· Harlequin Historical
Earl’s daughter Lady Honoria Carlow flees London after a scandalous disgrace to take refuge with her aunt in Cornwall and try to figure out who engineered her ruin and why. There, she encounters handsome Irishman Gabe Hawksworth, known locally as “the Hawk,” who is temporarily captaining a smuggling vessel as a favor for the army friend who saved his life.
Though her family would be appalled at her attraction
to a “low-born free trader,” there’s something
about the well-spoken Gabe that calls out to the free-spirited
Honoria, even as Gabe wonders about the unexpected appearance
of this mysterious beauty. Until an attraction that should
never have been becomes a compulsion too strong for either
of them to resist!
"An engaging addition to the
Silk & Scandal miniseries."
"I love a book filled with twists and
turns, and this book doesn't disappoint. Gabe and Marie
are complex characters who were meant for each other."
first page, readers are plunged into this captivating narrative
that sizzles with daring adventure, wicked secrets, powerful
emotions and red-hot passion.
Sennlack Cove, Cornwall, May 1814
The shriek of gulls swooping overhead mingled with the crash of waves against the rocks below as Lady Honoria Carlow halted on the cliff walk to peer down at the cove. Noting with satisfaction that the sea had receded enough for a long silvered sliver of sand to emerge from beneath its high tide hiding place, she turned off the path onto the winding track leading down to the beach.
Honoria had discovered this sheltered spot during one of the first walks after her arrival here a month ago. Angry, despairing and driven by frustrated energy, she’d accepted Aunt Foxe’s mild suggestion that she expend some of her obvious agitation in exploring the beauties of the cliff walk that edged the coastline before her aunt’s stone manor a few miles from the small Cornish village of Sennlach.
Scanning the wild vista, Honoria smiled ruefully.
When she fled London a month ago, she’d craved distance
and isolation, and she’d certainly found it. As her coach
had borne her past Penzance towards Land’s End and then
turned onto the track leading to Foxeden, her aunt’s home
overlooking the sea, it had seemed she had indeed reached the
end of the world.
Or at least a place worlds away from the society and the family that had betrayed and abandoned her.
One might wonder that the sea’s violent pummeling against the rocky coast, the thunder of the surf, slap of wind-blown spray and raucous screeching of sea birds could soothe one’s spirit, but somehow they did, Honoria reflected as she picked her way down the trail to the beach. Maybe because the waves shattering themselves against the cliff somehow mirrored her own shattered life.
After having been hurtled onto the rocks and splintered, the water rebounded from the depths in a boil of foam. Would there be any remnants of her left to surface, once she had the heart to try to pull her life back together?
Though Tamsyn, Aunt Foxe’s maid, had tacked up the skirts of her riding habit, the only garb Honoria possessed after her hasty journey from London suitable for vigorous country walking, the hem of her skirt was stiff with sand when she reached the beach. Here, out of the worst ravages of wind, she pulled back the scarf anchoring her bonnet and gazed at the scene.
The water lapping at the beach in the cove looked peaceful, inviting even. She smiled, recalling lazy summer afternoons as a child when she’d pestered her older brother Hal to let her sneak away with him to the pond in the lower meadows. Accompanied by whichever of Hal’s friends were currently visiting, dressed in borrowed boy’s shirt and breeches, she’d learned to swim in the weed-infested waters, emerging triumphant and covered with pond muck.
The summer she turned seven, Anthony been one of those visitors, Honoria recalled. A familiar nausea curdling in her gut, she thrust away the memory of her erstwhile fiancé.
She wouldn’t tarnish one of the few enjoyments left to her by recalling a wretched past she could do nothing to change.
Resolutely focusing on the beauty of the cove, Honoria considered taking off her boots and wading into the water. With spring just struggling into summer, unlike the sun-warmed pond back at Stanegate Court, the water sluicing in the narrow inlet from the sea was probably frigid.
As she glanced toward the cove’s rock-protected entrance, a flash of sun reflecting a whiteness of sail caught her attention. Narrowing her eyes against the glare, she watched a small boat skim toward the cove entrance.
A second boat popped into view, apparently in pursuit of first, which tacked sharply into the calmer waters of the cove before coming about to fly back toward open water. In the next instant, the following boat, now just inside the rocky outcropping that separated cove from coastline, stopped as abruptly as if halted by an unseen hand. While the first boat sailed out of sight, she saw the dark form of a man tumble over the side of the second skiff.
