Captain Robert Ashton, Earl of Darington, knows finding a bride in London will not be easy—not since he has been dubbed the notorious "Pirate Earl". What he didn't expect was to get abducted—and to have his escape go horribly awry when an innocent lady gets caught in the crossfire.
Enter amateur physician, Miss Emma St. James. She may appear sweet and demure but she quickly proves herself to be equal to any challenge, including saving Darington’s life. Just when Darington is sure he has found his perfect bride, she reveals she’s traveling to meet her betrothed. Duty calls them apart, but when an old enemy surfaces on the high seas Darington will risk all—his fortune, his name, and even his life to keep her safe and win her heart.
High Seas, 1810
The Earl of Darington was hunting. He shifted his stance on the quarterdeck as the ship pitched in the treacherous storm. He squinted into the driving rain at the black outline of his quarry. Captain Esqueleto was rumored to be in these waters. Given the recent discovery of a wrecked ship and murdered crew, Dare believed the tale.
Esqueleto had been terrorizing the high seas for more than a decade. He was known to make a series of calculated strikes on valuable treasure ships and then disappear for years at a time, presumably enjoying his riches.
“Is it Esqueleto?” asked Mr. Everett, his first mate.
“No,” responded Dare, the ship finally near enough to determine her identity. “It’s the Jade, a French privateer.”
“Even better,” muttered Everett with some relief. No one had ever gone against Esqueleto and lived. A French privateer would make a handsome prize, though no doubt it would prove a worthy adversary.
Darington’s ship, the Lady Kate, was as fast as she was tough and was gaining on the French frigate. Dare surveyed his domain, ensuring his experienced crew was at quarters and ready.
“Run out your gun. Prime!” Men scurried to obey Darington’s command with skill and precision.
“Aim high, aim for the masts. Fire!” Captain Lord Darington shouted the command as the French frigate came into range. Explosions blasted through the raging storm. The Lady Kate shuddered with excitement at the simultaneous blast and recoil of the cannon. Acrid smoke rolled down the decks, a stench not even the torrential downpour could wash away.
“Over again. Lively now.” Darington had trained his crew to fire as well as any ship of the line, and a moment later, Lady Kate’s guns were firing again in an orderly and deadly chain.
The ships passed out of range and Darington gave the command to come about for a second pass at their enemy. He held up a hand to block the rain from his face, evaluating the damage to the enemy ship. The main-topmast of the Jade had shattered and was hanging limply, dragging in the ocean over the port side. The crew on the enemy frigate scrambled to cut themselves free of the broken mast that was slowing their craft considerably.
“Looks like they’re making a run for it, but we got ’em, sir,” said Everett with a grin.
Darington squinted into the storm. He had not earned the reputation for being a feared privateer by being foolhardy. While other captains were all flash and bluster, he was somber, steady, and had never failed to take a prize after he set his sights on one.
“No, Mr. Everett,” replied Darington calmly. “They are waiting for us.”
Everett squinted into the storm. “Well, I’ll be damned. You’re right.”
The French ship had allowed her sails to continue to drag in the waves and slow them down so they could line up their cannon for a direct shot down Lady Kate’s bow. That French captain was a tricky one.
“Hard larboard,” commanded Darington.
“Cap’n?” Everett gasped. “Heeling so fast, she’ll broach.”
“She’ll hold.” His ship, a quick frigate named for his sister, was tough as steel and resilient as the lady for whom she was named. Kate would never go down without a fight, and neither would his ship. “Hard larboard.”
Whatever the misgivings of his crew, his command was carried out immediately. Dare had led these men for years. He trusted them as they trusted him.
“Hold tight and ready the port side,” commanded Darington, grasping the railing of the quarterdeck as the ship pitched. Frigid ocean waves crashed over him, but he remained firm. The ship groaned and strained, but they were coming around the enemy ship. Instead of sailing into a trap, they were the ones coming up from behind.
They were so close now he could hear the shouts of the men on the enemy ship. By the time the Jade’s crew realized what he was doing, it was too late to correct their mistake.
“Fire!” shouted Darington. Canons roared and the main mast on the enemy ship shattered and fell. The ship was crippled but still dangerous. Grappling hooks flew from the deck of the Lady Kate, bringing the wounded Jade close enough to board.
“Boarders, follow me!” thundered Darington. He jumped through the twisted rigging onto the deck of the Jade, pistol in hand, his sword at his side.
Dare scanned the deck for the Jade’s captain. He saw the man in a gilded coat fighting on the quarterdeck and made his way through the seething mass of violence toward his object. Darington leapt onto the quarterdeck, just as the Jade’s captain knocked down one of his men. The Jade’s captain was skilled, but Dare had years of experience and struck fast, using his speed and long reach to his advantage.
