A nobleman’s marriage of convenience takes a sultry turn in this romance that spans from Virginia plantations to Caribbean seas. Marlee Stafford isn’t a fool. She knows the handsome, arrogant Richard Arden has married her for her money, just as she’s wedded him for his aristocratic name. But Marlee isn’t about to give up all of her control to this cocky baron with a wandering eye. She won’t sign over her inheritance until she’s enticed her broad-shouldered husband into desiring only her. But when his hungry kisses begin to ignite her most intimate fantasies, Marlee knows she’s made a weighty error, for this mysterious man harbors a dark secret—and now he’s holding her helpless under his spell! Before meeting Marlee, Lark Arden’s only aspiration was to get money for a new ship so he could track down the pirate Manuel Silva who had kidnapped his fiancée, Bettina. But when he takes on the identity of his recently deceased cousin, Richard, he never expects that his blue-eyed proxy bride will tempt him beyond sanity. Lark originally planned only to “borrow” the money from Marlee, then flee. He never though he’d steal her virtue. But how can Lark resist tasting her sweet lips and sampling this dark beauty’s fiery passions? And how can he reconcile his lust for the very woman he’ll soon betray?
About the Author
Lynette Vinet is a native of New Orleans, Louisiana, and a member of Romance Writers of America and Creative Minds Writers. She has always been intrigued by the history of her native city and the South, as well as colonial America and the British Isles. An avid genealogist, she is also a member of the Genealogical Research Society of New Orleans. Over the last two decades, Vinet has published eleven historical romances as well as a number of genealogical articles. She is a wife, mother, and doting grandmother.
Read an Excerpt
Pirate Hunter's Mistress
By Lynette Vinet
OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIACopyright © 2013 Lynette Vinet
All rights reserved.
The Cornish Coast of England 1725
"I now pronounce you husband and wife."
The magistrate smiled at the bride and groom, his job completed with those few words. The wedding ceremony was over, seemingly finished before it had begun. Marlee Stafford found herself embraced by Hollins Carpenter, the man who stood next to her and who had placed a ruby and gold filigree ring upon her third finger not five minutes ago. Hollins kissed her forehead in a polite but distant manner. "My best wishes to you, Lady Arden," he addressed her by her new name.
"Thank you, Mr. Carpenter." Marlee's answer was automatic as she was somewhat dazed to realize she was a married woman. Only that morning she'd gone shopping in the village with her Aunt Clementina and two cousins; the purpose of the trip was to buy material to make a proper wedding gown. And now she would be unable to use the fine white silk she'd carefully chosen for her wedding in one month's time to Lord Richard Arden, Baron of Arden. Hollins Carpenter was at the house upon their return, and his news took her completely by surprise.
"Lord Arden requests the marriage ceremony be performed by proxy today, my dear." Carpenter, who was Marlee's solicitor as well as Richard Arden's, had told her this startling news in as gentle a voice as he could summon. "He's aware your Uncle Jack has already made some arrangements for the ceremony, but ..." And here Carpenter glanced down at the wooden floor in her aunt's home, seeming to trace every nick in its polished surface before he looked up again to settle his spectacles upon his nose. "The baron has been abed lately and fears traveling might deter his hasty recovery. He has appointed me to be your proxy groom. I do hope you don't mind."
Mind? Certainly Marlee minded. It wasn't everyday she'd be married, especially not to someone she'd never met. Tales about Lord Richard Arden abounded throughout Cornwall. Some people considered him to be the devil himself with his black hair and devilishly dark eyes. Rampant rumors circulated about his drinking, the large amounts of time he spent at the gaming tables. Tongues wagged that he'd sired half a dozen children without benefit of clergy. Indeed, Arden was a rogue of the highest order and she was going to marry him. She must marry him because only a rogue would have her.
For more than a fleeting second Marlee did wonder if Lord Richard was truly ill. Perhaps he feigned poor health as an excuse to marry her and lay claim to her fortune without making her a true wife, without meeting her face to face. So much had happened in such a short time, beginning with Arden's sudden marriage proposal and now ending with a hasty wedding. Marlee couldn't help but be suspicious of Arden's motives. It was a well-known fact that his ancestral home, Arden Manor, had fallen into disrepair. Carpenter had already confided to her that Arden needed Marlee's wealth to pay his creditors.
