Bestselling author Valerie Bowman sets the stage in Regency England for her Playful Brides series, where couples' misadventures on the way to the altar are witty, romantic romps based on some of the world's most beloved plays. The seventh book in the series, Never Trust a Pirate, is inspired by Emma Orczy's The Scarlet Pimpernel.
The rules of engagement were never so scandalous. . .
A rumored pirate and the scurrilous black sheep of his well-to- do family, Cade Cavendish relishes his world of rebellion, deception, and seduction. Nothing and no one can hold him to be the duty-bound, honorable man he is expected to be. But when an unexpected run-in at his twin brother’s estate with a ravishing, raven-haired maid leads her to believe he’s actually a viscount, Cade’s renegade life is thrown wildly off-kilter. And even though a case of mistaken identity can be quickly set to rights, matters of the heart are quite different…
Miss Danielle LaCrosse is startled to learn that the handsome gentleman who radiates sin and has the devil in his eyes is not her employer the Viscount, but rather his infamous brother. A former heiress, orphaned and left penniless, Danielle has more than a few secrets of her own. Cade may be skilled at coaxing even the most hidden desires out of Danielle but can he earn her trustand win her heartas they embark on an adventure to confront a dangerous enemy from both of their pasts . . . and uncover the identity of the so-called Black Fox along the way?
Never Trust a Pirate is part of the Regency-set Playful Brides series by Valerie Bowman
About the Author
Valerie Bowman grew up in Illinois with six sisters (she’s number seven) and a huge supply of historical romance novels. After a cold and snowy stint earning a degree in English with a minor in history at Smith College, she moved to Florida the first chance she got. Valerie now lives in Jacksonville with her family including her mini-schnauzer, Huckleberry. When she’s not writing, she keeps busy reading, traveling, or vacillating between watching crazy reality TV and PBS. She is the author of the Secret Brides series, starting with Secrets of a Wedding Night, Secrets of a Runaway Bride, and Secrets of a Scandalous Marriage.
Read an Excerpt
Never Trust a Pirate
By Valerie Bowman
St. Martin's PressCopyright © 2017 Valerie Bowman
All rights reserved.
Only three steps. Only three steps separated him from the map. It was there, lying on the rickety wooden table in the captain's stateroom aboard a ship aptly named Le Secret Francais. The only sound in the cramped space was his own breathing. Sweat beaded on his brow. He'd come this far. Braved the murky, cold water, swum out to the ship moored at the London docks. Climbed aboard, silent as a wraith, dressed all in black. Wrung out his clothing to keep it from dripping so there wouldn't be a trail. Managed to steal into the captain's quarters as the man slept, and now, now only three steps remained between him and the priceless map.
One water droplet fell to the wooden plank floor like a hammer against steel. The sound of his breath echoed to a crescendo. The blood pounding in his head became a distracting whirring noise.
One step forward. The ball of his foot ground onto the plank. Stealth and silence. Always. The calling cards of the best thief in London.
The captain stirred slightly in his bunk and began to snore.
He froze. One leather-clad foot arrested on the wooden plank. A pistol rested on two nails directly above the captain's bunk. If the man awoke, he might shoot first at any noise. The captain well knew the value of the treasure he carried.
He counted to ten. Once. Twice. He had long since mastered the art of keeping footing on a ship. He waited until his heartbeats became steady again before taking the next step. A slight creak in the wood floor. A hint of movement from the captain. Another endless wait. Impatience was a roiling knot inside his belly.
Out of the shadows now, he stood only one step away from the table bolted to the floor. The moon shone through the window above the captain's bed, shedding light on the man's balding head. The map lay spread out, anchored by pins in the four corners. He would have to remove those pins. Ripping the paper would make too much noise.
Another interminable wait as the captain turned away from him in his sleep. His snores subsided.
He glanced over at the bunk. The pistol shone in the moonlight. One hard swallow. He never carried a pistol. Too loud. Pistols brought the crew, the wharf police, and anyone else interested in such activity. The only weapon he carried was a knife, tucked in the back of his breeches. A weapon of stealth.
Another count to ten before taking the final step. There was no time for an in-depth study of the map now, but a quick glance revealed the destination. The island of St. Helena, off the western coast of Africa, circled in bold scrawl. The map of the route planned for a dangerous man's next escape. That bastard in the bed had been planning it.