The boat must have struck a submerged rock, Honoria surmised as she transferred her attention from the little vessel, now being battered by the incoming waves, to the man who’d been flung into the water. Seconds after submerging, the man surfaced, then in a flail of arms, sank again.
Curiosity changed to concern. Though the waters of the cove were shallow at low tide, the man would still need to swim some distance before he’d be able to touch bottom. Had he been injured by the fall-or did he not know how to swim?
She hesitated an instant longer, watching as the man bobbed back to the surface and sank again, making no progress toward the shallows.
Murmuring one of Hal’s favorite oaths, Honoria looked wildly about the beach. After spotting a driftwood plank, she swiftly stripped off bonnet, cloak, jacket, stockings, shoes and the heavy skirt of her habit, grabbed up the plank and charged into the water.
Still encumbered by chemise, blouse and stays, she couldn’t swim as well as she had in those childhood breeches, probably not well enough to reach the man and bring him in. But she simply couldn’t stand by and watch him drown without at least trying to wade out, hoping she could get near enough for him to grab hold of the plank and let her tow him in.
Shivering at the water’s icy bite, Honoria pushed through the shallows as quickly as the sodden skirts of her chemise and then upper garments allowed, battling toward the struggling sailor.
She had about concluded in despair that she would never reach him in time when suddenly, from the rocks far above the water at the trail side of the cove, a man dove in. Honoria halted, gasping for breath as a rogue wave broke over her, and watched the newcomer swim with swift, practiced strokes toward the downed sailor. Moments later he grabbed the sinking man by one arm and began swimming him toward shore.
Relieved, she turned to struggle back to the beach. Only then did she notice the string of tubs bobbing near the cliff wall on the walk side of the cove. Suddenly the game of racing boats made sense.
Free-traders! Tethered in calm cove waters must be one of the contraband cargoes about which she’d heard so much. The first boat had apparently been trying to lead the second away from where the cargo had been stashed under cover of night, to be retrieved later.
Weighed down by her drenched clothing, Honoria stopped in the shallows to catch her breath and observe the rescuer swim in his human cargo.
Her admiration for his bravery turned to appreciation of different sort as the man reached shallow water and stood. He, too, had stripped down for his rescue attempt. Water dripped off his bare torso, from his shoulders and strongly muscled chest down the flat of his abdomen. From there, it trickled into and over the waistband of his sodden trousers, which molded themselves over an impressive-oh, my!
Face flaming, Honoria jerked her eyes upward, noting the long white scar along his rib cage and another traversing his left shoulder, before her scrutiny reached his face-and her gaze collided with a piercing look from the most vivid deep blue eyes she had ever seen.
She felt a jolt reminiscent of the many times when, shuffling her feet over the Axminster carpet in Papa’s study after receiving a scolding about her latest exploit, she touched the metal door handle. Enduring that zing of pain had been a game, a silent demonstration to herself that she had the strength to bear chastisement stoically, despite Mama’s disdain and Papa’s disapproval. Though more lately, it had fallen to her eldest brother Marcus, defacto head of the family since father’s last illness, to deliver the reprimands.
There the resemblance ended, for the jolt induced by this man was both a stronger and a much more pleasant sensation. Indeed, she felt her lips curve into a smile as she took in the sharply-crafted face and the dripping black hair framing it, sleek as a seal.
Even had he not just recklessly leapt off a cliff into swiftly-moving tidal water, his commanding countenance with its determined chin, high cheekbones and full, sensual lips, would have proclaimed him a self-confidence man of action. One strongly muscled arm still towing the coughing, sputtering mariner, the rescuer strode through the shallows, carrying himself with an aura of power that, like the long scar on his chest and shoulder, hinted of danger.
A commanding man, she saw belatedly, who was now subjecting her to an inspection as intense as hers of him had been.
“Well, lass,” he said as he approached, his amused voice carrying just a hint of a lilt. “Is it Aphrodite you are, rising out of the sea?”
Honoria’s face flamed anew as his comment reminded her she was standing in ankle-deep water, the soggy linen chemise that clung to her legs and belly probably nearly transparent.
Tossing a “well done, sir,” over her shoulder, she turned and ran. Upon gaining the shore, she dropped the plank and hastily donned her sandy cloak, her numbed fingers struggling with the ties. By the time she’d covered herself and bent to retrieve her jacket, skirts and shoes, crowd of men was walking toward her along the narrow beach.
