Things that happen in Vegas need to stay in Vegas.
“Lord help me, I hope that’s true,” Abigail Matheson whispered under her breath.
The silent yet repeating Las Vegas mantra scrolled through her brain as she slowly eased the door closed on the hotel room—correction—amazing penthouse suite. Stopping just before it closed completely, she took one final glance at the gorgeous sexy man still sleeping in the bed where she spent one of the most incredible nights ever in her twenty-eight years of living…then sighed. Whether from regret knowing she’d never see him again or for allowing her lustful desires to cause her to succumb to too much champagne, she wasn’t sure. Yes, it was a foolish one-night stand coming on the recent heels of discovering her fiancé—well, fiancé that was—was about to become a father with the woman he’d cheated on her with after having proposed to her. It was possible she now had regrets but what if…what if there was a chance for more.
The ding of the elevator down the hall made her flinch and her hand slipped off the door handle. As the door clicked shut, she gasped then let it turn into a low groan. Damn, now she wondered if maybe she should’ve left him a note. She groaned aloud this time, louder than she meant. No, it was definitely better this way, she thought staring at the closed door. They were mere minions in the bigger scheme of things and surely, she would never see him again. Hell, he didn’t even know her last name since she was reasonably sure she hadn’t told him. He was just Mitch, just as she was merely Abby. Now she wished she’d asked him his name, or told him hers. What if he decided to try to find her…no, it was better this way. She’d probably be home in Chicago before he even woke. Besides, the last thing she needed in her life now, or anytime in the near future, was a man. She’d had more than her share of the lies, betrayal, and it being all about them without regard to her feelings or needs which came with being involved.
Moaning low, Abby leaned her dull aching head against the cool surface of the wall alongside the door wishing she could think clearer. Their night together had been incredible. Yes, too much champagne had fueled it in the beginning but from the moment their lips first touched, an explosion of intense arousal began burning which even hours of amazing sex hadn’t been able to douse. Of course, now she was paying the price with both regret, and a head-splitting hangover.
It had been incredible though, breathtakingly incredible. Lifting her head, she stared at the closed door. She wanted to knock, wake him and when he answered the door, leap into his muscular arms and beg him to ravish her body one more time before she had to go back to her now, in comparison, mundane life. Just then, the alarm on her cell phone went off.
Abby scurried down the hall toward the group of elevators while searching in her bag for the damn device. Retrieving it, she silenced the obnoxious old timey car horn sound filling the otherwise quiet hallway. Noticing the time on her phone, she had just enough time to get to her room, clean up, gather her things, and get to the airport. She punched the elevator button.
“So much for waking sleeping beauty for another round of hot naughty sex,” she grumbled while wondering whether she’d survive, or more likely not survive, the flight home with her head throbbing and her stomach roiling.
Wasn’t this always the way for her? It was just like when her best friend asked her to be a bridesmaid in her upcoming wedding. All she could think was what her grandmother had always said about her maiden aunt who died far too young and unmarried—always a bridesmaid, never a bride. That was Abby. Having already been in fifteen weddings as a bridesmaid since high school now, in less than a month, she was going to don yet another frou-frou style dress and watch yet another one of her friends marry the man of her dreams. She wasn’t looking forward to standing there with her best I’m so happy for you smile, and then hiding in a corner hoping no one would notice her so she could avoid teasing about her finding the one. There was no one for her and frankly, she didn’t want there to be.
The elevator doors opened and Abby stepped inside. As she turned to press the number for her floor, she wondered if her luck, or lack thereof, would make the plane crash on the way home so she didn’t have to face not catching a bouquet yet again. What was the difference anyway since she had no man? Not even a date for the blasted wedding. She leaned against the back wall, closed her eyes, and exhaled a long breath. No, her luck never went her way—well, except maybe last night.
As the elevator ride made her stomach turn unpleasantly her thoughts returned to the man she’d left sleeping with his dark wavy hair, eyes the color of sweet warm honey, and so many muscles. Oh, he had such deliciously carved muscles, which flinched and shifted under her fingertips as he made her experience sensations she never knew her body could feel.
Damn, her luck sucked big time. Vegas could keep its secrets. Hers were going with her, because it was all she had.
The sound of a strange sounding car horn pulled Mitch from the best dream he’d had since perhaps college. He was kissing an incredibly beautiful woman with silky reddish colored hair, which felt like spun silk gliding over his fingers. She’d fit in his arms as no other woman ever had—not even the one who had destroyed his heart—and her lips definitely tasted like sweet wine.
Damn whatever disturbed him because now he was awake, and didn’t want to be. His head ached and his eyes felt like someone had thrown a bucket of grit in them. Rolling over, he pulled a nearby pillow over his head. Suddenly, he sat up with a low groan his head rebelling against the sudden movement. Settling slowly back against his pillow, he pressed the other one to his face. Her scent, it was there. She was real. She hadn’t just lived in his dreams after all. She’d really been here—in his bed, and in his arms.
Mitch Braxton glanced around the palatial hotel room. Pulling himself slowly up to sit on the side of the king-size bed still gripping the pillow, he waited for the room to stop spinning. Had she truly been real? He squinted in the direction of the other side of the bed. Someone had definitely been there by the way the covers lay folded back at an angle. The sheets were rumpled and there were a few loose strands of long hair left behind. Something glittered where another pillow lay cock-eyed on the bed. Sliding his hand over toward it, he pinched it from the covers. Lifting his hand and squinting through aching eyelids, he realized it was a heart-shaped crystal on a delicate gold chain.
So she really had been here with him last night. It wasn’t a dream. He remembered lifting the beautiful simple heart away from warm soft skin and her telling him something about her father, but now it was all hazy as if mired in a fog. Mitch closed his eyes and clutched the necklace to his chest.
He remembered now. After returning from his less than enjoyable meeting with the man who wished to put him out of business, he’d seen her sitting quietly by the pool with a sad expression instead of enjoying herself with the other partiers dancing and boozing inside the club. He’d asked her if there was something, anything at all, he could do to make her smile and she’d responded by asking him if all men were liars. Well, he certainly couldn’t stand by and allow her to make such a sweeping generalization about his entire gender so of course, he’d told her that they most certainly were not. Remembering how she’d laughed at his remark, the sound was better than any music escaping the sliding doors to the club. Handing her his glass, he had filled it from the bottle of champagne he’d retrieved from the bar. He was supposed to be celebrating the prospective sale of his company to the almighty king of social media networking, Jack Morgan, but couldn’t bring himself to feel anything but regret about it since Brax, Inc. was his pride and joy.
After she’d unloaded her thoughts on how men cheat and lie. After she’d exclaimed how she was never falling in love again, and would never marry because she was an independent woman and had no need of man, they had shared a few more drinks. Soon they were riding the elevator up to her floor but when the doors opened, they were too busy kissing to notice. The elevator continued to the top floor where his very grand penthouse suite awaited them. The bottle of champagne they’d had with them was nearly empty but fortunately, there was another in the mini-bar.
Remembering having drunk entirely too much champagne, Mitch glanced toward the coffee table in front of a small sofa and sure enough, on it an empty bottle rested on its side accompanied by two empty glasses. One thing he clearly remembered was that he hadn’t been too drunk to enjoy the delights she’d shared with him.
Pushing himself forward, he grabbed the nightstand next to the bed and slowly climbed to his feet. After waiting for a brief spell of nausea to pass, he looked to each of the end tables expectantly, and then the coffee table—no note, nothing. He moved slowly toward the small kitchen off the living area with the hope she might have left something there for him—with perhaps her name and number on it.
Shit! What was her name? Annie? No, it wasn’t that but close to it, he was sure or hoped anyway. Rubbing his eyes, he wished he could think better. Damn, but he wished he could remember her name. If he knew her name, he could call the front desk and find out who she was. Maybe he could anyway. After all, how many women had rooms on the…oh hell, which floor had she told him her room was on? Then again, how would he explain not even knowing her first name or why he wanted to find her?
Sitting with a groan on the sofa, which was as far as he could manage right now, he hugged the pillow carrying her scent. He was getting too old for this kind of stuff. At thirty-five, he was tiring of the chase and subsequent escape from most relationships with women. He wanted something special. Of course, he’d had something special once or so he’d thought, but when he was ready to make his love for her permanent, she’d abandoned him for another man. Perhaps love and he weren’t meant to coexist. After all, he’d been completely wrong then and now, expected never to have it for real ever again. Still, he couldn’t deny he wanted what his kid sister, well stepsister actually, was about to embrace by marrying the man who had swept her off her feet in a mere six months.
He truly envied his sweet little sister, Caroline, her impending nuptials. Of course, he’d never admit it to her or to his mother who was always pleading with him to find a nice girl, settle down, and give her grandchildren. Closing his eyes at the thought, he knew he wanted it all the same, but a man can’t always have what he wants. It takes two to make it work and trusting a woman again was something he wasn’t sure he was ready to do.
Mitch inhaled deeply from the pillow in his arms. Wow, his mystery lady had smelled like heaven. He remembered that about her. She smelled like a freshly made vanilla shake, the kind so thick and creamy that the straw stood up straight in the middle of the glass and to drink it, he’d have to suck so hard he’d nearly pass out from the lack of air. That was what it was like last night. Making love to her was just like sucking the sweet deliciousness of a thick shake through a straw, and he probably had passed out after climbing so high with passion he couldn’t even remember her name. Her eyes, however, he did remember her eyes. They were green like newly emerged leaves on a spring day. He’d never seen eyes like hers before. They were green but seemed to sparkle like an opal gem with bits of gray-blue, gold, and amber slipping around a dark center and cast against a bed of new leaves.
Angie? Is her name Angie? Shit!