All ten fingers itched to snatch the paper and run, but he forced himself to take a deep, silent breath. Carefully, he dislodged the first pin at the top right corner. It popped out easily. The top of the map rolled toward the center, making a slight flapping sound. Breath held, he glanced toward the captain again. No movement.
He stuck the pin back into the table to keep it from rolling, then his hand darted to the next pin at the bottom right corner. It also popped out easily. He quickly stuck it back into the wood. With two sides free, he carefully rolled the map toward the center. Reaching up to the top, he grasped the third pin. No movement. It was lodged deeply into the wood. Must pull harder. With one black-gloved hand, he clasped the pin between a thumb and two fingers, pulling upward with as much strength as he dared. His own breath in his ear was the only sound ... that and the water lapping at the sides of the ship.
The pin finally gave way. He pressed a hand to the top of the map, to keep the freed top left corner from curling and making a noise. His chest and torso flattened against the map and the table, he pressed the third pin back into the wood.
Click. An unmistakable sound. One he had heard too often before. Another hard swallow. Damn it. He'd been so preoccupied with keeping quiet, he hadn't realized the captain's snores had subsided.
Half-splayed across the table, he contemplated his options. The door was ten paces to the left, the open window five paces to the right. Would he fit through the window? It'd be a hell of a time to learn the answer was no.
"Step away from zee map, if you don't want a bullet through your back." The captain's voice was harsh and angry.
He slowly rose from his position hunched over the map, arms braced upright at right angles near his head to show the captain he had no weapon. "Ye wouldn't shoot an unarmed man, now would ye, Cap'n?"
"I'd shoot a thief without thinking twice," the captain replied with a sneer, nearly spitting the word thief.
He glanced down at the map. Studying it in case he was forced to leave without it. He had been in worse situations, more times than he could count. He considered the knife in the back of his breeches hidden beneath his shirt. It would be simple and quick to snake it out and whip it into the bastard's throat. But a voice in his head reminded him ... justice must be served in proper course.
"Turn around," the captain ordered. "Slowly."
"Why?" he asked, trying to garner some precious time.
"Because I want to see zee face of zee man who would steal my secrets."
He began his turn. Slowly. So slowly and so quietly that he could have sworn he heard a drop of sweat from his forehead hit the wooden plank of the floor. He finally stood facing the older man.
"Êtes-vous le Renard Noir?" the captain asked.
"Pourquoi veux tu savoir?"
Visible in the light of the moon, the captain narrowed his eyes. "Ah, perfect French? Why do I find zat difficult to believe from an obvious Englishman?"
"Who else would want zis map?"
His fingers ached to choke the bastard. He might not be able to kill him, but he could wound the scoundrel. Nothing wrong with a wound. He whipped his hand behind his back, grabbed the knife, and hurled it at the captain. It hit the arm that held the pistol. The captain howled. The pistol fired. Smoke filled the cabin with its acrid stench. He ripped the map and fourth pin from the table and ran to the door.
Steps sounded on the planks above the captain's cabin. In the pitch black below decks, he forced himself to wait in the shadows under the stairs until the first group of rescuers filed down the steps into the captain's cabin. He flattened the map's scroll and folded it into a six-inch square.
"He's escaped, you idiots! Find him before he jumps from the ship!" the captain yelled in French.
The group dutifully filed back up to spread across the decks. The captain came running out, clutching his injured arm, blood seeping between his fingers, crimson dripping down his nightshirt. He made his way up the stairs and ran off across the deck.
Springing from the shadows, the thief raced back into the empty cabin. He flew over to the window, said a brief prayer to fit through the tight space, hoisted up to the ledge, and pushed his upper body through. He ripped off his black tricorn, stuck the folded map to his head, and pulled down the hat as firmly as possible.
A rope swung outside the captain's window two feet to the right. Thank God for small favors. He lunged at it and grabbed it. Noiselessly, he lowered himself down the rope, bracing both feet against the hull to rappel toward the water. Lowering quietly, he winked back at the figurehead of a saucy French woman carved beneath the captain's cabin. As soon as he made it into the water, he let go of the rope and swam like a mackerel fleeing a shark toward the shore, careful to keep his head out of the foul-smelling drink. He counted on the black of night and the murky Thames to hide him from the searchers on the ship.
