Authors: Danelle Harmon
Tags: #Romance, #Historical, #Regency, #Historical Romance
THE WAYWARD ONE
Irish Captain Ruaidri O’ Devir has no love for the English. Taken from his family and pressed into the Royal Navy at a young age, he is now a commander for the fledgling American Continental Navy, hand-picked by John Adams himself to steal a potent new explosive from the British. Ruaidri expects to be successful in his mission. What he doesn't expect is to fall in love with the sister of the man he's crossed an ocean to abduct...
Beautiful Lady Nerissa de Montforte is the youngest sibling in a powerful and aristocratic English family. Fiercely guarded by her overprotective brothers, she pines for love after a longtime betrothal was cruelly cut short. When she accompanies her brother to a demonstration of his new explosive, she never dreams that her wildest longings to find love and freedom are about to be fulfilled ... by a man who is wrong for her in every single way except the one that matters most...
The Wayward One
(Book 5 of the De Montfortes)
Copyright © 2016 by Danelle Harmon
Edited by Christine Zikas
Cover design by Dar Albert
Digital formatting by Author E.M.S.
Danelle Harmon, Inc.
This e-book is licensed for your personal enjoyment only.
This e-book may not be resold or given away to other people or uploaded to any websites.
If you would like to share this book with another person, please purchase an additional copy for each recipient. If you’re reading this book and did not purchase it, or it was not purchased for your use only, then please purchase your own copy. Thank you for respecting the hard work of this author.
Discover other titles by
August, 1779—somewhere off the coast of New Hampshire
“Make some eight sail off to the westward, sir, bearing east nor’east.”
Lieutenant John Morgan of the American Continental Navy brig
tried to contain his nerves as his captain, hastily summoned from his cabin, joined him at the larboard rail.
“Well, now. ’Tisn’t exactly a fine sight this evenin’, is it, Mr. Morgan?”
“No, sir.” He offered the telescope to his commander. “They’re British.”
It was summer, but this far out to sea and this late in the day, the wind had a bite to it. Tucking the glass between elbow and hip, the captain pushed the last two buttons of his fine white waistcoat through their embroidered gold slits. The methodical nature of the action was deliberate, Morgan knew. Meant to show he was not overly concerned about what could be a very real and dangerous threat, meant to instill confidence in a fifty-man crew that had yet to know if this commander, so new to them all, was deserving of their trust, their obedience, their as-yet untested faith in him.
Morgan caught the questioning glance of the sailing master. He looked away and clasped his hands behind his back.
Beside him, the captain finally raised the glass to his eye. Long ocean swells broke in hissing spray against the brig’s quarter, becoming airborne and spattering his fine white waistcoat. He was an enigma, this man. Unruly black hair pulled back from a hard, angular face and queued beneath his tricorne. A mouth that seldom smiled. His eyes, long-lashed, deceptively roguish and concealing a temper that Morgan had found to be razor-sharp, squinted against the setting sun.
“Probably Admiral Collier’s squadron, headin’ to Penobscot,” the captain observed, the heavy glass steady in his hand. “Bastards.”
“The American fleet is in Penobscot. They’ll be sitting ducks up there if we don’t warn them.”
“Warnin’ them is neither our mission nor part of our orders, Mr. Morgan.”
Young Midshipman Andrew Cranton stood nearby, nervously biting his lip. Morgan knew what he was thinking, what they were all thinking: A new ship, a crew who’d only had a week to get to know each other, a mission that none of them knew much about and understood even less, and a captain whose leadership was unproven, whose loathing for the British and reputation as Boston’s hero back in ’75 were the only real things any of them had to hang their hats on. And now this. A line of enemy ships between themselves and the safety of the distant coastline, any number of which could, should they be inclined, take advantage of the weather gauge and swoop down on them like a sledgehammer on a trunnel.
All eyes on deck, in the rigging, and high in the tops were on the captain.
“The wind, Mr. Tackett?”
“Veering a bit, sir,” said the sailing master.
The captain was still studying the distant squadron, its sails orange in the fading evening light as it continued on a northeasterly course parallel to their own. No one said a word, and only the sea dared to speak as it pushed against the brig’s quarter as though trying to hurry her along.
And now, movement. Signal flags rising and breaking to the wind aboard the admiral’s flagship. A frigate bringing up the squadron’s rear sending up a signal flag of her own. Moments later, she was turning her prow toward them.
“They’ve seen us, Captain.”
A rumble of nervous excitement pulsed through the men assembling at the rail.
The captain, still peering intently through the glass, motioned for the young midshipman with an impatient wag of his forefinger. “Light the stern lantern, Mr. Cranton. I want those shite-stains to continue to see us.”
“Uh…yes, sir.” The youngster, only fifteen years old, hurried off to do his bidding, wondering, as did they all, if the captain had a death wish.
the enemy to see them?
“Fancy a brawl, Mr. Morgan?”
“A brawl maybe, sir. But not annihilation.”
“Of like mind, we are.” He lowered the glass and shut it with a decisive snap. “However, we’ve somewhere to be. No time for brawlin’.”
“Might have to make time, sir. They’ll be on us by nightfall.”
