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Falcon's Angel

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It would take more than an ordinary woman to save his soul.

After his father?s shocking suicide, Will Falcon began combing the Atlantic on a mission of revenge against the vicious scavengers who stole his family?s fortune. But when a fierce storm plunges him into the dangerous depths off the Carolina coast, Will finds himself at the mercy of a courageous pirate lass named Angel, who defies her fellow scoundrels and saves his life. Angel is ...
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Overview

It would take more than an ordinary woman to save his soul.

After his father’s shocking suicide, Will Falcon began combing the Atlantic on a mission of revenge against the vicious scavengers who stole his family’s fortune. But when a fierce storm plunges him into the dangerous depths off the Carolina coast, Will finds himself at the mercy of a courageous pirate lass named Angel, who defies her fellow scoundrels and saves his life. Angel is unlike any woman he has ever known–clever, fearless, and possessing a beauty so rare she could tempt even the noblest heart to sin. Torn between duty and desire, Will reluctantly accepts Angel’s protection, and together they begin a daring adventure that takes them from the wilds of an island paradise to the mansions of Charleston society. But will Angel’s sacrifice of her precious freedom for Will’s civilized world be enough to win his trust–or his love?
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780345437617
  • Publisher: Random House Publishing Group
  • Publication date: 1/29/2002
  • Format: Mass Market Paperback
  • Pages: 327
  • Product dimensions: 4.26 (w) x 6.88 (h) x 0.96 (d)

Meet the Author

Judith E. French lives with her husband in a restored eighteenth-century farmhouse in rural Delaware. Her oldest daughter, Colleen Faulkner, is also a bestselling romance author, continuing the strong tradition of storytelling that has been shared by her family for many generations.
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Read an Excerpt

The Coast of North Carolina

May 1810

Will Falcon shielded his eyes from the driving rain and strained to see land through the darkness. Snapping sails and the fury of wind and waves made it almost impossible for his bellowed commands to be heard over the tumult of the squall. But he wasn't worried yet. His crew was seasoned, and the Katherine as sweet and seaworthy a ship as any clipper ever built in Baltimore. With luck, he could avoid the shifting sandbars and stay in the channel without grounding the schooner.

An unidentified island loomed on his port side, too near for comfort, and a morass of shoals and tricky currents lay between the Katherine and open sea. The storm had swept in fast, surprising Will with its intensity. In the space of a half hour, three-foot seas had become six-, and the shallow waters churned into a foaming maelstrom. Winds gusted to sixty knots, thunder rolled overhead, and bolts of lightning seared the heavens.

"Sweet Mother of God," Will muttered as needles of hail battered his exposed skin. No wonder these waters were a graveyard of sunken ships and wandering ghosts. If the tides and weather didn't sink a ship, the pirates would.

Sailing so close to shore at night was a calculated risk. For years a ruthless band of outlaw wreckers had haunted these waters, luring unsuspecting vessels to destruction. If he and his men were to have a chance at hunting down these predators, the Katherine needed the cover of darkness. And tonight, she needed the relative safety of protection from the higher seas in deep water.

He'd hired a guide, a local called Stump, who swore he'd fished this area all his life and knew thesandbars, shoals, and elusive waterways between the islands like the back of his hand. If Stump turned out to be a fool or a liar, Will could lose his ship and all hands.

"Cap'n! The storm sail--" A gust ripped the sailor's shout away as two more seamen scrambled to add muscle to the taut line.

Will felt the Katherine shudder as she plunged into a trough between waves. Water boiled over the gunnel and washed across the sharply tilted deck, and a solid wall of churning sea rose on the leeward side.

"Come on, darlin'," Will pleaded. "You can. Yes!" Like a spirited hunter rising to the jump, the ship nosed up, slicing waves and wind. "Yes, that's it!" He laughed as spray drenched his face and hair.

Damn but his Katherine was a ship to boast of from Boston to New Orleans. Hamilton Shipping might possess her title, but every curve and spar of her was Will's, and someday he'd save enough to buy her back.

Lightning flashed, momentarily blinding Will, leaving a taste of burning sulfur on his tongue and filling his brain with the stench of brimstone. Hairs rose on his arms and the nape of his neck. And when he forced his eyes open, he saw tongues of blue-white fire licking at the poles atop the foremast.

A crewman swore and pointed.

"St. Elmo's fire!" First Officer Aaron Fletcher appeared at his side.

"Nice night for it." Will motioned for the younger man to take the tiller.

Aaron grinned. "My thoughts exactly," he shouted.

"Cap'n!" The cry came from mid-ship. "A bolt broke. Gun's comin' loose."

"Secure it!" Will ordered. A cannon adrift on the deck was serious trouble.

Several men rushed to tie down the heavy gun. The Katherine carried a crew of thirty-eight, but in a storm like this, every hand was needed.

"Cap'n!" Will recognized Isaiah. The sailor was an old salt, not likely to call for help unless he needed it.

"Want me . . ." The wind's howl ripped Aaron's question away.

Will shook his head. "I'll go. You stay at the helm." The slick deck slanted under his feet as he made his way hand over hand down the lines.

