His secrets could destroy her...
New Orleans, 1817
Colette Kincaid once knew such love and delicious passion in the arms of her pirate husband, Donato de la Roche. Yet Colette could not continue to live as the wife of a pirate, when reunited with her family. So she fled, taking their son with her and reconciling herself to never seeing her husband again...
Until their son is taken.
Donato is convinced his wife is behind his son's disappearance-just as she is convinced he is the villain. Now they're unable to leave each other's side as they seek their child, forced to confront the desire that still smolders between them. But Donato knows that soon he must face the secret about Colette he's been hiding for so long. And it's a secret for which there is no forgiveness...
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A Pirate's Command
A Secrets of the Bayou Novel
By Meg Hennessy, Erin Molta
Entangled Publishing, LLCCopyright © 2015 Meg Hennessy
All rights reserved.
Gulf of Mexico, 1817
The night's winter chill dug into his resolve. A cold, clawing mist weighed heavily inside his lungs as he stood at the helm. The ship silently plowed through the waves; frothy fingers grabbed at her gunwales. He held their course steady, seeing only the faint coastline of America dead ahead.
A most precious cargo had been taken from him, and he was coming to take it back. As a man who rode the open sea, he always reclaimed what was rightfully his. He blinked to clear the misty air from his eyes. His gaze never wavered from the shores of Louisiana, where the prize awaited.
Risking life — or worse, capture — as a wanted pirate of the gulf waters, Donato de la Roche would be in New Orleans before dawn. He had no choice. Colette had left him when her brother arrived on the island to take her home, but with her, she had taken Donato's son. He would now take him back before Colette awoke and knew anything was amiss.
He adjusted his course, seeing the mouth of the river ahead, trying not to think about her, fighting the memories. The pain of her betrayal had curled deep inside his gut so many times, it had adhered to his body, like thick tar cured in place, though a gaping wound still bled.
No, he'd not think about her. Not tonight.
He'd not think about the tawny color of her hair and how it would flutter in the wind when she'd stand on the shore of his island. Or how she'd complain about the natural curl frizzing in the humidity. Nor would he remember her oval eyes, which would turn from green to hazel in the wisp of a second, the silky feel of her skin beneath his sea-roughened fingers.
Those memories were buried beneath the weight of one. One that surfaced from deep within his gut every time he remembered the day she had left him and with her, had taken their son.
"Land ho ..." came a soft warning from aloft on the shrouds.
"Mark your head."
"Two on the starboard bow, Capitán."
"Going quarter left."
In spite of the cold, the wind had been subtle and gentle for most of their journey, but she resisted the change in direction and fluttered with a snap above deck, shivering the lines.
"Brace with the wind," Donato ordered. As they slowly trimmed sail, he dropped his speed to three knots to ease his way into the Mississippi. To her.
That's when the other ship appeared.
"Sail up!" came another warning from the crow's nest, but Donato needed no warning, having already seen the dark silhouette of a United States gunboat.
Donato glanced up at the gaff sails. He didn't have enough wind to outmaneuver them.
"Steer full and by," he responded. Trying to avoid the navy was pointless. They would give chase. Since its second victory over Britain, the U.S. Navy flexed its muscles at the slightest provocation. He hoped to get beyond them and into New Orleans, but they were at least three miles to his starboard bow, closing in quickly.
His men lowered their black flag with the white letters Nunca más víctima, meaning a victim never again, and replaced it with the flag of Spain, transforming his ship to La María, named after his mother.
The gunboat fired a warning shot.
His crew looked to him for an order to clear for action, for they were seasoned men of battle, fighting men, who had defended their honor more than once. The American gunboat would not be a formidable foe, for what they exceeded in guns, they lacked in experience.
Donato refused to fight his way into New Orleans. He glanced toward the shore, knowing he was but a few miles from her, then shifted his attention to the U.S. Navy.
"Trim the yards." He motioned for his men to slow his ship, knowing he'd face a boarding party if he didn't change the navy's way of thinking. He had to prevent a boarding. The condition of his ship, the cannons, the weaponry, would tell a story of piracy and high seas robbery. A boarding would be fatal to his mission, and he had sworn before setting sail that nothing would get in his way tonight.
The U.S. ship came in closer, allowing leeway to their larboard bow. A ploy, Donato recognized, to keep him from either firing on them or making a run for it. He'd not run. Tonight, he was a Spanish merchant en route between Cuba and Mexico, having detoured to the American coast for medical supplies.
The ships bobbed in the water only two hundred feet from each other, closing the gap.
"Ahoy!" an American officer shouted, no doubt noting the Spanish flag fluttering above the ship. "You are in United States waters. Where are you bound?"
Donato picked up a speaking trumpet.
"Honorables caballeros, we port in New Orleans."
"Prepare for boarding." The demand was followed by a scurry of men working to lower the tender. Donato's men lifted their sidearms from beneath the gunwale. He motioned for them to stay calm. He couldn't get into a squabble out here, ten miles from the coast, ten miles from her. "As you board, kind senors, bring your physician. We fight a storm and lose much of our water supply and medicines. Several of the men are with fever. We must dock in New Orleans for quinine and fresh water."
