Read Undone Online

Authors: Lila Dipasqua

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Undone (8 page)

BOOK: Undone
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Tomorrow, he’d have a conversation with Gabriella and learn all that he wished to know about the green-eyed sorceress. Her friend would tell him what Angelica would not. Once he learned her secrets, her magic would be ineffective.

Dieu
. What was he going to do with them if they didn’t provide him with a destination—other than that horrible convent?

 

Chapter Six

 

“Captain!” Henri approached Simon the next morning the moment he returned to Château Arles. Yet another night Simon hadn’t slept. After tossing and turning in his bed for hours, he’d given up on sleep and gone down to briefly check on his ships, then to Robert’s stable. A long ride had improved his disposition somewhat this morning. It had cleared his head of his moonlight beauty. Though this perilous situation he was in with Fouquet still hung like a noose around his neck.

“Monsieur le Marquis wishes to see you. His things are packed, and he is ready to leave.”

Simon swore under his breath. He’d meant to join Robert early this morning, well before his departure.

“Wait, Captain. There is more,” his loyal servant advised. “The king’s ships have just arrived. And the two missing men… They’ve been found.”

The words hit Simon in the gut. “Gilbert and Daniel? Are they…
alive
?”

“Yes, Captain. They were found at the French border and brought here while you were out. They are weak but alive.”

Relief flooded through him. “Where are they now?”

“I had them placed in separate chambers, near yours.”

“And where are my commanders from the king’s ships?”

“All seven await you in the dining hall. Monsieur Armand has been reviewing the ledgers of each newly returned ship.”

Simon nodded, his mind racing. The king’s warships had finally returned.

And Gilbert and Daniel had been found alive.

Would they be able to tell him what had happened to Thomas? How much did the Spaniards know?
Jésus-Christ
, he hoped the two men knew the answers to the questions that had plagued him since Thomas was found dead. He needed to speak to them, and he needed to speak to his seven commanders, who were awaiting further orders.

But first there was Robert. Robert always came first.

And then he would have his talk with Gilbert and Daniel.

*****

Though thin and weak, Gilbert quaked with fury, his eyes alight with vengeance. “Captain, I ask permission to work the cannons on the ship that strikes at
La Estella Blanco
,” he said. His voice quavered with emotion.

Daniel had asked the very same thing. In much the same way.

For the last two hours, Simon had questioned the men separately about their capture and escape, what they had learned and revealed while in the Spanish prison—and the specifics of what had happened to Thomas.

Simon rose. “Rest now. Rebuild your strength.”

Stopping outside the chamber, Simon rubbed his eyes with his index finger and thumb, wishing he could erase the images of Thomas’s torturous death from his mind’s eye.

In graphic detail, each man had recounted how the Spanish had killed Thomas. Slowly. Before them. Instead of breaking their wills, the horrific act had strengthened their resolve to maintain their silence long enough to escape. They had reached the French border by stealing horses and food along the way.

However, the most astounding news was that Thomas had provided the two men with one last bit of information before their capture.

Thomas had learned that a Spanish ship was due to reach Spain by the end of the month, with a cargo that promised to be heavy with precious metal.

La Estella Blanco.

In his insurgent frame of mind, striking at the Spanish ship was the last thing Simon wanted to do. The notion of handing over more riches to Fouquet made him sick.

But how could he
not
strike at the Spanish ship? Thomas had lost his life to provide them with this information. Furthermore, Simon hated to admit it, but he had to capture its rich cargo in case his warships failed to earn enough for the Crown.

Thomas’s death wasn’t just a terrible personal loss to Simon. It was also a devastating blow to their operations.

He’d have to meet with his commanders and assign the ships’ new positions blindly, without the usual insight gained by his spies—Thomas, Daniel, and Gilbert. Simon would have to rely on his instincts and judgment.

And lately, neither was reliable.

Providing results—weakening the Spanish
financially
—was not negotiable to Fouquet. They had to maintain their indispensability in his eyes or face the dire consequences. It wasn’t above Fouquet to fabricate allegations of treason to remove Simon’s warships from him. For Simon to die was one thing, but to have his men die because they’d followed him in his quest for promotion was another matter altogether.

