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       The Daredevil Snared (The Adventurers Quartet Book 3), p.1

           Stephanie Laurens
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The Daredevil Snared (The Adventurers Quartet Book 3)


  INTERIOR ARTWORK

  IS LOCATED

  BETWEEN CHAPTER 12 AND CHAPTER 13

  and also can be accessed via the TABLE OF CONTENTS

  THE DAREDEVIL SNARED

  The Adventurers Quartet: Volume 3

  Stephanie Laurens

  www.harlequinbooks.com.au

  Responsibility knocks, and a reckless, hedonistic man responds and opens the door to love—thus is a daredevil snared.

  #1 New York Times bestselling author Stephanie Laurens brings you the third installment in THE ADVENTURERS QUARTET, continuing the drama of Regency-era high seas adventure, laced with a mystery shrouded in the heat of tropical jungles, and spiced with the passionate romances of four couples and their unexpected journeys into love.

  Captain Caleb Frobisher, hedonistic youngest son of a seafaring dynasty, wants to be taken seriously by his family, and understands he has to prove himself sufficiently reformed. When opportunity strikes, he seizes the next leg of the covert mission his brothers have been pursuing and sails to Freetown. His actions are decisive, and he completes the mission’s next stage—but responsibility, once exercised, has taken root, and he remains in the jungle to guard the captives whose rescue is the mission’s ultimate goal.

  Katherine Fortescue has fled the life of poverty her wastrel father had bequeathed her and come to Freetown as a governess, only to be kidnapped and put to work overseeing a child workforce at a mine. She and the other captured adults understand that their lives are limited by the life of the mine. Guarded by well-armed and well-trained mercenaries, the captives have been searching for some means of escape, but in vain. Then Katherine meets a handsome man—a captain—in the jungle, and he and his crew bring the sweet promise of rescue.

  The sadistic mercenary captain who runs the mine has other ideas, but Caleb’s true strength lies in extracting advantage from adversity, and through the clashes that follow, he matures into the leader of men he was always destined to be. The sort of man Katherine can trust—with her body, with her life. With her love.

  The first voyage is one of exploration, the second one of discovery. The third journey brings maturity, while the fourth is a voyage of second chances. Continue the journey and follow the adventure, the mystery, and the romances to the dramatic end.

  Praise for the works of Stephanie Laurens

  “Stephanie Laurens’ heroines are marvelous tributes to Georgette Heyer: feisty and strong.” Cathy Kelly

  “Stephanie Laurens never fails to entertain and charm her readers with vibrant plots, snappy dialogue, and unforgettable characters.” Historical Romance Reviews

  “Stephanie Laurens plays into readers’ fantasies like a master and claims their hearts time and again.” Romantic Times Magazine

  THE DAREDEVIL SNARED

  Stephanie Laurens

  CAST OF CHARACTERS

  Principal Characters:

  Frobisher, Caleb – Hero, youngest Frobisher brother and captain of The Prince

  Fortescue, Katherine (Kate) – Heroine, missing governess from the Sherbrook household in Freetown

  In London:

  Family:

  Frobisher, Declan – Caleb’s older brother

  Frobisher, Lady Edwina – Caleb’s sister-in-law, Declan’s wife

  Frobisher, Robert – Caleb’s older brother

  Hopkins, Aileen – Robert’s intended, Lt. William Hopkins’s sister

  Staff in Declan & Edwina’s townhouse:

  Humphrey – butler

  Government:

  Wolverstone, Duke of, Royce, aka Dalziel – ex-commander of British secret operatives outside England

  In Aberdeen:

  Frobisher, Fergus – Caleb’s father

  Frobisher, Elaine – Caleb’s mother

  Frobisher, Royd – Caleb’s oldest brother

  In Southampton:

  Higginson – head clerk, Frobisher Shipping Company Office

  In Freetown:

  Holbrook, Governor – Governor-in-Chief of British West Africa

  Eldridge, Major – Commander, Fort Thornton

  Decker, Vice-Admiral – Commander, West Africa Squadron

  Winton, Major – Commissar of Fort Thornton

  Babington, Charles – partner, Macauley & Babington Trading Company

  Macauley, Mr. – senior partner, Macauley & Babington Trading Company

  Undoto, Obo – local priest

  Muldoon – the Naval Attaché

  Winton – nephew of Major Winton, Assistant Commissar at the fort

  At Kale’s Homestead:

  Kale – slavers’ leader

  Rogers – Kale’s lieutenant in the settlement

  Fifteen other slavers, including “the pied piper”

  In the Mining Compound:

  Mercenaries:

  Dubois – leader of the mercenaries, presumed French

  Arsene – Dubois’s lieutenant, second-in-command, presumed French

  Cripps – Dubois’s second lieutenant, English

  Plus twenty-eight other mercenaries – of various ages and extractions

  Captives:

  Dixon, Captain John – army engineer

  Hopkins, Lieutenant William – navy, West Africa Squadron

  Fanshawe, Lieutenant – navy, West Africa Squadron

  Hillsythe – ex-Wolverstone agent, governor’s aide

  Frazier, Harriet – gently bred young woman, Dixon’s sweetheart

  Wilson, Mary – shop owner-assistant, Babington’s sweetheart

  Mackenzie, Ellen – young woman recently arrived in the settlement

  Halliday, Gemma – young woman from the slums

  Mellows, Annie – young woman from the slums

  Mathers, Jed – carpenter

  Plus eighteen other men – all British of various backgrounds and trades

  Diccon – young boy, seven years old

  Amy – young girl, six years old

  Gerry – boy, ten years old

  Plus sixteen other children – all British, ranging from six to ten years old

  Plus five other children – all British, ranging from eleven to fourteen years old

  On board The Prince:

  Fitzpatrick, Lieutenant Frederick – First Mate

  Wallace, Mr. – Master

  Carter – Bosun, goes into the jungle but returns to the ship

  Quilley – Quartermaster, goes into the jungle and remains with Caleb

  Hornby, Mr. – Steward, goes into the jungle but returns to the ship

  Johnson – midshipman, goes into the jungle but returns to the ship

  Foster, Martin, Ellis, Quick, Mallard, Collins, Biggs, Norton, and Olsen – midshipmen and experienced seamen who go into the jungle and remain with Caleb.

  On board The Raven:

  Lascelle, Phillipe – Captain, privateer, longtime friend of Caleb’s

  Reynaud – Bosun, goes into the jungle but returns to the ship

  Ducasse – Quartermaster, goes into the jungle and remains with Phillipe

  Fullard, Collmer, Gerard, Vineron – midshipmen and experienced seamen who go into the jungle and remain with Phillipe

  Plus four other seamen – all of French extraction, who go into the jungle but return to the ship

  CHAPTER 1

  July 14,
1824

  Jungle east of Freetown, West Africa

  Caleb Frobisher moved steadily forward through the jungle shadows. His company of twenty-four men followed in single file. No one spoke; the silence was eerie, stretching nerves taut. Beneath the thick canopy, the humidity was so high that forging ahead felt like walking underwater, as if the heavy atmosphere literally weighed on their limbs.

  “Hell’s bells,” Phillipe Lascelle, at Caleb’s heels, breathed. “Surely it can’t be much farther.”

  “It’s only midmorning,” Caleb murmured back. “You can’t be wilting already.”

  Phillipe snorted.

  Caleb continued along the path that was little more than an animal track; they had to constantly duck and weave under and around palm fronds and low branches festooned with clinging vines.