An annoying electronic tonal sound, which he imagined someone had once thought musical, sounded off from his jacket as it lay across a nearby chair. Glancing at the digital clock on the table next to the bed, he groaned because he knew he was in trouble. He’d missed his flight back to Los Angeles, and had no doubt whatsoever the missed call was from Elise, his very diligent, very prompt and at times, very obsessive-compulsive assistant.
Mitch decided a shower was necessary before he spoke to Elise. His assistant was the best in the world, but entirely too obsessed with details. Yes, he was supposed to be back in LA for a meeting with his lawyer this afternoon but really, was it imperative he be back first thing in the morning? Obviously, Elise thought so which was why she’d booked him on an early flight out of Las Vegas this morning. Normally, he wouldn’t mind but this morning, he just wanted a bus to hit him and put him out of his misery.
As he headed for the bathroom, he wondered if he should put his feisty little Latina assistant on the trail of the mystery woman who very well may have stolen his heart with a kiss, and then run off like Cinderella after the ball without even a glass slipper to help him find her. Only a delicate glass heart as fragile as his own, which he’d never be able to match to its owner. He wished she’d stayed or at least woke him before leaving.
Perhaps she is married. No, he remembered her railing about men and never marrying.
Who is she then? Somehow, he suspected she wasn’t going to disappear from his thoughts any time soon. He also knew he definitely would like to see her again, even if they had put the cart before the horse, so to speak.
There’s little chance of ever finding her. On the other hand, Elise could find out anything about anyone, even if she had to bully it out of someone just like she usually did him.
Vegas! Why did I have to meet such a woman in Vegas?
Stepping into the shower with a slim hope of warding off the hangover pounding at him, he doubted he’d get any information about her here. No one ever gave up information here—ever!
“You’ve seen a lot over the centuries, haven’t you? Well, it’s time to give up some of your secrets.”
The orange and pink glow in the western sky was beginning to fade, and darkness now crept along coating the landscape in the shadows of tall trees as Emma Wells turned the old Jeep toward the house. It rumbled down the hill from the old cemetery and onto the access road running parallel to the cornfield. The humid summer night air filled with swirling waves of honeysuckle perfume mingling with the earthy scents of farming country surrounding her like a comforting blanket. Breathing it in, she knew it wouldn’t be long before the breath of the corn would take its place. It was nearly midsummer and the corn was already almost four feet tall.
Emma loved Green Mount Farm. It was old, centuries old actually. It had seen better days but since her colonial ancestor, Jason Embry had built the grand house, it had survived the Revolutionary War, the Civil War, and many more decades of despair so she hoped it would survive a stint in her care. Although the house had gone from what was considered in its early days, a grand home, it had changed over the centuries. A kitchen fire, damage from storms, and modern modifications throughout the twentieth century had changed the grand building into a rather simple yet beautiful farmhouse. It had taken a lot of work this past spring to get the fields back into condition for planting, but it was worth it. She’d hired on agricultural students from the university to do the fieldwork while she concentrated on the house.
The death of her grandfather, Duncan Chambers, had come as a shock to her two years earlier. After burying the beloved man, she’d taken a leave of absence from her job as researcher and restorer at Mount Vernon, the home of George Washington. Now, she wondered if she’d ever return to her old life or continue to make a new one here, at Green Mount Farm.
A frown crossed her brow as her thoughts returned to the days after her grandfather’s death. There were still so many questions in her mind about his accident. True, Grandpa Duncan was not a young man when he died, but his mind had been as sharp as any younger man she knew. His driving head on into the Carlson’s pond just hadn’t made sense to her and she had tried to get the local authorities to pay more attention to the case, but they claimed he’d been drinking and lost control of his truck. She knew Grandpa Duncan had enjoyed hanging out with his friends at the local tavern because he used to take her there when she spent her summers at Green Mount Farm with him and Grandma Louise, so it was possible. During those visiting months, her grandfather took her everywhere with him, including the local tavern. He would have a beer and smoke a cigar, which he made her promise not to tell her grandmother about, and she would have a chocolate malted. She loved those times. Emma would sit quietly and listen to the older men tell their tales about hunting the big buck, which always got away or fighting to catch the biggest, oldest fish in the local lake. Grandpa assured her their tales were just that, tales. Tall tales, even for them, as he was sure none of them had ever really seen a buck as large as they described or a fish in the lake bigger than two pounds in weight. He would laugh and tell her if old men weren’t able to tell their heroic deeds in tall tales, they would just wither away and die. There was one tall tale however, which never changed in the telling and had long ago led Emma to begin to believe it was true. It was the tale her grandfather never told anywhere but at home in his easy chair.
Her grandfather’s story about Jeremiah Chambers, Grandpa Duncan’s own great-grandfather, had intrigued her from an early age. Grandpa Duncan had told her Jeremiah was a hero of the Confederacy. Now Emma had inherited Green Mount Farm and all of its property. She was determined to prove, mostly to herself, that the tale Grandpa Duncan told every summer was, in fact, true.
When she left the house this morning, she had not intended to be gone until dark so she was now tired, dirty, and very hungry. Having set out early in the day, she’d packed enough food and water to get her through the day but hadn’t had anything to eat since around four in the afternoon. It was now going on nine-thirty. With a great sigh, Emma pulled her long golden blond hair loose from her usual ponytail. She shook her head, loosening her hair around her as she squared her shoulders and relaxed them easing away some of the exhaustion living there. It had been a long day of clearing brush and fallen trees from the opening to an obviously manmade cave she’d found. She hoped it might be the opening to a tunnel, which might lead her to solving the mystery surrounding her grandfather’s tale of Jeremiah Chambers, her own great-great-great grandfather.
As she maneuvered the Jeep closer to the once grand old farmhouse, she saw a light shining from the kitchen window in the back of the house. One of the boys had most likely left it on again, only this time she was grateful since there were no other lights illuminating the house. The only light she had to lead her home was that one since any lights from the working quarters weren’t visible from the direction she was driving.
The vehicle’s headlights lit up the road as she turned into the long driveway leading from the farmhouse to the rural road, which stretched for miles in either direction in front of the land she now owned. It was times like this, in the quiet of the countryside, she wished her mother and her father were here with her to help uncover the secret Jeremiah Chambers had left behind over one hundred and fifty years ago.
Her thoughts elsewhere, Emma saw the dark-colored SUV parked near the carriage house converted to a garage at the last minute. She slammed the brakes on to keep from hitting the back end of the vehicle. Her lungs sucked in a great gasp of air which she held as she glanced around apprehensively, wondering where the owner was hiding.
Shutting off her lights, she killed the engine but left the keys in the ignition. Slowly, without taking her eyes away from her surroundings, she reached her right hand down the side of her leg to where a leather sheath strapped to her leg contained her hunting knife. She slid the knife from the sheath and as it came up from the shadows, the small amount of light in the air glinted off the four-inch blade. The Cocobolo handle felt cool and comfortable in her small hand.
Grandpa Duncan had bought her the slender lightweight knife for her when she was fifteen. He told her it would not only come in handy during her hikes in the woods, but no bad-ass guy would ever bother her if she had it strapped to her hip once she was on her own. Her own father had frowned when he saw it but understood his father-in-law’s concerns, and eventually admitted he was glad she had it. He’d confided this to her when she was preparing for her first archaeological exploration in Central America. Between her grandfather and father, by the time archaeologist Emma Wells headed off to foreign lands and uncharted jungles, she’d received enough lessons on how to use it that confidence was second nature whenever she drew it from its sheath. Her father had insisted she learn every means available to defend herself before heading off on digs. Emma learned very quickly it was necessary on many of her jaunts into unknown territory. She never really believed she would ever use it to protect herself against another human being but with the events of late, she wanted to be prepared and the feel of the hard steel resting against her thigh was always reassuring. In her hand, it gave her much needed confidence.
The darkness made her nervous. She opened the car door and slowly stepped out onto the gravel drive careful not to make too much noise. She decided to leave her knapsack in the Jeep in case she needed to leave quickly. With her knife in her right hand at the ready, she used her left to pull her cell phone from a cargo pocket on the side of her pant leg. Unlocking it, and cringing slightly as it clicked open and glowed, she glanced down to see if she had a signal.
Shit! As usual—no service.
It never ceased to amaze her how she could get a signal while out in the fields, but not at the house. Emma slowly glanced around her then stepped carefully around to the front of her vehicle. Her eyes had become accustomed to the dim light now and the moon was beginning to rise in the east shedding a small amount a light over the landscape. As she stepped up alongside the strange truck, she could see inside it. It was empty. She silently asked herself where the driver might be as she glanced around.
Emma could feel the hair standing up on her arms and on the back of her neck. She wished she’d left a light on so she could see if anyone was waiting on the front porch. Right now, she was wishing she had a huge mean dog.
“Note to self, get a really big mean dog,” she whispered to herself, holding the knife at the ready as she moved closer to the porch.
“If you’d remember to leave a light on, you wouldn’t need a big dog. Besides you’d probably forget to feed the dog, and then you’d have to protect yourself from a vicious hungry beast.” A man’s deep voice spoke from somewhere on the large dark veranda. “You never change, Emma girl. You never think ahead.”
Emma recognized that voice and as much as she hated hearing it, she was relieved it was someone she knew, and somewhat trusted—well, used to trust. Anger replaced apprehension. “What the hell are you doing here, Martinelli?”
She knew she’d snarled more than spoke the question as she stomped up the steps to the veranda, swung open the screen door, and unlocked the front door. Reaching inside the door with her left hand, she switched on the porch light. As the light filled the porch, Emma saw him sitting in one of the chairs, which curved around a small table. It was her grandmother’s favorite place to sit while watching her as a little girl playing in the yard. It was where she and her grandparents would eat their lunch, and take afternoon snacks with ice-cold lemonade. Now it was where Samuel Martinelli was sitting. The sight of his cocky smirk, and handsome good looks irritated the devil out of her. After five years, couldn’t he have at least gotten a little less attractive?