Accomplices of the free-traders, come to help move the cargo inland, she surmised as she chose a convenient rock upon which to perch and put on her shoes. She’d just seated herself to begin when the first of the men reached her.
Suddenly she realized their attention was fixed not on the rescuer or the cargo waiting in the cove waters-but on her. She could almost feel the avid gazes raking her body, from the seawater dripping from the loose tendrils of hair to her bare feet, the curiosity in their eyes overlaid by something hotter, more feral.
Horror filling her, she shrank back. Instead of the windswept cliffs, she saw the darkness of a London townhouse garden, while the cawing of seabirds was replaced by exclamations of shock and surprise emanating from the path leading back to a brilliantly-lit ballroom.
Eyes riveted on her, men closed in all around. Their gazes lust-filled, their lips curled with disdain or anticipation, their hot liquored breath assaulting her as she held the ripped edges of her bodice together. Anthony, disgust in his eyes, running up not to comfort and assist but to accuse and repudiate.
Panic sent her bolting to her feet. Abandoning boots and stockings, ignoring the protest of the handsome rescuer who called upon her to wait while he deposited his coughing cargo, she pushed through the crowd and ran for the cliff path.
Gabriel Hawksworth’s admiring gaze followed the honey-haired lass fleeing down the beach. After pulling the half-drowned mariner onto the shore, he straightened, breathing heavily, while the man at his feet retched up a bounty of Cornish seawater.
An instant later, some of the villagers reached them. Quickly dragging the man inland, one held him fast while another applied a blindfold and a third bound the man’s hands.
Gabe shook off like a dog, chilled now that his drenched body was fanned by the wind. To his relief, darting toward him through the gathering crowd was Richard Kessel, his old army friend “Dickin,” owner of the vessel of which Gabe was currently, and temporarily, the master.
“That was a fine swim you had,” Dickin said, handing Gabe his jacket. “Mayhap ol’ George will be so happy you saved his new revenue agent, he’ll take a smaller cut of the cargo. Though the villagers hearabouts won’t be too fond of your lending him assistance. Being a newcomer, our soggy friend”-Kessel nodded toward the man being carried off by the villagers-“is far too apt to point a pistol at one of them-and you, too, if he’d known who it was that rescued him.”
“Aye, better to have let the sea take him,” declared another man as he halted beside them.
“Well, the sea didn’t, Johnnie,” Dickin said, “so ‘tis no point repining it.”
“Perhaps someone ought to give the sea a hand,” the man muttered.
“No thanks to you the sea didn’t oblige, little brother,” Dickin shot back. “What daft idea was it to call for the cargo to be moved inland in full daylight, with a new man on patrol? ‘Tis nearly asking for a scrabble.”
“I knew if the revenuer followed Tomas-not likely most times, as little as these English know the coastline--Tomas would still be able to lead him off the scent,” John defended.
“Aye-nearly drowning the man in the bargain,” Dickin said.
“What care you if there is one King’s man less?” his brother replied angrily. “Besides, I’m the lander on this venture. ‘Tis my place to decide how, when and where the cargo gets moved.”
“If you’re going to put our men and boats at risk, mayhap you shouldn’t be the lander,” Dickin replied.
“Threatening to have Pa ease me out of operations?” John demanded.
“Nay, just trying to jaw some sense in your head,” Dickin said placatingly.
“Well, landing’s my business, not yours, and best you remember it,” John said. Turning away, he called for the men holding the bound and blindfolded revenue agent to throw him into one of the carts.
After watching the brother pace away, Gabe said, “Promise me, Dickin, the revenuer will get safely back to town? What happens on the high seas is up to God. I’d hate to abandon you still needing a replacement skipper for the ‘Flying Gull,’ but I’ll not be a party to murder.”
“‘Tis a most inconvenient conscience you’ve developed of late, Gabe my lad,” Dickin remarked.
“We used to share the same scruples,” Gabe replied. “You’d never have shot a French prisoner back on the Peninsula. Nor have left one for the partisans, though Heaven knows the Spaniards had reason enough to torture the French.” Smiling anew at the irony of it, Gabe continued, “Our former enemies…with whom you now trade for brandy, silk and lace!”
“True,” Dickin acknowledged cheerfully. “But war is war and commerce is commerce.”
“Still, it wasn’t sporting of Tomas to sail so close to the cliffs. He knows where that underwater ledge is. Our new revenuer obviously didn’t.”
Kessel shrugged. “His own fault, giving chase in daylight. If he wishes to hamper the trade, he’ll have to get to know the coastline better.”