  Somewhere ahead lay the slavers’ camp they’d come to find—or so Caleb fervently hoped. Despite his determination to unwaveringly abide by the rule book throughout this mission, thus proving to all and sundry, and his family especially, that he could be trusted with such serious endeavors, sometimes instinct—albeit masquerading as reckless impulse—proved too strong to resist. His brother Robert’s hand-drawn map described the location of the slavers’ camp—Kale’s Homestead—when approached from the west. However, Caleb had studied the camp’s position and decided to come in from the north. From all he’d gleaned from Robert’s notes, the slavers would be alert to any incursion from the west; they would almost certainly have lookouts posted, making west not the wisest direction from which to approach if one’s intention was to seize the camp.

  Which was, rather plainly, their purpose; why else would twenty-five strong men all armed to the gills be trooping through such a godforsaken place?

  Three nights before, Caleb, in his ship, The Prince, closely followed by his old comrade-in-adventure, Phillipe, in his ship, The Raven, had slipped into the estuary on the night tide. They’d kept to the north shore, well away from the shipping lanes leading into Freetown harbor, and sailed deeper down the estuary and into Tagrin Bay, reducing the risk of detection by any naval vessels going into and out of the harbor; according to Robert’s information, the West Africa Squadron should now be in port, and Caleb would prefer to avoid having to explain himself to Vice-Admiral Decker.

  They’d anchored off the southern shore of the bay at a spot Caleb judged was due north of Kale’s Homestead. According to Robert’s map, miles of jungle lay between the slavers’ camp and the ships’ positions; Caleb hadn’t known how passable that jungle would be, but his confidence had been bolstered by the intelligence they’d gained from natives living in a village nearby. Phillipe had a way with languages—another excellent reason for inviting him along—and he’d quickly established a rapport with the village elders. The villagers had known of the slavers’ camp, but, unsurprisingly, avoided it with a near-religious fervor. Sadly, they’d known nothing about any mine or similar enterprise anywhere in the vicinity, but they’d been happy to point out a narrow track that, so they’d insisted, led more or less directly to the slavers’ camp.

  Unfortunately, the villagers hadn’t known the name of the slavers’ leader. Caleb clung to the hope that he and his men weren’t going to find themselves at some other slavers’ camp entirely—and trudged on. They’d set out on the previous morning, leaving skeleton crews on their ships and taking the strongest and most experienced of their men. Seizing a slavers’ camp would be no easy task, especially if there were any captives currently in the slavers’ clutches.

  Turning that prospect over in his mind—wondering what he might do if it proved to be so—Caleb led the way on.

  He almost didn’t trust his eyes when, through the dense curtain of trees, palms, and vines, he glimpsed a pale glow—indicating a clearing where daylight flooded in, banishing the jungle’s pervasive gloom.

  Then their narrow track ended, opening onto a wider, better-maintained path, one clearly frequently used.

  Caleb stopped and held up a hand; the men following halted and froze. He sent his senses questing. A rumble of male voices was faint but discernible.

  Phillipe leaned close and whispered, “We’re twenty to twenty-five yards from the perimeter.”

  Caleb nodded. “This wider path must be the one between the camp and the mine.”

  Rapidly, he canvassed his options. Although Phillipe was the more experienced commander, he waited, silently deferring to Caleb—this was Caleb’s show. Another reason Caleb liked working with the man. Eventually, he murmured, “Pass the word—we’ll creep nearer, keeping to the jungle, and see what we can see. No reason to let them know we’re here.”

  Phillipe turned to pass the order back down the line. Of their party of twenty-five, thirteen were from Caleb’s crew and ten from The Raven’s. Because of Caleb and Phillipe’s previous joint ventures, their men had worked together before; Caleb didn’t need to fear that they wouldn’t operate as a cohesive unit in what was to come.

  After one last searching look around, he ventured onto the wider path, placing his feet with care. He followed the well-trodden trail, but halted just before a curve that, by his reckoning, would expose him to those in the clearing. Instead, he slipped silently sideways to his right, into the cover of the jungle. Quietly, he skirted the edge of the clearing, continuing to move slowly and with care, shifting from north to west. Eventually, he reached the western aspect; on spotting a clump of large-leafed palms closer to the clearing’s perimeter, he crouched and crept into the concealment the palms offered. A swift glance behind showed Phillipe following him, while the rest of their men hunkered down, strung out in the shadows, their gazes trained on the activity in the camp.

