Captive of my desires, p.1
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       Captive of My Desires, p.1

           Johanna Lindsey
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Captive of My Desires


  Also by Johanna Lindsey

  Marriage Most Scandalous

  A Loving Scoundrel

  A Man to Call My Own

  POCKET BOOKS, a division of Simon & Schuster, Inc.

  1230 Avenue of the Americas, New York, NY 10020

  This book is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places and incidents are products of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual events or locales or persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental.

  Copyright © 2006 by Johanna Lindsey

  All rights reserved, including the right to reproduce this book or portions thereof in any form whatsoever. For information address Pocket Books, 1230 Avenue of the Americas, New York, NY 10020

  ISBN: 1-4165-2509-2

  POCKET and colophon are registered trademarks of Simon & Schuster, Inc.

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  In memory of Birdena Doyon.

  Chapter 1

  S HE’D BEEN TOLD TO HIDE, and stay hidden. That had been Gabrielle Brooks’s first thought as well after the noise had drawn her up to the deck and she’d seen what was causing the commotion. It wasn’t the captain who’d given her the order, though. He’d been nothing but confident that he could lose the ship bearing down on them. He’d even laughed about it and shaken his fist at the Jolly Roger flying from the attacking ship’s mainmast, which was visible now to the naked eye. His enthusiasm—and dare she say delight?—had certainly relieved her mind. Until the first mate pulled her aside and told her to hide.

  Unlike the captain, Avery Dobs didn’t appear eager for the upcoming confrontation. His complexion as white as the extra sails being swiftly hoisted by the crew, he hadn’t been gentle about shoving her toward the stairs.

  “Use one of the empty food barrels in the hold. There are many of them now. With any luck, the pirates won’t open more than one or two, and finding them empty, they’ll move on. I’ll warn your servant to hide as well. Now go! And no matter what you hear, don’t leave the hold until someone whose voice you recognize comes for you.”

  He hadn’t said until he came for her. His panic was infectious, his roughness surprising. Her arm was probably bruised where he’d gripped it. It was such a change from the courteous way he had treated her when the journey began. He’d nearly been courting her, or so it had seemed, though that was unlikely. He was in his early thirties and she was barely out of the schoolroom. It was just his deferential manner, his gentle tone of voice, and the inordinate amount of attention he’d paid her during the three weeks since they’d left London, that gave her the impression he liked her more than he should.

  He’d managed to instill his own fear in her, though, and she’d raced toward the bowels of the ship. It was easy to find the food barrels Avery had spoken of, nearly all of them empty, now that they were nearing their destination in the Caribbean. Another few days and they would have sailed into St. George’s harbor in Grenada, her father’s last known whereabouts, and she could have begun her search for him.

  Nathan Brooks was not a man she knew well, though all her memories of him were fond ones, but he was all she had now that her mother had died. While she’d never once doubted that he loved her, he had never lived at home with her for any length of time. A month, maybe a few months at a time, and, one year, an entire summer—but then several years would pass without a visit from him. Nathan was captain of his own merchantman with very profitable trade routes in the West Indies. He sent home money and extravagant presents, but rarely did he bring himself home.

  He’d tried to move his family closer to where he worked, but Carla, Gabrielle’s mother, wouldn’t even consider it. England had been her home all of her life. She had no family left there, but all her friends were there, as well as everything she valued, and she had never approved of Nathan’s seafaring occupation anyway. Trade. She’d always spoken the word in disgust. She had enough aristocracy in her ancestry, even if she bore no title herself, to look down on anyone in trade, even her own husband.

  It was a wonder they’d ever married. They certainly didn’t seem to like each other much when they were together. And Gabrielle would never, ever mention to him that his long absences had led Carla to take a…Well, she couldn’t even bring herself to think the word, much less say it. She was so embarrassed by her own conclusions. But Albert Swift had been a regular visitor to their two-story cottage on the outskirts of Brighton during the last several years, and Carla had behaved like a young schoolgirl whenever he was in town.

  When he’d stopped coming around and they heard the rumors that he was courting an heiress in London, Gabrielle’s mother had undergone a remarkable change. Overnight, she turned into a bitter woman, hating the world and everything in it, crying over a man who wasn’t even hers.

  Whether he had made Carla promises, whether Carla had intended to divorce her husband, no one knew, but her heart seemed to have broken when Albert turned his attentions to another woman. She had all the signs of a woman betrayed, and when she took sick in early spring and her condition had worsened, she’d made no effort to recover from it, ignoring her doctor’s advice and barely eating.

  Gabrielle was heartsick herself, having to watch her mother’s decline. She might not have approved of her mother’s obsession with Albert, or her unwillingness to try harder to save her marriage, but she still loved her mother deeply and had done everything she could think of to cheer her up. She’d filled her mother’s room with flowers that she scoured the neighborhood for, read to her mother aloud, even insisted their housekeeper, Margery, spend a good portion of her day visiting with her, since she was such a chatty woman and usually quite funny in her remarks. Margery had been with them several years at that point. Middle-aged with bright red hair, vivid blue eyes, and a host of freckles, she was opinionated, outspoken, and not at all awed by aristocrats. She was also a very caring woman, and had taken to the Brookses as if they were her own family.