“Not if I have anythin’ to say about it.” He handed the glass back to Monroe, wiped salt spray from a cheek that was dark with stubble and leaned against a nearby gun, crossing his arms as he studied the frigate with the naked eye. There was a gleam in that eye, a hard smile around the mouth, a certain hunger for both trouble and action—like that of a tavern brawler spoiling for a fight. O’ Devir was Irish, and tall and imposing in both physique and temper. Personable, when he wasn’t staring moodily off over the sea, his eyes veiling some private and indescribable pain that nobody actually gave voice to but everyone whispered about.
They say he never used to be like this…that something changed him.
That he’s done bad things.
So the man had his demons, Morgan figured, as every man did—but right now his confidence was reassuring because the wind was in the frigate’s favor and that frigate was a hell of a lot bigger, faster, and stronger than they were—and manned by sailors from the most powerful Navy in the world.
“She’s setting her royals, sir. Might get that brawl after all.”
“She’ll have to catch us, first. ’Tis blowin’ too hard to fly the stuns’ls, but we’ve got a fast keel under us and a good crew. Get the t’gallants on her and let her fall off a few points until we’ve got the wind right up our arse. That English scrote out there may catch us yet, but we’ll lead her a merry chase all the same.”
“Aye, sir.” Morgan turned to bellow orders through his speaking trumpet. Men ran to the braces and scrambled up the shrouds. At the tiller, Tackett put the helm up until
turned nimbly on her heel and the wind, dead astern now, swelled her sails. Beneath them, the motion of the sea quieted as the brig ran before both wind and wave, and the sound of the water became a rolling, desperate hush.
Above, topmen moved out along the yards. Moments later, great clouds of canvas spilled down with a noise like thunder and were sheeted home; beneath their feet, the brig seemed to dig into the cold Atlantic as she found more speed.
But not enough.
“Frigate’s gaining, sir,” Morgan said ominously.
Far off behind her and to the west, the great squadron from which the enemy ship had detached herself was hull down on the horizon and a few lights, winking like fireflies in the distance, appeared as lanterns were hung in the rigging of the individual ships against the incoming night.
Astern, the British frigate was steadily growing larger.
Large enough to see the bone in her teeth, curling back from her stem, seemingly growing larger by the moment.
The first metallic taste of fear burned on Morgan’s tongue. His stomach, never dependable, always nervous, gave an uncertain quiver and he quietly reached into his pocket for a piece of the dried ginger that he always kept on his person. He welcomed its sharp bite, chewing it clandestinely and not wanting to call attention to himself. O’ Devir hadn’t moved. O’ Devir, a fellow he hardly knew, a man who had a coiled, savage edge about him that even the smart new uniform could neither soften nor disguise. Morgan swallowed, feeling the ginger slide down his throat and relief coming with it. You could put a ribbon around the neck of a wounded wolf but it was still a wounded wolf no matter how pretty the ribbon happened to be.
He looked again at the oncoming frigate, her lights growing brighter as darkness descended.
And it was never wise to corner a wounded wolf.
A fast ship. A good crew. The Continental Navy’s main champion, John Adams, had selected
ship—newly launched, still smelling of varnish and tar—for this mission, one that called for raw courage and utmost secrecy, one which might well be the most dangerous—and important—one of the war. A mission that meant they had to get to England at all costs, where the risks would become even greater, the dangers even more pronounced, once they found themselves under the noses of the Admiralty and the reach of the mighty Duke of Blackheath. They could not afford to be delayed. They could not afford to engage a British frigate, and they certainly could not afford to be captured or sunk by her or anyone else. There was no time to lose.
Adams was depending on them.
The sun had sunk below the horizon. The ocean had gone from blue to indigo and now, as the light faded by the moment, was turning to pewter. The air grew colder and the captain plucked his blue undress coat from the quarterdeck railing where, during the earlier heat of the day, he’d tossed it. He shrugged into it, pulling his shirt cuffs down so they wouldn’t bunch beneath the sleeves of his coat, his actions, like they’d been earlier, deliberately methodical.
The frigate was closing in, two miles off now.
Smoke and flame coughed from one of her bow chasers a second before the report of the big gun rolled toward them from across the water. The enemy ship was still out of range, but the demand to heave to was there all the same.
At the stern, the approaching night made the lantern seem to glow brighter and brighter.
“Think they’ll chase us once it’s fully dark?” Morgan asked, wishing he felt as calm inside as the captain appeared to be.
“As long as it’s only our stern lantern they’re chasin’, I hope so.”
came from the frigate, and this time the ball splashed a half-mile off their quarter.
Morgan glanced at his commander. There was a crafty fierceness in that hard face, an eager, savage glee, and suddenly Morgan understood.
“You’re planning on using the stern lantern as a decoy, aren’t you?”
The captain’s smile was tight. “Let’s hope our pursuer out there doesn’t figure out what we’re up to as fast as you have, Mr. Morgan.” He motioned to the returning midshipman. “Mr. Cranton, look lively.”
“Take the smaller of our two boats and prepare to lower it from the sta’b’d side. Attach a towline to its bow. A fierce long towline. In a few moments we’ll be changing course and taking the wind across the larboard beam once more, and ’tis quick ye must be if we’re to make our escape.”