  Caleb returned his attention to the clearing and settled to study Kale’s Homestead. He recognized the layout from Robert’s notes—the horseshoe-shaped central space with a large barrack-like hut across the head and four smaller huts, two on each side. Caleb and his men were at the open end of the horseshoe, virtually directly opposite the main barracks. According to Robert’s diagram, that meant the path from Freetown should be somewhere to their right; Caleb searched and spotted the opening. The path he and his men had briefly followed entered the clearing to the left of the main barracks, while another path—one Robert had deemed unused—straggled away into the jungle from the right of that building.

  Having established that reality matched the picture of the camp he’d carried in his mind, Caleb focused on the people moving in and out of the huts and sitting about the central fire pit.

  Phillipe settled alongside him, and they tuned their ears to the low-voiced, desultory chatter.

  After a while, Phillipe leaned closer and whispered, “That large one—he acts like the leader, but from Robert’s description, he can’t be Kale.”

  Caleb focused on the slaver in question—a heavyset man, tall, and with a swaggering gait. “I think,” Caleb murmured back, “that he must be the man who leads Kale’s men in the settlement.” After a moment, he mused, “Interesting that he’s here.”

  “Useful that he’s here,” Phillipe corrected. “If we eradicate all here, chances are Kale’s operation won’t simply rise again under some other leader.”

  Caleb nodded. “True.” He scanned the area and the huts. “It doesn’t look like they have any captives—the doors of the smaller huts are open, and I haven’t seen any hint there’s anyone inside.”

  “I haven’t, either.”

  Caleb grimaced. “Kale’s not out there. Is he here, but in the barracks, and if so, how many men are in there with him?”

  Phillipe’s shoulders lifted in a Gallic shrug.

  Just then, one of the men hovering about the large pot slung over the fire pit raised his head, looked toward the barracks, and yelled, “Stew’s ready!”

  Seconds later, the barracks’ door opened. Caleb grinned as a slaver of medium height and wir
y build, with a disfiguring scar marring his features—from Robert’s description, the man had to be Kale—emerged, followed by three more men.

  “How helpful,” Phillipe murmured.

  Another man emerged from the path to Freetown. Caleb nudged Phillipe and nodded at the newcomer. “They did have a lookout on that path.”

  Phillipe studied the man as he joined his fellows. “It doesn’t look as if they’re seriously concerned over unexpected company—odds are there was only the one lookout.”

  “That’s the way I read it, too.”

  “All told, that makes thirteen.”

  His eyes on the scene unfolding about the fire pit, Caleb merely nodded. Phillipe settled again, and they watched as Kale, handed a tin plate piled with stew by one of his henchmen, sat on a log and started eating. His men followed suit, sitting on the logs arranged in a rough circle around the fire.

  They’d barely taken their first mouthfuls when the muted tramp of feet had everyone—Kale and his men, as well as Caleb, Phillipe, and their company—looking toward the path from the north. The path Caleb believed led to the mine—the same path they’d briefly been on fifteen or so minutes before.

  Four men—slavers by their dress and Kale’s men by their composure—appeared. They hailed Kale and exchanged greetings with others in the group.

  “So you got our recent guests settled, then?” Kale’s words came in a distinctive, gravelly rasp, further confirming his identity.

  The man who’d led the group grinned. “Aye—and Dubois sent his thanks. That said, he made a very large point about needing more men. Emphasizing men. He says he wants at least fifteen more.”

  Kale swore colorfully. “I’d be thrilled to give him more if only those blighters in the settlement would just let us do what we do best.” He grunted, then shook his head and returned his attention to his plate. “Sadly, they’re the ones who pay the piper, and they pay his highness Dubois, too, so he’ll just have to make do with those we can give him.” Kale waved the newcomers to the pot. “Sit and eat. You’ve earned it.”

 

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