Carpenter had convinced Marlee that the marriage would solve a great many problems for herself and Lord Arden. Marlee could see the wisdom behind Carpenter's suggestion, but no matter the circumstances for such an alliance, Marlee wouldn't allow Arden to use her fortune without making her his wife in every sense of the word. She might only be the daughter of a tin miner, but she did possess some pride and wouldn't allow a rogue like Richard Arden to deny her the chance to be a proper wife.
With a determined smile on her beautiful face and a slight inclination of her dark head, she placed her hand on Mr. Carpenter's arm. "You've looked after my interests since my father's death and I know you wouldn't play me false. Since Lord Arden trusts you so well, I will be most pleased to have you stand in for him during the ceremony. I hope when I meet him I shall find him in good health." She purposely flashed the solicitor a dazzling smile. Her cheeks dimpled prettily with the effort, causing her sapphire-colored eyes to glow like the sky on a sunny afternoon.
Hurriedly she changed into an ice blue gown which was fashioned from the finest silk and pulled her dark tresses away from her face with a white ribbon. Within minutes she stood before the magistrate in Jack and Clementina McBride's small parlor and placed her trembling hand in Mr. Carpenter's steadying clasp.
Her aunt and uncle with their daughters in attendance watched as Marlee Stafford became Lady Arden, Baroness of Arden Manor.
Carpenter swallowed and patted her hand during the ceremony but not once did he look at her directly until the moment he kissed her forehead at the ceremony's end.
In the background Clementina sniffed and wiped at her eyes with a lace kerchief. Marlee sighed, knowing the woman wasn't crying because she'd miss her niece — though it would be nice to think so. Finally, after eight years of caring for her sister's child, Clementina would be free of Marlee. No, the tears were joyous ones because Marlee, the orphaned but wealthy relation, had married into the aristocracy. Clementina's mercenary heart must be weighing the advantages of having a relation with noble connections, now that her daughters Daphne and Barbara were of marriageable age. Marlee would be able to introduce them to eligible and wealthy young men, giving Clementina the hope that her girls would marry well.
"Such a happy day this is," Clementina spoke aloud and noisily blew her nose. "We've a baroness in the family. It was worth all the trouble that lying Tim Lee caused with his nasty comments about Marlee's virtue."
A blush suffused Marlee's cheeks. How dare her aunt mention such a thing now, especially with the magistrate nearby. He'd no doubt gossip about all that was said and done in the McBride household today. She could just hear all the wagging tongues, but soon she'd leave the village and go to live in her husband's home, putting all of the nasty and untrue rumors firmly behind her.
Thankfully, her Uncle Jack was more tactful and kinder than his wife. He shyly kissed Marlee's cheek. "I wish the best for you, dear girl. We all do. Be happy in your new life." Gesturing toward his daughters, he urged them forward. "Girls, come wish your cousin Marlee happiness."
Barbara, Marlee's younger cousin, rushed toward her and clasped her hand. She peered at the ring on Marlee's finger. "How beautiful it is, and how lucky you are! Oh, I do wish you good things, Marlee. May I come visit you at Arden Manor? I should like that ever so much."
"Yes, I believe I'll have need of a friendly and familiar face." Marlee warmly regarded Barbara. Out of all the McBrides, she liked Barbara the best. They were friends as well as cousins, and she knew she'd miss Barbara when the time came for her to depart with Mr. Carpenter for her new home. However, she doubted she'd miss Daphne much — if at all. That sentiment was brought home when Daphne casually sauntered near and barely gave a glance at Marlee's outstretched hand.
"Isn't it a beautiful ring?" Barbara gushed to her sister, her chestnut-colored curls bouncing upon her forehead in enthusiasm.
"As rings go, I suppose it will do," Daphne laconically proclaimed and didn't give the ring an extra look.
Hollins Carpenter turned from his conversation with the magistrate and Jack. He smiled indulgently at Daphne. "If I may say something about Lady Arden's ring, Miss McBride."
