Such a touching scene.” Captain Horn’s face wore a look of suspicion and muted anger. “And to think I never guessed until now the grand passion going on beneath my very nose.” “Like Miss Willis said, she chose me.” Peter thrust out his chest, affecting a protective stance…a little too late, unfortunately. “She probably told you that she and I became friendly on the Chastity.” It was the story both he and Miss Willis had agreed upon last night, though they’d known some would find it less than convincing. Apparently the captain was one of them. “She did claim something like that.” Claim. Clearly the man didn’t believe either of them. Then the scourge of the seas cast a slow, lascivious glance over Miss Willis, making her tremble beneath Petey’s arm. “She and I have also become quite ‘friendly’ in the past two days. Haven’t we, Sara?” Petey turned to her, surprised to find her blushing furiously. She cast him a guilty look, then lowered her gaze to her hands. “I-I don’t know what you’re t-talking about.” “Of course not,” the captain ground out. “I should’ve expected a two-faced English lady like you to deny the truth about our ‘friendship.’ Well, you may deny it to me, and you may even deny it to this sailor of yours.” He lowered his voice to a threatening hum. “But you’ll have a hell of a hard time denying it to yourself.
Peter Hargraves asked me to…to be his wife last night. And I agreed.” A stunned expression spread over his face before anger replaced it. Planting his hands on either side of her hips, he bent his head until his face was inches from hers. “He’s not one of my crew. Is that why you accepted his proposal—because he’s not one of my men? Or do you claim to have some feeling for him?” He sneered the last words, and shame spread through her. It would be hard to claim she had feelings for Petey when she’d just been on the verge of giving herself to Gideon. But that was the only answer that would put him off. Her hands trembled against his immovable chest. “I…I like him, yes.” “The way you ‘like’ me?” When she glanced away, uncertain what to say to that, he caught her chin and forced her to look at him. Despite the dim light, she could tell that desire still held him. And when he spoke again, his voice was edged with the tension of his need. “I don’t care what you agreed to last night. Everything has changed. You can’t possibly still want to marry him after the way you just responded to my touch.” “That was a mistake,” she whispered, steeling herself to ignore the flare of anger in his eyes. “Petey and I are well suited. I knew him from before, from the Chastity. I know he’s an honorable man, which is why I still intend to marry him.” A muscle ticked in Gideon’s jaw. “He’s not a bully, you mean. He’s not a wicked pirate like me, out to ‘rape and pillage.’” He pushed away from the trunk with an oath, then spun toward the steps. “Well, he’s not for you, Sara, no matter what you may think. And I’m going to put a stop to his courtship of you right now!
His eyes seemed to drink in every line, every shade of her face. He softened his grip on her chin, then bracketed her throat lightly with his fingers. As she held her breath, he stroked his thumb and fingers down both sides of her neck. “No,” he said, his voice growing husky. “I prefer to have you as you were yesterday…soft…lovely…yielding…” The words themselves were a caress, and the way he looked at her mouth, as if it were a particularly juicy morsel, made shivers dance down her spine. She fought the traitorous sensations. “You can’t have me at all.” “Can’t I?” A knowing smile touched his lips. He lowered his head and she braced herself for another brutal kiss. Instead, he pressed his lips to the pulse on the side of her neck. His lips were warm and buttery soft, nothing like they’d been a few moments ago. She tried to sit still, to pretend he wasn’t heating up her blood and making her tremble like a needle on a compass. Whole surges of feeling were taking over her body. She couldn’t seem to stop them.