“Not even a hello for an old friend.”
“Old friend!” The idea incensed Emma. “You’ve got a lot of nerve even showing your disloyal, cheating, arrogant face around here. What are you doing here, and how did you know where I was?”
“Walt sent me.”
Dr. Samuel Martinelli sat relaxed in the chair, smiling at Emma. He couldn’t help but notice how great she looked. She was dirty but he could tell her figure hadn’t changed much. In fact, it might have improved and beneath the dirty exterior, he could see she was as pretty as ever. Even five years older, she was still a knockout. He watched her watching him, her full chest rising and falling quickly as she reacted to his being on her front porch. Sam also noticed her right hand held that mean hunting knife of hers. He was not going to make a move until she put it away.
Emma seemed to freeze. He wasn’t even sure she was breathing. Suddenly, as if breaking out of her trance, she quickly looked around the porch. “Did he come with you? Where’s Walt?”
“I’m afraid he wasn’t able to come. That’s why I’m here in his place.”
“Is he all right?” Emma asked, her tone giving away her recognition of the seriousness of the tone in his voice. He knew she instinctively knew something was wrong. “Has something happened?”
“He didn’t want you to worry and he’d probably bang me upside the head if he knew I was telling you, but…” Sam paused briefly before continuing. “Walt’s had a heart attack.” Knowing this would throw Emma into a panic, he quickly added, “He’s fine though, he’s already back home. He just needs some time to recuperate.”
Emma took a seat in one of the other chairs at the small table or rather she sunk into the chair as if every bit of energy had just been sucked out of her body and left her limp as a rag doll with no stuffing. He knew the idea of losing someone else she held dear to a heart attack was too much and the paleness of her sun-kissed skin made it obvious.
“Sam, tell me the truth,” she pleaded in a quiet voice. “The absolute truth, dammit…is Uncle Walt really okay?”
“Truthfully, honey, the old coot is doing okay.”
He liked hearing her call him Sam just as she used to do when they were dating. He always knew when she was feeling scared, nervous, or even amorous for it was those times when she called him by his first name albeit the shortened version. It was when she called him by his surname, Martinelli, he knew she was truly annoyed or worse, angry with him. Her first reaction told him she was still mighty pissed off at him for what happened five years earlier. “It was serious enough to put him in the hospital for a few days but not serious enough, or so the old man claims, to worry you over. Walt refused to let me call you. Hell, when he heard your voice message, he wanted to come here himself. I had to threaten to call his doctor, so he finally gave in but insisted I come in his place.”
“But he’s okay?” Emma asked, her voice shaking a bit in need of reassurance.
Sam knew this was hard for her to hear. The idea of losing Walt was scary for her. Walt Bingham was the closest thing to family she had left. Her own father, Robert Wells, had died five years ago of a heart attack. It was during the aftermath of his passing when Sam had foolishly betrayed her and consequently, lost her. Losing Robert Wells was as heartbreaking to Sam as it was for his daughter because Robert had been his mentor, best friend, and surrogate father. Feeling lost and full of grief himself, he’d tried his best to comfort Emma, but when she pushed him away claiming a need to be alone with her own grief, he’d done a very foolish thing. He’d gone to a local watering hole, had entirely too much to drink, and gave into a temptation which he would never have given in to had he been sober—a beautiful young coed. She’d been one of his students who had been very bold in the past about her attraction to Sam. She’d recognized his vulnerability that night and offered to take him home. Once in his apartment, she set about seducing him. While the two of them entangled themselves in Sam’s bed, Emma, having used her key, entered the apartment and found them. The whole event was still foggy in his memory. He remembered thinking when he heard Emma’s voice in the living room, he must be dreaming. Even now, he only vaguely remembered her coming to stand in the doorway, her face filled with expressions of shock, hurt, and anger. Sam knew positively she was actually there when she called him every name in the book before storming out, slamming the front door behind her. Too drunk to follow, he asked the young woman to leave, and promptly passed out. It was nearly noon the next day before he went searching for Emma only to discover she’d packed a bag and taken off for parts unknown. Another two months passed before he learned of her whereabouts through Walt. Emma Wells had run off to Mexico and was working a dig there. Sam tried to contact her but she’d refused to respond. She refused to let him explain. He finally received one message back, one very brief email with words, which tore a huge hole in his heart.
You betrayed me when I needed you most.
Even now, he wished he could take that night back. He was deeply in love with this proud woman, had been nearly from the first moment he’d met her, and would continue to be despite her rejection. Pride made her run away and now her pride objected to him being here now. He hoped by being here to help her when she needed him then maybe, he could break down the impenetrable wall of pride she’d constructed and she’d learn to trust him again. Then maybe he could convince her he hadn’t actually betrayed her five years ago.
“He’s okay. The doctor said if he rests, and takes his meds as he should, he should be right back to his grumpy old self in no time,” Sam explained with a big smile. “If you don’t believe me, you can call him yourself and let him tell you. ‘Course, it’s kind of late to be calling tonight.” He tipped his arm to read the time on his watch beneath the porch light. “By the way, where have you been? It’s late.”
“Yes, it is late.” Ignoring his question about her whereabouts, she noted how he watched her as she raised her right hand meaning to run her fingers through her long hair. She surprised herself when she realized she was still holding her hunting knife. Glancing at Sam, he knew she expected some smart-ass remark but when she failed to receive it, she placed the knife on the table.
“I was beginning to think you were going to continue threatening me with that.”
“Martinelli, if I wanted to use my knife on you, I wouldn’t threaten first, I would just start cutting. Now it’s late and I’m exhausted.” Pulling herself out of the chair, she stood giving her back an arching stretch. “I’m going to go soak in a tub, get something to eat, and then sleep.”
“Sounds like a plan,” Sam said, standing up as well. “Where do you want me?”
“You can sleep in your truck for all I care.”
“Ah, come on, Emma. You can’t expect me to sleep out there.” He motioned toward the driveway. “The bugs will eat me alive.”
Emma was obviously too tired to argue because she closed her eyes on a long sigh. “Okay, okay. I had made up a room for Uncle Walt. You can sleep there.” Turning to enter the house, she stopped and turned back toward Sam. “You so much as make one move toward me and I’ll gut you for sure.” To emphasize her meaning, she snatched her knife from the table and waved it at him before returning it to its sheath strapped to her thigh.
Sam raised his hands in surrender. “Got it, sweetie, got it.”
Emma started toward the door again, but then stopped. She glanced over her shoulder to the Jeep. Shaking her head, she let her shoulders fall, turned, and walked back to the driver’s side. She returned a few minutes later carrying a backpack. She walked right past him without a word and entered the house not waiting for Sam but instead, allowing the screen door to swing back at him. He grabbed the door before it hit him. Smiling as he entered the foyer, he knew he’d won the first battle even if it was only a small one.
Once inside, he watched Emma’s backside as she climbed the stairs. His smile widening, Sam decided she still had one of the finest asses ever. He locked the front door securely before following her up the steps. As Sam reached the top landing, he heard Emma’s door shut followed by loud clicking sound as she locked the door. With a deep sigh, he started checking rooms to find the one Emma had made up for Walt.
An hour later, Emma found Sam in the kitchen cooking something, which smelled heavenly. Refreshed from a long bath, Emma stood watching him from the doorway. He was handsome as ever, and she cursed herself for noticing. He looked like he’d put on some weight. Of course, it wasn’t flab weight. He’d always been lean but now he was muscularly lean, and it gave him an incredibly sexy look. Five years ago, he’d been only a year older than she was right now but back then, he’d still looked like a college kid. Now at thirty-four, Sam Martinelli had grown into a mature looking man. The mustache helped, Emma thought to herself as she watched him move about the kitchen. His dark hair, which she used to love to run her fingers through, was much shorter now, only brushing his collar instead of tied back in a long tail.
Sam flipped the switch on the coffee maker. Then as if he had eyes in the back of his head, he seemed to sense her standing in the doorway with her hands on her hips. He glanced over his shoulder at her with a broad white smile.
“What’cha makin’?” Emma asked, the scent of food making her mouth water while the sight of his sweet ass filling out his jeans so deliciously did things to her lower body she had to force herself to ignore.
“I figured you hadn’t eaten anything since who knows when and I was hungry too, so I’ve got sausage, toast, and I’m starting the eggs. Still like ‘em over easy?” he asked as he cracked the first of four eggs into the cast-iron skillet her grandmother always used. The smells and sounds pulled her thoughts back to good times sitting at the kitchen table while Grandma Louise fussed over Sam, frying him eggs in that very skillet.
“Yeah, thanks,” Emma answered clearing her throat first.
Her attention drawn to the neatly set table, she gently shook her head. He always was a fussbudget about making sure everything was just so. Taking a seat at the table, she made herself comfortable. She wasn’t going to bother asking if she could help because she already knew, he’d refuse. One quirk of Sam’s, which she remembered all too well, was he didn’t like any interference while he was cooking. “I’m sorry if I was a little short with you earlier. I’m very tired and you were the last person I expected to find on my porch.”
She watched Sam finish turning the eggs. While the eggs finished cooking, he divided the sausage and toast between two plates, which she suspected he’d warmed in the oven. When the eggs were finished, he placed them gently onto the plates. Using oven mitts, he carried the two plates over to the table where Emma was sitting.
“Careful, the plate’s pretty warm yet.” He warned her as she reached for it. After she’d pulled her hands back, he set the plate in front of her.
