Lynna's Rogue (Curse of the Conjure Woman, Book One), p.1Kitty Margo / History & Fiction / Romance & Love
Curse of the Conjure Woman
This story is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents are either products of the author’s imagination or used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual events, locales, or persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental. No part of this publication can be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, without written permission of Kitty Margo.
Published October 30, 2012
Second Edition February 10, 2017
Copyright © 2012 Kitty Margo
Cover art by
In Loving Memory of
James Clifford Swaringen
June 12, 1931 – September 10, 2013
Bertie Ann Carpenter Swaringen
March 16, 1936 – October 8, 2013
For giving me my very first typewriter.
You will be loved and treasured forever. Know that not an hour goes by that you are no remembered. Not a minute passes that you are not missed. And not second of a single day passes that you are not loved.
Looking forward to the day we meet again.
I love you, mama and daddy.
Paris, France 1850
Only a fool would fail to realize that the amount of money displayed before Joshua Jordan would come with a great deal of risk and danger attached to the proposal.
And he was no fool.
Would he be asked to pillage and plunder? Turn thieving highwayman? Bloodthirsty assassin? Kidnap a princess for a king’s ransom?
The answer to all of these questions stood before him in the form of Nathan Rhodes, a man rumored to be the wealthiest in all of France and one who appeared most eager to put an end to Joshua’s vivid speculations.
“It is quite simple really, Captain Jordan. You will be my daughter’s protector,” Nathan Rhodes stated as if it were the only pressing matter in the whole of the universe, for to him it was. “A physically protective presence each and every moment of the day until she is safely delivered to my sister in America. Lynna must never be out of your sight, and on this point, I would require your solemn oath as a gentleman, sir.”
“Why me?” Joshua wondered aloud. When had he gained the reputation as a highly touted babysitter?
“Because I have it on good authority that not only are you a man of your word, but that you are also fiercely loyal to those in your care.”
Joshua nodded, unable to deny his words.
Nathan Rhodes rocked back on his heels and clasped his hands behind his back as he eyed the much younger man. “I realize that you have never even met my daughter and could therefore feel no such sentiment toward her. However, I also realize that with the proper amount of persuasion you could at least feel obligated to protect her as though she were your very own sister and see that no harm befalls her.”
Joshua was silent, pondering the man’s extravagant offer.
Priding himself on being a very astute business man, Nathan Rhodes paused to allow his words to sink in. He was fully aware that to a man of sound mind, such a proposition would be almost impossible to refuse.
When Joshua failed to immediately agree to his terms, Nathan continued, undaunted, a man obviously accustomed to having his way in all matters. “Now, Captain Jordan, if you will give me your word as an officer, and a gentleman, that you would be willing to forfeit your own life for the safety of my daughter’s, then all that you see before you will be yours.”
Forfeit my life? “Now hold on just a minute, Mr. Rhodes.” At twenty nine years of age Joshua was neither ready nor willing to die, especially for a complete stranger. “Perhaps you had better enlighten me as to precisely what it is your daughter needs protecting from, and why, sir?”
Nathan Rhodes motioned to the money and breathed a pained sigh as he sank wearily down on a chair in front of Joshua’s desk. “Over the years I have amassed a sizable fortune, Captain Jordan. I was visiting here from the red clay of Georgia, just after completing my education, when I was introduced to my future wife and soon entered into a very profitable partnership with her father. Without really working to achieve it the wealth seemed to be deposited in my lap.”
Nathan waved a careless hand toward the money bag. “This is but a mere pittance compared to my vast holdings, I assure you. When my wife’s parents went to their heavenly reward, I was also bequeathed their rather immense fortune. Although, I assure you that my wealth is not important at the moment.” He cringed, rubbing the area over his heart as though it ached. “All my riches mean nothing without my darling daughter to share them.”
Again the haggard man paused as if expecting a reaction from Joshua. When none was forthcoming, he plowed ahead. “To get to the point, Captain Jordan, I have received numerous death threats against my daughter’s life over the years. There have been two strong armed kidnapping attempts with the last coming only two days ago. They came too close this time. If not for a few minor miscalculations on their part they would have succeeded in kidnapping Lynna.”
The grieving father’s voice shook as his eyes clouded with pain. “Only the Good Lord above knows what harm the miscreants might have done before releasing her. If they released her.”
Again, Joshua nodded. Odds were great that the man would have never seen his daughter again, at least not alive.