He tore his mouth from her eager lips to whisper, “Juliet…ah, sweeting…”Only he had ever called her sweeting. “Morgan…” she whispered back.He froze. Jerking back from her, he stared uncomprehending into her eyes. Then his face drained of heat as suddenly as hot iron dunked in water. He dropped his hands from her. “What the devil am I doing? I must be mad…”Pivoting away, he leaned over to brace his fists on the table. His shoulders shook from the force of his sharp, heavy breaths.“Morgan?” She stepped forward to lay her hand on his back.He flinched at her touch. “Don’t ever call me that again. Call me Sebastian or Lord Templemore, but never Morgan. I’m not him!” He whirled to face her once more. His haunted eyes gleamed in the dimness, and his features were twisted into anger. “I think I’ve proved that sufficiently.”His denial struck a dagger to her heart, and she began to tremble. Surely, he didn’t mean to continue in his lies after what they’d just shared. How could he? “Please, Morgan, don’t-““I’m not Morgan!” He glanced away. “I’m not.” Only his shaky hand shoving his beautiful, thick hair from his face belied his seeming control. “And another thing: no woman ruined by a man waits two years to hunt him down when her family is spoiling for vengeance. She doesn’t hide the truth from them, and she doesn’t come in secret to accuse her supposed debaucher.”His gaze swung back to her as he dropped his voice. “She certainly doesn’t let him kiss her intimately. Your encounter with my brother wasn’t ‘wicked’ at all, was it? This was merely another of your little tests.”He did mean to deny it all! Of all the infernal, dastardly-“But now you should realize,” he went on, twisting the dagger, “that your attempts to paint me the villain are pointless. I’m not the man you seek. You’ll never prove I am.”If she’d had one of his horrible weapons in her hand right now, he’d be dead for certain. That he could stand here and kiss her with such passion, then deny that it meant anything, deny their entire past together, while she still tasted him on her lips…Very well, she could play that game. Lord knows she’d seen enough games played in society to manage one of her own. If that’s what it took to make him confess the truth. “You’re right. It was a test. But you passed.”Her sudden change of tactic made him eye her with suspicion. “I did?”“Certainly. First, by your reaction to my calling you Morgan. And second, because you kiss nothing like him.”“You mean because he didn’t kiss you intimately.”“No. Because he put more feeling into it. Like the rogue he was, Morgan kissed with great abandon.” She’d die before she admitted that his lordship had gone the same. If he could deceive her without remorse, he deserved this. “Of course, that’s to be expected of a reckless adventurer. His sort excel at inflaming women’s passions. Whereas you-“ She broke off, as if the rest were perfectly obvious. He gazed at her mulishly. “Whereas I what?”“You’re a gentleman, of course. You’re much too proper to kiss recklessly, and certainly you’d never attempt to inflame a woman’s passion.”“You can’t tell me that my brother kissed you with more passion, for I know otherwise. His kiss was-“ He broke off, realizing his error too late. “You’ve already said that his kisses were perfectly chaste.”Aha! Finally she’d pierced his infernal armor. She hadn’t told him there’d been only one kiss; he’d slipped up already. Let him believe she’d given up her suspicions-it would lull him into lowering his guard. She’d use his own arrogance against him, batter his pride at every opportunity with “perfectly innocent” comments about the past.She shrugged. “Chaste? Well, that’s a different matter entirely. His kiss may have been ‘chaste,’ as you put it, but it was still thrilling.” She could hardly suppress her smile at the lovely effect her words had on Lord Templemore. He looked positively offended.
Ah. Better and better. “So you’re here virtually alone, with no money, despite your claim to have a rich father and a certain station in society.” He fished for more information. “You expect me to believe that the daughter of a wealthy ship company owner-who would be taught to keep quiet, do as she is told, and respect the proprieties-would go sailing across the ocean in search of her fiancé, looking for him in a brothel, attacking the first gentleman who dares to question-““Oh, for pity’s sake,” she snapped. “I told you why I did all that.”“Besides,” her companion put in. “Uncle Adam isn’t…wasn’t like other rich gentlemen. He started out a soldier in the Marine Corps. He never put on airs. Always said he was born the poor bastard of a servant, and he’d die the rich bastard of a servant, and that was better than being a rich ass.”She groaned. “Freddy, please, you’re not helping.”“So you see, sir,” Freddy went on, to Oliver’s vast amusement, “Mop-Maria isn’t like other women. She’s like her father. She doesn’t listen to those who tell her to sit still and keep quiet. Never has.”“I noticed,” Oliver said dryly. It was a point in her favor.
I'll bet My. Pinter knows his way around a rifle.She scowled. He probably thought he was a grand shot, anyway. For a man whose lineage was reputedly unsavory, Mr. Pinter was so high in the instep that she privately called him Proud Pinter or Proper Pinter. He'd told Gabe last week that most lords were good for only two things-redistributing funds from their estates into the gaming hells and brothels in London, and ignoring their duty to God and country.She knew he was working for Oliver only because he wanted the money and prestige. Secretly, he held them all in contempt. Which was probably why he was being so snide about her marrying."Be that as it may," she said, "I'm interested in marriage now." She strode over to the fireplace to warm her hands. "That's why I want you to investigate my potential suitors.""Why me?"She shot him a sideways glance. "Have you forgotten that Oliver hired you initially for that very purpose?"His stiffening posture told her that he had. With a frown, he drew out the notebook and pencil he always seemed to keep in his pocket. "Very well. Exactly what do you want me to find out?"Breathing easier, she left the fire. "The same thing you found out for my siblings-the truth about my potential suitors' finances, their eligibility for marriage, and...well..."He paused in scratching his notes to arch an eyebrow at her. "Yes?"She fiddled nervously with the gold bracelet she wore. This part, he might balk at. "And their secrets. Things I can use in my...er...campaign. Their likes, their weaknesses, whatever isn't obvious to the world."His expression chilled her even with the fire at her back. "I'm not sure I understand.""Suppose you learn that one of them prefers women in red. That could be useful to me. I would wear red as much as possible."Amusement flashed in his eyes. "And what will you do if they all prefer different colors?""It's just an example," she said irritably.