As he came close to Emma, Sam smelled vanilla. The scent brought back sweet memories of bubble baths with her and falling asleep with her in his arms after making love with that sweet scent filling his nostrils. His heart skipped a beat at the memory and something else stirred to life, which hadn’t been so alert to a woman in a very long time.
He set his plate down at his seat, and settled in while watching Emma. She picked up her fork and began eating the whites from around her yolks. Sam smiled as he watched her do this. It was a quirk of hers to eat the whites leaving the yolk intact before sliding the fork beneath the yolk to put it in her mouth whole without breaking it. Sam watched as she lifted one of the yolks to her mouth. As her blue eyes lifted, they met his. Caught off guard, Emma dropped her yolk. It broke open on her plate and she sighed in disappointment.
“Sorry,” Sam said frowning.
Emma shrugged her shoulders and used her toast to sop up the yolk. He noted how she was careful to keep her gaze glued to her plate as she enjoyed the late meal. Meanwhile, Sam didn’t take his eyes from Emma. He took in everything about her. She hadn’t changed at all. Her long silky blond hair was still damp but he wanted to bury his nose in it, inhaling that sweet vanilla scent. Her mouth was full and he remembered the feel of her lips under his as if he’d only last kissed her a few minutes ago. Her skin was a golden tan from working in the sun. There was also a sprinkling of freckles on her arms, and across her nose. Sam knew Emma was avoiding eye contact but even as she concentrated on her food, she threw a peek at him from time to time. He smiled as he picked up his fork.
“You look as beautiful as ever, Emma girl.” Her head snapped up quickly in reaction. Her blue eyes darkened as they locked with his. He continued before she had a chance to react fully. “I’m sorry about that night. I was drunk, too drunk it turns out to even do anything,” Sam said quickly.
She dropped her fork to her plate with a clatter. “I don’t want to hear it, Martinelli. It was a long time ago and it’s best left in the past,” Emma snapped as she wiped her hand and mouth with her napkin without looking at him.
He saw her blink a few times rapidly and suspected tears were now filling her eyes. He also knew Emma wouldn’t let him see her cry. Sure enough, she started to rise from the table. Sam reached out, grabbing her small wrist in his larger hand. For a moment, she froze. He silently prayed she wouldn’t move. Then as if his touch had begun to burn, Emma snatched her arm away and pushed her chair back with a loud scrape against the linoleum floor as she stood.
“Okay, okay. I won’t bring it up again.” Sam wanted to change the subject as quickly as possible. She’d called him Martinelli again, which meant she was angry. He’d tried to broach the subject casually, but now he realized he’d pushed it too soon. He should have waited but it felt so right, the two of them together like old times. “You told Walt you’d found something.”
Standing next to the table, Emma stared up at the ceiling. He knew she was counting to fifty to keep from losing her temper. He hoped she’d make it to at least twenty-five then maybe she wouldn’t try to hit him over the head with the hot skillet still on the stove. He watched her take a deep breath, let it out slowly, and then without looking at him, she spoke.
“Not tonight, I’m too tired. I’ll tell you all about it in the morning.” Turning on her heel, Emma started to leave the kitchen. When she reached the doorway, she stopped and standing with her back to him and without turning, she spoke in a controlled tone. “Thank you for the food. Good night.”
Before Sam could say another word, she was hurrying down the hallway to the stairway. He heard her footsteps as she took the stairs so quickly, he assumed it was two at a time. He wished he could go after her, but one thing Sam knew better than anyone when it came to Emma Wells…he knew to stay away from her when she was angry.
It was not anger driving Emma toward the safety of her bedroom. It was the burning ache in her heart, threatening to steal her ability to breathe. She reached her room just in time. With the door locked behind her, she fell on the bed shedding the tears she thought she’d long ago cried out. When he brought up that horrible night, it was all she could do to keep from screaming at him about how much he’d hurt her. How she had relived that night again, and again in her dreams ever since. How humiliated she’d been when she walked into his bedroom where they’d spent so much time together, only to find him in the arms of a naked woman. Each breathless sob racked her chest until she thought she could cry no more, but the tears continued until she fell into a physically and emotionally exhausted sleep.
Excitement filled the house in anticipation of Joshua Embry’s return but for Anna Pelt, the day was one of enduring heartbreak. Hanging back from the others, she watched her employer and his two daughters hurry onto the veranda to welcome home the only man Anna had ever loved but whose heart she knew now she would never claim. He had returned from England with a fiancée. The day was beautiful, not too warm or too cool, with a nice breeze and sunny blue skies carrying only wisps of clouds, only a dark cloud weighed heavily on her heart. Today marked the end of her life as she knew it.
“It gonna be so good to have Master Joshua home again, ain’t it, Miss Anna?” Green Mount’s cook, Hannah, stood alongside her wiping her hands on her apron. She smiled at Anna and it was then she saw tears of joy glistening in the dark woman’s eyes. Anna looped her arm around the old woman’s plump waist and gave her an affectionate squeeze.
“Yes, Hannah, it is going to be very good to have Master Joshua home,” Anna said in a quiet voice giving the woman a false smile.
Anna wished she could sneak away so that she would not have to witness Joshua entering the place she had considered home for so long with the woman who would soon become his wife. The thought of Joshua Embry marrying anyone but her sucked at her gut making her feel ill. Having the young woman arrive alongside him after Anna had not seen Joshua in two years was so heartbreaking that she feared she would suffer a breakdown where she stood.
A sudden squeal of joy filled the air. Anna recognized it as belonging to the youngest Embry daughter, Emily. At fourteen, Emily Embry was high-spirited and incorrigible but loved by all. After completing her own education at Mrs. Gilford’s School for Girls in Charleston, Jason Embry had hired Anna to be both teacher and role model to his youngest child out of concern for her wild manner. She had been governess to the girl these past two years after a year away from her in Charleston but her affection for the beautiful girl went beyond teacher-student. Emily was like a little sister since she had known the girl from her youth as a toddler.
Upon returning to the farm from Charleston, Anna had discovered Joshua had accepted his Uncle William’s offer to travel to England to work as his apprentice in his finance business. Only one week after she returned, Joshua had set sail for England. Now he was coming home, and any hope she had retained these past two years that their attachment might blossom into something more was gone. The news that he had brought with him the woman chosen for him by his long deceased mother had dashed it all.
She had feigned ignorance of the arranged marriage between Joshua and Elizabeth Bradford when Emily burst into the parlor a fortnight ago with the news. The truth was that Jason Embry had informed Anna of his son’s future marriage shortly after Joshua set sail for England. Someone had seen the pair in an intimate embrace the day before Joshua left, and informed his father. Jason wanted her to know that as much affection as he held for her, she must not hold out hope of anything coming from her relationship with his son. It was then that she had learned the truth—a marriage had been arranged for Joshua when he was but a babe. The reality of that truth had plagued her ever since.
Knowing the truth these past two years had caused an incredible ache in her heart yet she could not bring herself to leave Green Mount. This farm was the only real home she had ever known. She had been but eight years of age when Jason Embry welcomed her mother and her to Green Mount Farm, employing her mother as housekeeper and making a home for Anna. She had grown up with the Embry children, playing, and learning alongside them. At two years her senior, Joshua had been the closest to her in age and soon became her best friend. As they grew older, a deeper attachment had developed or so she had believed.
Since that day two years ago in Jason Embry’s study, she had cried herself to sleep nearly every night. It was not just the realization that she was nothing more to the family than a servant, but the knowledge that although Joshua had made her promise to wait for him, she had come to realize he had never promised her that he would return to her as anything but a friend. Every morning upon waking the past fortnight, she had told herself she must leave Green Mount before he returned, but the loss of Joshua only magnified the loss of the only family and home she had ever known. Now, awaiting the couple’s entrance, her throat ached as she fought the tears threatening to burst forth.
“Anna! Anna, come see,” Emily squealed, running straight at her.
The young girl bordering on womanhood was petite, just inches over five feet with long deep dark red curls that shone like polished mahogany in the sunlight. Her nearly heart-shaped face was delicate with fine features surrounding large doe eyes of dark brown. Her normally rosebud shaped mouth was now stretched wide in an exuberant smile showing everyone her small straight teeth.
Anna was unable to resist her charge’s enthusiasm and infectious smile. She smiled at the girl, who was approaching with her hands held out toward Anna. In the girl’s hands was a riding crop of fine leather. “Look what Joshua brought me from England!”
She examined the crop in the girl’s hands and nodded her approval. If there was only one thing Emily Embry loved more than her family, it was horses. Her father had begged Anna to find the girl some other hobby to fascinate her but nothing compared to the girl’s love of riding, except possibly sailing the high seas. On occasion, Daniel Embry allowed his youngest sister to accompany him on short trips along the coast, but most of the time her love of the sea was highly discouraged. Anna worried that when Emily grew older nothing would keep her down for she had the sea in her blood, the same as her father and his eldest son, Daniel. Joshua was more down to earth and attached to life on the farm. Of course, she knew it was Joshua’s fascination with business and numbers which had inspired Jason to send his second son to England to apprentice under his brother-in-law.
She glanced over Emily’s dark head to see the tall, still handsome patriarch stroll through the door with a young woman on his arm. The large bonnet she wore kept Anna from seeing the woman’s face but her poise, figure, and fine dress told her all she needed to know. Joshua’s soon-to-be-bride was far above her in society, breeding, and wealth. The woman was dressed in finery beyond even what she had seen the Embry girls wear.
Dressed against the cool October air, the woman wore a light gray spencer fashionably trimmed with chinchilla fur over a dress of blue, which rivaled the most beautiful sky on a clear summer day. Lace trimmed petticoats peeked out from beneath the rustling full skirt as she stepped into the foyer. She wore kid gloves of the softest gray color matching her bonnet, and from what Anna had glimpsed of her feet, delicate slippers as well. In comparison, the woman’s elegance made Anna feel plain and most certainly, invisible.