Snatching a handkerchief from his pocket, Nathan swiped at the perspiration that beaded his brow and shoved the cloth back into his pocket. “Therefore, although it pains me beyond measure, I feel that it would be detrimental to my daughter’s welfare to remain in France. I must relinquish her until these criminals can be captured and brought to justice. My justice,” he stormed, slamming his clenched fist on the table hard enough to make a few of the coins flip.
Joshua noticed a tear slip from the overwrought man’s red rimmed and swollen eyes. The decision clearly weighed heavily on Nathan Rhodes’ mind as expressions of deep anguish flickered across his gaunt face. “I have the wherewithal to purchase anything my heart desires, Captain Jordan. Anything in the world that I could wish for, except happiness. Not once in my daughter’s life have I missed a single breakfast with her, nor spent a solitary night without her peacefully slumbering in the room juxtaposed to mine. Were I not in fear of losing her forever, a separation such as this would be unthinkable.”
Joshua scrubbed a hand over his face, considering the offer before him; the pros and cons. The pros being the money of course, while the cons meant being saddled with a spoiled and whiny brat for the entire voyage.
Contemplating his words, Joshua strolled to the open window to gaze across placid ocean waters. “Since I have no doubt that you’ve had the whole of Scotland Yard busy on a thorough background check of my life, past and present, I’m sure the detectives informed you that the Windjammer is a cargo vessel. We only have accommodations for two passengers at most.”
Nathan nodded his head and Joshua accepted the fact that the man probably knew more about his life, his ship, and its passengers than Joshua knew himself.
He moved to a side bar and poured two glasses of brandy, handing the older man a glass. “On this particular voyage both passengers have sailed with me previously and I can vouch for their safety, as well as my crew, whom I would trust with my life.”
“According to my reports, both passengers are upstanding citizens,” Nathan admitted. “Although the female appears to be a bit of a busybody.”
“An understatement if I ever heard one.” Joshua chuckled.
“Each member of your crew has passed inspection as well,” Nathan added.
“If one of them had failed the test I have a feeling that he wouldn’t be making the journey home.”
“Nothing nefarious,” Nathan replied, truthfully. “He would have simply been given passage on another sailing vessel.”
“It appears that you have no reservations concerning my passengers and crew, and you have my word that every possible precautionary measure will be taken to assure your daughter’s safe voyage. Are we in agreement then?”
Nathan drained his glass with a look of immense relief on his miserable features, then held out his hand to Joshua. “Thank you, Captain Jordan. I have been assured by your brethren in the seafaring world that your word is your bond.”
Joshua savored the taste of the amber liquid as it slid down his throat, then returned the glass to the brandy decanter for a refill. “I feel safe in saying that your daughter would have no greater need than a female traveling companion while onboard my ship.”
“A traveling companion!” Nathan Rhodes thundered, leaping from his chair to stand before Joshua like a man possessed with hidden demons. “Have you gone completely mad?” His hands on Joshua’s shoulders jerked as if he were trying to shake some sense into a simpleton. “It is their intention to abduct my daughter and hold her for ransom. For the love of God, man, they might even resort to murder if their kidnapping plot were to somehow go awry. A hell of a lot of good a traveling companion would do her.”
Joshua stood before the distressed man in stunned silence, brandy overflowing the glass and dripping to the floor before he thought to right the decanter.
Nathan Rhodes took slow, deep breaths in an apparent attempt to settle his fractured nerves. “Captain Jordan, please allow me to impress upon you the seriousness of this situation. My daughter must have a bodyguard, someone to protect her from any and all adversaries encountered along the way. Someone who will be by her side by day, and especially at night, when these brigands are most likely to strike.”
Joshua lit a cheroot and quietly observed his distraught visitor.
Nathan placed his empty glass on the desk and sighed heavily. “Understand that this is not a pleasure cruise, sir. If it were, I would build my daughter the most opulent and lavishly bedecked vessel to ever navigate the seas. I would see it equipped with every convenience and have every extravagance known, or even considered in the shipping industry, to take her to any destination her heart desires. Yet, the degenerates would expect her to travel in such a manner.”
Nathan closed his eyes and inhaled a ragged breath. “After much consideration and, as you have already alluded to, several discussions with Scotland Yard, we have decided that concealing her on a cargo vessel would be the safest and least conspicuous means to reach her destination.”
Joshua nodded his head in agreement. The idea had merit.
Nathan’s eyes swept Joshua’s muscular frame. “I put complete trust in you, Captain Jordan, to be the gentleman and protector that my daughter needs. Nonetheless, should she come to any harm, or should she not remain…chaste… while in your care…”
The tortured man was quiet for several minutes as he gazed out the window at the calm, sparkling water of the bay. His knuckles whitened under the pressure of his clenched fist as he whispered, “May the Good Lord take pity on your soul.”