"Cap'n, I can't--" Isaiah's words were lost in another blast of lightning.

Will was an arm's length away when wood splintered and the cannon surged free, striking Isaiah. The old man slammed onto his back and slid helplessly across the deck toward the leeward gunnel. Will lunged for him, but black water swept the sailor off the deck in the blink of an eye. "Man overboard!" Will yelled.

He caught a glimpse of a pale bald head and one hand before Isaiah sank like a stone. "Man overboard!" Will screamed as he dove over the side after him.

Will's last thought before the wall of water closed over him was that trying to save Isaiah was the most stupid decision he'd ever made.

Groping blindly, Will went down until he touched bottom. A fierce current tugged at him. Sand and mud swirled, burning his eyes, confusing his senses. Instinctively, he turned toward the surface, pushing upward with powerful stokes. He'd always considered himself a strong swimmer, but the tide and undertow tossed him like a length of driftwood.

Gasping for breath, he broke water and sucked in lungs full of air. The stern of the Katherine was a dark, receding mass against a gray bowl of scudding clouds and arcing lightning. "Here!" he shouted. "I'm here!"

Had the sea carried him so far, or had the ship altered course? He couldn't tell. "Damn it! We're here!" he cried into the wind.

The storm was moving away from shore, but six-foot chops still crashed over his head. Will took in a mouthful of water and spat it out. He kicked hard with his feet, riding the crest of a wave and scanning the surface.

There! There, by God! He saw something a few yards away. "Isaiah!" he yelled. "Hold on! I'm coming!" Determined, he plowed through the whitecaps, fixing his will and body to reach that spot before the old man went under again.

The distance seemed impossible to traverse. With every two arms' lengths he went forward, the current dragged him back one. "Isaiah!"

Nothing.

Was it here he'd seen him? Had he lost his bearings? No, by damned! Here! Will gritted his teeth and dove in Stygian blackness as images of the old seaman's face flashed across his mind. He could clearly see flashes of Isaiah, sailcloth draped across his lap, patiently stitching a torn seam, and Isaiah, mother-naked, dancing a jig to a hornpipe and balancing a noggin of rum on top of his bald head. And, most vividly of all, Isaiah swinging a belaying pin and cutting a swath through a British press gang to rescue a wet-nosed Charleston runaway.

Will's chest burned. He'd been down too long. He knew he had to have air soon. Just a little--

His heart leaped as his fingers brushed something solid. He seized Isaiah's shirt and hauled him back to the surface. "Isaiah!" Will gasped, choking and drinking in the sweet air. "Are you . . ." He trailed off as his fingers touched the back of his friend's broken head.

A bolt of lightning illuminated the old man's round face and unseeing blue eyes.

"No." Will shook his head. "Isaiah?" For a moment, he hugged the limp body, then reluctantly released his grip until Isaiah slipped away and vanished.

Grief as thick as a January fog squeezed Will's chest. But seconds later, a swell broke over his head, shoving him down. This time when he fought his way back and looked for his ship, he saw nothing but waves and an angry predawn sky. He turned in the direction he believed shore to be and began to swim, stripping his mind of everything but the need to survive.

He lost all track of time. Whether he had been struggling toward shore or out to sea, he didn't know. He thought the winds and waves were weakening, but so was he. The muscles in his neck and shoulders burned; he'd long ago lost feeling from his knees down.

Over his left shoulder translucent hues of lavender and peach shimmered along the eastern horizon. Once, Will was certain he saw a line of stunted trees and sand, but then the tumbling whitecaps buried him, filling his mouth and throat with salt water and dulling his brain.

How easy it would be to give up . . . to sink as Isaiah had done . . . to rest. . . . Resolve gave way to anger and then to caustic humor.

That's the trouble with you, Will Falcon, an inner voice mocked. You don't have sense enough to stay down when you're beaten.

The beach was there. He knew it was. No man who had learned to swim at the tender age of four should drown within sight of land. He'd made a fool's decision to go into the water after a dead man, but panicking would only make his situation worse.

Breakers. He could hear surf crashing. Where there was surf, there was solid ground. But the undertow kept sweeping him out, and the numbness kept creeping up his aching limbs. His breaths came in ragged gulps . . . he was swallowing water . . . choking . . . frantically struggling.

And then . . . there was nothing but the soft, all-encompassing blackness of death.

Will opened his swollen eyes and blinked in the glare. "So this is hell," he said, clamping his eyes tight against the brilliance. But the words didn't come out. The sound he made was more of a gasping croak, before he curled on his side and coughed up salt water.

He wiped his mouth and tried to sit up, but his muscles wouldn't obey. He fell back, against what felt like lapping waves and sand . . . and something else . . . something soft and warm.

He forced his eyes open, but the light was almost more than he could bear. Colors and images swirled before his vision gradually cleared, and he found himself staring into the most beautiful face he'd ever seen.

Will gasped, unable to believe what he was seeing.

Illuminated by an unearthly light, a siren with sea-green eyes, clad in nothing but a mass of tumbling red-gold curls, bent over him. "What . . . what are you?" he stammered.

She tilted her head and smiled, revealing perfect, shell-white teeth. "Angel," she replied.

