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Authors: Heather C. Myers

Corsets & Crossbones

BOOK: Corsets & Crossbones
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Heather C. Myers

 

 

ReneeRomance Books

All rights reserved. Except for brief excerpts for review purposes, no part of this book may be reproduced or used in any form without written permission from the publisher.

This story is a work of fiction. All characters and events are the product of the author’s imagination. Any resemblance to any person, living or dead, is coincidental.

© 2013 Heather C. Myers

Book Cover Design by
Renee Lewin

 

Dedication

 

For Joshua and Jacob

Pirates through and through

 

 

 

Acknowledgments

 

First and foremost, I want to thank my high school teachers who probably knew I wasn't copying notes during my senior year, and instead, was writing this swashbuckling tale.

 

Thank you to my family - especially my mom and my brother - for their support and encouragement.

 

Thank you to JD for the inspiration and passion, and the music that gripped my fingers and forced me to write.

 

Thank you to Renee, who loved the story as much as I did.  Who took a chance on me, and still does.

 

Thank you to my step-sons, Joshua and Jacob.  I know it's a strange, new life we live, but it's ours and it's beautiful.  I wouldn't trade it for the world.

 

Thank you to my readers, for their undying support.  Without you, there would be no work, no story.  I hope you enjoy this adventure!

 

Finally, thank you to my husband, Frank.  Somehow, someway, I was writing you.  It was always you.

 

Prologue

             
He stepped inside the large house, with two men dressed sharply in uniform, their faces unwavering and firm, following him.  He, on the other hand, was dressed in more comfortable clothing; a white tunic, navy blue breeches, and tan boots.  His commanding officer was not too pleased with his apparel, but given that he was one of the best captains around, the commanding officer seemed to make an exception for him.  The men trailing behind him were also displeasing to the man; it felt as though he and the men were trying to intimidate their customers.  If it was only himself going to meet and converse with the customers, he was sure they would feel much more comfortable, but that was an exception his commanding officer was not yet ready to make. 

The butler of the house led him and his two shadows into a waiting room, and then left them to make tea.  The two men sat down on the inviting couch, but he chose to remain standing, peering at the colorful paintings that hung on the wall.  His long fingers caressed his chin as he looked at the paintings, curiosity rampant in his dark brown eyes.  A small ship on a large, dark ocean during a lightning storm stared back at him.  Whenever he visited Master Cunningham, this particular painting always caught his eye.  The colors were dark, and yet they were vivid, and as the viewer, he could not help but hope that the ship managed to survive the storm and the wild sea.  As a sailor, he had experienced his share of storms, but this mere painting seemed to etch itself permanently in his mind.

“I like the rain,” a voice said from beside him.  He turned, only to see a young girl, no more than ten years old, standing next to him and peering at him with sea-green eyes.  With a fashionable dress on, he was led to assume that she was the daughter of Master Cunningham.  He watched her look back at the painting, and she tilted her head so she could look at it from a different angle.  “I like the sound of it right before I fall asleep.  It is like lullaby, and yet it comforts me more than my mother, singing me to sleep.”

“The rain does have a melodious sound to it, doesn’t it?” he asked, glancing down at her.  He was surprised at her subtle confession to him, and yet was fascinated by her level of thinking. 

“It does,” she agreed, her eyes looking intently at the painting.  “This is my favorite painting in the whole house.  Father asked if I wanted it placed in my room, but I told him I would rather have it here, so everyone may look upon it.”  She paused and looked up at him so that the two were locking eyes.  “You are here to see my father,” she stated, changing the subject.

“Yes I am,” he concurred, nodding.  “You are a smart little thing, aren’t you?”

“I am not little,” she said firmly, her eyes narrowing at him.  “What is your name?”

“Brooke Anne Cunningham!” a man exclaimed from the entrance, his blue eyes unwavering as they stared at his daughter.  “Is that you I hear speaking in a very unladylike manner to our guests?”  Her father had his hands balled into fists, resting firmly on his hips, and he was tilting forward, waiting for her response.  When she remained silent, he raised his brow.  “I do believe you owe him an apology, do you not?”

Brooke turned back to the man before her and opened her mouth to do her father’s bidding when the man cut her off.  “That’s all right, Master Cunningham,” he said in his low voice.  He turned back to look at the young girl.  “My name is Charlie Colt, Miss Cunningham.  It’s quite a pleasure to meet you; I’ve heard so much about you.”

