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The Moonstone and Miss Jones
By Jillian Stone
BRAVA BOOKSCopyright © 2012 Jillian Stone
All right reserved.
Chapter OneFRANÇAIS TÉLÉGRAPHE AND CABLE 4 SEPTEMBER 1889 11:10 AM DX MARSEILLES PHAETON BLACK CPT AMERICA JONES C/O CHERBOURG LE HAVRE CALAIS
SHANGHAIED IN SHANGHAI STOP MEET ME BELOW STAIRS AT THE OLD FLAT
"I swear I'll see Phaeton Black hang from a yardarm." America Jones crushed the wire in her fist and tossed the message aside. The crumpled paper bounced along the bustling street of Le Havre in carefree ignorance of her angry heart.
Her boatswain, Ned McCafferty, flattened one side of his mouth into a thin line. She knew his grimace well. The very one he used to hide his amusement so as not to provoke her. "I wouldna' advise ye string up Mr. Black, Cap'ain Miss, not in y'er condition."
She sighed. "I suppose it defeats the purpose of chasing him halfway around the world. Perhaps I will torture him first." She'd do it, too, except the devilish man would have her strip down to camisole and pantalettes and swish a riding crop about.
America stepped off the curb and crossed Rue Dauphine. The harbor breeze stirred memories of Phaeton on a balmy Polynesian night. Bare-chested, a trickle of sweat ran down his torso. America caught her breath as a surge of arousal coursed through her body. "Drat!" He had entered her mind for a mere moment and rekindled her passion. And something else—an awful, unbearable yearning.
"First, I suggest ye catch him, lass." Ned purposely fell back and swept up the discarded telegram. He opened the crumpled paper and read aloud. "Shanghaied in Shanghai. Stop." His mumble followed on behind her as she turned the corner and set a brisk pace in the direction of the Port Authority. She tossed a glare over her shoulder. "I thank you kindly not to read my personal messages."
"Hold on there, Cap'ain. He might have been shanghaied—or worse."
She stopped in her tracks, brows knit together. "What are you saying, Ned?"
He removed his cap to scratch his head. "Stop and think now, Miss. Say your Mr. Black was kidnapped. Might of taken him a good while to get a message off ship."
"What if—might have? Just like a man to give Phaeton the benefit of the doubt." Hands on her hips, she leaned into Ned's face. "And he might have run off." America caught a lower lip under her teeth and chewed, a nervous habit which Phaeton often provoked, especially when she was cross. And she was thoroughly vexed at the moment.
Had Ned and Phaeton formed a bond during the voyage? She certainly hadn't noticed. But then why would she? She'd danced around the deck of the Topaz like a giddy young girl in love. Too deliriously happy, she supposed.
The wretched truth of it was she'd never been happier in her entire life. Not even when Papa was alive had she known such contentment and genuine affection from a man. While it lasted. America wound a circuitous path around dockworkers and drays. She missed him. These last weeks had been a misery without Phaeton by her side.
And in her bed.
America exhaled a deep sigh. Her eyes moistened and she blinked hard, refusing to cry a single tear for the man. "I suppose we'll find out the truth soon enough."
For some weeks now she had sensed they were closing in on the rapscallion. Once aboard ship she'd give the order to make ready. They'd shove off under a full moon, have a skim across the channel, and up the Thames. The Topaz would make Port of London before morning—quick as you please.
Phaeton's wire had been held at the telegraph office for several days, but the cable had been sent from Marseilles. Might it be possible the Topaz, fast as she was, had nearly caught up with his ship? Her heart thumped erratically in her chest. She revisited his cryptic words. Shanghaied in Shanghai? It had been his first and only communication since his disappearance. What was she to make of such a message? Just like Phaeton to be clever in such a dire moment. In fact, the more life threatening the situation, the more amusing he often became.
Whether it be abandonment or abduction, she'd get to the bottom of his disappearance. She supposed she should be elated to know he was alive. To know she would once again be able to look into his devilish dark gaze. Eyes that bespoke a sharp mind and a lust for adventure.
