She was as tough as the London streets she grew up in. He was a lord of the realm. Danny had admired Lord Beaumont since the night he'd saved her life. Never in her wildest dreams would she have thought she would end up shipwrecked with him in the untamed wilderness of the new world.
Word Count: 121,995
Genre: Historical Romance
Available formats: PDF, RTF, Epub, HTML, Mobipocket (.prc)
© Cover Art by Jenny Dixon, 2012
New Concepts Publishing
Lake Park, GA 31636
This is a work of fiction. All characters, events, and places are of the author's imagination and not to be confused with fact. Any resemblance to living persons or events is merely coincidence.
A shout went up, a collective roar that didn't contain anger so much as a joyous blood-lust for the hunt.
The pack of sailors surged forward en masse and disintegrated as the mob broke up to give chase. In a moment the deck was a swarm with sailors likewise darting and dodging hazards and impediments; shouting encouragement to one another or unloving endearments to their prey; laughing uproariously when one or another of their fellows collided with each other or boxes or barrels in the heat of the chase and went sprawling; cursing or roaring over broken toes and loosened teeth as they came into painful contact with immovable objects.
A shout of triumph rang out from one leering seaman with broken, blackened stumps for teeth and stringy, sun-bleached hair as he dove for the boy. "Got ye, ye little bastard! Come ter papa!" he chortled gleefully.
"Bugger yerself, ye bleedin' sod!" taunted the boy and neatly sidestepped his groping arms.
The sailor knew a second of stunned surprise as he came up empty handed, and with a sharp crunch his skull struck the mizzenmast, knocking him senseless. If anything that calamity seemed to cause more hilarity than anything before. Several men laughed so hard they had to give up the chase, wondering, between howls of laughter, if old Tom had broken his neck.
It was evident however that the boy couldn't last much longer. The weeks of enforced inactivity in hiding aboard ship on top of years of semi-starvation had taken its toll. Despite the terror that had given him strength, he showed obvious signs of flagging as he completed his circuit of the bow and darted blindly towards the stern where the ship's passengers had come to take a turn on deck, and even now watched his progress with mixed emotions.
The seamen, seeing the direction of his flight, formed two groups, herding him steadily onward, boxing him in so that it took no more than a brief glance in their direction to assure the boy that there was no hope of prolonging his freedom by another circuit of the ship. No hope of breaking free long enough to find another hiding place. No hope.
A gentleman, faultlessly attired, turned languidly from his contemplation of the gentle swells of the sea and watched their approach with mild interest.
Of little more than medium height, broad of shoulder, narrow of waist, lean of hip and thigh, his fine physique proclaimed him a sports enthusiast. The fabric of his coat stretched taut across wide, muscular shoulders that owed nothing to buckram padding as he tossed back the flapping folds of his cloak; rock hard, bulging muscle straining the silk of his coat sleeves with the movement, before his right hand came to rest almost casually on the sword at his side that, on close scrutiny, was plainly no toy for appearance only, but rather the deadly blade of a swordsman of skill.
His dark brows lifted in what one must suppose was an expression of haughty disdain, since his eyes betrayed neither surprise or shock as the boy came to an abrupt, breathless halt before him. And although his eyes flickered briefly to rest with cynical amusement on the startled, shrinking lady at his side. And just as briefly surveyed the onslaught of jeering seamen bearing down upon them in happy expectation of at last having their victim within their grasp. He seemed singularly oblivious to both as his eyes came to rest on the boy.
Their eyes met and held for a space of measured heartbeats, warm brown eyes gazing up into eyes as cold and gray as the sea that surrounded them. But that brief glance carried all the considerable weight of the intense magnetism of the boy's dark eyes and struck the gentleman with a force that made his eyes narrow with sharp interest.
"Bloody 'ell," the boy muttered, side-stepped the gentleman who blocked his path, and leapt nimbly to the taffrail, balancing precariously. His intent was so clear that the sailors halted their headlong rush and gaped in surprise.
Ignoring them, the boy gazed down at the roiling, white frothed swells. They seemed almost inviting, deceptively so as the bottomless depths held untold terrors for the boy. He swallowed hard, closing his eyes for a moment to gather courage, then whirled to take in one last look at his tormentors.
Still frozen in place, they were a tableau of all the least desirable traits of mankind. For while a handful merely gaped in surprise, there were dawning looks of avid pleasure in the faces of most that quashed any hope of mercy from that quarter. Not one face in the milling crowd showed compassion and as if against his will, his eyes swung once more to the gentleman, and gray eyes locked once more with fathomless brown eyes. Apparently he saw nothing there to give him hope, for after only a moment the hunted look left his eyes to be replaced by one of cynical amusement. A haunting smile curled his lips and he muttered under his breath, "Aye! Yer keen for the show too, ain't ye gov'nor? Chafing for me to get on with it, no doubt..Or from the lack of anyone to lay bets with..wondering how long it'll take me to drown or if some big fishy'll get me first." He paused, realizing the gentleman had heard him and his lips twisted with a touch of bitterness. "It's a shame, it is, ye've none to lay yer bets with. Ye might win.
Me now..any way..I lose..but that's the way of it..fer the likes of me.." He thought then of the tales of the fate of stowaways, and with a last, taunting glance at the eager faces that surrounded him, he turned to contemplate the sea once more while flickering images of his life played across his mind. It was amazing, he thought with grim humor, the reluctance he felt to give it up when there had been little in his life to give him a wish to cling to it.
But then surely it would be better, he thought, to choose his own fate. Better to leap to a relatively quick death beneath the sea rather than face the mob who seemed likely to tear him limb from limb. Or possibly face some truly horrible, and far slower, death in the stinking hold of the ship.
He thought, seizing his courage, that drowning must surely be the easiest way to seek death, since it seemed he had no other choice.
He was poised to leap when he was snatched from the taffrail and flung to the decks. He gazed up at the gentleman who towered above him in surprise a moment before fury took its place. Anger and fear mingled in his eyes then with self-contempt, disgust that he'd been too cowardly to grasp his one chance at a quick death while he'd had time to do so; anger that the gentleman had deprived him of that quick ending; and fear of what he now faced.
"Sod off!" he snapped with forced bravado. He would have scrambled to his feet and made a second attempt, but he was thwarted as one booted foot pushed him back against the deck. And the gentleman's stance left him in no doubt that he would have some difficulty in eluding this man.
"Mind your tongue, little cockerel, or I'll cut it out," the man said coldly.