She watched anxiously as the woman reached up to untie the ribbon holding her bonnet in place. Just as the bonnet was about to fall, revealing her face the woman turned away. Anna’s eyes followed her movement. Her gaze fell on the open doorway. There he stood with the mid-autumn light highlighting his honey-colored thick wavy hair. The man who owned her heart—Joshua Embry. As he stepped forward, she saw his eyes sweep the crowd of family and servants awaiting him. When his brandy-colored eyes settled on her, a sudden rush of heat crawled up her neck before it settled high on her cheeks. Her breath caught in her throat and suddenly the room seemed far too small for the number of people in it. She quickly dropped her gaze to the crop she still half held in her hands. Emily had turned her head toward the woman and her brother so when Anna took a step back withdrawing her hands, the crop nearly fell to the floor. Emily quickly caught it.
“Anna?” Concern filled her young charge’s voice as she threw her governess a questioning look.
“I am sorry, Emily. I must go,” she whispered, fighting back tears.
Hurrying down the hall to the back stairs, she tucked herself into the small alcove there. She struggled for breath as hot tears streamed down her cheeks and she clenched her fists into her belly.
Joshua Embry was pleased to be coming home even if he had to have the formidable and exceedingly vexing Miss Elizabeth Bradford with him. Under his father’s instructions, he had sailed home from England but instead of his destination being the city of Alexandria or Baltimore, as he would have preferred, he had arrived in New York City. It was there that he met with Elizabeth and her brother, Martin Bradford. The thought of this woman and her odious brother becoming his family disturbed his sensibilities as well as crushed his hopes of winning the woman he had always dreamed of making his wife—his beloved best friend, Anna.
The half-day’s journey from Alexandria to Green Mount Farm felt like a prison sentence caught in the small space of the carriage and forced to endure the dull conversations between his two companions. Several times, he had allowed his thoughts to drift back to another time in his life, to a time when on cool autumn days, he and Anna had spent long, lazy days gathering colorful leaves for Hannah to use in her door wreaths.
His thoughts drifted to a particular day, two years ago, when he had convinced Anna to walk with him near the edge of the lake. He had explained about going to England, about wanting to return and start his own business, about hoping she would wait for him but had also omitted a commitment made on his behalf, which he had no desire to uphold. She had argued that they could never have a life together because of the differences in their places in society, and had begun to cry. He had wrapped his arms around her simply to comfort her as he told her they would work things out but when she looked up at him with those soft gray eyes, glistening like silver, his desire for her quickly thwarted his best efforts to remain honorable. He had lowered his mouth to hers, kissing her moist lips, drinking in her breath, her taste, her desire, and she had eagerly allowed him. His hands had explored her soft curves and she allowed him that honor as well. In all truth, he had wanted to make love to her there in the cool grass, but that was where his willpower had won out. Instead, he had promised her he would return. He had promised to write often. Most of all, he had wanted to promise her they would wed, but he first had to figure out how to convince his father to allow him to marry a woman with no father’s name. Anna had only shaken her head in response, closing her eyes against the tears.
Joshua had written her as he promised, nearly as soon as his ship left port. He had told her of his journey, how he already missed her smile, her laugh, and wished he had not left her. When she failed to respond to any of his letters, he began to lose hope. Then when his youngest sister wrote to him, about a man who had followed Anna home from Charleston, and that she had heard them whispering about marriage, he had given up hope completely. Only when Emily wrote again, informing him that the pompous man had exited in anger and telling Anna that he would never return, were his hopes renewed.
He still had one roadblock besides needing his father’s blessing, the arranged marriage set by his parents when he was a lad barely out of swaddling. He had spent the better part of his two years abroad attempting to find a loophole, one that might free him from the cruel contract with which his parents had assigned him to marry Miss Elizabeth Bradford. He had also spent two years in search of any hint from the many letters he received from his family of the hope that Anna still waited for him.
Dragged back to his present predicament by the exaggerated groan of his fiancée’s brother, Joshua attempted to drown out the whining complaints of Martin and Elizabeth as he rode seated across from them in the carriage. Glancing out the window, he noticed goats grazing in a field near the road. He smiled as his thoughts slid back to a memory of Anna tackling him when he had stolen her bonnet and threatened to put it on a goat.
“Mr. Embry, you honestly believe my situation to be humorous. Well, I say…really," Martin Bradford exclaimed with hurt pride.
The sound of his name was enough to jolt Joshua back to the present, and his carriage confinement.
“I am sorry, Martin. I fear I was thinking about something else and failed to hear your plight,” Joshua explained as he pulled himself up straight against the seatback. He glanced at Elizabeth to find her scowling at him.
The woman was quite beautiful with her glossy black hair, blue eyes, which seemed to glow against her pale complexion, and dark tresses but at times, more often than not, she appeared quite unappealing. Her scowl and icy stare was enough to emasculate even the manliest of men. Joshua had found nothing attractive about the woman once he heard her harsh, grating voice. His hope was that when his father met the pair, he would oblige releasing his son from his commitment without question.
Martin breathed an annoyed sigh and turned his gaze to the passing landscape. “So much open space here. I fear I shall be quite bored here in Virginia.”
“Do not worry, darling, we shall travel home to New York more often than not, and very soon. Is that not right, Mr. Embry?” Elizabeth asked him without even bothering to look at him. She busied herself with searching for something in her satin reticule. Before he was able to respond, fully intending to inform her that he had no ideas about returning to New York anytime in the near future, if at all, her sudden change in the subject of conversation with her brother halted him. “Oh, Martin, I did not tell you that the Miss High and Mighty Fanny Wallingham has been dispatched to the country. Tis said she carries Burber’s bastard.”
“Really? Tell me more.” Martin leaned forward, his sister having captured his complete attention.
Actually grateful that the pair had put their heads together to gossip, Joshua sighed and returned his gaze to the beautiful countryside passing outside his window rather than listen to the couple’s petty gossip. All he could think about was seeing Anna and convincing his father to void the ridiculous contract forcing him to marry this insipid harpy sitting across from him.
Charleston, South Carolina—1802
“Stop that filthy little bugger! He stole my purse!”
The Sea Angler Tavern was noisy and crowded with men tipping back tankards of ale and shots of whiskey after working long hours on the docks of the busy Port of Charleston. Many of them, already deep in their drinks, probably would have made a better target for Ginny Blackwood but when she spotted the portly man standing among his friends, his purse openly displayed on his belt and slung low under his flabby belly, she knew she would have no better chance. However, she had not expected him to be so alert to her hands at his side when she pulled the purse loose.
Now, with escape foremost in her mind, she grumbled a curse through gritted teeth as she tucked her chin against her chest. Pulling her oversized hat down over her eyes, she kept her gaze focused on the floor just ahead of her as she moved quickly between the crowded tables. When a round bellied man reeking of sweat and whiskey stepped in front her, his gluttonous middle jiggling as he laughed at a humorous tale, she quickly changed her direction and skirted around another equally crowded table.
“Somebody do somethin’—the damn wharf rat stole my money,” the gruff voice shouted again through the noisy room.
She silently prayed no one was paying attention to the drunk’s alarm. Scrambling past another group of merry makers, she nearly sighed with relief when she noted there was only one more table between her and the door to freedom. Her heart pounded in her ears as she scurried past the last table, her hand clutching the stolen purse tight to her middle. Thievery was not her strong suit but she was desperate for currency. She had taken a great gamble pinching any purse but if she was going to survive alone in this city until she could gain passage home, she needed money. More than money, she needed to find the angel in the hope it would save her father’s life.
The noise of the hot, crowded room seemed to fade away as the beating of her heart filled her ears. A satisfied grin teased at her lips when she saw the door to the street directly in front of her. However, fate was not with her. When suddenly a large hand grabbed the front of her patched jacket and pulled at the dirty linen blouse beneath it, her criminally minded pride vanished. Yanked to a sudden halt from the side, she slammed against something hard. The air in her lungs erupted from her body with a whooshing sound accompanied by a loud groan.
Caught red-handed, panic descended on her as every sound disappeared around her except the blood rushing in her ears. Fear forced her to focus on the broad chest inches from her face. A hard wall of flesh over muscle covered in fine embroidered cloth and surrounded by soft, tanned calfskin was her immediate view. Her gaze slowly slid up the façade of the mountain of masculinity standing before her. The scent of sandalwood and soap filled her nose as her eyes caressed fine linen and a neatly tied cravat. Just above the edge of the fine fabric, a strong jaw covered by just a hint of a beard shifted and a full mouth curled slightly. Her eyes widened when a set of smiling dark eyes, which looked like the melted dark chocolate she had sampled once in Calais, surrounded by thick curling lashes came into view. The full shapely lips beneath a straight perfect nose parted exposing straight white teeth. She fought back a smile when the tall man suddenly furrowed his black brow before lifting one dark slash as if he was trying to resolve his curiosity about the creature he had captured.
“So what have we here?” the brick wall inquired with a deep chuckle, which sounded overly loud in her ears. Heat flushed her cheeks and beads of sweat formed on the back of her neck and when a couple of drops slid down her back, she shivered. “Did you steal old Pete’s purse, poppet?”
Laughter from nearby joined the brick wall’s chuckles and for a brief moment, Ginny was tempted to join in with a giggle in response to the man’s use of so many pees. His voice was smooth, deep, and strangely soothing. She almost relaxed against him for comfort but as the pounding in her ears began to wane, her panic and a desperate need to escape came rushing back.