Brooke was about to respond to Charlie’s introduction, but once again, she was interrupted, this time by her father.  “Come now, Charlie,” he said, waving the captain and his two men over to him.  “We have business to discuss, do we not?  Jarvis has tea waiting for us in the drawing room.”  With that, he left, Charlie’s men following him out the door.

Charlie turned back to the young Brooke Cunningham, her stare never wavering from him.  “It was a pleasure to meet you,” he said with a smile.

She nodded and turned her attention back to the painting that had sparked their initial conversation.  She could hear him leave the waiting room, but did not turn to watch him do so.  As always when she looked at the painting, she was lost in the royal blue waves of the rolling sea, wishing that, even though danger was imminent for the small ship, she was aboard, feeling the rain fall heavily onto her comfortable clothing, her hair messy and unkempt, the thunder deafening her, the lightning blinding her, the adventure giving her the thrill of the life that she was currently sheltered from.

Charlie followed Master Cunningham down a long hallway and into his drawing room that was tucked safely away so that no prying ears would overhear any conversation that might take place.  As promised, Jarvis had tea waiting for Master Cunningham, Charlie, and his men.  Charlie took his seat, his heavily coal-rimmed eyes scanning the room.  Curtains hung over a large window causing shadows to cascade throughout the space.  On the wall in front of him, there was a large, gaudy painting of a woman in the richest jewels, the boldest colors, the most fashionable clothing.  It was such a contrast from the small, simple ship fighting against the storm.  The woman in the painting was somehow related to the Cunningham family, but she was definitely not part of the immediate family or else Charlie would have known who she was.

She’s too young to be his wife, Charlie thought to himself. 
Although who am I to judge if she is?
  He smirked to himself, his two gold teeth twinkling in the limited light.

Master Cunningham took his seat at the head of the table while Charlie’s men sat across from their captain.  Charlie looked at him, and realized that in the seven years he was doing business with Master Cunningham, he had never seen the older man look so aged.  His clear blue eyes were scanning a piece of parchment, his dark hair transforming into grey.  His cheeks had sunken in, and his neck wrinkled.  He hunched over very slightly, as though he were shrinking from his normally strong stature.  Charlie frowned at the sight, shaking his head.  The man was fifty-seven years old, an old father.  He knew his time was coming, and wanted to make sure everything was set and secure for his family’s future.

“I am sorry for my daughter’s blunt remarks and lack of etiquette,” Master Cunningham said, looking at Charlie.  If Master Cunningham looked old, he sounded quite young, his voice still strong.

“I quite enjoyed her bluntness,” Charlie replied in his low English drawl.  “You have a very intelligent daughter, if I may say so.”

“You may,” Master Cunningham said, exasperation tainting his tone, rolling his eyes at Charlie’s statement.  “Although you alone think that.  I just hope I can find a respectable suitor for her so that she may be set in a marriage by the time she is eighteen.”

“I’m sure that will not be a problem,” Charlie said, leaning back into his comfortable chair.  “Although, eighteen does seem very young…”

“Once again, you alone think that,” Master Cunningham, shaking his head in a disapproving manner.  “Eighteen is a goal, but with her attitude, a more realistic one may be twenty years of age.”  He paused, sighing, and then changed the subject.  “Anyways, we do have business to discuss, do we not?”  The older man’s face lighted at the topic change.  “Now, how many pounds of rice would you like this time?  I do not have too much during this time of year, you know.”  The older man leaned back in his chair, his hands hanging limply from the cushioned armrests, and yet his face was firm.

Charlie studied the man before him, and let out a long, low chuckle.  He grabbed two sugar cubes from the center of the table and plopped them into his hot cup of tea.  A few droplets of tea sprang up from the liquid and quickly fell back down on the saucer underneath Charlie’s cup, narrowly missing the fine tablecloth. 

“Let’s be honest here, Master Cunningham,” Charlie said, grabbing a teaspoon and stirring his tea.  “We are all intelligible business men here, are we not?”  He picked up his tea cup with one hand, and held up a finger with the other, and then proceeded to take a long gulp of his tea.  After he was finished, he placed the cup down and interlocked his long fingers, leaning forward, toward Master Cunningham.  “You are the only rice farmer on Port Royal, and the East India Company intelligibly recruited you to be one of its only rice farmers.  Every six months or so, they send a representative to collect the rice that you so intelligibly farm.  For what they are paying you for a mere pound of rice, it would be quite unintelligible for me to believe that you do not have too much, as you say.  And, if this statement is indeed fact, then it would be more intelligible for me to take my business elsewhere.”  He paused, his dark eyes narrowing at the man before him.  “So,” he concluded, leaning back into his chair, his eyes never wavering from Master Cunningham, “what say you?”