As he covered the distance between the French ship and the shore, the Frenchmen's shouts filled the night air. He dared a glance back. Every lantern on the ship appeared to have been lit and the crew was scurrying about like a bevy of ants on an infiltrated hill.
He swam to the darkest spot on the far end of the docks, around the bend from sight of the French ship, and pulled himself ashore beneath a creaky dock using only his forearms. Exhausted, he rolled onto his back and lay breathing heavily in the pitch-black night. One hand went up to clap the top of his tricorn and a wide smile spread across his face.
He'd done it. He'd escaped from a French ship with the map detailing the planned route to rescue Napoleon from St. Helena. Of course he had. He was the Black Fox.CHAPTER 2
The Black Fox Strikes Again!
Cade Cavendish glanced surreptitiously at the headline on the copy of The Times that sat at an angle on the table next to him. His twin brother, Rafe, reclined just across said table at Brooks's, the famous gentlemen's club in the heart of St. James. Cade wanted to crush the headline in his fist. He glanced at Rafe. Had he noticed?
"Did you hear me?"
Cade's blond head snapped around to face his brother. "No. Pardon?" Damn it. He shouldn't have allowed the headline to distract him so much.
"I asked if you were planning to attend the theater with Daphne and myself tonight," Rafe repeated.
The theater? Ah, yes, the pastime of aristocrats like the one his brother had become. Rafe, the white sheep of the family, had been a spy for the War Office during the wars. He'd been made a viscount by the Prince Regent and married the sister of an earl. Meanwhile, Cade had spent the last ten years doing something ... much different.
Cade cleared his throat and steadfastly refused to glance at the paper again. "I suppose the theater wouldn't be the worst idea."
Rafe blinked his crystal-blue eyes slowly. "Don't make me twist your arm. I wouldn't want to bore you."
"Brother o' mine, in our twenty-eight years, you've done many things, but never bored me. Besides, I'm always happy to spend time with my gorgeous new sister-in-law." Cade waggled his eyebrows.
Rafe narrowed his gaze. "Careful there."
"Where is the fair Lady Daphne this afternoon?"
Rafe leaned back in his chair and crossed his booted feet at the ankles. "She's meeting with potential new lady's maids. Hers gave her notice. The woman's moved north to take a position closer to her sister in the country."
"A shame," Cade drawled. Another tedious problem for the poor aristocracy. Finding proper servants.
"It's not so bad, you know," Rafe said.
"Having servants. Money. Power."
"I've no doubt," Cade said. He'd been staying at his brother's new Mayfair town house. Filled with fine furnishings and proper servants, it was a far cry from their childhood home in Seven Dials. "I'm quite enjoying being the recipient of such luxuries."
"While you're here?" Rafe asked, his eyes still fixed on the paper. "How long's it been now?"
Cade hid his smile. "I'd say close to nine months," he replied smoothly. Of course his brother didn't know why he'd come. The man had been shocked when Cade had appeared at the Earl of Swifdon's town house last year, introducing himself as Mr. Daffin Oakleaf, one of his many aliases. Rafe had thought he was dead. Hell, everyone had thought he was dead. That was how Cade liked it. But he'd come back for a specific purpose. One that he had no intention of revealing to his brother.
This also wasn't the first time his brother had hinted at wanting to know how long Cade intended upon staying. It suited his purposes not to tell him. It was downright enjoyable, actually, along with goading Rafe at every turn about his beautiful new wife. Cade might have been known in the past for his seductions and dalliances with women, but he would never attempt to seduce his brother's wife. Luckily, Rafe didn't know that, which meant Cade could continue to goad him.
"Yes, while I'm here," Cade replied with all the nonchalance he could muster.
"And how long will that be?"
"You know me. I tend to stay as long as I have a fancy."
"That's fine. As long as you keep your mistresses out of my house ... and away from my wife," Rafe replied with a smirk.
Cade tugged at his cuff and sighed. "If you're referring to that unfortunate incident with Miss Jones, I've apologized a half dozen times already. How was I to know she would climb into your bed at that inn? Amanda had no idea I was a twin."
"Yes, well, perhaps if you conducted yourself with a bit more, ahem, decorum, neither of us would be subjected to such unfortunate incidents."