In that very moment, she knew what she needed to do. She pressed her fists against the rock hard chest and pushed until she could swing up her right knee, even as his grip on her clothing caused her blouse and ragtag jacket to climb up over her ears. Her intended aim was for the softer parts of this tower of muscle whose firm hold on her kept her prisoner. She took her shot only his legs were so long her knee connected with the man’s inner thigh instead. It mattered not, for her assault on his body was enough for him to react as any man would. He cringed.
Pain stung her knee on impact. The man quickly bent to protect his manhood and his hold on her clothing loosened. She hesitated for a second wondering if he had a wooden leg beneath those black britches. It mattered not, for her maneuver had worked. With a loud groan and exhalation of air, the tall man with his captivating smile stopped smiling and backed away slightly. His grip on her relaxed just enough to give Ginny the edge. She yanked herself in the opposite direction. A ripping sound filled her ears. A moment later, she was falling away from the brick wall. Caught off balance, she quickly found her footing, raced for the door, and into the street.
Rubbing the inside of his thigh where the curious urchin had caught him off guard and slammed him with a pointy knee, Daniel Embry cursed under his breath. For all of his well-intended efforts, all he had succeeded in doing was getting a bruised leg and a handful of cloth from the wharf rat’s filthy coat. He glanced at the piece of cloth in his hand. Something glittered in the glow of the hanging lanterns sprinkled throughout the rafters of the tavern. He looked more closely. There was something attached to a torn length of ribbon.
“Old Pete ain’t going to be happy about you letting the brat get away, old man,” Finn McShane exclaimed laughing heartily.
The red-haired man slapped him on the back nearly knocking the piece of ribbon from his hand. The jolt caused the something attached to the ribbon to drop, dangling below his wrist—a delicate gold charm shaped like a cylinder. Daniel eyed the elongated charm and thought it strange a lad would be wearing such a thing. Then when the image of glistening stormy blue eyes, the color of the seas, fringed by long dusky lashes flashed through his mind, he wondered if it had been a boy at all.
“You all right, Daniel,” Finn asked with a worried frown.
For the first time, Daniel noticed weathered wrinkles had begun to groove his old friend’s forehead. He shrugged then snagged the ribbon and its charm from the cloth and pushed it into his coat pocket. Turning to face his first mate, he grimaced at the tightness in his thigh.
“The bugger kicked me too close to my goods for comfort,” he growled before raising his mug of ale to his lips. His gaze caught Finn’s puzzled look. He grinned at the man whose bushy red hair glowed like blood-tinged cotton around his head. “Fortunately, all is well and still intact.”
Loud shouts drew their attention from the back of the tavern where some of his crew, including the victim of the urchin’s crime, had spent the last couple of hours drinking and eating. Daniel recognized one of the men as his quartermaster who was now standing over a smaller unfamiliar man. The men were nearly growling into each other’s face. Finn ran his thick fingers through his red mass of curls and groaned. “Want me to break it up?”
He gave his first mate’s question some thought then shook his head and grinned. His men deserved a chance to blow off some steam after a long day of loading cargo into the hold of the Falcon. Of course, he preferred they take it outside so he would not have to bail them out of detention or pay for damages, but he doubted he would be so fortunate as he watched the rest of his crew join the men intent on fisticuffs.
“If it looks like they are going to bust the place up or kill someone—yes,” he announced with a loud guffaw as he grabbed a nearby serving girl and switched his empty tankard out for a full one. He winked at her, receiving a giggle and blush in return. “Otherwise, let ‘em be.”
He and Finn watched the somewhat attractive young woman saunter away, swaying her hips deliberately, before glancing over her shoulder at them as she moved through the crowd.
“You need to get yourself a woman, old man,” Finn remarked leaning close so only he could hear his words.
“Gad, man, you cannot go on mourning a woman who was not even yours yet,” Finn growled then seemed to immediately regret his words when he saw Daniel’s eyes narrow. “I-uh-I just mean,” he stammered awkwardly.
Daniel dropped his gaze to his tankard. Finn had touched on something far too close to the mark. His betrothed had died four years earlier in a tragic carriage accident leaving his heart broken and empty. It was not as if he had shunned women completely from his life for he had partaken in the occasional tumble, but never with any promise of a future. His loss was one which had burned his heart even before her death actually occurred, but he kept that sorrow to himself and had never shared it with anyone, not even his closest friend.
“Never mind, Finn,” he said before taking a long draught on the tankard. “I am tired tis all.”
Raising his hand, he clapped it on the firm shoulder of his right hand man and best friend. Finn McShane had been his friend since playing together as children at Green Mount Farm in Virginia. Finn’s father had worked with Jason Embry, his father, helping build his shipping business while his mother worked as one of the cooks at the Embry farm. When he and Finn were old enough, the two lads went to work on the ships learning all they needed to know from their fathers. Several years ago, when he became the captain of the Falcon, he had immediately named Finn, his first mate. He put his full trust in his old friend. He knew Finn would always have his back and put the safety of the crew before anything, or anyone. He also knew his old friend had his best interest at heart when he suggested Daniel’s pursuit of feminine companionship, even if only for a night. As a man who married his first and only sweetheart, Finn’s suggestion was well intentioned but his heart was still broken, and filled with pain and betrayal.
“Aye, the sweet morsel yonder is eager to make your acquaintance, I think,” Finn murmured as he nodded his head in the direction of the serving girl who, while delivering tankards of ale to a table of patrons, glanced over her shoulder at Daniel. When she noticed him look in her direction, she moved to the next table and while setting a tankard before a patron, who slid his hand along her backside, the girl bent low over the table presenting Daniel a purposeful display of her full bosom. “Very eager, it seems.” Finn winked at him.
Turning his back on the woman’s obvious seductive pose, Daniel drained his tankard and set it down heavily on the table. “Like I said, I’m tired and frankly, not interested. You think her so delectable, why do you not go for it, Finn?”
The red-haired man threw his head back with a loud guffaw then shook his head, his curls bouncing around his head. “My Molly would have my head on a pike if I were to even sniff after such a young thing.”
“Oh, so you are saying she would be okay with you tupping her if she was older?” he teased his friend.
At first, Finn must have thought him serious for his laughter ceased and his brow furrowed into deep grooves. Then the man widened his bright blue eyes, and laughed again.
“Ha, she would not care the girl’s age. Molly would cut off my cock and feed it to me with biscuits and gravy,” Finn grumbled as he restrained his laughter, but his twinkling red-lashed lined eyes belied his humor.
Daniel slapped his friend on the back. “You’re right about that.”
He laughed along with his friend even as he envied him his loving wife and two little girls. In an ideal world, if Christina had not betrayed him and then died, he was sure they too would have a family by now. “I am heading out. I shall see you in the morning. I would appreciate you keeping an eye on those fools though.”
Finn glanced to the men who made up the crew of the Falcon. They were no longer growling at each other but laughing as the quartermaster held the smaller man in a bear hug, bouncing him up and down. He rolled his eyes and smirked at Daniel. “Of course—get some sleep, old man.”
Daniel always got a kick out of Finn calling him old man since this red-haired son of an Irishman was only one year older than his own twenty-six years. He nodded his head, turned, and strolled to the exit. The inn where he had taken a room while in the city of Charleston was just two blocks away. As he strolled along the street, his thoughts returned to the wharf rat who had stolen Pete’s purse. His hand slid into his pocket. He fingered the charm secreted there, and his thoughts recalled wide eyes and pale clear skin with a flush of pink riding high on delicate cheeks. A pink moist mouth, which opened and then pulled into a pucker, as captivating eyes blinked just before the mischievous urchin kneed him in the groin. Was it possible the fine-boned, far too pretty face for a young man, and this charm truly belonged to a boy? If it had, then perhaps Finn was right and Daniel had best see to finding some female company for an attraction to a lad was not something he wanted to consider.
Having peeked through the tavern window, Ginny had watched the man finger the ribbon and dangling charm, which had once hung around her neck hidden beneath her dirty linen blouse. She cursed under her breath when he pushed his hand into his pocket. It was imperative she retrieve her charm. Her father’s life might well depend on it. She continued to watch and observed the man flirt with a serving girl, laugh with his redheaded companion, and drink more than one tankard of ale. She silently prayed he had not a plan to stay in the tavern drinking all night. She was hungry, and in desperate need of a pair of shoes. The night was cold and her bare feet ached from walking on splintered boards and crushed shells these past three days.
The sound of laughter drew her gaze back to the tall dark-haired man and his companion. He watched the brick wall slap his friend on the back and bid him farewell. She thanked her good fortune the man was not planning to stay all night or coerce the serving girl to attend him in bed.
The door to the tavern opened. She slipped into the shadows and watched the man. He turned in her direction but failed to notice her alongside the window. Thankfully, the man passed her without even one turn of his head.
As soon as it was sensible, she pulled her hat down tighter over her blonde hair and eager not to lose sight of him, she set out behind him careful not to follow too close. She noted his hand in his pocket and wondered if it was where her charm lay in wait. Had she the courage to attempt to pick his pocket? She doubted it. Snatching a purse in plain sight had nearly landed her in front of the magistrate already this day. She had no desire to end her days in prison.
Fate chose her course of action when the stranger turned and entered the doorway of the same inn where she had once been a guest. She slid against the clapboard façade of the building and watched him through a window. The man stopped to speak with the innkeeper. She scowled as she watched the same man, who had thrown her to the street just the day before, now laugh and shake the tall man’s hand before handing over a key.
Leaning against the window frame, her arms wrapped around her for warmth, her mind wandered to her fine shoes, dresses, and her much-needed belongings now hoarded by the stubborn innkeeper who had pushed her to the street for lack of funds. Had her father left her with some currency, she would not now be fending for herself on the streets of a strange city, masquerading as a boy, and certainly not forced to resort to thievery.