The activity on the other ship ceased. The officer who had communicated with him turned and spoke with another officer who stood in the shadows of the main mast. Donato couldn't see him, but felt the man's penetrating eyes.
The first officer came back to speak. "We will not board. Do not de-board any men with fever on the mainland."
"Muchas gracias." Donato motioned for the sails to be dropped and returned to the helm.
Silently they floated past the U.S. gunboat. The officer in the shadows followed along the gunwale as the ships passed each other, watching. Donato debated, dare he place himself between the U.S. shore and a U.S. gunboat, but unless he was willing to take that risk, he'd not get his son back. But he was wanted for piracy in the gulf waters. If the Americans knew who he was, he'd be under fire. Tonight, under the guise of a merchant, he'd sail directly into New Orleans.
The water sloshed around the hull that skimmed the surface, calming into a silent wake as the ship sailed into the Mississippi River. The wavering lights from shore glowed through the shroud of fog hovering like a veil of night.
Ships were six deep near the port, forcing him to anchor several hundred feet from shore. He hated to be that far in case he needed a quick escape. But with barely a breeze in port, he'd need the winds to make headway once he had his son, Enio.
"Half touch left," he called out.
"Half touch left, Capitán."
The flying jib steered between two tall ships.
With the yards trimmed, his ship skimmed atop the water and slowed to nearly a stop.
Men ran the capstan blocks lowering the anchor. The heavy iron chain hardly made a ripple in the silent night. Riggings of the surrounding anchored ships whined and groaned with the rise and fall of churned waves, stretching their tethered bows.
Donato glanced around, noting there were some men on ships while lying to, and several small tenders and clippers lined the docks.
The air smelled of salt, dead fish, and seasoned cooking. The mist brought the smell to his lips, and he tasted the mixed flavors of Spanish and French foods. Music drifted down the canal. From his ship, he heard the boisterous noise of the Hôtel de la Marine on Levee. A refuge for pirates, outlaws, and rebels of all causes.
Donato knew the city well, even before Colette had brought their son here. He had visited often in the early years when he was attempting to find legal help against the constant harassment of the pirates in the gulf. After many failed attempts, he decided to take back from those scoundrels what they had stolen from him. But after the war, these same scoundrels walked free in New Orleans and he, labeled a pirate, was still a wanted man.
Colette had been en route to New Orleans when her ship was taken. Donato had rescued her from the pirate ship and from the fiends who thought to sell her as a slave. From the looks of this city, he had saved her from this, as well. But all the time she was with him on the island, supposedly content in their marriage, she had longed to remember her past, to go home. By the time Donato had figured out her identity, it was too late. Her brother arrived, and she left. She might be happy with her brother and his family, and ... their son, but Donato was not. He would leave Colette to her decision, but he wanted his son back.
A round of laughter rose over the levee from La Veau Qui Tête, a small restaurant in the hotel. The doors were wide open in spite of the chill in the air. Knowing their clientele, it was a safe house in the case he needed to disappear within the city, though that was not his plan. In two hours he'd be back on the ship with his son in his arms.
That thought brought his heart to a standstill. He hadn't held his son in well over a year, and the waiting had been painful. Donato glanced down at his shaking hands; he could hardly think for want of holding his boy.
Within minutes the crew had the polly ready to board. Donato slipped over the side, slid down the wet cargo net, then dropped into the small boat. Quietly, they rowed to the dock, gliding over the rolling waves with precision, not a ripple in their wake. Donato glanced around, knowing most of the ships in port. At least, the ones that had entered from the gulf.
He assessed it as they rowed past. A large frigate with a Spanish flag, not only Spanish, but royalty. He turned, watching the heavily armed frigate ride the soft rises of water to then sink into the swallows. Any arrival from Spain was a concern, especially for him. Without Spain he wouldn't have his island, but with that contract from the king came obligations for the good Spanish citizen, which he had chosen not to be. But tonight, he had to keep his focus on what he wanted more than anything life could offer.
One of the men, his most loyal, Ramónez de Cadiz, grabbed a rope as they bumped lightly against the water-soaked pier, pulling Donato into the moment.
"I return soon. Be at the ready."
"I wish to come, Capitán."
"No, he is my son. I do this alone."
Donato noted that the U.S. gunboat had rounded about and now entered the breakwaters of port, compromising his escape route. His story had not fooled them. His ship was being watched.
He looped the rope of the polly over the port stump and pulled her parallel to the gutted shore.
A sense of frustration bled into his mind, tangling his thoughts the moment the gunboat emerged over the horizon. He tried to shake free from the feelings, but they clung to his every hope of seeing his son, changing his thoughts from anticipation to despair.
Like a body on the rack, he physically winced, feeling the pain more intensely since his French wife, Colette, had left him. To hell with her. She was no longer a part of his life.
His heart ached with missing the child, wondering what Enio was doing now; would he know his father once they were reunited? That thought alone had kept him awake for nights on end, weeks, months, until his plan had come together. A child needed his mother. It was for that reason alone, Donato had waited before taking Enio back, but now the boy was older and would adjust to the proper care Donato could give him.