It was as though a thick, black cloud had descended upon him. Everything looked dark—and he longed for the balmy breezes and serenity his island would offer. Returning there was an absolute necessity.

By rotating his ships, he gave each crew an opportunity to return to the island for mental and physical rest, away from the carnage. Simon, however, had been away from home far too long.

He needed respite.
Merde
, he needed sleep. There were many lives in his hands. He
had
to regain his focus before he could take on a man like Fouquet.

*****

“Are you certain you want to do this?” Gabriella asked. Standing at the top of the stairs, Angelica looked down at the foyer below, then back at her friend. “Do you really want to return to the convent, knowing how angry Madre Paola will be at us?”

The prospect of seeing Madre Paola didn’t unnerve Angelica.

The thought of seeing Simon again, however, did.

Her behavior last night demonstrated how important it was for her to hasten her departure.

She’d
wanted
him to kiss her.

He was a complete stranger, yet he had a potent effect on her that unsettled her. These unrelenting physical yearnings he inspired seemed only to escalate with their every encounter. And were out of the question. In fact, any romantic involvement of any kind with any man was completely unthinkable.

“We must go. We cannot stay.” Angelica pushed aside the pang of regret she felt at the thought of leaving.

The excitement Simon stirred, the exhilaration of his gentle touch, weren’t things she wanted to think about. She’d accepted the future that lay before her, safe and sure, in a convent in the Republic of Genoa. And she would want nothing more out of life.

Leaving was the right thing to do. What other choice was there—for either her or Gabriella? The longer Angelica stayed, the greater the risk of being discovered.

Taking Gabriella’s hands, Angelica gave them a reassuring squeeze. “We will speak to Sister Teresa. She will smooth matters with Madre Paola.”

Angelica was grateful that she’d easily located Gabriella in the upstairs hall. With Gabriella dressed in a rich purple gown, her auburn hair arranged in pretty ringlets, Angelica almost hadn’t recognized her. One look into Gabriella’s eyes, and she could see how much she liked wearing such a costly gown.

“Gabriella, we cannot live here. These men are part of the King’s Navy. They have duties, responsibilities at sea.”

She’d overheard Marta speaking with another servant in French. Ships had arrived. As the captain of the fleet, Simon was dining with his commanders. Several commanders, in fact. She wasn’t easily impressed, but everything about this man was impressive.

The men’s meal would be over by now. Before his ships set sail, she was determined that she and Gabriella were placed on one set for the Republic of Genoa.

Downcast, Gabriella nodded. “I’ve liked it here. The people have been so nice…the captain…and the man I told you about, Domenico. They’ve even given us gowns.” Gabriella smoothed her hand over the sleeve. “Is the dress not grand, Angelica? Did you not get yours?” She eyed Angelica’s convent garb.

Angelica forced her feet forward, down the steps. “I’m not interested in the gown,” she said, wishing it was entirely true. “We’re not going to need them at the convent.” Having enjoyed the luxury of a bath and freshly laundered clothes mere hours ago, she added, “My convent garments suit me just fine.”

She would leave the realm for good this time. Once she was back in the convent, her inappropriate thoughts about fleet commander Simon de Villette would cease, and with them, her uncharacteristic behavior. She was sure of it.

*****

Simon looked down the long table at his top-ranking men, his expression tightly guarded, his emotions firmly in check as they had been for the entire day.

Five of the seven ships had been successful in capturing prizes. The Crown’s share of Spanish silver would be delivered within the next few days.

Simon wanted nothing more than to refuse his portion, but to do so would alert his men to the fact that something was amiss. He couldn’t let them know he wanted to abandon everything he’d worked for. If a leader wasn’t committed, those who followed him wouldn’t be either. It would lower the morale of the men and unravel their operations.

Putting everyone at risk.

They were going to maintain their value to Fouquet until Simon found the opportune time to strike, to topple Fouquet from his powerful post. The mission was beyond dangerous.