As much as she was drawn to him, a fearful, nagging thought lingered. A worry that had never quite left her mind or her heart. Perhaps it wasn't possible to settle down with a man like Phaeton Black. Perhaps it might be better to move on and try to put him behind her. She swept a few unruly wisps of curl from her eyes and made her way down Pier 12.
Well, she had a great deal more than herself to think about now. She stepped around cargo nets and stacked barrels of stout. Up ahead, through a crisscross of masts and rigging, a blazing red sky framed the eye-catching merchant ship. America shaded her eyes from the low rays and inhaled a deep, cleansing breath. Even with sails furled, her sleek lines and proud stature made the Topaz the fairest ship in port. Ned hurried his pace and helped her onto the gangway. Single-file, they climbed the steep ramp.
Halfway up, she stopped and turned. "I caution you, Ned, not a word about my condition. 'Tis a secret between you and I. No one must know—especially Mr. Black."
Ned reached out to steady her. "If you say so, Cap'ain Miss."
She climbed the rest of the gangway stroking her barely swollen belly. "Forgive me, my little pea under the shell. Once we reach London, I fear you might well be fatherless."
"What can one say about you, Mr. Black? You are part devil and angel." The bold beauty stepped closer. Hair a honeyed shade of brown, a lovely aquiline nose, and eyes that sparkled like gemstones—green, he thought. No, blue.
No, green. The color of the seas off Crete.
Phaeton took another leisurely perusal of the young lady's wares. For the sparest of moments, he thought about warning off the intriguing girl. That was before his gaze lowered to her bosom. "I'd have to say largely devil."
Her pale hand swept over the buttons of his trousers. Brazen chit! Delicate fingers found what they searched for. "Largely, indeed." Her touch was light and fleeting, but the very notion that she dared such public foreplay cheered him greatly. Apparently, it also amused the naughty little vixen. Those astonishing aquamarine eyes traced the bulge in his pants. "Rumor has it you are made of wicked wood and when you play the seducer you are so very, very ..."
A clearing of his throat ended in a grin. "Shocking?"
Her faraway glance about the room returned to him. "Sublime."
He quirked a brow, but otherwise kept his gaze steady. "Are we discussing length and breadth or technique?"
"Not sure." The wily minx tossed a wink over her shoulder and flounced away. "But I mean to find out." He watched the bob and sway of her bustle as she wove her retreat between chattering passengers.
They were nearing the dinner hour. The ship's salon swelled with first-class passengers swilling aperitifs. Phaeton drew in a breath and exhaled slowly. Miss Georgiana Ryder turned out to be a most charming ingénue with a saucy, hoyden-like quality about her. Quite irresistible, as were her siblings Velvet and Fleury, a delightful sisterly trio—each one as lovely as the next. He scanned the salon and found Velvet standing among a cluster of oglers. Her gleaming dark eyes and sultry pout beckoned without words. He met her gaze and lingered for a brief flirtation before he caught a blur of Fleury. The fey, dancing, wisp of a girl instantly distracted. Phaeton watched the youngest sibling flutter about the room, much like a hummingbird hovers and flits from daisy to delphinium.
"Are you enjoying the voyage, Mr. Black?"
"My return trip to London grows more diverting by the hour." Phaeton tore his eyes off the pretty chit and nodded a polite bow to the young lady's mother. "Mrs. Ryder." He feigned a pleasant expression. "Most especially since I have been fortunate enough to make acquaintance with you and your family."
If truth be told, he found the cloying mother barely tolerable and Mr. Ryder, the stout man slurping sherry in the corner, to be a degenerate troll who conducted himself as more of a procurer than a father anxious to see his daughters well-spoken for. In point of fact, the entire family was odd. For one thing, they were inexplicably interested in him.
He had dressed early for dinner and entered the main salon in hopes of finding a tumbler of whiskey. The Ryder clan, which included the mister, missus, and assorted lovelies, had singled him out from a number of wealthy, titled gentleman aboard the RMS Empress of Asia. He considered the obvious question—why?—and decided it could wait for later.
