"Another great from the great. In intensity and sense of rollicking adventure..." - Racy Romance Reviews
Without each other, they might not survive, but their love threatens to tear them both apart...
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- 6.58(w) x 7.98(h) x 1.22(d)
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It was hell being a hero. With the guns crashing and the deck a blind chaos of powder smoke, Captain Sheridan Drake wiped his sleeve across his eyes to clear away a crust of Mediterranean sweat and battle-grime. He thought of his botched boyhood Latin lessons with profound regret. Really, he ought to have listened to his schoolmaster, and gone into practicing law.
A barrister, now-there was a profession for an intelligent man. Sleep late, rise rested, hot coffee and fresh eggs for breakfast...but no-he'd best not think of fresh eggs; he'd start hallucinating after a hundred and thirty-seven days at sea without one. The guns roared and the deck beneath him trembled with the recoil. To starboard, a Turkish ship jibed, swinging bows around and peppering the deck with grapeshot and rifle-fire. Sheridan ducked behind the mizzenmast and squinted longingly at the closest hatch, calculating his chances of slipping below unnoticed. No sense getting himself killed in this sordid little squabble.
He shouldn't even have been aboard, but of course no one besides himself would give a thought to that-the British navy being more interested in gallantry than brains, and inclined to become maudlin over its heroes. For the past week, the legendary Captain Sheridan Drake had suffered through the stultifying honor of dining here in the flagship, gazing gloomily into his wine and listening to off icers of the British, French and Russian navies work themselves into a frenzy of indignation over the way the Turks were enslaving the Greeks.
Or was it the way the Egyptians were devastating the Morea? Whatever-it was just another dubious variation on the old and unpleasant theme of poking one's nose into other people's wars. The only saving thing about it was the way they toasted his health every five minutes, a common official practice which Sheridan approved as a harmless pastime and a cheap drunk. His moody silence had been taken for a deep and painful case of martial ardor. Deep, because everyone was certain old Sherry was a firebrand for King and Country and Duty and Honor and various other high-flown sentiments-which he wasn't-and painful, because he was known to be a hell of a fellow when it came to a fight-which he was. A hell of a coward, not that any of them would believe it if he said so.
But he was forced to turn himself onshore, unlucky chap; he was leaving the fleet to pay his respects to his beloved father's fresh grave and take up permanent care of his dear invalided sister. It was a sad case, a sad end to a glorious naval career; anybody could see how poor Sherry was torn to pieces over giving up his command, and not a bit comforted by his nabob father's boundless fortune and estate.
It made no difference that poor Sherry himself had never voiced any of these sentiments. It was also immaterial that he would rather have been any number of places than trapped aboard a warship with a bunch of antique admirals who were itching for a fight. Nor did Sheridan bother to mention that he intended the imaginary invalid sister to be a fine sloe-eyed courtesan with a good education in the passionate arts, or that he had despised his father, his father had despised him, and the nabob fortune most probably had been left to a Home for Fallen Women in Spitalfields. Sheridan Drake had the gift of smiling darkly and keeping his mouth shut. He never lied without sufficient provocation.
Just now it was becoming unpleasantly hot on the quarterdeck, even for heroes. Vice Admiral Codrington didn't seem to notice-too busy pretending he was back twenty-two years ago still bellowing broadsides at the Battle of Trafalgar. The old fool apparently hadn't even realized that a bomb ketch behind the enemy line had managed to draw a damned accurate mark on his flagship. Sheridan sucked in an anxious breath as he heard the unearthly whistle of another falling rocket. He closed his eyes with a brief, private groan.
Below him the guns boomed again, covering the blessed thwop of a miss as the bomb hit water near enough to send the splash fountaining over his cuff. With an ardent oath, he flung off the drops that glistened against his dark blue coat. If one of those shells hit the deck and exploded over the powder magazine, the fact that he'd been relieved of his command with honors just this morning would be a point of academic debate. It certainly wouldn't make any difference to the tiny pieces of Sheridan Drake scattered all over the Bay of Navarino.
He'd had enough of this hellish nonsense. Like any sensible hero who wanted to live long enough to lay eyes on his laurel wreath, he hit upon a plan. It wasn't a first-rate plan. In fact, it was a damned shaky plan, but things were tight. He drew his sword for dramatic effect and took a step toward Codrington and the knot of flag officers, fabricating a fierce look and an obscure but frantic need to dispatch a boat back out of the action-a boat which Sheridan had every intention of being aboard. As he closed the space between them, the eerie shrill of another incoming bomb climbed to a screaming pitch. He spared a glance up past the mizzenmast.
In that numbing instant he saw his plan and his life and his future go for naught. The shell howled along its trajectory with nightmare clarity. In his panic the thought that pushed every other from his mind was that it was a terrible rotten practical joke. He hated practical jokes; it had been a vicious prank that had launched him into this abominable career, and now it was going to be a stupid black twist of humor that would take him out. Of all the days for Codrington to start a fight; of all the ships for Sheridan to be on; of all the bombs that were plunging down on all sides, there had to be one with his name on it: Captain Sheridan Drake, Royal Navy-Almost Paid Off.
In that endless moment beneath the bomb's rising shriek his life seemed to vanish before him-just evaporate, like steam in thin air: no time for evasion; too far to the rail; too late to do anything but complete the step he'd already started that took him among the officers next to the admiral. He was going to die right now-with his guts dissolving in fright and fury. It was outrageous; it was monstrous, and it was all Codrington's fault.
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