The French captain was pressed back and retreated out of range for a moment, glancing down at the fight on the deck, which had turned in favor of the Lady Kate’s crew. Darington stepped back to allow the man to accept his defeat as a gentleman.
“I, Captain Lord Darington, demand your immediate surrender.”
The French captain’s jaw dropped for a moment, but he collected himself and ground his mouth shut, his jaw rigid. “I, Capitaine Desos of the Jade, do tender my surrender.” At the word from the captain, the crew of the Jade surrendered.
Darington gave the glowering French captain and his officers to some of his men to take on board the Lady Kate as others in his crew searched the ship.
“Captain! Captain, you are going to want to see this!”
Dare followed the sound of Everett’s voice into the hold. His first mate stood before an open chest, his eyes sparkling. Though Dare had been sailing as a privateer for five years and served with the Royal Navy before that, the sight before him gave him pause.
Gold. Gold! And lots of it.
Mr. Everett began smashing the locks off of more chests and found them similarly laden. This was not just a French privateer, but a treasure ship.
“Well, Mr. Everett, I do believe we have become rich men. Let’s get this cargo aboard the Lady Kate before this storm takes us all.”
The news spread fast among the crew, and no amount of wind and rain could dampen their spirits at the sudden windfall. In contrast, Captain Desos stood in sodden misery alongside his officers under the pouring rain and the trained rifles of Darington’s crew.
The Lady Kate was in better condition than the Jade, but still she had taken damage in the punishing battle and debris was scattered across the decks. The ship pitched and everyone shifted to gain footing, while bits of splintered wood and mangled metal slid across the decks. A piece of wood that Dare had found days ago from a submerged gig in shallow waters hit Desos in the foot. The French captain picked up the board and Dare put a hand on his sword, ready for any sign of danger. Desos met his eye, pausing for a moment, then dropped the potential weapon with a shrug.
“I give you the choice of being taken back to Gibraltar in irons or being set in a gig to make it back to shore as you are able.” Dare offered the French captain the choice as he was a fair man.
“I take the gig,” replied Captain Desos grimly, for it was rough sailing, yet he fared a better chance with the weather than with British justice in Gibraltar.
“So be it.”
Dare watched as chest after chest of silver, gold, and other valuables were loaded onto the Lady Kate. He had been sailing as a successful privateer for the past five years, but this was the largest prize yet. Even after the admiralty courts had had their say, his portion would be generous. Five years ago he had set out to restore his fortune, and he had more than accomplished his goal. With his latest prize, he had enough to repay the investors in his “shipping” business and still be a wealthy man. Of course, that meant London.
Dare’s satisfaction over his conquest of the Jade dissipated. Given the choice between the danger of life as a privateer or high society, he vastly preferred the mayhem of the high seas. But he was no coward. Now that his fortune had been restored, it was time to take his place in society. It was time to find a wife.
Suddenly feeling unbalanced, Dare put a hand on the mizzenmast for stability. As the Earl of Darington, he had certain duties and responsibilities. He had no more excuses to avoid them. It was time to take a wife.
The awful reality of his predicament crushed down on him with bruising force. Heaven help him, he might be forced to speak to some young thing just out of the schoolroom to find said wife. And if she declined his proposal, he would have to speak to—oh, the horror of it all—more ladies.
Life as a privateer was dangerous, but stepping into London society to find a wife? That was far more treacherous.
* * *
Captain Desos barked orders at his men as they strained against the oars of the gig in the writhing sea. Another wave crashed over the bow, soaking him in the freezing salt water. If he survived, he would see that Darington regretted ever taking his ship.
For a moment, Desos had been afraid Darington would recognize him, but of course, the young captain did not know him. If he had, Darington would never have let him go.
Desos somehow needed to retrieve the treasure Darington had stolen before his father discovered its loss. Cold fear seeped through his skin to his very soul. If his father learned he had lost all their treasure—to Darington no less—his father would kill him.
He expected nothing less from Esqueleto.
Continue Reading: Earl Interrupted
The Daring Marriages duet concludes with a marvelous roller coaster ride of an adventure that sweeps readers from highwaymen’s attacks to battles on the high seas. Readers will delight in reading about Lady Kate’s brother and the adventures that dovetail into her own; but most of all they will adore the engaging characters, clever plotting, deceitful villains and passionate romance designed for a swoon-worthy read by a smart and talented writer. ~ RT Book Reviews TOP PICK
A fast-paced historical romance with sea legs. ~ Kirkus Reviews
The characters of Dare and Emma are brilliantly crafted and will win your heart from the beginning. This was a grand tale I could not put down. A fascinating story with superb writing, intriguing plot, a strong but haunted hero, and a heroine with enough gumption and faith for both of them. I can’t wait to see what comes next in this series! ~ Buried Under Romance