matched his, and in her eyes, there were instances where unbridled passion leaped from their depths, yearning—no, begging—to be satisfied.

She had a habit of reining in her emotions, except when she spoke of saving young orphans from a life of misery. That wasn’t the kind of woman who’d lure men to their deaths.

“What are ye doing, Mr. Hunt?” she asked.

Jolted from his musings, Walsingham decided to tell the truth. “I’m looking at you, Miss.”

She dropped the curtain, her hand shaking slightly. “Why?”

He couldn’t be sure if anyone in her family, aside from Charles, had ever dealt with Captain Pierce Walsingham, or for that matter, anyone who frequented the tavern. If they had, he couldn’t trust her too soon.

“Do you really want to know?” He was playing a dangerous game, and he knew it. But he couldn’t seem to help himself when he was near her.

“Aye.”

The longcase clock sounded in the hall. Ding. Ding.

She tilted her face upward to look at him, her gaze locking with his.

“You’re a vision, Miss.”

He would count himself lucky to claim such a woman, but not as long as Miss Thorpe or Carnage had the power to commit an unspeakable act that would seal the Regent’s fate . . . He didn’t intend to be the Regent forever. He already had an idea of who his successor might be, should the man agree. But he couldn’t retire the mask until he prevented Carnage from coming for Chloe. She ran an orphanage of her own. He couldn’t risk innocent lives, not even at the detriment of his own happiness.

The world thought Captain Pierce Walsingham was dead, but in the candlelight, in Miss Thorpe’s eyes, he saw the man he wanted to be, a man who was blessedly alive.

He narrowed the space between them, and she splayed her hand over his heart. “Don’t come any closer,” she said softly.

“I won’t. Unless you ask me to.” He laid his left hand over hers, pressing ever so slightly to ensure she knew his heart beat as rapidly as hers did.

She glanced down at his hand before raising her gaze to his. “You’re as solid as stone.”

Pleased with her praise, he chuckled. “I’m not made of granite, Miss. I’m flesh and blood, a man with needs and desires. Do not doubt it.”

She focused on his chin, avoiding his gaze.

He stroked her cheek and then lowered his finger to her chin, tilting her head back, forcing her to look into his eyes. “And you’re a beautiful, desirable woman. Why aren’t you married?”

Her green eyes sparked, boring into him. “I am well aware of what men desire and I do not need a man to survive.”

“But what do you desire?”

“I . . .” Her breath hitched. “I’m not in the habit of touching men who come to my inn.” She tried to remove her hand from his chest, but he held it steady.

“Don’t,” he said.

She bit her lip, drawing his attention to her mouth. “This isn’t proper.”

“That depends on who you ask.” She wanted him, he could tell, but she was too proud to admit it. By all that was holy, he would never pressure a woman to do anything she didn’t want to do, no matter from what echelon of society she hailed. He wasn’t that sort of man. “May I speak freely?”

“Of course,” she said. “It appears I’m your captive audience.”

“I’ve been drawn to you from the moment I walked into your inn.”

Her throat bobbed gently as she swallowed. “And I ye.”

Her green eyes radiated unequaled strength, a steely reserve that drove her to betray her own flesh and blood to save a stranger—his sister. Was that what motivated him? A need to show her his gratitude? Or was it something more, something deeper, instantaneous, the type of attraction that gripped a man by the heart and never let go?

Who could blame him? She’d worked tirelessly to operate an inn where men continued to exploit her femininity. She was a true Cornish woman who had joined forces with the church and the Seatons to support those without resources, those who could not care for themselves, extolling praises for the Regent . . . Or in essence, for him!

“I’ve dreamed of kissing you,” he admitted.

“Ye have?”

“Aye.”

A growl escaped his throat as he bent to taste her lips. But just before their mouths made contact, the latch on the door shifted loudly. Dredging up strength he didn’t know he possessed, he dropped Miss Thorpe’s hand and stepped over to one of the tables. Once there, he made quick work of appearing as if he had been rearranging the chairs.

Miss Thorpe, in all her decadent allure, bent to rearrange lavender several tables away, the quick ruse perfection as Jarvis walked in, followed by Girard and O’Malley.

“All is well in the barn, Miss,” Girard said, stopping cold and causing O’Malley to walk into him. “Miss, are ye unwell? Your face is as red as a brandy bottle.”

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