She watched the dark-haired man stroll toward the flight of stairs she knew led up to the second floor. As he climbed the steps, he soon moved out of sight. Stepping out from the shadows, she moved out along the walk until she was able to see the upstairs windows. She suspected from the cut of his clothes the man had money so she doubted he would settle for using one of the community rooms, but instead could more likely afford a private room. She knew those rooms were located on the front-end corners of the inn. She knew this for sure because she and her father had shared such a private room before he disappeared, and before the innkeeper threw her out under threat of calling the magistrate.
One of the corner room windows suddenly brightened. The stranger was in the corner room on the left side. Ginny smiled confidently. She knew that particular room. It was directly across the hall from the one in which she had resided. There was a tree just outside those particular rooms and a window at the end of the hall between the doorways. She hoped she could manage the climb without detection.
As she stood staring up at the inn, a man bumped into her from behind jostling her. The purse of coins she had stolen jangled in her pocket, but her hand quickly stilled it. The sound reminded her she still needed to eat, and purchase shoes. The ones she had traded her lovely feminine ones for were entirely too large, and had tripped her up more than once before she gave up, tossing them to go barefoot. With the night having grown colder, she now wished she had not—even a pair of poorly fitted shoes was better than no shoes at all.
She glanced back at the window. Surely, it would be some time before the man fell asleep at which time she hoped to sneak into his room and retrieve her charm. In the meantime, she would find some shoes and perhaps a bite to eat. Turning away from the inn, she glanced around her. The creepy sense someone was watching her had once more caused the hairs on the back of her neck to rise. Ever since her father had disappeared, she had been aware of someone following her, watching her every move. She had hoped once she traded her dress and bonnet for the tattered boy’s clothing, she would have lost whoever trailed her but the nervous feeling had returned.
It was time to act. Ginny needed to retrieve the charm, purchase passage on a ship heading to the Caribbean, and home to Saint Kitts. Once she was home, perhaps she could make heads or tails of the riddle, discover the meaning of the angel her father’s captor desired and if she was not too late, save her father. Of course, after the way he had abandoned her without a penny, she wondered if he deserved saving at all.
After having sneaked past the innkeeper, Ginny made her way to the second floor of the inn. Hoping to go unnoticed as if she knew her way, she struck off down the hall toward the private rooms. When she passed two men exiting a community room, she merely dipped her head hiding her face under her hat. To her relief, neither man gave her a second look. When she reached the end of the hall where she was sure the dark-haired man was residing, she stopped and leaned against the opposite wall. Looking nonchalant, or so she hoped, she bent slightly at a sideways angle to see if there was a light gleaming from beneath the door.
Laughter emanated from the community room. Stiffening her back against the wall, she held her breath. A quick glance told her there was only a hint of light showing from under the door. She stepped close, leaned against the door, and pressed her ear to the wood. The laughter from the community room was loud and interfered with her eavesdropping. Unable to discern if there was any sound from within, she stepped back and her brow furrowed with disappointment. She needed to know for sure.
Remembering the tree outside the inn, Ginny knew it shadowed this side of the inn. If she were able to maneuver along the side of the building, perhaps she might be able to enter the man’s room through his window. A quick glance over her shoulder told her she was still unnoticed in the shadowed hallway. Slipping the window at the end of the hall open, she climbed nimbly out on the ledge beneath it. She was grateful she had purchased a better fitting pair of shoes. The ledge was just wide enough to accommodate her small feet, although her bare feet probably would have given her better stability like when she would cross fallen trees over rushing water on the island back home.
Moving slowly while flattening herself against the rough clapboard covering the side of the building, Ginny sidled along the ledge. Never in a million years would she have thought she would someday being balancing on a ledge outside a man’s window when she came to Charleston. Her father would have her hide if he knew what she was about to do. Of course, if he had not gotten into yet another predicament, she would not be doing this at all.
A sudden sound from just inside the window she had just exited through stilled her on the ledge. Glancing in the direction of the window, she silently cursed her luck when she saw a hand reach out and swing the window shut. A solid click echoed in her ears as proof her only safe means of escape was gone, locked from the inside.
The word was a hiss in the darkness. Ginny knew even if she succeeded, she now would have to find some other means of escape. Scraping slowly along the ledge, she stopped when she reached the edge of the window leading into the man’s room. The large tree shading the side of the inn from the busy street stood looming like a great beast. The tree limbs tugged at her, scratching her face and neck, and tearing her already ragged jacket. The thought of swinging onto these spindly branches in the dark was one she tried not to consider as she crouched near the window frame.
With her stomach shuddering with nerves, she slid her fingers along the edge of the window. When her finger found an opening where the window was ajar enough to press her fingers through, she nearly squealed with delight. Taking a deep breath, she peeked around the edge of the frame into the room. The soft glow of a lowered lantern illuminated the room enough so she was able to make out a dark figure stretched out on the small bed. Ginny silently prayed the man was deep into his sleep as she pressed the window open enough to climb through.
A sound jolted Daniel fully awake. His heart pounded in his chest as he held his breath listening for another to follow. Then it was there—the creak of a wooden floorboard. Slipping his eyes opened just enough to discern if there was someone in his room, he quickly noted a dark shadow on the far wall. Pretending to move in his sleep, he groaned and turned slightly onto his side so he now faced the room providing him full view through his lashes. He heard a thump and a soft gasp in the quiet room. Someone most certainly had joined him.
He slipped his hand slowly down his leg to the blade he kept strapped there. Even wearing only his undergarments and linen blouse to bed, his knife remained strapped to his right thigh. His fingers touched the ties, which held the soft scabbard secure and he gently pulled the top ones loose. Gripping the handle of the blade, he slid it out slowly making it ready to use if he needed to protect himself.
Peering through his lashes, he watched a lone figure move stealthily through the room. The soft glow of the lantern reflected off golden hair swept away from the perpetrator’s shadowed face. The intruder appeared to be searching for something. As the figure moved toward the bed, the perpetrator turned slightly. Daniel saw the outline of a soft jaw, plump lips, and an upturned nose. There was something familiar about the stranger’s silhouette.
The intruder halted mid-step as if assessing the situation. Daniel heard a quick intake of breath before his uninvited guest moved very slowly toward the bedside table. A small hand extending from a ragged sleeve rose through the air toward the table. His gaze followed the movement until his sight slid to the gold charm and its tattered ribbon. So, his nighttime intruder was the tavern thief. The wharf rat who had stolen Pete’s earnings was now in his room. He nearly laughed aloud at the audacity of the young thief.
Just as the small hand reached out to pluck the piece of gold from the table, Daniel grabbed the tiny wrist and twisted. The criminal emitted a small scream when Daniel pulled the small figure down and over him. He quickly rolled the tavern thief beneath him and brought the edge of his blade up to rest against a soft neck. Beneath him, the wharf rat was soft and lacking any real muscle. His eyes focused on the thief’s face revealed by the glow of the lantern. Wide expressive eyes, reminding him of fresh violets damp with spring rain, captivated him as they stared up at him, just as they had in the tavern.
“Get off me,” a distinctly soft feminine voice hissed as the person beneath him began to squirm, stirring his body as no lad would, only to halt with a loud gasp when the touch of cold steel pressed against her neck.
“Aye, so you are a lass! I had a feeling about you, and I was right.” He laughed and started to withdraw the blade. “Good to know my instincts are still good.”
“Get off me, you clod.”
Her words were a dangerous growl and what followed them had him groaning in pain as her knee connected with the still somewhat soft flesh between his legs. He rolled to his back and the soft body beneath him leaped from the bed, snatched the charm and its ribbon from the table before making a dash for the door.
Daniel pulled himself to a seated position just as he heard the sound of the lock clicking open. “Something tells me the puzzling rhyme inside the charm is the real item you seek,” he remarked through gritted teeth as the throbbing in his balls slowly waned.
The girl froze at the door. Slowly, narrowed eyes came to rest on him as her body followed the angry turn of her head. He reached out and fueled the flame in the lantern until it filled the room with its glow. His first look at the female thief was enough to make his cock ignore the pain of its companions and come to full attention.
Her golden blonde hair had come loose from its neatly tied queue and was curling around her face framing narrowed cat-like indigo eyes beneath dark blonde brows which arched with a natural elegance, the envy of any other woman. Her mouth was set in a firm grimace and she cocked her head questioningly as she placed her hands on her narrow hips enveloped in dirty britches bundled at her waist by an over-sized belt. The ragtag hat he remembered her wearing in the tavern, she had tucked into the awkward belt.
“You opened my charm?” the little thief growled with indignation. “You had no right—”
“Oh, excuse me…so you had the right to steal Pete’s hard-earned coin, did you? In addition, I suppose, you had the right to climb through my window to steal from me. But you say I have no right to examine a trinket which came into my hands while attempting to apprehend you—a thief?” He started to rise, but the swollen state of his groin halted him.
“I am not a thief.”
Daniel chuckled despite the heated throb in his groin. “Not a thief? Tell it to poor Pete,” He groaned unintentionally as he pulled himself to an upright position. Thankfully, his long blouse covered his embarrassing erection. Baffled to explain his current state since he was in some pain, he wondered if the wounding of his manhood by her knee had caused it or the fact the enticing albeit filthy morsel of femininity was in his room—and they were alone.
He reached for his britches and stood holding them as he considered how he was going to put them on while holding the knife he might still need.
“Take a seat,” he ordered pointing in the direction of a chair with the point of his knife.
“Because, poppet, you are not going anywhere and I would prefer you be seated,” he told her as he motioned again with the blade toward one of the two chairs in the small room. “Are you hungry?”
“No.” Her belly’s noisy rumble immediately discounted her denial.
