Welcome! To kick off my new website I thought I would post a sneak peek of my novel Captain of My Heart. Enjoy!
February 1798, Port of Nassau, Bahamas
“England? Why would I want to go there?” Vivian Jamieson planted her hands on her hips, and faced her father across the expanse of his great teak desk.
A warm tropical breeze blew into the room, rippling the white curtains. The morning sun cascaded across the smooth wooden floors, turning them a honey gold. Any other morning she would be curled up in one of the two massive leather chairs sketching, while her father sat companionably working nearby. But this morning when she entered the room his face had been unusually grim, and no wonder with tidings such as this.
“Vivi, I have kept you with me for longer than I should have for my own selfish reasons.” Captain Robert Jamieson stood, a frown identical to his daughter’s graced his craggy, tanned face. “You are almost twenty. It’s time you married. Don’t you want to have a family of your own?”
Her heart plummeted. The taut angle of his jaw convinced her he was serious. How could he ship her off to England where she knew absolutely no one?
“Why London?” Her brain scrambled for a proper argument. “There are plenty of men here in Nassau.”
“Like who?” Her father snorted scornfully. “A bunch of ship captains and merchant traders, not to mention pirates! Your mama was a lady from a fine English family and she gave up her status, her connections, for a salty dog like me. You deserve to take advantage of your bloodline. A chance to meet a titled gentlemen. Someone who can take care of you in the style you are accustomed. And on dry land!”
Vivian bristled. “Papa, I love the sea. I’d never be interested in marrying some pale-faced London dandy!”
Her father held up one hand to stave off her next argument. “I have already written to your aunts, and they are ecstatic to sponsor you for the season.”
Aunts? Her mother had never spoken of her family in England. She had told many a bedtime story to Vivian featuring grand balls, operas, and garden parties. Vivian smiled remembering those bedtimes, snuggled up next her mother listening to stories of faraway England. The stories had seemed like fairytales; she never imagined they were memories of real events. Vivian brushed impatiently at a stray curl tickling her cheek.
As though reading her thoughts, her father gave her a crooked smile. “Sending you to London to have a season was your Mama’s fondest wish.”
She raised one eyebrow. “Truly?”
Rose Jamieson had died when Vivian was twelve, and she still felt the dull ache of grief. Mama loved the islands. She left England to run away with her dashing sea captain, choosing love over duty. Vivian studied her father. He still looked rather dashing. Dark hair spilled over his shoulders framing fierce tan features, his posture straight and strong.
Her father had been a pirate. His reputation for being cunning and ruthless feared by merchant ships sailing through the Caribbean. Her mother said he had blown into her life like a gale force wind, stealing her heart. Papa stopped pirating when he married Mama. He used his many connections to create his shipping empire. His unique skills enabled him to navigate his ships safely through these dangerous waters.
Her heart warmed remembering the bond her parents shared. She and her mother had sailed with Papa several times a year, and together the three of them had seen many wonderful places. After Mama passed, Papa would take her with him on board his ship whenever he left port. They'd weathered the storm of sorrow together. They had become inseparable. How could he send her away?
She tried a different approach. “But Papa, who will run the household here?” She smiled up at him. “Who will take care of you?”
“I’ve cared for myself for quite a while, young lady. Vivi, you are going to London to find yourself a respectable husband. I won’t be around forever. I need to know you are cared for properly.”
Desperation rose in her throat. She didn’t want to leave the island, to be so very far from her father. “But Papa…”
“That is my final decision,” he roared. Turning his back to her, he walked over to the windows.
She stood speechless for a moment as her father gazed out to where the palm trees swayed gently in the garden beyond. Tears burned at the back of her eyes. She stormed out of the room and slammed the door behind her.
Vivian strode through the house, swallowing the lump in her throat. Despite his reputation for being one of the most feared men in the Caribbean, he never raised his voice with her. She’d rarely seen him so unyielding. Emerging outside, she paused and lifted her face to the sky. The bright afternoon sunshine infused her with its warmth.
Fuming, she stalked to the stable yard where her chestnut mare grazed. Since when did he care about her marrying well, or at all for that matter? Ignoring the stable hand nearby, she gathered her skirts and stepped up onto the fence railing. She grabbed Ruby’s mane and deftly swung herself onto the mare’s bareback. Tapping her heels to the horse’s flank, she bent low over her neck. “To the cove, Ruby.”
The mare started forward, absolutely in sync with her, and they flew across the grassy field toward the ocean, moving as one.