Daphne shrugged, pretending a disinterest which Marlee guessed Daphne didn't feel.
"Lady Arden's wedding ring," Carpenter interjected with a bright-eyed stare which caused his plain face to seem surprisingly animated, "is over three hundred years old. It was worn by the first Lady Arden and has graced the finger of each subsequent baroness. The craftsmanship is unequaled, the ruby is the most dazzling of any comparable jewel in England. Lord Arden is indeed fortunate to have such a gracious and lovely wife as Lady Marlee to wear it. I'm certain that one day some lucky gentleman will present a similar wedding ring to you."
For just a second something like adoration behind the spectacles flickered in the depths of Carpenter's eyes for the blond-haired Daphne. Marlee noticed it, but Daphne, too caught up in her envy for Marlee, didn't. "Personally, I'd prefer a much larger stone," was Daphne's cutting remark. "Marlee, for all her wealth, is fortunate to marry at all, considering that no decent young men darkened our doorstep after her reputation was ruined. Everyone knows that Richard Arden only wants her for her money."
"Daphne!" Barbara clutched her milky-white throat. "You shouldn't say such terrible things, not today of all days."
"Well, it's true and you well know it, Barbara McBride."
Clementina suddenly intervened by clapping her hands. "Girls, bid the magistrate farewell and go wash for supper. I'm certain Mr. Carpenter has things to discuss with Marlee."
Marlee was grateful that for once Clementina had silenced Daphne. However, she guessed the magistrate would rush to tell everyone about Daphne's remarks and, once again, the silly story about her fall from grace would be bandied in the village.
Minutes later, Marlee found herself sitting on a hard-backed chair in the parlor before a small tea table while Mr. Carpenter sat across from her. On the table he'd placed an official-looking document.
"I never believed the rumors," he offered kindly and adjusted his spectacles.
"Thank you for saying that, Mr. Carpenter. I wish others didn't. People can be quite cruel, you know."
"You're a baroness now, my lady. What others think and say can no longer harm you."
"I doubt, sir, just as I doubt that I shall ever get used to being addressed as 'my lady.' Such a title is rather daunting to a tin miner's daughter."
"Lady Arden," Carpenter intoned in a deep and serious voice with a demeanor to match. "You are Lady Marlee Arden, Baroness of Arden Manor and wife to a powerful man. The tin miner's daughter is no longer."
Marlee laughed out loud. "Oh, piddle, Mr. Carpenter. You know perfectly well that in my heart I am William Stafford's daughter and descended from peasant stock. It was my father's good business sense which allowed him to own the mines instead of working in them like his father and grandfather before him. Otherwise, I doubt a powerful and well-bred man as Richard Arden would wed me for myself. We're both aware he married me for my fortune."
"Yes, well ..."
"Mr. Carpenter, you're turning red with embarrassment. Please don't be embarrassed for me. After all, you are the one who informed my husband about my less than promising matrimonial circumstances. I'm well aware my marriage isn't a love match, but I hope to change that after I arrive at Arden and meet my husband. I have high expectations for the future."
"Yes, my lady, as do I." Hollins sighed and reached for a quill with a suddenly unsteady hand. Marlee couldn't dislike the man, even if he had arranged a marriage between two of his clients to bail her groom out of financial difficulties. Arden might prosper financially, but she'd prosper, too, in the scheme of things. She'd have a husband and a home, no longer existing as an unwanted relation.
It seemed her large fortune was all that mattered to some people, her groom included, she admitted glumly to herself. Arden was as mercenary as Clementina and Jack who had wanted her to live with them after Marlee's father's death. Poor, little orphan girl, Clementina had said with misty eyes at William Stafford's funeral. There must be something she could do for her only sister's child.
It turned out there was.
William had turned her guardianship over to the McBrides in his will. Marlee had thought her aunt and uncle had truly wanted her — they seemed so pleased to have her — until Mr. Carpenter told them a small stipend would be paid each month for her care. Clementina had declared it wasn't enough, that poor Jack would have to slave away forever as a bank clerk when an heiress lived under their very roof. Their daughters wouldn't have the fine silks and satins which a girl as wealthy as Marlee could easily afford. Surely, they should be paid more for Marlee's care. But Hollins resisted, adamant in following William's will to the letter.
