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Ghost Of A Chance
By Nina Bruhns
Harlequin Enterprises, Ltd.Copyright © 2004 Harlequin Enterprises, Ltd.
All right reserved.
Chapter OneMagnolia Cove, Frenchman's Island, South Carolina One week shy of 200 years ago ...
Captain Sullivan Fouquet stared in horror as the woman he loved sank to the tavern floor in a pool of blood.
"God's Bones, St. James! What have you done?"
"'Twas not a'purpose! You saw what happened, Fouquet. She put herself in front of my pistol! Damned wench, what was she thinking?"
Throwing himself onto his knees beside his beloved Elizabeth, Sully gathered her to his breast, grasping her sweet, bloodied hand between his. "I swear on her eyes, St. James, if she dies, friend or no, I'll see you to your grave."
His heart wrenched as those self-same eyes fluttered open, her gaze upon him liquid and apologetic. "I'm sorry, my love," she whispered. Her body gave a little shudder, and then the light went out of her forever.
"No!" he cried, anguish sweeping through him like a cruel northern wind.
"My God, what have I done?" St. James murmured.
Sully turned to the man who had joined him on his knees on the other side of Elizabeth's body.
"Damn you," he swore, fury mounting. He sprang to his feet, whipping his sword from the sheath hanging at his chair.
"You've killed her!"
"Calm yourself. It was not my intention, as well you know."
"Not true!" He lunged at the friend who was friend no more, aiming his blade at the blackguard's heart. "You loved her. You wanted her for yourself!"
"Don't be an ass, Fouquet."
St. James swiftly sidestepped his thrust. Sully drew back and thrust again, missing by a narrow margin. His rage doubled.
St. James snatched his weapon from the table. "Stop this before you come to harm. You are mad with grief."
"And you are a dead man!"
"Tomorrow you may pound me to your heart's content - till I am bloodied and blue if it will help. But stay your hand now, when it will only lead to misfortune. Think of the spoils of our last voyage, waiting for us on the island. It takes both of us to find it!" He parried Sully's lightning fast attack.
"The only fortune I seek now is your soul cursed to eternal hell on earth!"
"If so, I'll see you when the flames burn hottest, my friend," his betrayer muttered, furiously repelling his blade's assault. "Christ's Tears, Sully. Give it up, man!"
They danced across the tavern floor, sword a' sword, onlookers astonished to see the two fast friends in mortal combat. Suddenly, a blinding pain seared Sully's side. His blade dropped from his hand and he grabbed at the blood that bloomed from the gaping slash.
"And now you've killed me, too."
"God forgive me, you gave no choice."
As his limbs grew weak, the awful unfairness of this ignoble end to life settled over Sully like a gossamer shroud. He should have met his fate on the sea he loved so much, forcing the surrender of an enemy merchantman. Or in bed where he'd spent his happiest hours, coaxing the surrender of his ladylove. Now he'd know none of those things ever again.
He sank to his knees, looking up into the face of the man he'd loved as a brother. "Tyree," he whispered, beckoning.
"Save your breath, my friend. I'll fetch the leech."
"To the devil I curse you ..."
"Lie down, now," St. James urged him. "'Tis not so bad as you think." But the anguished sheen in his comrade's eyes belied the soothing words.
He felt a sudden pang of sympathy for his murderer. Perhaps the man didn't deserve damnation for quite eternity. They had kept faith for half a lifetime, after all.
"May you haunt this earth for two hundred years, St. James -" Sully gasped, his breath coming short, his mind swimming in a thick, black fog "- or until you find a love so strong the lady is willing to die in your place, as did my Elizabeth."
But as he spoke, his gaze fell upon the lifeless body of his own true love. Nay! He reached for his fallen sword. With his last breath, he swung the blade true, piercing the heart of the man who had killed her.
"The devil I curse you, Tyree St. James."
And then he died.
Magnolia Cove, Frenchman's Island, South Carolina Sunday, mid-May, present day
God's Teeth, there was a woman in his bedroom!
Well, not actually a woman, but a woman's things. Which was bad enough.
What the hell was going on?
Tyree St. James barely stifled the urge to bellow at the top of his lungs for Mrs. Yates. Barely, for even after two centuries on dry land, the instincts of a sea captain still ran strong in his blood. Rose Cottage was his, and it was his bedroom and his bed the small pile of pink tapestry suitcases lay upon. Mrs. Yates had no business letting a perfect stranger intrude on the sacrosanct privacy Tyree had worked so hard for so long to maintain.
With a quick turn of his bucket-top boot, he stalked straight for the main house to have it out with the meddling old crone. How dare she? They had an arrangement.
No women on the property. None. Ever.
Preventing that circumstance was at the very foundation of Mrs. Yates's caretaker duties. The one inviolable law between the two of them. The reason he'd originally selected her, a matronly widow, to continue the old tradition as the earthly steward of all he possessed.
And why she knew damned well that installing a woman - any woman - in his bed was completely, unremittingly unacceptable.
The fact that he hadn't actually slept since the night he'd run his best friend through, and therefore had little practical use for a bed, was irrelevant. Sleep had been the last thing on his mind when establishing the No Women Rule.
The real problem was, of course, sex.
Tyree streaked through the solid oak backdoor to the kitchen without bothering to open it - one of the handier abilities he'd acquired since being cursed with his present condition - and stopped dead in his tracks.
Mrs. Yates was sitting, cozy as could be, drinking tea at his kitchen table with the woman he assumed was the intruder.
He gritted his teeth at the sight of her. Perfect stranger, indeed. Young. Vibrant. Beautiful. Everything he'd been avoiding for so long he thought he'd forgotten what the painful slam of sexual attraction felt like.
What was Mrs. Yates trying to do? Kill him? He couldn't even manage a humorless smile at the irony.
Sliding silently through the wall into the large butler's pantry, he carefully cracked the door, snapped up his eye patch and peered through the opening. He knew the interloper almost surely would not see him even if he sat upon the chair directly across from her, but he didn't want Mrs. Yates to know he was about. He'd discover what nefarious scheme the old biddy had in her devious mind before confronting her. And then he'd let her know in no uncertain terms it wasn't going to work.
He had only one week left to endure this accursed state, and then he'd be well and truly quit of the bedevilment he'd suffered under for nearly two hundred years. He wasn't about to risk messing up his reprieve. God knew what strings were attached to that ridiculous love provision Sully had tacked on to his dying curse, but Tyree had no intention of finding out.
Excerpted from Ghost Of A Chance by Nina Bruhns Copyright © 2004 by Harlequin Enterprises, Ltd.. Excerpted by permission.
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