Captain Jack Aston rode north along the edge of the ridge, his back rigid with annoyance. Loading cargo onto his ship and preparing for departure required his attention. But when Robert Jamieson summoned, no man refused. Not only was Captain Jamieson the wealthiest landowner in the Bahamas, but quite possibly the most notorious ex-pirate in these waters. Jack’s more personal reason for answering Jamieson’s summons—he owed him and his wife a debt from almost a decade ago. No doubt the time had come to honor that debt.
As Jack reached the top of the rise, he reined in his horse and took in his surroundings. This was the prettiest part of the island. To the left, he spied his destination, the massive stone and wood house set atop the next hill like a castle in the sky. And to his right, the ground sloped steeply down to a beach, sheltered by trees, a strip of bright white sand melted into the turquoise blue waters.
Just as he turned his horse to the left, a flash of color caught the corner of his eye. Out of the trees burst a young woman running at full speed. Before she reached the water’s edge, she paused. The lilac dress she wore dropped to the sand, and she nimbly stepped out of it wearing nothing but a bright-white chemise. In one graceful dive, she disappeared under the surf. Several long minutes passed before he spotted her some fifty feet from shore, swimming and diving like a dolphin in the gently rolling waves.
She looked like a mystical water nymph straight out of an old sailor’s tale of the sea. Mesmerized, he sat frozen atop his horse, enthralled by her clear enjoyment of the water. When was the last time he had a swim just for the pleasure of slicing through the waves? Hell, when was the last time he had the opportunity to do anything just for fun?
He had spent the last ten years working like a dog on one ship or another. He’d craved the freedom to be his own boss, to be the Captain. Now with ships of his own to helm, he had the responsibility of managing the hundreds of details his business entailed. His life was all business all the time.
Jack focused on the waves. He spotted the woman floating on her back. Her white chemise swirled around a pair of tanned legs. Finally, she swam toward shore. Stepping out of the surf, she wrung out her hair, then flopped down on the sand, her face to the sky. All he could discern from his position was an impression of full, lush curves and long, curly hair of the palest blond, almost as white as the sand on the beach.
Who was she? The urge to investigate was strong. He imagined lying next to her on the sand, the sun warming their bodies as he ran a hand down along those tan legs. What color would her eyes be? Would her lips be salty from the sea? A rare smile curved his lips. What a pleasant diversion this water nymph had made in his hectic day.
Turning his horse away from the beach, he made his way to the house on the hill.
“Captain Jack, you young scalawag! It’s good to see you. Thank you for coming.” Robert Jamieson enveloped Jack in a bear hug that may have cracked a few ribs on a slighter man.
“Good to see you too, sir.”
The Captain hadn’t changed much in the years since Jack had last seen him. He was not a tall man, but he was built like an ox. He had thickly muscled arms, broad shoulders, and shrewd eyes. His long hair was no longer all black, but liberally peppered with gray strands and flowed past his shoulders. The open vee of his shirt showed off a large tattoo of a rose right over his heart.
“Based on your missive, I gather I am needed for something rather urgent?” He took a seat across from Jamieson next to an open window that afforded a magnificent view of the ocean.
“Well, something important, anyhow. I need you to transport something quite precious to England. I hear you are heading out this week?”
“Yes sir, we hope to sail Thursday morning. For you, I can certainly make room for extra cargo. What sort of merchandise are we speaking of?”
“It’s not merchandise. It’s passengers, more specifically my daughter.”
Jack abruptly sat back in his chair. He couldn’t have been more surprised if Captain Jamieson had asked him to transport mermaids.
“Your ship is equipped with space for passengers, yes?” Jamieson asked after several moments of silence.
“Well, yes, but I rarely take on passengers unless they make it well worth my while.”
“I would consider this a personal favor.” Jamieson gave him a hard look. “I need to get Vivian off the island as quickly as possible.”
His interest piqued. “Why?”
The older man reached into his jacket pocket, pulled out a letter and passed it to him. Jack scanned the missive, alarmed at its content. The letter from New Orleans contained news of Pierre Dubois’ release from prison.
“They just let him go? What are those bloody French thinking?” Dubois was a ruthless pirate, slave trader, and a cold-blooded killer. He and his cronies killed two local priests who organized a protest against the slave trade in New Orleans. He had been in jail there for some years now.