Each month when the small stipend arrived, Marlee endured her aunt's hateful gazes, the stinging silences. Every day Marlee prayed that she'd grow up fast and leave the McBrides. They didn't abuse her but she wasn't wanted either, and that knowledge hurt as much as any slap or heated retort would have.
When she was seventeen, Tim Lee, the son of the local minister, entered her life. He was a good-looking lad of nineteen and intent upon following in his father's footsteps. Marlee was friendly with Tim, finding him to be a nice enough person but not truly encouraging his attentions to her when he suddenly expressed more than a passing interest in her. Whenever Tim appeared at the house, she'd dutifully sit with him in the garden under the watchful eye of Clementina. Her aunt wished for a marriage as a way of getting her niece out of the house. But when Tim proposed to Marlee, she refused. There was nothing about Tim that would cause her to want to spend the rest of her life as a pastor's wife. She gently told him she was unworthy of his affections, and he should seek a bride elsewhere.
Tim took her refusal in good stride, or so Marlee had thought. Two weeks later, Marlee had nearly forgotten the proposal when rumors started circulating about her virtue. It seemed Tim Lee had confided to a dear friend that Marlee refused to marry him because she found herself unworthy. The friend, perhaps with a bit of exaggeration on Tim's part, put his own connotation on Marlee's "unworthiness."
Reverend Lee paid an unexpected visit to the McBrides to declare that he'd not welcome a "Jezebel" into his family and was deeply relieved that Tim had the good sense not to call upon Marlee again.
Weeks later Tim married a preacher's daughter from Devon, but the damage to Marlee's reputation had already been done. People whispered behind their hands whenever Marlee went to the village, causing her distress and unease. As far as Clementina was concerned, the worst happened when no young men with money or connections called upon the two McBride sisters. It seemed Daphne and Barbara would remain spinsters — and all because Marlee had rejected a suitor.
Now, with Marlee's marriage to Lord Arden, she could make up for her cousins' lack of suitors. She could present the two girls with an opportunity to enter polite circles so they might attract wealthy husbands. She felt she did owe the McBrides something for her care, and perhaps her arranged marriage to a dissolute aristocrat would make up for any inconvenience they'd suffered. Evidently her fall from grace didn't matter to Richard Arden. He'd married her anyway.
"My lady." Mr. Carpenter's voice drew Marlee from her reverie. She blinked and discovered he was holding the quill out to her. "The papers are in order. All that is required is your signature."
"I'm sorry. My mind was wandering." She smiled apologetically and glanced to the spot where he pointed on the parchment before her. "What am I supposed to sign?"
For a moment Carpenter appeared almost sheepish, even hesitant. "This document turns over your inheritance to Lord Arden, if you wish. Your father wanted you to decide the matter of your fortune's disposal for yourself."
This was news to Marlee. She hadn't known about such a stipulation in her father's will until this moment and was disbelieving. "You mean I have a choice in the matter?"
"Well ... yes — you do."
"Why didn't you inform me about this before now, Mr. Carpenter?" Marlee felt anger and dismay rising within her to have been purposely left in the dark by Mr. Carpenter, a man whom she thought she could trust. No doubt he had feared that if she'd known about the document, she'd have reneged on the marriage contract. Evidently her father had drafted the document to protect her interests by allowing her the choice in turning her fortune over to her husband. Her dear, sweet father was looking after her in death, even if living people weren't.
"I admit I should have told you." Carpenter's forehead broke out in droplets of perspiration. He glanced at his watch fob and some seconds passed before he looked directly at her. "Accept my apology for this oversight, however, I trusted you would feel duty bound to turn your assets over to your husband and hoped you'd regard the document as a mere formality."
Excerpted from Pirate Hunter's Mistress by Lynette Vinet. Copyright © 2013 Lynette Vinet. Excerpted by permission of OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIA.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
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Great read-Pirates are most interesting, ocean travel with lots of mystery.