It suited half-Cherokee, half-Scot pirate Hal Merritt to abduct and murder the wife of his enemy for her part in her husband’s crimes. But instead of a knowing accomplice, he finds an innocent young countess, not yet awakened to her sensuality.
Length: Full Novel
Word Count: 86,076
Genre: Historical Romance
Available formats: PDF, RTF, Epub, HTML, Mobipocket (.prc)
© Cover Art by Jenny Dixon, June 2004
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.
The copper-skinned man in sailor's garb raised his pint and hid his guarded examination of the room behind the rim. His hair, long and shiny and black, hung down his back, secured with a leather thong. Even so singular a character did not garner much interest in the shadowy barroom of the dockside tavern.
He waited for a man who had promised a large payment for a small job. Normally, he wouldn't even consider working for someone else. However, flexibility was a necessity in business. So, he waited.
A movement by the door caught his eye. A man in black stood there, obviously looking through the greasy light for someone. When their eyes met, he was certain this was his potential employer.
The man in black threaded his way between tables set haphazardly in the large room and, without asking, took a chair. His face was hidden beneath the brim of a large black hat. The wide collar of his jacket, pulled up as though protecting his neck from the wind, perfected his anonymity. Only shadowy hints of his visage remained.
"You are Captain Garcia?" the man in black asked.
"Yes." Hal Merritt used several aliases. In Lancaster he was known as Garcia.
The man in black glanced around, then leaned forward, crossing his elbows before him on the edge of the grimy table.
"I hear you are short of funds and cannot pay your harbor fees nor provision your vessel. Perhaps I can help. I have a proposition for you." His pause seemed premeditated. His next words confirmed that assumption. "If you have the groats for it."
Hal managed to swallow the ale he'd unfortunately just sipped. If the man could see his amusement, so be it.
"Tell me your proposition, then I'll measure my groats."
"I will pay you handsomely-" The man in black lowered his voice to a whisper. "To abduct and dispose of the Countess Greymere."
Hal shivered as a chill ran through him. What kind of animal plotted the murder of a woman?
"Is she such a danger to the public good that an upstanding individual as yourself would wish the good lady dead?" he asked.
"S-h-h-h-h. Not so loud." The man in black leaned closer.
Hal's nose twitched at the heady lilac scent wafting from the man's person. Casting sidewise glances he tried to peer beyond the shadows to memorize what he could of the man's face. Surely the sheriff would like to know of such dire doings in his shire.
The man continued, "My reasons are not your concern."
Hal understood that explanation. He pretended to consider the offer.
"I find my share of groats inadequate for such an act. Better seek your assassin elsewhere, friend."
"I am not your friend. I know you need money to get your tub provisioned. I know your target is a March Shipping vessel scheduled to depart port seven days hence."
Hal's heart jumped. He hid his surprise behind a sip of ale. How did the man know so much about him?
"Could be," he responded. "How much?" He still had no intention of accepting such a job, but found himself curious. How much was a countess's life worth these days?
"Five thousand pounds."
"So little? For a countess? Is she so near her end the murder will only be a formality?"
"On the contrary. Elspeth is but twenty, quite comely, tall, lithe of figure. Reddish hair, I believe. Skin like country cream."
Hal chuckled. "You'd do better to marry the lady and enjoy all her charms."
"The lady is already married. To Richard March."
Hal’s mouth dropped open. "March?"
The man in black smiled, sending a chill down Hal's back. Did this man know of his personal interest in Richard March?
The man leaned closer. "Yes, Captain, I know. A few pints of ale served well to loosen the tongues of your crew. I know your true name and your mission to destroy Richard March. All I do not know is why you so hate the man."
Hal stifled the foul words on his tongue. "As you say, sir, that is not your concern."
It was too late to worry which member of his crew had betrayed his secret. And it occurred to Hal this might be a trap. Could this man be an agent of Richard March? Only the fact that March used his ships to transport illegal cargo had kept him from reporting the attacks on his ships to the Admiralty. This crow-like bastard probably figured Hal would jump at a chance to kill Richard March's bride, giving March a reason to have him arrested and hanged without risking revelation of the more hellish side of his shipping business.
The question now was, would he? Hal didn't really know, but felt a sick certainty the poor countess was now in the way of his own plans for her dear husband.
"However," Hal said, "I'm not asking you to kill March for me. I think I have some right to know why you desire the Countess dead."
The man shrugged. "It would be convenient for me if the young Countess would not produce an heir.
"You are her heir?"
"It is well known her heir presumptive has no interest in the title."