Nathan’s meaning was all too fully understood as he turned and his eyes locked with Joshua’s. In a nutshell, should any harm come to his cherished daughter while under Joshua’s protection, the captain of the Windjammer would be signing his own death warrant. And Joshua knew beyond a shadow of a doubt that Nathan Rhodes, with the able assistance of some of the best detectives in Europe, and possibly a few assassins as well, would search heaven and hell to see the deed accomplished.
“Do we have a deal, Captain?” Nathan was apparently bringing the discussion to a close. “If you can agree to my terms, may I suggest preparations get underway to sail at your earliest convenience? I wish for my daughter to be out of this Godforsaken country on the next high tide.”
It had been some time since Joshua had bestowed upon his crew a hefty bonus for their years of faithful service. After but a moment of consideration, the decision was made to accept the man’s challenge and split half the bounty among his crew. “We have a deal.”
“Very well.” Nathan made to leave, but stopped abruptly and turned to face the man who would soon hold the life of his cherished daughter in his capable hands. “Before I go, there are a few things that I feel obligated to tell you about Lynna’s unique and decidedly unorthodox upbringing, Captain Jordan. If you are to understand my daughter, you must first understand her rather exceptional childhood.”
Nathan massaged his temples to ease a throbbing pain. “Due to the kidnapping attempts, she has lived a sheltered life of relative seclusion.
The man of great wealth found it a truly lamentable fact of the times that even his immense riches could not guarantee his daughter’s safety. “The consequences of this sequestered life are that Lynna knows very little of what goes on in the world around her. The Chateau was her world. A world filled with every available luxury and with every indulgence at her beck and call. Lynna was given everything, except friends, girls her own age with whom to share intimate secrets.”
Nathan raked a trembling hand through his thinning hair. “Unfortunately, her only acquaintances were the household staff, who were nearing retirement age when she was born. A few have passed on, but since the day Lynna was born the servants at the Chateau have doted on her.”
“Please,” Joshua said, intrigued by the man’s heartfelt story, “go on.”
“Then there was Gertrude, her maid, a geriatric native of New Orleans who planted all sorts of supernatural nonsense in my daughter’s head. She should have been fired years ago, yet, she was Lynna’s favorite so I kept her on.”
“And her schooling?” Joshua queried. Surely, the child was allowed to flee the elderly long enough to attend school with children her own age. “Did she go away to a private school?”
“Again, Captain Jordan, Lynna was not allowed to leave the Chateau. I was afraid that I might never see her again if she did.” Nathan shook his head as if for the very first time he might be regretting his decision to subject his child to a life of such complete isolation. “Her schooling came from two of my most trusted friends.”
“Let me guess.” Joshua raised an eyebrow at the wealthy man. “Old friends.”
“Yes.” Nathan hung his head. I could not risk allowing outsiders into our private world. We never knew who could be plotting against us.”
“In essence, your daughter was reared by, and for her entire life has only known, people considerably older than her.”
“Yes, and the few times that she left home, which was not often I must admit, she was always heavily chaperoned.”
“By old men,” Joshua added.
“Yes,” Nathan confessed, shaking his head as if to rid his mind of a painful memory. “Lynna’s life was never the same after her beloved mother was kidnapped on her third birthday. The bond between mother and child was… unbreakable. They were inseparable.” Even after all these years his eyes still clouded with pain. “I paid the ransom within hours after receiving it, to no avail. My wife’s… ravaged body washed ashore three days later.”
Joshua witnessed the pain and grief that momentarily flickered across Nathan’s face. The man had lost his wife to kidnappers and now his only child was being threatened with the same fate, and being forced to sail far from home and into a new and distant horizon. Joshua was now able to fully understand the father’s irrational fear for his daughter’s safety.
“I will tell you this, Captain Jordan. If you find my daughter lacking in worldly ways, and I am confident that you will, you must bear in mind that it was through no fault of her on. It was forced on her through necessity and my constant fear for her wellbeing.”
As Joshua watched Nathan Rhodes’ melancholy departure from his cabin, he was reminded of what his own mother had so often told him as a child.
Money makes life easier, Joshua, to be sure. But it cannot buy happiness.
As Nathan Rhodes left the ship to bring his daughter on board, Joshua went on deck to inform his crew of the bonus that each of them would receive after the safe delivery of their precious cargo. His mother’s words were true indeed. However, he had not a doubt in his mind that the thought of the extra coins at the end of this voyage would be the next best thing to happiness for his hardworking crew.