Master Cunningham’s mouth dropped open in complete and utter surprise.  “Why, you… have you no… I have never…” he stuttered, not able to complete a sentence.

Charlie rolled his eyes, and stood up, his men following suit.  “Your current offer is about to leave the table, and then will drop dramatically,” Charlie warned.  “Either you are with the Company, or you’re not.”

Master Cunningham closed his mouth, and stared intently at his untouched cup of tea, unable to look at the younger man before him.  “I will have three hundred pounds delivered to your ship by dusk,” he said, all the confidence he once had diminished.

“Very intelligible decision, mate,” Charlie said, and then turned toward his two men.  “Men, go and fetch Master Cunningham’s payment.  Pleasure doing business with you.” He smirked, sticking out his hand. 

Master Cunningham did not notice Charlie’s extended hand, and if he did, he did not take it.  Charlie let it fall back to his side, and then turned on the heel of his worn leather boot, leaving without another word.  He left Master Cunningham still staring at the table.

--

Once on board of his ship, Charlie grinned to himself.  He always prided himself in the art of persuasion.  His talent with words took him off the island of Port Royal, to sailing the seven seas, just as he had always dreamed of.  Lord David Sutherland had recruited the young lad himself, when Charlie was merely eighteen, and now, seven years later, he was captain of his beautiful ship, the Midnight Sea, the only woman he truly loved, and the commission he received whenever he used his talent to acquire business was always large.  He loved his life, he loved his ship, and he loved the sea.  Those three things were all that was important to him, and that was what he was living for. 
And women?  Women were good for only one thing, and it was not marriage.  He was too wild to be tamed, and was adamant about not being tied down.  While he exuded charm, he was quite good at resisting female wiles.  A tumble in the hay to quench his hunger, and before dawn, he was off to the next island, the next port, the next town.  He had no desire to fall in love.  As long as he remained captain of his ship, he did not need anything else.

One of his men followed Charlie as he made his way to the helm.  His golden brown hair was pulled into a small ponytail, and his blue eyes shone with adoration.  “Gods, Charlie, every time!” the young man exclaimed, smiling brilliantly.  “Three hundred pounds of rice is fifty more than usual!  You are a sneaky bloke!  I almost thought he wasn’t going to go through with it after your little speech about intelligence.”

“You don’t know me at all, mate,” Charlie said, looking at the younger man in front of him. 

The man smiled.  “I think I know you quite well,” he replied in his thick English accent.  “What I don’t know is how you manage to persuade anyone you meet into doing anything you want whether it is whores, bar wenches, customers, and even Lord Sutherland himself.”

“Heath, my dear boy, in time, you will learn the art of persuasion,” Charlie said with a grin, his long fingers wrapping around the wheel in a caressing manner.  “Stick with me, mate, and I’ll take you places.”

“Where to, then?”
Heath asked, cocking his head to the side so his view of his captain changed a bit.  “After we leave this island, where are we off to?”

“Just to England,” Charlie said, nonchalant.
  “Lord Sutherland wishes to speak with me… or to me, depending on his mood.”

“How long do you think it will take to get there?” the young man asked, turning so his gaze shifted to the horizon, trying to make out any form of land that he could.

“A month, maybe,” Charlie replied, shrugging.  “Not long.  And then, after finishing up there, the world is ours to explore.”

“Are you leaving the Company, Captain?” Heath asked, looking back at Charlie, who was staring intently at his helm.

Charlie shrugged after a moment, his gaze shifting back to the young man so that now the two were looking at each other.  “Just taking a scheduled vacation,” he said, his dark, twinkling eyes making his statement even more mysterious than it already was.

--

“Well, Captain Colt,” a tall, older man said, looking out his wall-sized window, out across to the sea.  He was dressed in rich crimson, his hands tucked curtly behind his back.  His posture was regal, but he was speaking to the sea and not to his guest.  “You have yet to fail me.”

This particular room always intimidated Charlie, and when the fire cackled from the fireplace, he jumped slightly.  “Well,” he said, turning his head and staring at the fire accusingly.  An oddly shaped fire poker leaned in the ashes, the bright flames engulfing the end of it.  Charlie’s brow rose and he turned so he was facing Lord Sutherland’s back once again.  “You did hire me for a reason.”

BOOK: Corsets & Crossbones
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