Yes, the voyage home was going to be interesting. The ocean journey that had once been tedious and despairing quite suddenly brimmed with intrigue. Phaeton nodded perfunctorily to the mother's ramblings, as the woman found it an unnecessary bother to pause or think between sentences.
He perused the room looking for his evening's distraction, Georgiana. The young lady's mother might indeed be a harpy in disguise and the father no better than a common pimp, but the eldest daughter? The bewitching dream of a young woman stood between two heavily whiskered gents whose eyes never left her astonishing assets.
Phaeton took another look for himself. There was nothing overly voluptuous or buxom about any part of her. It was just that all parts of her were so very ... luscious. Aware of his attention, she turned and made eye contact across the crowded salon. Gazes locked, the little vixen opened her mouth ever so slightly. A pink tongue swept the underside of a peaked upper lip. The room, for a second, collapsed in size around them. The gesture caused a number of his vital organs to rush a surge of blood to his favorite extremity.
Phaeton tipped his glass for a last swallow.
A white-gloved steward entered the salon and rang a melodious set of chimes. The dinner bell. Another attendant, also liveried in a brass-buttoned jacket, opened a double set of doors. Georgiana turned to leave, but not in the direction of the dining room.
Peripherally, his gaze took in the delicate laces and bright colored silks of the fashionably attired as they drifted into supper. He dipped a nod, here and there, as the beau monde passed in a blur. A few oddly familiar faces, but for the life of him, he could not place the familiar spirits. He set his empty glass on a silver tray and wound his way through the room, in the opposite direction of sustenance. This evening his appetites lay elsewhere.
Phaeton stepped through the hatch onto the promenade deck. The night was clear and warm with a bit of moisture in the air. A sparkling carpet of stars swept across the sky overhead. He strolled toward the front of the ship and thought about a cigar, then thought better of it.
He found her standing near the starboard bow. He could have pressed close, but instead, kept some distance between them. She turned and struck a sultry pose with her back to the rail.
They were alone. He did not know how he knew this, for he made no inspection of the deck. And frankly he did not care. Her gown rippled with the breeze. "Lift your skirt."
She tilted her head and rolled her eyes in the prettiest fashion. Not a refusal, but more of a flirtation. Her hand caressed a curve of hip and lifted her skirt enough to expose a dainty turn of ankle. His arousal was prodigious, yet he continued to trifle with her. He used two fingers to gesture upward.
Inch by inch, her skirt and petticoats rose. A delightful show of calf. A pretty knee. A silk-flowered garter. And above the top of her hose, a hint of peach-colored flesh.
With the slightest measure of control left, Phaeton closed the distance between them. He pressed her against the ship's rail. Not too hard. Certainly not as hard as his burgeoning need. "Georgiana?"
"Mr. Black?" Droplets of perspiration, like tiny diamonds, sparkled across her nose and cheeks.
"Please, call me Phaeton." He kissed the bridge of her nose and tasted salt—and a whiff of something spicy. The stubble of his beard brushed her cheekbone as he worked his way toward an earlobe. He reached under her gathered skirt and felt her body shudder. "Kiss me, Phaeton."
He lowered his gaze to her mouth. "And if I kiss you, what is my reward?"
He enjoyed the playful squint in her eyes and saucy turn to her chin almost more than her words. "As if a kiss is not reward enough? What do you desire?"
He slipped his hands under her bustle and rubbed gently, as softly as a balmy breeze off the East China Sea. "More."
The corners of her mouth lifted. She wrapped a limber leg around him. Good girl. "Then I shall see you snuggly sheathed."
He found the ribbon on her lacy undergarment and pulled. Silk fabric slipped over a rounded cheek, exposing a lovely derrière. Firm with just the right amount of jiggle. He moved in-between her thighs and slipped the tips of his fingers along the sensitive inside flesh of her limbs. She spread her legs wider.