  Gabrielle had thought her efforts were working, that her mother’s will to live was returning. Her mother had even started to eat again and stopped mentioning Albert. So Gabrielle was devastated when her mother passed away in the middle of the night. “Pined away” was Gabrielle’s personal conclusion, because she’d been on the mend from her illness, though she would never mention that to her father. But her mother’s death left Gabrielle feeling utterly alone.

  Although she’d been left a lot of money, since Carla had been quite well-to-do herself from a family inheritance, Gabrielle wouldn’t see any of that money until she reached her majority at the age of twenty-one, and that was a long way off. Her father did send funds regularly, and there was the household money that would last quite a while, but she’d just turned eighteen.

  She was also going to be turned over to a guardian. Carla’s solicitor, William Bates, had mentioned it at the reading of the will. In her grief, she hadn’t really paid attention, but when she’d been given the name, she was appalled. The man was a philanderer and everyone knew it. The rumors were that he chased his maids all over his house, and he’d even pinched Gabrielle’s bottom once at a garden party, when she’d been only fifteen!

  A guardian, and he in particular, wouldn’t do a’tall. She still had one parent living. She merely needed to find him, and so she set out to do just that. She’d had to conquer a few fears first, of sailing halfway around the world, of leaving behind everything she was familiar with. She’d nearly changed her mind twice. But in the end, she’d felt she had no choice. And at least Margery had agreed to go with her.

  The trip had gone very well, much better than she’d anticipated. No one had questioned her traveling with just her servant. She was under the captain
s protection, after all, at least for the duration, and she had implied her father would be meeting her when they docked, just a small lie to keep any concerns at bay.

  Now, thinking about her father and finding him kept her current fears in check for only a short while. Her legs had fallen asleep, curled into the barrel as she was. She’d had no trouble getting all of herself into the container. She wasn’t a big woman at only five-four, and was slender of frame. A splinter had pierced her back, though, when she’d scrunched down into the crate just before she’d pulled the lid back over it, and there was no way to reach it even if she had enough room to try.

  And she was partly in shock that it was even possible for a ship to fly a Jolly Roger in this day and age. Pirates were supposed to be extinct. She had thought they had all been routed in the last century, either pardoned or hung. Sailing the warm Caribbean waters was supposed to be as safe as walking down an English country lane. If she hadn’t been certain of that, she never would have booked passage to this side of the world. And yet, she’d seen the pirate flag with her own eyes.

  There was a tight knot of fear in her belly, which was also empty and adding to her discomfort. She’d missed breakfast and had intended to remedy that at lunch, but the pirate ship had arrived before lunch was served, and now it was hours later. At least, it seemed like she’d been cramped in the barrel that long, and there was no indication of what was going on topside.

  She had to assume they were staying far ahead of the pirate ship, but if they had lost the other vessel, wouldn’t Avery have come to tell her so? Suddenly a blast shook the entire ship, and another, and more, all exceedingly loud. There were more indications that a battle had begun, the smell of gun smoke from the fired cannons that seeped into the hold, the raucous yells, even a few screams, and then, a long while later, the horrible silence.

  It was impossible to determine who had won the battle. It was nerve-wracking. As time passed, her fear grew. She’d be screaming soon, she was sure. In fact, she didn’t know how she’d managed not to succumb to that urge already. If they had won the day, wouldn’t Avery have shown up by now? Unless he was wounded and hadn’t told anyone where she was. Unless he was dead. Did she dare leave her hiding place to find out?

  But what if the pirates had won? What did pirates do with captured ships? Sink them? Keep them to sell or man them with their own crews? And their current crew and passengers? Kill them all? The scream was bubbling up in her throat when the lid was torn off of her barrel.

  Chapter 2

  P IRATES! Gabrielle got undeniable proof that pirates weren’t extinct when one of them yanked her by her hair out of the barrel where she was hiding, dragged her topside amongst a lot of laughter and cheers, and dumped her on deck at the feet of the ugliest pirate of them all, their captain.

  She was so terrified by that point that she couldn’t imagine what was going to happen to her next. But she was sure it was going to be horrible. The only thought that entered her mind was to jump overboard in all haste.

  The man looking down at her had thin, scraggly brown hair that fell to his shoulders, and on top of his head was an old tricornered hat with a dyed pink feather that hung down limply, as it was broken in at least two places. If that wasn’t odd enough, he was also wearing a bright orange satin coat and flowing lace cravat right out of another century. The garments were in such appalling condition, they probably were that old.

  Before she could get to her feet to dive over the side of the ship, he said, “M’name’s Captain Brillaird, at your service, miss.” He paused to laugh. “At least that’s the name I’m using this month.”

  If he was picking names out of a hat, she thought he ought to try Moles. She’d never seen so many on someone’s face.

  Still trembling, she made no reply, but her eyes flew back to the ship’s railing.

  “You can put your fears to rest,” he added. “You’re too valuable to be harmed.”

