Lieutenant Conrad Herriot and Seaman Tom Cotton have been master and servant for over a decade, and friends for almost as long. When Tom is injured during a skirmish, Conrad forgets himself and rushes to Tom’s side, arousing suspicion about the true nature of their relationship.All Tom wants is the chance to consummate their love and embark on a new life together, outside the law that condemns them. Yet he fears Conrad won’t risk his career and his honor to become Tom’s lover.
Conrad believes his lust for Tom will damn his soul. There’s also their difference in class—a gentleman doesn’t socialize with a common tar. As Conrad struggles to refute the gossip on the ship, he must decide whether to commit the crime the crew’s already convicted them of, or part from Tom for good to save both their necks…
A new Age of Sail novella from Alex Beecroft, with ships, seduction, soul-searching, a highwayman, a hanging, and pirates.
The instinct of hand-to-hand combat, honed over ten years at sea, suggested that Conrad should seize and pull that outstretched hand. The man would drop the musket and he could pick it up, be armed against them both.
Instead he wiped some of the rain from his hair and put his hat back on. “I’m not a fool, despite the measures I am forced to by desperation. The money is in my bank. You will have five hundred pounds if you but turn up at the hanging and cause an affray. The other five hundred I will send by packet ship to Bermuda, and you may have it there when I and my friend arrive safely. By that time I hope we will have proved to you that we are useful crew members and, having overcome your natural desire to slit our throats and throw us overboard, we may continue as shipmates.”
“Thought of everything, have you?” One-Arm’s eyes did not soften—they were flat and grey as sharks’ eyes, incapable of compassion—but the rest of his face smiled, as if amused.
“I hope so, yes. Thinking things through is a speciality of mine. For example, I should mention that once I have performed the rescue, you need have no fear of my going to the authorities with your names. By that time I’ll be as wanted as you are.”
“You don’t have our names to tell.” One-Arm pushed him in the centre of the chest with his own sword, cutting his new coat. The blade pricked cold over his breastbone but did not break the skin. He took that as a hopeful sign.
“No, but I can have, given half a day’s gossiping in the taverns of Plymouth.”
“And so we had best kill you now.”
They came to the point, at last, and Conrad’s calm held as it would have held in battle—a calm with something fey behind it, even joyous. “Yes,” he said, holding that fishlike gaze. “Kill me for the trinkets in my pockets or help me for a thousand pounds. Your choice.”
He had been pushed back until there was nowhere left to retreat or recoil. He was as dangerous as a bear at bay before its den, and perhaps it showed, for One-Arm gave a falsely jovial smile and grasped him by the wrist.
“Not my choice at all, my lad. But I’ll take you to the captain. You can put your proposition to him. I dare say he will be in a good mood. ’Tis his wedding day, after all.”
The windows of the inn were running, inside, with condensation as heavy as the rain. With the heavy doors closed behind him, damp smoking from his shoulders before the establishment’s parlour fire, Conrad waited under Eyebrow’s gaze while One-Arm invaded the snug. Sounds of drunken singing, out of tune, and a woman’s voice, raised scolding shrill, escaped the inner door as he returned with a tall young buck in tow.
Fresh-faced, a little younger than Conrad, with his best suit on and his hair powdered white, the newcomer didn’t look like a ferocious villain. But his blue gaze was full of intelligence, lancet sharp. “Now, sir, why do you think you can interrupt my wedding with your petty troubles? Or offer me—me!—so small a bribe?”
The inner doors trembled and swung open. A deep fug of tobacco smoke and kipper-smell and wet wool billowed through the gap, followed by a figure that struck Conrad dumb. Cascading black ringlets loose on her narrow shoulders, her breasts and hips all the more noticeable for being crammed into a naval midshipman’s uniform—the blood of its original owner not fully washed from its collar—she set herself foursquare in front of the captain, hands on hips, and harangued him.
“Eric Cobham, I was promised a proper wedding, with a proper wedding breakfast after. And now there ain’t no music, and none of them can sing better’n a scalded cat, and where’s my dancing I was promised? You said—”
Cobham’s face was a picture of contrition. “I’m sorry, my love. The fiddler got away. Jumped overboard when we sighted Plymouth. I thought you knew.”
“Course I knew. I just bleeding well thought you’d do something about it!”
Conrad could have laughed for relief. Instead, he cleared his throat, loud. “Excuse me, ma’am? I play the violin. Would that help?”
“You’re fucking hired,” she said. “Eric, see to it.”
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Text Copyright © 2011 by Alex Beecroft
Cover Art Copyright © 2011 by Harlequin Enterprises Limited
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