Hijacking an Englishman from a brothel is all in a day’s work for Captain Mattie St. Armand. She needs protective coloration, and a naïve (and expendable) white man will keep the eyes of the authorities off her as she smuggles slaves from the Florida Territory to freedom in the Bahamas.
Oliver Woodruff wanted a spot of travel in the Caribbean before he settled down, but he never expected “Marauding Mattie.” He’ll help her, but he knows there’s no place in his world for the bastard daughter of a pirate and a freedwoman.
As Mattie trains him for their ruse, she comes to realize he’s a man she can turn to for support and companionship, and Oliver grows to love the commanding and daring woman who refuses to fit society’s mold… but both are sure their relationship is doomed by society’s taboos.
It will take danger and adventure (and Roscoe the parrot) to convince them that the passion between them is more than an island fantasy.
About the Author
Darlene Marshall is the author of award winning historical romance featuring pirates, privateers, smugglers and the occasional possum. Her novels include What the Parrot Saw (High Seas #4), The Pirate's Secret Baby (High Seas #3), Castaway Dreams (High Seas #2), Sea Change (High Seas #1) The Bride and the Buccaneer, Captain Sinister's Lady, and Smuggler's Bride. She's hard at work (more or less) on her next novel. Marshall lives in North Central Florida, the setting for some of her novels. It's a land of rolling hills, gators, massive flying insects, and humidity like a wet smack in the face. Only the strong (and the air-conditioned) survive. She loves working at a job where office attire is shorts and a flamingo festooned shirt, and she loves to hear from readers.
Read an Excerpt
"I don't need a useless white boy. Find someone else to take him off your hands."
"Not a boy, a man. The sort you favor, captain — golden curls, pouty mouth. He's quite pretty, I know you'll agree."
Captain St. Armand stretched out long legs clad in close fitting buckskins, admiring the shine on boots freshly polished. The brothel on St. Martin offered a variety of services to its clients, from excellent meals to boot-blacking, along with the usual amenities one expected from such establishments.
"If I bring a pretty lad aboard ship, everyone will want one. I don't share my toys."
"You'll take him," the madam said. "I'm calling in my marker for the incident last year."
"That wasn't my fault!"
"Your ship, your crew, your fault, St. Armand."
"Really, that man needed some excitement in his life."
"That's not the excitement Mr. Carlson sought at this house. He never expected a goat."
St. Armand snickered at the memory. "I still say what you're asking is excessive."
"I thought you'd turn me down." Barbara Simpson took a sip of the sherry she'd served herself. Her guest was drinking Jamaican rum, as usual. "You should know though, the young man in question is Bunny Rathbone's relation."
"Bunny Rathbone! How is the dear old boy?"
"He's well, moving up in the world. He wrote me to say his cousin was touring the islands and if he came here I should treat him as an honored guest. Bunny implied Mr. Woodruff needed to experience more of life. To put it bluntly, he called the young man a 'stuffy, boring stick.' I invited him to the house, but first he ran into a spot of trouble and I brought him here for safekeeping."
The doors to the parlor were open to catch the afternoon breezes rustling through the bougainvillea — a restful pause before business commenced for the evening. Comfortably rounded and middle-aged, Mrs. Simpson was a shrewd businesswoman whose motto was to give the clients what they desired — within reason — and to treat her girls as she'd wanted to be treated when she'd worked there. She'd miss Captain St. Armand, a favored customer setting sail for Nassau after a stop to provision and catch up on mail and messages from home. A packed valise waited near the door.
"The two of us have fond memories of Bunny's visits to this house, but I'm sailing on the tide, so bring your package out here and let me see for myself."
The madam's bully boys were summoned and returned a short while later with their "package" struggling between them in a futile attempt at freedom. It was a young man in his mid-twenties, and, as promised, he had bright gold hair and sky-blue eyes. One of those eyes was blackened, and a bruise discolored the left side of his face. He was also gagged with his hands tied in front of him.