“Or try to follow us at night, when we too show a healthier respect for the rocks.”
“I doubt any of the revenuers wish to test the sea after dark,” Kessel replied. “Few enough Cornishmen have your fool Irish daring. Or expertise with a boat.”
“I’ll ignore that jab at my heritage and accept your compliments on my skill,” Gabe said with a grin.
“Sure you’ll not consider staying on once Conan’s fit to resume command of the ‘Gull?’” Kessel asked. “You’ve probably earned enough already from your cut of the profits to buy your own boat. We could make a good team, just as we did fighting Boney’s best! Unless you’ve changed your mind about returning home to be your brother’s pensioner?”
Gabe had a sudden vision of the family manor at Ballyclarig, windswept Irish hills-and his elder brother Nigel’s frowning face. “I’m not sure yet what I mean to do, but it won’t include staying on in Ireland. I was at the point of setting out…somewhere when you came calling.”
“Lucky I did, since with you fully recovered from your wounds, ‘tis likely you and your brother would have murdered each other, if he’s as self-righteous as you’ve described him.” Kessel clapped a hand on Gabe’s shoulder. “Though there’s naught to that. Brothers often fight-look at me and Johnnie! Especially when one holds the whip hand over the other. Did you never get on?”
For an instant, Gabe ran though his mind the whole history of his dealings with the older brother who, for as long as Gabe could remember, had criticized, tattled about or disapproved of everything he did or said. “No,” he replied shortly.
“Best that you move on, then,” Dickin said. A mischievous light glowed in his eyes and he laughed. “Wouldn’t that fancy family of yours disown you forever if they found out exactly how you’ve been helping your old army friend?”
Gabe pictured the horror that would doubtless come over his brother’s austere features, were the punctilious Sir Nigel Hawksworth ever to discover the occupation his scapegrace younger brother was pursuing in Cornwall. After casting Gabe off permanently, he’d probably set the nearest King’s agents after him.
Shaking off the reflection, Gabe said, “Let us speak of pleasanter things. Who was the charming Aphrodite who launched herself into the water? I’ve not seen her before. After her display of sympathy for the revenuer, I assume she must not be from Cornwall.”
“She isn’t,” Dickin confirmed. “Don’t recall the name, but ‘tis not Af-ro-dye--or whatever you said. My sister Tamsyn, who’s a maid up at Foxeden Manor, says she’s staying there with old Miss Foxe. Some relation or other. I’ve seen her on the cliff walk a time or two.”
Realizing a dame-schooled seaman-turned-soldier probably wouldn’t be acquainted with Greek mythology, Gabe didn’t pursue the allusion. For the first time, he felt a niggle of sympathy for the humorless cleric Papa had employed to try to beat into his mostly unappreciative younger son the rudiments of gentleman’s education.
His rule-bound tutor provided just one example of the rigid parental discipline that had sent him fleeing into the army at the first opportunity. How would he have escaped Papa’s heavy hand, Gabe mused, if Bonaparte’s desire for glory hadn’t pushed his nation into a war in which it was every Englishman’s patriotic duty to contribute a son to the regiments? Especially a rapscallion younger son no tutor had ever managed to break to bridle.
Shaking his mind back to the present, he repeated, “Some relation of Miss Foxe. Is she staying long, do you know?”
Dickin raised an eyebrow. “I’ll see if Tasmyn can find out. So, ‘tis not enough you’ve all the maids hereabouts sighing over you-and barmaids at the Gull fighting each other to warm your bed. You must hunt fresh game?”
Gabe shrugged. “What can one do when he is young, daring, handsome-“ Breaking off with a chuckle, he ducked Dickin’s punch.
“You’ll soon catch your death of a chill if don’t get your ‘handsome’ self into some dry clothes,” Dickin retorted. “I’d as soon not lose my new skipper-or my closest army comrade-just yet. Off with you while I help the boys move the cargo inland. I’ll see what Tasmyn can turn up about the lady.”
Gabe bowed with a flourish. “I’d be most appreciative.”
“Aye, well, see that you show me how much on your next run. We’ll meet at the inn later, as usual.”
Clapping Gabe on the back, his friend trotted off. Gabe made his way up the cliff walk, pausing to watch as the well-organized team of farmers, sailors and townsmen quickly freed the tubs from their temporary moorings, floated them to shore, then hefted them onto carts to be pushed and dragged up the slope to the waiting wagons. While one or two of the men nodded an acknowledgment, most ignored him as they passed by.