"Then . . . this must be heaven," Will managed to say. "Fancy me making it to . . ." But then the bees buzzing in his head became a roar, and he tumbled into a soundless abyss.

It seemed to Will that, as he fell, there were short periods when he felt as though he was swimming or being dragged through sea and surf . . . and finally abandoned in shallow water with solid beach beneath him and a land breeze caressing his face. He could have sworn he heard a woman's voice raised in anger, her words strangely accented but ringing as clear and pure as spring rain.

He was mistaken, of course, being dead and in the company of an angel. That he'd washed up on heaven's shore puzzled him to no end. He'd not expected to dock safely in God's golden port. Considering the liquor he'd consumed, the ladies he'd seduced, the rascals he'd helped to glory, and his spotty church attendance, he would have laid odds that he was bound for a darker harbor.

A man's guttural oath wrenched Will from his stupor. Choking, he raised his aching head and opened his eyes. For a moment, the earth seemed to sway sickeningly, but then Will's senses cleared. With a start, he found himself lying facedown on solid ground, with the shriek of seabirds in his ears and morning sun warming his back.

Standing over him was the radiant spirit he'd seen earlier. At least, he thought she must be the same angel. Now, it was obvious that he'd been mistaken. This was a flesh-and-blood woman . . . as real as the grains of sand clinging to his damp hands.

Garbed now in a thin, cotton shift, soaked by sea and spray, his barefoot guardian stood between him and two hard-faced men. The brilliant rays of the morning sun illuminated the tumbled mass of her copper-gilt hair and gleamed on the filleting knife she gripped in one hand.

"Stand aside, ye reeking notch!" the closest thug snarled as he fumbled for his own weapon at his belt. "Them boots looks prime. I mean to have'm." The pock-faced ruffian was near Will's age, somewhere in his early thirties. He stood at least six feet, with burly shoulders, legs like mooring posts, and raw hams for fists.

"Back off, Dyce," the woman warned.

"If it's the boots you want, you can have them," Will said, fighting for time. He blinked, trying to steady his wits. He had no doubt that the brute meant to kill him, but if he could just get to his feet, he might have a chance.

Dyce's shrewd eyes glittered from under a thatch of greasy, dark hair. The knife looked like a child's toy in his massive hand.

"A plague on you, Dyce Towser!" the angel flung back. "He's mine. I took him from the sea, and you'll not have him."

"He's seen our faces," Dyce said. "I won't end on the gibbet for a wench's soft heart."

"Best do as Dyce says," the second man called. "He's right. None what sees us can leave here alive. Would ye have us dance the Tyburn jig?" He was short and rail-thin, with one walleye, and a tarred pigtail that stuck out from under a seaman's striped cap.

"Are you naught but a lickspittle toad, Tom?" she replied. "You know the law. Go for the cap'n. He'll settle this before blood is spilled."

Reaching for his sword, Will struggled to his knees. He was nauseated and light-headed, but not so far gone as to lie helpless while they gutted him like a fish. He swore as his right hand closed on an empty scabbard. "Get back!" Will said to the woman. "Don't put yourself in harm's way for me!"

With an oath, the big man charged.

"No!" Will lurched up, determined to meet the attack on his feet.

Angel held her ground until the last instant, then, knife flashing, she danced between him and Dyce. With almost fluid motion, she struck so swiftly that Will couldn't be certain what he'd seen.

Dyce howled and clutched his wrist as his blade spun away and landed in the sand. A sheet of crimson dripped down the giant's arm. "Bitch!" he cried. "You'll pay fer this!" Swearing, he twisted toward his companion. "Get her, you yellow-backed--"

"'Tis nay me what's to blame, ye niding lout," Angel cried. "He's mine, I say. Booty taken fair and square from--"

The sailor rushed at her, knotted fists drawn back to strike. Will grabbed for the discarded weapon, snatched it up, and tried to put himself between her and danger.

Copyright 2002 by Judith E. French
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  • Posted December 9, 2008

    more from this reviewer

    winning Americana tale

    In 1810, Angel rescues a drowning sea captain Will Falcon. She saves his life a second time when her Carolina Outer Banks island people, the Brethren, want to kill the outsider, but she instead handfasts with him. Will escapes forcing Angel to accompany him back to Charleston. <P>As Will and Angel begin to fall in love, both knows that her lifestyle would never enable them to marry. Added to their differences is the fact that Will plans to lead an expedition to destroy her people, who he believes are the pirates that destroyed his family business and led to his father¿s suicide. Angel and Will make love in spite of their differences, but she feels betrayed when he leads the attack against the Brethren. Though fully in love, this pair seems destined to never become a permanent duet <P> Winner of an RT Career Achievement Award for American Historical Romance, Judith French shows why she is one of the most beloved sub-genre writers of the last decade. FALCON¿S ANGEL is an exciting historical romance that hooks the audience through strong characters and vivid descriptions of early nineteenth century Charleston and the Outer Banks. Though Angel¿s inability to realize that the Brethren are pirates seems stretched, the lead couple remain an engaging pair who fascinate fans as the core of Ms. French¿s latest winning Americana tale. <P>Harriet Klausner

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