“Things have become dangerous with the release of Dubois. Vivian needs to be somewhere Dubois will never look. Where better than in London, safely ensconced among my late wife’s titled relations? As you can see, with my greatest enemy on the loose, I cannot risk Vivian being anywhere in the Caribbean right now.” His lips formed a grim line. “She is all the family I have left.”
Jack handed the letter back. “I was heartbroken to hear about your wife’s passing, sir. She was a fine lady who saw possibilities in a young reprobate like me. She straightened me out while I recovered here and sent me out a better person. I was in the Mediterranean when I heard the news of her death. Otherwise, I would have come to offer my condolences in person.”
“Yes, well, Rose had a way of always seeing the best parts of someone. Lord knows she was my salvation.” Jamieson turned to look out the window for a moment, his grief etched in his features. “I have written to her sisters in London. They both married well and are now both widowed. They have agreed to have Vivian stay with them and sponsor her for the social season. Now that the old Earl is dead, they are free to embrace the daughter of their wayward sister. I would like Vivian to marry a nice gentleman and settle down in England. I have let her run wild for far too long. Her aunts can instruct her how to be a proper lady. No one on this side of the Atlantic knows of my wife’s background or her relations. In London, Vivian shall be safe.”
“But why me? Why not see her safely there yourself?”
“I can’t take a chance Dubois won’t try to engage my ship, especially if he knows I am at the helm. As for why you, you owe me.” He leaned back, lacing his fingers together in front of him. He smiled, but his eyes were deadly serious. “Plus, you’re a bloody gentleman. I know you don’t acknowledge your bloodlines, but they define your conduct. I’ve never heard you to be cruel or to outright steal and plunder. A crafty devil you may be, but you’ve earned everything you have. I know you can be trusted to get her to England safely with her reputation intact. Do I make myself clear?”
Jack’s eyebrows lifted. Very few men in the Caribbean knew of his family background. On the rare occasions he traveled in England, he visited with family discreetly, preferring to stay out of society entirely. Jamieson was right; he did owe him. The man had saved his life, given him a job. The captain was the closest thing to a mentor he’d had on this side of the ocean. He would do whatever necessary to keep the man’s daughter safe from harm. He felt bad for the girl; she would be introduced into a world defined by the rules of propriety after being free her whole life.
“All right, sir, I can transport her, but I don’t babysit. Will she have a traveling companion to take care of her needs?”
“I will send Miss Beaumont as her companion and Old Tom to watch out for her.”
“Old Tom?” He raised an eyebrow.
“Old Tom is a retired sailor of mine. He has known Vivian all her life. He’s sharp as they come, and not unwilling to stick the sharp end of his knife into anyone who might harm her.”
Jamieson rang for a servant. When a footman appeared, he asked for Miss Vivian to be summoned to the study.
“I warn you she is not happy about the trip, so don’t expect a gracious welcome.” Jamieson grimaced.
“Doesn’t she understand the danger she is in?” Was the girl daft? Dubois was a vicious man. He wouldn’t hesitate to use her as a pawn in his vendetta against Jamieson.
“I haven’t told her about Dubois yet. I don’t want to scare her unnecessarily. Can I get you a drink?”
“Yes, thanks. Perhaps you should tell her the truth, Captain. Better that she is on alert than cocooned in a false sense of security.”
Jamieson just scowled at him as he handed over his glass.
“In addition, it’s high time Vivian married and had a family of her own. England will afford her the chance to meet some decent gentlemen. I certainly want her to marry someone better than an old pirate like me.”
“There are plenty of rogues in London society, and fortune hunters to boot.”
“I will leave it up to her aunts to weed out the fortune hunters and Old Tom to skewer the rogues.” He laughed heartily, his deep voice booming through the room. “Besides, my girl is tougher than she looks. I just hope they’ll be able to turn her into a lady proper.”
As Jack sipped his whiskey, a knock sounded. The door opened, ushering in a swirl of lilac skirts. His drink paused halfway to his mouth as the beautiful water nymph from the beach entered the room. His gaze traveled over her petite stature, sliding from her pale blond curls, still damp from the ocean, to her bare feet, her toes peeking out from under the lace trim of her skirt. A pair of sea-green eyes dominated a pert face with skin golden from the sun.
“I knew you would change your mind, Papa.” She didn’t appear to notice him, her focus on her father.
This was Jamieson’s daughter? He remembered how she looked coming out of the water, wet chemise clinging to all her curves. He shifted uncomfortably in his seat. Luckily for him, Jamieson did not look his way. Jack finished his whiskey in one bracing gulp.