Captain Michael Hawkhurst relishes his fearsome reputation, for he lives only to wreak revenge on the Fulton family, who so cruelly destroyed his own.
Spirited Alice Fulton knows a ship is no place for a lady, but she is determined to save her father's business….
When fate delivers him Fulton's virginal daughter as his captive, Michael faces a dilemma—should he live up to his scandalous name and find revenge with sweet Alice, or will his honorable side win out—and win the girl…?
An excerpt from Captured for the Captain's Pleasure:
Off Lisbon—June 1814
Repairing a gash in a man's brawny forearm on a ship's deck bore not the slightest resemblance to mending a rip in a petticoat, Alice Fulton decided. She dabbed at the dried blood around the wound with a cloth moistened in seawater.
The prospect of causing pain gave it a wholly different aspect. The ship's pitch and yaw added a further challenge. Fortunately, clear skies and a light breeze kept the motion to a minimum and the awning above their heads protected them from the midday heat.
Roped in as an unwilling assistant, her fellow passenger and best friend, Lady Selina Albright, stared grimly out to sea as if her life depended on it.
Perched in front of her on a barrel, with a three-inch gash in his sun-bronzed skin, her patient, Perkin, seemed remarkably unperturbed. But then she hadn't told the sullen fellow staring at the planks at his feet that this was the first wound she'd actually stitched herself. No sense in scaring him.
Not that much would scare this strapping sailor. Even with his head respectfully lowered and his bearded face hidden by the tangle of dark-brown hair falling around his shoulders, he had a swagger.
'When did you do this?' she asked.
'The night afore I came aboard,' he muttered, not looking up. 'I told you, miss, it ain't nothing. I'll take care of it.'
She'd caught him bandaging it one-handed when she passed the galley. On this merchant ship, the cook doubled as surgeon and he could hardly sew himself. 'It needs sutures.'
He glanced up, giving her a brief impression of a face younger than she'd first thought and handsome in a harsh, unkempt sort of way. His cheeks above the black-bearded jaw had been tanned to the colour of light mahogany. Deep creases radiated from the corners of eyes the strangest shade of turquoise rimmed with grey. Right now they held a distinctly resentful gleam. Or even anger? He lowered his head before she could be sure.
A feeling of unease disturbed her normally calm stomach. He'd been making her nervous since he had joined their ship in Lisbon, replacing their original cook who had disappeared amid the stews on the wharf. They'd certainly lost in the exchange. What Perkin knew about cooking he must have learned from a tanner. She stared at the large, strong, well-shaped hand resting on a formidably muscled thigh. At least his fingernails were clean.
No matter how bad his food or his attitude, this wound needed sewing.
'Ugh.' Selina gave a delicate shudder. 'You should let the sailmaker do it as Captain Dareth ordered,' she said in her naturally breathy voice.
Perkin nodded agreement, his strange eyes warming as they roved over Selina's lush figure.
Alice wanted to hit him.
Why, she couldn't imagine. There wasn't a man alive whose eyes wouldn't warm when they fell on Selina's dark flamboyance, whereas Alice's immature figure, nondescript brown hair and hazel eyes, rarely warranted a second look. Which suited Alice down to the ground.
'Hodges won't be off watch for hours,' she muttered, threading her needle. 'The longer the wound remains open the less likely it will heal.' And besides this might be her only chance to make use of her knowledge.
'Are you certain you know how?' Selina's voice quavered.
Certain? She stared at the bloody gash. In theory, yes. Practice was an altogether different proposition.
'This fascination of yours for surgery is positively macabre.' Selina gave another of her carefully honed shudders.
At least her friend wasn't calling her interest unladylike, as Father did. He'd always blamed it on the months she'd spent on the long round trip to India with nothing to do but follow the surgeon around. At nine, she'd been half in love with the ship's doctor. Her interest in medicine had survived the years. Love was a whole other story.
'Be ready to hand me the scissors. And don't look. I don't want you fainting.' Lord, she didn't want to faint herself.
She lined up her needle.
Prickles darted down her back. Sweat trickled cold between her breasts and clung to her palms. The needle seemed to slither in her grasp like a maggot in a ship's biscuit.
Now or never, Alice. She inhaled a deep breath. The ship rolled. She staggered.
Perkin put out a hand. Caught her wrist. 'Steady, miss.'
His palm was warm, strong, calloused. A touch that burned. His eyes flashed concern. He released her swiftly as if he too had felt the sudden burst of heat.
She braced against the roll of the ship, absorbed the motion with her knees as she'd been doing for days. She swallowed to relieve the dryness in her throat. 'Ready, Perkin?'