  “Valuable how?” Gabrielle managed to ask, coming slowly to her feet now.

  “As a hostage, of course. Passengers are much more lucrative to dispose of than cargoes that might rot before we can find markets for them.”

  She was starting to feel a smidgen of real relief, just enough for her to stop eyeing the railing. “What about the men?”

  He shrugged. “The captain and the officers of a captured ship generally bring decent ransoms, too.”

  She couldn’t tell if he was deliberately trying to put her mind at ease, or if he just liked to talk, because he proceeded to hold forth on the subject of ransoming prisoners.

  Gabrielle learned that she and Margery were to be ransomed by her family. The captain never asked her if she had a family, he simply assumed that she did. It just remained for her to tell him whom to contact for the ransom money, and he seemed in no hurry to obtain that information. He and his cronies had other business to dispose of first, like the rest of the captured crew.

  Gabrielle looked around the deck. If any of the crewmen had died in the battle, the evidence had been removed before she’d been dragged topside. Avery was lying on the deck, apparently unconscious from a gash on his head, tied up like the other officers and passengers, waiting to be transferred to the other ship. Theirs had sustained severe damage and was already starting to take on water.

  Margery was there, too, also tied up, but she was the only prisoner who was gagged as well. She’d probably been too vocal with the pirates, chastising them for their temerity. She didn’t care whom she offended when she got the notion to complain.

  As for the common sailors, they were given a choice, to join the pirates and take their oath then and there, or to pay a visit to Davy Jones’s locker, which meant they’d be tossed into the sea to drown.

  Not surprisingly, most of them elected rather quickly to become pirates. One of them, a stout American, refused, and was quite nasty about it.

  Gabrielle was forced to watch in horror as two of the pirates approached him, each taking one of his arms and dragging him to the rail. She didn’t doubt he was going to be tossed over it. But he didn’t change his mind and continued to curse them all right up until they smashed his head against the rail, knocking him out. The pirates laughed uproariously. She didn’t see what was the least bit funny about making the man think he was going to die, then not killing him, but those pirates certainly did.

  The American was still tossed into the water, but not until the next day when there was land within sight of the ship. It was an uninhabited island, but land nonetheless. He’d probably still die eventually, but at least he was given a chance. He might even be able to hail a passing ship and get rescued. It was a better fate than what Gabrielle had thought would befall him when he’d defied the pirates.

  Later that same day they came to another island, which also appeared to be deserted. They’d sailed into the crystal clear waters of a wide bay. Nearly in the center of it was another small island. But as they approached it, Gabrielle could see it wasn’t an island at all but a floating jungle of trees, many of them dead, and thick plants, most of them thriving in the dirt and other debris that was piled high on top of boards, not land. It was almost like a cluttered wharf, and yet it was a thickly built jungle, designed to conceal the ships anchored on the other side of it from any passing ships out in the ocean.

  The flag of death was hoisted on the two ships that were there now, indicating that there had been disease on them, which might account for their abandoned look.

  It didn’t take long for the pirates to make their own ship look the same before the small boats were lowered into the water and the prisoners were rowed to shore—and they hoisted a flag of death on their ship as well. Gabrielle realized then the ships were nothing but a ruse to keep any other vessels that might sail into the bay from investigating the abandoned ships.

  “Where are we going?” Gabrielle asked the pirate who helped her and Margery out of the rowboat. But apparently he didn’t feel it was necessary to answer her. He just nudged her f
orward.

  They began a trek inland. They weren’t waiting for everyone to get off the ship, but thankfully, Avery was in the first group to go ashore. It was the first chance she’d had to talk to him since they’d been captured.

  “Are you all right?” he asked as he walked alongside her.

  “Yes, I’m fine,” she assured him.

  “No one…touched you?”

  “Really, Avery, I haven’t been hurt in any way.”

  “Thank God. I was so worried. You can’t imagine.”

  She gave him a reassuring smile. “I’m to be ransomed. Captain Brillaird made it clear to me that I’m too valuable to be harmed. She pointed to the large open cut on his forehead. “How does your head feel? I saw you got knocked out yesterday.”

  He gingerly touched his wound. “Oh, that’s just a scratch.”

  But Gabrielle could tell from his wince that it must be painful. “From what I gathered from the captain, he plans to ransom you, too.”

  “I don’t know about that,” Avery replied with a sigh. “I don’t come from a wealthy family.”

  “Well, I’ll speak to my father when he collects me,” she said. “I’m sure he’ll be able to arrange something to gain your release as well.”

  But she wasn’t the least bit sure that Nathan could even be located. What would happen to her and Avery if the pirates couldn’t track down her father?

  “That’s very kind of you,” he said, then added urgently, “but listen to me, Gabrielle. You may have been given assurances, but from listening to this pirate crew, I understand there will be others of the same ilk where we’re going. Your best way to come through this safely is to simply not draw attention to yourself. I know that will be difficult, as beautiful as you are, but—”

  “Please, you needn’t say anything more,” she cut in with a blush. “I understand that we won’t really be safe until we’ve seen the last of these cutthroats. I will remain as inconspicuous as possible.”

 

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