Daniel noted the blush, which rose on her cheeks as she pressed a small hand to her belly. “When was the last time you ate?”
When the girl glanced at the dresser top where a tray sat containing bread and cheese, he followed her gaze. He nodded in the direction of the food. “Go on. Eat.”
Without hesitation, she abandoned her place by the door and slipped past him not taking her eyes off him to stand at a spot by the dresser. She snatched up a piece of bread in one hand and took a bite before following it with a chunk of cheese she grabbed with her other. With her occupied with filling her empty belly, Daniel took the opportunity to don his britches, strap the scabbard to his leg, and sheathe the knife. Keeping a watchful eye on her, he grabbed one of the chairs and placed it between the girl and the door. Settling in the chair, he watched her as she ate.
She was thin and petite, but perhaps not as short in stature as was his youngest sister. Her tattered clothes hung off her slight frame. Either the clothes were not originally hers or she had shed quite a bit of weight since first wearing them. Although, he could not help but notice how the cloth of her britches clung to a delectable round bottom accentuated by the way the over-sized belt cinched her at the waist. His thoughts went to the soft curves he had noted beneath him on the bed, and a smile teased at his lips.
The girl glanced over her shoulder at him as she stuffed another chunk of cheese into her mouth. Even with a smudged face and something, which appeared to be a leaf, poking from her curls, Daniel suspected she was quite beautiful. Her violet blue eyes were her most striking feature for they tilted at the corners like a cat’s and when aroused, even in anger, her pupils dilated to the point of turning those tantalizing pools into wells of deep blue like the deepest ocean waters.
“There is some rum there if you need something wet to wash down the food you were not hungry for,” he teased and could not resist a smile when she turned to glare at him, her chewing halted as she considered his words.
When he saw her glance about her, he strolled forward. When he reached for a bottle at the back of the dresser top, she pulled away like a frightened animal. More slowly, so as not to alarm her further, Daniel reached past her to a spot just behind her and grabbed two mugs. Filling them both, he set the bottle aside and handed her one of the mugs. She hesitated, set down a chunk of bread, and accepted it.
“Why are you being so kind to me?” she mumbled thickly as her teeth chewed a large piece of bread.
He watched her as he moved to take a seat once more in the chair he had briefly vacated. Once seated, he crossed his legs and sipped his rum, enjoying how she fidgeted under his perusal.
“It was obvious you were hungry by the noise your belly was making,” he answered as he rested his mug on his knee. “When was the last time you ate?”
The girl shrugged her shoulders even as she shifted nervously on her feet as she sipped more rum. “Do not know,” she mumbled as she chewed. “Three days, maybe four.”
“Why did you not use some of the coin you stole from Pete to buy something to eat?” he asked as he watched her. His gaze took in her sad state of dress. “Or some new clothes, for that matter—a dress, perhaps?”
The girl looked down at her tattered clothes. When she lifted her gaze to meet his, Daniel noted a blush of embarrassment there. Obviously, she was not used to dressing in this fashion.
“I did buy some shoes…these fit,” the girl answered pushing one foot forward to show him her shoe. “The other ones were too big.”
“What is your name?” Daniel asked in a matter-of-fact, yet gentle tone.
Her eyes widened, and then quickly narrowed again as if he had asked something intolerably personal. “What is the difference?”
“Nothing really, I just thought I would like to know the name of the delinquent female who is eating my food, drinking my rum, and who invaded my room in the middle of the night,” he remarked before taking a long drink of rum.
The young woman dressed as a boy turned to face him leaning her back against the dresser. She watched him carefully over the rim of her mug as she continued to sip. Daniel had the sense she was now considering him and strangely, it made him nervous. Pulling the mug away from her mouth, her shiny pink tongue snaked out and licked her lips. A sudden tightening in his groin gave him a jolt of mixed pain and pleasure. Now very uneasy under the girl’s scrutiny, he uncrossed his legs and repositioned himself in his chair. How was it possible this dirty waif of a girl was able to arouse his libido when the provocative serving wench in the tavern had not?
The sound of her voice filled the silence which had hung obvious in the air between them. The word was so light and musical, Daniel was not sure he had heard correctly.
“My name is Ginny,” she answered in a quiet voice. “See here…I will give you your friend’s money back if you will simply hand over the message you found in my charm. Tis very important. Tis—” She hesitated then with a long sigh, continued. “I need it to save someone.”
“Save someone? How is this little piece of paper going to save someone?” He reached into his pocket, retrieved a small sheet of rolled paper, and held it up in the light.
The girl slammed down the mug she was holding and rushed forward in attempt to snatch it from his hand, but he was quicker. Daniel grabbed her, causing her to land in his lap, which only made his state of arousal more intense and most likely, quite evident against her delightfully plush bottom. He attempted to hold her still but she fought him like a wildcat, all the while trying to wrench open his fist, which he had closed around the paper.
He laughed at her futile attempts until she grabbed his arm and sunk her teeth into his flesh. He yelled out in pain and stood so quickly, she fell to the floor.
“Bloody hell! Have you no manners at all?” Daniel moved to the lantern to examine the injury to his arm. Thankfully, she had not broken the flesh but there were definitely teeth marks in his skin.
“Give me the paper, please,” he heard her beg from behind him. He glanced over his shoulder to see her pull a rough looking sack with a drawstring from her pocket. She held it out to him. “Tis all here, except the money I used to buy the shoes.” She set the purse on the table with a clink.
Taking a seat on the edge of the bed, he rubbed his arm. This spirited and fearless young woman, who stole into second floor windows and fought like a gutter rat, intrigued him.
“Oh, you are going to return the money, poppet, but not to me,” he announced. “You will return it to Pete, and then it will be up to him how you work off the cost of those shoes.”
“The hell I will,” she hissed at him suddenly reaching for the purse but Daniel grabbed her small wrist and held her in place.
“For what else did you need so much money? I am sure you could have beggared enough for shoes, and likely some food, since you say you are no thief,” he asked intent on drawing her out.
Just then, he saw her blue eyes darken until they resembled a stormy sea roiling with anger. Her delicate smoky-colored brows furrowed over them like low storm clouds. Her eyes flashed with a ferocity, which surprised and intrigued him. She snatched her wrist from his hand quite easily for he had not been holding it very tight.
“I told you, I am not a thief. I need to get home and it takes money—which I do not have.”
He watched the girl named Ginny wander back to the dresser, where she lifted her mug of rum to her lips without ever removing her gaze from his.
“And where is home, Ginny?”
“What do you care?” she snapped at him before draining her mug.
“If you need help, I am willing to help but you will need to pay back the money you stole. Perhaps we can come to an arrangement,” he suggested with a smile.
“Go to hell,” Ginny hissed slamming the mug on the dresser top. He was surprised it was not broken yet. “I am no man’s whore, especially for a few coins. Take the money, give me what I came for and you can keep the charm as repayment for your friend. Tis real gold.”
Daniel laughed aloud inciting her frown to deepen and her eyes to go nearly black when they narrowed like a cat ready to attack. Based on her ready stance, he was not all too sure she would not. She had obviously misunderstood his offer and perhaps, though unintended, it had sounded just as she had perceived it. Had he been a less scrupulous man, perhaps he might have made just such an offer.
“I was actually thinking you could assist Pete in the galley to pay him back, and also earn your passage home. Where is home, Ginny?”
The girl stood silent for longer than he had expected before she reached for the bottle of rum. She took a couple of steps away from him, bent, and retrieved the mug she had knocked to the floor in their scuffle. Lifting the bottle of rum, she glanced at him as she filled the mug before holding it outstretched toward him. Motioning with her blonde head, curls bouncing around her face, Ginny urged him to accept it. He did then he watched as she filled her own.
“My home is too far for you to assist me except with coin,” she remarked, a sudden sadness crossing her beautiful face before taking a drink.
“Too far to travel by ship then?” Daniel was surprised when her head snapped around to glare at him.
“I have not the time to work for your Pete till I can afford ship’s passage,” she growled. He noted her eyes shifted once more to the nearly forgotten piece of paper he had set on the bed alongside him. “My home is in Saint Kitts.”
“Is that so? Well…how fortunate then you decided to steal from the cook of the Falcon. We just happen to be heading in the direction of those islands,” he proclaimed as he snatched up the piece of paper and shoved it into his pocket upon standing.
“The Falcon, you say?” When he heard the inquisitive tone in her voice, he knew he had piqued her interest. “What is your name? You know mine, tis only fair,” Ginny asked, curiosity filling her beautiful eyes.
“I thought you would never ask,” he replied with a chuckle. He stepped closer, snatching a piece of cheese from the plate behind her and popping it into his mouth. “Daniel. Daniel Embry.” He chewed then grinned down at her. “Or perhaps, if you are to join my crew, you should address me as Captain—Captain Daniel Embry of the Falcon—at your service.”
To Love and Be Loved By Him
To Love and Be Loved By Him
Emma’s journey to the past leads her to Emily Embry. But will it lead her and Sam to the origins of the gold? Sam is beginning to believe she is experiencing something amazing while reading the young girl’s journal but is it real, and what can they learn about the past as well as their present as they continue the journey.
Sent to England to marry a man she’s never met, Emily is determined to quit the contract made by her parents. When tragedy strikes her ship on the way, she encounters a handsome captain who draws her desires making her destiny even less desirable even as she wishes he was the man she was marrying.
Beau Hawkings is a man of the sea and has no desire to settle down on land or with a wife. When he rescues the woman his grandfather contracted him to marry, he finds her attractive but his desire for freedom is greater until she begins to claim his heart. Now his deception might be the very thing which drives her away. While both protect their hearts from heartbreak, they grow ever closer as fate voyages them home.