Collette's brother, Jordan, had thought to be clever and had disappeared with the family, including Donato's wife, for a few months after the war, but he had returned to buy a home in FaubourgSainte Marie, on the exclusive American side of the canal. Easy to find. Easy to enter. Donato knew the streets, the back alleys, the movement of the night clock men, the police, every pedestrian who walked the streets — he knew their pattern.
His plan had allowed him two hours to retrieve his son and sail out of New Orleans — until that damned U.S. gunboat had shown up. Not wanting to risk his men or ship, he leaned down and spoke in a low tone.
"Ramón, take the ship out of port. Come back in two days. I will have my son by then."
"This is too dangerous, Capitán," Ramón whispered.
"Si, but it is my danger. Be back in two days."
* * *
Toma, hermosa. Te hará bien.
Colette gasped, waking with a jerk. She sat up, dragging in air, breathless. With a hand to her chest, she glanced around her dark bedroom, having heard a voice as clear as if it were standing over her. "Donato?"
A chill of awareness rode up her spine, forcing her to throw back the bedclothes, needing to see her son.
She pulled on a morning frock, careful not to lose her balance on her bad leg, which had been aching more than usual these past few days. Limping across the floor to her son's connecting room, Colette opened the door.
Enio, her and Donato's son, was sound asleep. So was the nurse who slept in the adjoining room. Colette ran her fingers across the boy's forehead, pushing aside his silky black hair, his skin soft to the touch. His face was nothing more than innocence. The window to his room was locked, but unsatisfied and unable to quell that uneasy feeling that sucked the life out of her sleep, she lifted her lantern and took the stairs to the first parlor.
Shadows fluttered about the room from her candle, adding to the deception of the night. She checked all the locks. The house seemed secure, but she couldn't shake the feeling nor the dream. Donato was Spanish, but she couldn't remember him having said that particular sentence. But night after night, the Spanish words would work through her sleep until she'd awaken and feel on the verge of remembering ... something.
She jolted with a hand to her heart before realizing it was her brother standing on the last step. "I'm sorry, you startled me, n'est-ce pas?"
"You must stop this wandering at night."
She looked away, knowing she had been doing just that, every night after her return home, as dreams and images had invaded her sleep. But tonight felt different. "I woke up ... with the same dream. I hear his voice but no memory with it. I don't remember so much, Jordan."
"I know, Colette. Perhaps it will never come. You now remember us, your family. The important things. It might be time to put this in the past. You left Donato to start anew."
She had not left Donato to start anew, but to return to her real life, to learn who she really was. His life was dangerous as a pirate, and she had sometimes feared for herself and her son. When her memory had returned of her family, with it came the obligations she had, the pledges she had made more than nineteen years ago when her parents had been taken by the Tribunal during the Revolution of 1798 in France. The things she must do.
Colette turned to face her brother, a comrade, a victim of the same crime that had separated them on their journey to America from France. The fear from that night bubbled to the surface uninvited, yet popped like painful slaps of a whip against her body. She swayed and grabbed the nearest settee to keep her balance.
As always when she was in need, he was there. Jordan walked toward her with his arms outstretched to nurture her weakened body.
"I'm all right, Jordan. I've learned to walk despite the injury."
He nodded and hesitated in his step, but Colette knew it was a struggle for him. Jordan had been her sworn protector from the time she was five years old when the Tribunal had arrested their parents. He was her rock in the stormy seas, but she had leaned on him far too heavily since her return from Donato's island. Her rescue back to her own life, or so it was meant to be, had made her unusually dependent. Jordan's life was now settled. He no longer dealt with the same demons that visited her nightly.
"Jordan, how much do you remember from the night the Loirie was attacked and we were taken?"
He attempted to shrug off her inquiry, but she could see that the casual response was merely a decoy to the true feelings that tightened his brow and pursed his lips. "I remember the attack, seeing the flag of the Lady Tempest, and being boarded. Sometimes, I think there was a third ship, but nothing comes to mind. I remember trying to get to you, but I was knocked out and found myself in the water. I heard the American voice that we know was the consulate, who was on the Lady Tempest. Other than that, not much."
"There was a third ship. I remember the cannons, the fire, men shouting, shooting, then someone grabbing me and pulling me over the gunwale into the other ship. I'll never forget hearing you hit the water when you were thrown overboard. I fell into a dark place." She sighed, frustrated with her lack of memory. "A dark, dark place. I remember so little."
"I no longer care, for I know that the men responsible have met justice."
"Except Donato. You blame him."
"Do you not?"
An odd feeling of loneliness rose through the ashes of her memory, flashes of Donato's island, his voice, his touch, candlelight dinners on the terrace, and the lulling sound of Spanish guitars serenading them at night. A life filled with luxuries and riches. Only snippets dared surface before they were immediately wiped clean by the memory of her brother walking through the door of her son's room to take her home, away from Donato and his island.
Excerpted from A Pirate's Command by Meg Hennessy, Erin Molta. Copyright © 2015 Meg Hennessy. Excerpted by permission of Entangled Publishing, LLC.
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