You may find this hard to believe, Mr. Pinter," she went on defensively, "but some men enjoy my company. They consider me easy to talk to."A ghost of a smile touched his handsome face. "You're right. I do find that hard to believe."Arrogant wretch. "All the same, there are three men who might consider marrying me, and I could use your help in securing them."She hated having to ask him for that, but he was necessary to her plan. She just needed one good offer of marriage, one impressive offer that would show Gran she was capable of gaining a decent husband.Gran didn't believe she could, or she wouldn't be holding to that blasted ultimatum. If Celia could prove her wrong, Gran might allow her to choose a husband in her own good time.And if that plan didn't work, Celia would at least have a man she could marry to fulfill Gran's terms."So you've finally decided to meet Mrs. Plumtree's demands," he said, his expression unreadable.She wasn't about to let him in on her secret plan. Oliver might have employed him, but she was sure Mr. Pinter also spied for Gran. He would run right off and tell her. "It's not as if I have a choice." Bitterness crept into her tone. "In less than two months, if I remain unmarried, my siblings will be cut off. I can't do that to them, no matter how much I resent Gran's meddling."Something that looked oddly like sympathy flickered in his gaze. "Don't you want to marry?""Of course I want to marry. Doesn't every woman?""You've shown little interest in it before," he said skeptically.That's because men had shown little interest in her. Oh, Gab's friends loved to stand about with her at balls and discuss the latest developments in cartridges, but they rarely asked her to dance, and if they did, it was only to consult her on rifles. She'd tried flirting, but she was terrible at it. It seemed so...false. So did men's compliments, the few that there were. It was easier to laugh them off than to figure out which ones were genuine, easier to pretend to be one of the lads.She secretly wished she could find a man she could love, who would ignore the scandals attached to he family's name and indulge her hobby of target shooting. One who could shoot as well as she, since she could never respect a man who couldn't hit what he aimed at.I'll bet Mr. Pinter knows his way around a rifle.
You needn’t manhandle me,” she hissed, though she didn’t fight him.“Trust me, Miss Butterfield, you’ll know when I’m manhandling you.” He stopped before a chair. “Sit,” he commanded, pushing her into it. “And try to restrain your urge to attack people for half a moment, will you?”“I was not-““As for you,” he growled at her companion, “give me the satchel that caused all this furor.”“Yes, sir…I mean, my lord.”Oliver took the satchel from the young man, whose face was drained of all color. Clearly, he lacked his companion’s fierceness.
Thank you for the advice, but I know how to comport myself with Maria.”“That remains to be seen.” Jarret rose, then bent to plant his hands on the desk. “But know this-none of us will stand by and let you ruin a young woman just to provoke Gran.”Oliver shot to his feet. That his brother thought him capable of such a thing infuriated him, as did being lectured by him. It had never happened before, and he wasn’t about to allow it now.Leaning forward until he and Jarret were eye to eye over the desk, he growled, “And what the deuce do you think you can do to stop me from acting as I please?”A grim smile touched Jarret’s lips. “I could attempt to steal her from you.”Somewhere in the recesses of his sanity, Oliver knew he was being baited, yet it made no difference. Just the idea of Jarret seeking to engage Maria’s affections crushed his usual control.“If you lay a hand on her,” he ground out, “Gabe won’t be the only one wearing a sling in this family.”With an enigmatic look, Jarret pushed back from the desk. “Fine.” His eyes turned to ice. “But be warned-the rest of us intend to make sure that you never lay a hand on her, either.” Without waiting for a response, he strode from the room.
Celia realized she'd shocked Mr. Pinter when his thick black brows drew together in a frown. His lean form seemed even more rigid than usual, and his angular features-the arrow of a nose and bladed jaw-even more stark. IN his severe morning attire of black serge and white linen, he radiated male disapproval.But why? He knew she was the only "hellion" left unmarried. Did he think she would let her brothers and sisters lose their inheritance out of some rebellious desire to thwart Gran's ultimatum?Of course he did. He'd been so kind and considerate during her recitation of the dream that she'd almost forgotten he hated her. Why else were his eyes, gray as slate after a storm, now so cold and remote? The blasted fellow was always so condescending and sure of himself, so...so...Male."Forgive me, my lady," he said in his oddly raspy voice, "but I was unaware you had any suitors."Curse him for being right. "Well, I don't...exactly. There are men who might be interested but haven't gone so far as to offer marriage." Or even to show a partiality to her. "And you're hoping I'll twist their arms so they will?"She colored under his piercing gaze. "Don't be ridiculous."This was the Mr. Pinter she knew, the one who'd called her "a reckless society miss" and a "troublemaker."Not that she cared what he thought. He was like her brother's friends, who saw her as a tomboy because she could demonstrate a rifle's fine qualities. And like Cousin Ned. Scrawny bitch with no tits-you don't have an ounce of anything female on you.Curse Ned to hell.