Pulse racing, she pressed the needle into the bronzed skin. It dimpled. Her hand shook.
'If yer goin' to do it, give it a good hard jab,' Perkin muttered in a growl.
Right. Alice stabbed. The needle punctured the skin. The man didn't flinch, but she knew from a hitch in his breath she'd caused pain.
'Forgive me,' she murmured.
Surprise glimmered in his blue eyes, before he looked away.
She pushed through the other side of the gash, pulled up and knotted. Mr Bellweather would have been proud. Good. And no blood. 'Scissors, please.'
They appeared in front of her, dangling at the end of lacy gloved fingers.
She snipped the thread and returned the scissors to Selina's outstretched palm.
Alice let her breath go, felt her heart steady, and stabbed again. 'Four stitches should do it,' she murmured.
Head averted, Perkin started whistling 'Spanish Ladies' under his breath as if he hadn't a care in the world. She had to admire his fortitude after hearing many a man whine like a puppy when faced with a stitch or two. His calmness instilled her with courage and in no time at all there were four nice neat knots along the puckered skin.
'Bandage, Selina, please.'
The bandage appeared under her nose.
Ceasing his whistle, Perkin inspected his arm, his expression hidden by the mass of black hair. 'Thank ye.' The tone sounded grudging.
She ignored his sullenness and smiled. 'I think it will be all right.' They wouldn't know for a day or two if the gash would heal properly. If it didn't, if she'd made things worse… Her stomach clenched. Don't think that. She'd done a good job. Carefully she wrapped the bandage around a sun-weathered, sinewy forearm strong enough to haul up a mainsail by itself, if needed. She tied the strip of cloth off. 'I will look at it later today.'
'Nah, miss. I'll look a'ter it.'
Disappointed, but unsurprised by his reticence, Alice nodded. 'As you wish. Please take more care next time you gut a fish.'
That startling gaze whipped up to her face. Not angry this time, more puzzled. 'Aye, aye, miss.' He rolled down his shirtsleeve, covering up all those lovely muscles.
Oh, Lord. Had she really just thought a common sailor's arm lovely? Was she turning into one of those eccentric spinsters who peered at males sideways and made up stories in their heads?
'That's that, then.' She rinsed her hands in the bowl and handed it to Perkin, along with the cloth she had used. He took them without a word and headed below.
A sense of disappointment invaded her chest. She made a wry grimace. What had she expected from such a surly man? Effusive thanks? She wiped her face and the back of her neck with her handkerchief. He was probably horrified at the thought of a lady lowering herself to touch him. Men of all classes were odd in that regard.
'Alice?' Selina said, a strange note in her voice. 'What are they looking at?' She pointed to the bulwark where all of the ship's officers were clustered at the starboard rail with their spyglasses directed astern. Between the master and his second officer, her brother Richard's fifteen-year-old gangly body looked distinctly out of place. Like the others, he was watching a ship drawing down on them. Its present course would bring it exceedingly close to the Conchita. Hairs rose on the back of her neck. Her stomach gave a roll in direct opposition to the movement of the ship.
'What is it?' Selina asked, her face anxious, her bright green eyes wide.
It couldn't be. Not on this voyage, when they'd taken the utmost precautions. 'It's probably a ship looking for news,' she said, heading to the rail. Everyone sought news these days, with rumours of peace circulating the docks.
'Wait,' Selina called. 'Your parasol. You know how you burn.'
With a huff of impatience, Alice turned back to retrieve the lacy object from her friend. She smiled her thanks, took Selina's arm and joined Mr Anderson, her father's factotum, at the rail.
'What ship is it?' Alice asked.
Mr Anderson grimaced. 'Can't see from this angle, Miss Fulton. She's flying the Union Jack.'
Alice breathed a sigh of relief. Thomas Anderson chewed on his bottom lip. 'I think you and Lady Selina should go below.'
'Why?' Selina asked, her wide-eyed gaze turning to the middle-aged man who immediately turned pink. He'd been blushing every time she so much as glanced his way since they had left port. Not that Selina gave him the slightest encouragement. She simply took admiration as her due. Alice suppressed her irritation. She was past being interested in men of any sort.
Captain Dareth lowered his glass. 'Let's see if we can outrun her.'
The tense low mutter added pressure to Alice's already taut chest. She kept silent as the second officer rushed off shouting orders for more sail. The captain didn't need additional worries.
Richard, obviously brimming with excitement, turned to the master. 'She's fast for a brig.'
'She is that,' Captain Dareth said.