‘Twas the way of the free-traders, he knew. Don’t watch too closely, don’t look a man in the face, so if the law ever questions you, you can truthfully reply that you know nothing.
At the top of the cliff, Gabe retrieved his horse and set off for what currently constituted home--the room he rented at the Gull’s Roost, the inn at Sennlack owned by Richard and John’s father Perran.
The six month’s run as skipper of the “Flying Gull” he’d promised the army comrade who’d saved his life at Vittoria would expire at summer’s end, Gabe mused, setting the horse to a companionable trot. He had as yet not settled what he meant to do once his time in Cornwall expired.
He’d given his brother Nigel no promise of return and only the briefest of explanations before going off with Dickin, leaving Nigel to remark scornfully he hoped, after Gabe had scoured off the smudges he’d made on the family escutcheon with some honest soldiering, he wouldn’t proceed to soil it again indulging in some disgraceful exploit with that sea-going ruffian.
If Nigel knew he was skippering a boat for a free-trader, his brother would probably suffer apoplexy, Gabe reflected. How could one explain to a man whose whole world revolved around his position among the Anglo-Irish aristocracy the bond a man forms with a fellow soldier, one who’s shared his hardships and saved his life? A bond beyond law and social standing, that held despite the fact that Gabe’s closest army friend had risen through the ranks to become an officer and sprang not, as Gabe did, from the gentry.
When Dickin had come begging a favor involving acts of dubious legality, Gabe had not hesitated to agree.
He had to admit part of the appeal had been escaping the stifling expectations heaped upon the brother of Sir Nigel Hawksworth, magistrate and most important dignitary for miles along the windswept southern Irish coast. After months spent cooped up recovering from his wounds, it had been exhilarating to escape back to his childhood love, the sea, to feel health and strength returning on the sharp southwestern wind and to once again have a purpose, albeit a somewhat less than legitimate one, for his life.
If he were being scrupulously honest, he admitted as he guided the horse into the stable yard of “Gull’s Roost,” having lived on the sword’s edge for so many years, he’d found life back in Ireland almost painfully dull. He relished matching his wits against the sea and the danger that lurked around every bend of coastline, where wicked shoals-or unexpected revenue agents-might mean pursuit or death.
Despite the massive collusion between local King’s officer George Marshall, who complacently ignored free trader activity as long as he got his cut from every cargo, there were always newcomers, like the fellow who’d foundered on the rocks today, who took their duties to stop the illegal trade more seriously. Although trials occurred seldom and convictions by a Cornish jury were rarer still, a man might still end up in Newgate, on the scaffold-or in the nearest cemetery, victim of revenuer’s shot, for attempting to chouse the Crown out of the duties levied on foreign lace and spirits.
Still, Gabe was optimistic that his luck would hold for at least six months.
For a man unsure of what he would be doing at the end of that time, he’d considered it wise to dampen the enthusiasm of the more ardent local lasses-almost uniformly admiring of free-traders--by treating all with equal gallantry.
However, toward a lady whose tenure in the area was likely to be even briefer than his own, he might get away with paying more particular attention. While serving to discourage some of the bolder local girls, it should also prove an amusing diversion. The lass on the beach today had been as attractive as her behavior in attempting to rescue the sailor had been unusual.
Gabe pictured her again, water lapping about her ankles while the sheer wet linen chemise provided tantalizing glimpses of long limbs, a sweet rounded belly and the hint of gold at the apex of her thighs. His breath caught and more than just his thoughts began to rise.
With a sigh, he forced the image away. Too bad this one was a lady born rather than a hot-blooded barmaid at the Gull. He didn’t think he’d try very hard to escape her pursuit.
Responding with a wave to Mr. Kessell’s greeting and calling out for hot water as he trotted up the stairs to his room, Gabe wondered what Aphrodite’s real name might be and whether she was as ignorant as his friend of the story behind the name he’d called her. Might she be learned-or wicked-enough to have understood the reference-the goddess of love rising naked from the sea?
Unlikely as that prospect was, the possibility put a smile on his face and a lilt in his step. Once inside his room, waiting for his water to be delivered so he might pull off his soggy garments, Gabe tried to keep his mind from imagining how her hands might feel against his bare skin.
All he knew thus far about his Aphrodite was that she was unconventional and courageous enough to try to swim out and save a stranger.
He intended to learn a great deal more.
Copyright © 2010 Julia Justiss
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