"Decorum?" Rafe shook his head. "Such a boring word."
Rafe muttered something unintelligible under his breath and rubbed his nose with the back of his hand. Cade grinned from ear to ear. His brother had been grumbling and rubbing his nose at him since they were lads. It was a sure sign Cade had got under his skin.
"'The Black Fox Strikes Again'?" Rafe's voice was a mixture of suspicion and curiosity.
Cade winced. He should have tossed the paper aside when he'd had the chance.
Rafe's gaze captured Cade's over the top of the page. "Have you heard of him?"
"Who?" Cade asked, picking a nonexistent bit of lint from his coat sleeve. Bloody aristocrats and their bloody fancy clothing. It had nearly become a fulltime occupation tending to his wardrobe since he'd taken up residence in Mayfair.
"The Black Fox," Rafe drawled.
Cade sighed. "Seems I might have heard a mention a time or two." He readjusted his cravat and cleared his throat.
Rafe's brows lifted. "Says here he's a pirate, an Englishman. He stole some valuable cargo from a French ship docked in the harbor last night."
"Is that so?" Cade made a show of looking about for a footman to place another order of brandy. He declined to meet his brother's eyes.
Rafe shook out the paper to see more of the story. "It also says he's a master of disguise."
Having located a footman and placed his order, Cade settled back in his chair and shrugged. He scratched at his eyebrow. "Does it? How interesting. Someone you're looking for?"
"You know I cannot discuss my assignments," Rafe said, still studying the paper.
"Ah yes, the Viscount Spy. Isn't that your new sobriquet? It's all quite clandestine, isn't it?"
"I suppose so." Rafe nodded toward the paper again. "Know anyone who's a master of disguise, Mr. Oakleaf?"CHAPTER 3
Danielle LaCrosse smoothed the skirts of her simple white gown as she waited in the viscountess's fancy drawing room. Gowns were highly overrated. Managing the skirts alone was a chore. She'd nearly tripped half a score of times today. She studied the gilt portraits, the sterling silver candlesticks, and the wallpaper that no doubt cost more than the entire little cottage near the shore she'd been saving for for so long.
She'd never seen anything so fine as the contents of this room. Tiny porcelain figures of birds that seemed to have no purpose other than to be pretty. An ornate gilded box resting on a nearby table that Danielle had been unable to keep herself from peeking into (it contained dried rose petals of all things). And carpet so rich and thick she'd momentarily indulged in the ridiculous desire to slip off her shoe and plunge her stocking-covered toes into the deep weave. And yes, it was every bit as soft as she'd imagined. She was exceedingly grateful no one had witnessed that particular behavior, however. No doubt it was conduct unbecoming of a proper English lady's maid, but for a French girl who had spent far too long in uncomfortable accommodations, the viscountess's house was luxurious indeed.
Danielle wasn't usually nervous, but she desperately needed this position. Being the maid to a fine lady like Lady Daphne Cavendish would not only provide her with more money in a week than a regular maid saw in a month's time, it would allow her to stay in London. At the moment, that was priceless.
The drawing room door opened and a diminutive woman with shining honey-blond hair and watchful gray eyes came gliding into the room. She couldn't have been more than twenty years of age. "Please forgive my tardiness," she said, her dark pink skirts sweeping across the top of the rug as she made her way over to where Danielle sat.
Danielle hopped from her seat and executed her best curtsy, the one she'd been practicing for days. "My lady."
"Oh, please," the slightly shorter woman said in a friendly, happy tone. "Do take a seat."
"Thank you," Danielle replied, already worrying that her French accent would be looked upon with distaste by her very English potential employer. The wars had been over for two years now, but Danielle knew well there was still a great deal of animosity between the English and the French.
The blond woman smiled at her with kind eyes. "I am Lady Daphne Cavendish," she announced. Her English accent reminded Danielle of her mother. A sharp pain throbbed in Danielle's chest.
"Pleased to make your acquaintance, my lady," Danielle replied, biting her lip and watching the lady for any signs of disapproval.
"The agency tells me you come with excellent references," Lady Daphne said.
Excerpted from Never Trust a Pirate by Valerie Bowman. Copyright © 2017 Valerie Bowman. Excerpted by permission of St. Martin's Press.
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