Phaeton smiled. He didn't even have to ask.
He caught a flash of scarlet in her eyes and caught his breath. Just a ripple of color, but even a hint of suspicion was bad enough. He quickly lifted silk pantalettes and retied the bow. "Arousing to see you again Georgiana, or should I say Mademoiselle Gorgós?" He stepped away.
Deep crimson swirled behind midnight blue eyes. Her flesh took on a curiously ethereal form as something reptilian materialized before him. Scaly but feminine, with a pale luminescence. Her dress unraveled to lay bare high-set breasts and rounded hips. A gossamer snake of silk swirled over her nude form, entwining itself around voluptuous curves.
"Ah, there you are." Somewhat wistfully, one side of his lip curled upward.
Fully formed, she was feline and serpentine all at once. Her skin glistened with pearl-sized, translucent scales that rippled with each rise and fall of breath. Her new, darker gaze traveled the length of his frame, admiring, exploring. She grabbed hold of his lapels and pressed him back against the ship's rails. Every fiber of this female entity appeared to quake with anticipation. Sweeping aside her meandering skirt she pressed his hand to her Venus mound, but his fingers retreated. In fact, his arm jerked backward. Awkward, even for Phaeton.
Regretfully, he stepped away. "Not that my soul is worth saving, but I make it a point never to lay with otherworld creatures." His tsk was more of a sigh. "Pity—you might have saved this for later—crawled into my berth for the suffocating climax?"
A shockwave of energy knocked him down and sent him sliding along the polished wood deck. He lay stunned momentarily, as the female demon swarmed over him, thrusting herself against his manly parts. He groaned. "Such a naughty succubus." Between caresses, this night creature would attempt to mount, then strangle him. There was nothing left to do but feign a struggle.
At some point he would have to extract himself from her sexual alchemy. But not ... immediately. He rather enjoyed this part of the macabre dance. There would soon come a delightful, helpless paralysis. He would chance a moment or two of pleasure before those invisible bonds took hold and began to choke.
Irises contracted into vertical slits as bulbous orbs swiveled up and down his torso. Georgiana had become decidedly less attractive.
The buttons on his trousers loosed. "Dangerous play, love."
Phaeton lifted his head as his cock sprung to life. It couldn't hurt to ask. "Might the naughty succubus swallow the dragon?"
Her answer came in the form of a pink tongue covered in shimmering scales and a long hiss. Soon, she would genuflect on his chest. With nostrils flared, bearing down hard, the she-devil would squeeze with all her considerable might and crush the air from his lungs, the living soul from his body.
Her scaled tongue lengthened and tickled his earlobe. Clawed fingers wrapped around his brick-hard prick and stroked. Good God, he ached for release.
The vixen's luscious mouth uttered a deep, throaty sigh and moved lower. "Cocks up, Mr. Black."
"Mmm, the pleasure is mine." He reached into thin air.
"Got nothing to do with your pleasure, sir. They're comin' fer ye. Shake a leg now and be quick about it. We made Port o'London last night."
Phaeton's eyelids flew open. The blurry visage of an old seadog squinted down at him. He jerked awake at the sight of the gray-bearded geezer. "Crew sez they lost their share at cards last evening."
Phaeton rubbed his eyes.
His tête à tête with a night terror had been a stimulating hallucination—while it had lasted. He blinked again, and brought a wild bristle of chin hairs into focus. "Good God. That you, Mr. Grubb?" He barely recognized the croak in his own voice.
Rummy old Joe Grubb flattened weathered lips into a thin line. "Crew claims ye cheated 'em."
Despite the blistering hangover, he vaguely remembered a card game as well as a good deal of grog guzzling. "Preposterous." Lifting his pounding head, he reached down to scratch his crotch. A rat chewed on a trouser button.
Excerpted from The Moonstone and Miss Jones by Jillian Stone Copyright © 2012 by Jillian Stone. Excerpted by permission of BRAVA BOOKS. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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