But Fouquet couldn’t be allowed to continue as he did.

Each man was given information only on a need-to-know basis. Nothing more. Even his spies in Fouquet’s home knew only that they were to report Fouquet’s dealings.

In dispassionate tones, Simon advised his commanders of Thomas’s death.

“Bastards,” growled a few of the men.

“What of Fouquet?” one of his commanders asked. “I’ve heard murmurs about him dipping his hand in deeper than is his due.”

Simon glanced at Robert. Out of affection and respect for the retired commodore, Simon had asked him to sit in on the meeting before he departed for Paris. The seasoned leader’s expression gave nothing away.

Though Simon couldn’t very well hide the glaring reality of Fouquet’s malpractices, he wasn’t about to discuss the Superintendent of Finance’s excesses now.

“I will deal with Fouquet,” Simon stated. “Your job is to meet your objectives. You have each been assigned new positions and missions to be carried out against Spanish ships and ports. Regardless of what has happened or what is happening, we have a duty. We do this for our king. And Thomas.”

“Captain, I’ll strike at the Spanish any way you deem fit—in Thomas’s memory!” said one of his men.

The rest concurred.

Another raised a goblet. “Let us drink. To Thomas, may he rest in peace, and to the captain, whose wisdom has led us to riches we had not conceived possible, and whose cunning will lead us to victory over our enemies.”

Simon forced a smile. Forced himself to join them in drink.

Their greatest enemies weren’t foreign but domestic—the unholy trio of Fouquet, Mazarin, and the king. Mazarin had been the one who’d chosen Fouquet for the position of Superintendent of Finance. Fouquet was Mazarin’s man, and in the eyes of their young king, the First Minister Cardinal Mazarin was never wrong.

Simon intended to show them all just how wrong a choice Fouquet had been.

While the men ranted about the Spanish and the French government, Robert leaned in.

“Well done, Simon,” he murmured in his ear. “I take my leave now and return to Paris.” Robert rose with the help of his cane and squeezed his shoulder. “
Dieu vous garde.
” He made his way to the doors that led to a private passageway and his chambers.

Watching him leave, Simon was struck with the unshakeable feeling that the next time he’d see Robert, Simon’s life would be changed.

And not for the better.

*****

As Angelica and Gabriella neared the doors of the dining hall, heated voices rose from within the room.


The Spaniards will pay for what they have done to our men. They will pay in blood!
” The sheer venom in the man’s tone made Angelica stop dead in her tracks.

Gabriella bumped into her. “Angelica?”

Angelica quickly silenced her by pressing a finger over her lips.

The next words were muffled, the tone sharp and furious, until distinct French phrases rushed up at her.

“…We’ll show them what happens when they cross one of our own, Captain. They will see what the Black Demon is capable of… Slit every last one of their worthless throats!

Her blood froze, chilled by the ominous words.


Captain, if they thought the Black Demon and his men were cold-hearted pirates before, wait until they see what hell we shall unloose upon them now.

She recoiled.
Dear God…
Simon de Villette was involved with
pirates
.

He was the leader of these men.
He
was the
Black Demon
? No, it couldn’t be. He was an officer in the royal navy.
Wasn’t he?
A sick feeling slid down into her stomach as she realized he’d never actually told her he was in the King’s Navy.

Oh why? He’d been so…incredible.
His touch, his words, his actions, he’d shown her the concern and consideration she hadn’t realized she’d lacked in her life.

The image of his attractive face, those gorgeous eyes, his beguiling smile, appeared in her mind. As did the memory of his strong arms around her. Fool. Fool.
Fool!
He was a fraud. A lie. Too good to be true. She tamped down the ridiculous sense of loss.

They were in the company of criminals.

They had to get away.
Now.
Angelica squeezed her friend’s hand. “These men are not what they appear. They’re pirates!” she said in a sharp whisper.


Pirates?

“Yes!”

“No, I cannot believe it.” Gabriella shook her head. “The captain?
Domenico?

BOOK: Undone
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