"As you see, I need your help taking him away, and you could use a cabin boy. You told me so yourself. Mr. Woodruff has an unfortunate habit of speaking intemperately, and there were people who took exception to what he said."
"Americans. Ah, I thought that would interest you."
"I am slightly tempted," the captain said, looking the young man over. "I may have a use for him, other than the obvious one. As always, you have an excellent eye for the goods."
The captive made a noise muffled by his gag.
"Don't look so horrified, Sunshine. The work's not onerous and it comes with special benefits. If he's annoying the Americans I'm thinking of, it makes him far more trouble than he's worth, Barbara. I'll pay you for the goat incident and leave him to his own devices."
"The goat incident set me back twenty-five pounds, not to mention the free services Mr. Carlson received for his embarrassment. You owe me, but if you take Woodruff with you to Nassau we'll call it done."
She directed one of her men to get the captive's gear. The captain pulled a fine cigar from the mahogany box on the table, taking time to light it and inhale before answering.
"Twenty-five pounds? I don't care how pouty his mouth is, there's not a man alive worth that amount."
The bound man squawked again, jerking against the hold on his arms.
"Untie the gag, James. Maybe Woodruff can convince me of his worth."
The gag removed, the captive worked his square jaw back and forth, glaring at them.
"I demand you release me at once! I am a British citizen and I will notify the authorities!"
St. Armand looked at Mrs. Simpson, then both laughed aloud. Even the guard chuckled.
"How do you intend to back up that demand?" St. Armand asked. "Did you happen to bring a knife with you? Or guns? Or friends with guns?"
"Friends with guns are good, Captain."
"Indeed they are, James, but I don't believe Woodruff has friends here, with or without guns."
"You cannot hold me here! I did not come to the islands to end up in a bawdy house!" he protested.
"Well, that's your problem right there, Sunshine."
Woodruff took a deep breath, then looked at the mistress of the house.
"You are not responsible for me, Mrs. Simpson. I am not unappreciative of your protecting me by keeping me here, but I can take care of myself."
"You don't seem to be doing a good job of it so far."
He glared at the sea captain.
"I do not know what your interest in my affairs is, sir, but I do not need your assistance." He started to step forward, but James's heavy hand on his shoulder kept him in place.
St. Armand set down the cigar.
"It's not up to you. Hold out your hands."
Almost reflexively the man thrust his arms out. St. Armand's knife sliced through the knots, but when Woodruff tried to pull his arm back, the captain gripped his hand and turned it over.
"Soft and smooth as a nun's arse. You've never hauled lines or done work harder than holding a pen. Don't look so astounded. I can tell you're a scribbler from this callus on your finger." Cold eyes scanned him from his face down to his feet. "Soft all over. I only take crew and cargo aboard my vessel. You are worthless to me."
The brothel owner delicately cleared her throat.
"Goats, St. Armand. Remember the goats. You don't have to keep him forever, like a pet. Take him to Nassau or Jamaica and leave him there. You owe me, and I owe" — she paused and looked at her guest — "our mutual friend, so let's be reasonable about this."
Woodruff stared at the sea captain. "You are Captain St. Armand? The Captain St. Armand, of the Prodigal Son?"
Before he could answer, the brothel's majordomo knocked at the door.
"A note arrived for the captain, ma'am, and it's marked urgent."
St. Armand read the rumpled paper, a frown creasing the lean face.
"There's no time for further debate. I'll dispose of this person for you, Barbara, and make sure the body's well hidden."
"What? You can't kill me!"
They ignored such a patently ridiculous statement, but Mrs. Simpson shook her head.
"I must insist."
"Oh, very well. Woodruff, you're coming with me. Your only choice is whether it's bound and across your saddle, or riding."
He appeared ready to argue, but after one look at St. Armand's set face said, "I'll ride."
"You'll find a way to turn a profit on him," Mrs. Simpson said, rising to her feet as well, "I know you."
"There is that," St. Armand said cheerfully. "He could have an unfortunate and fatal accident aboard ship, and I know a surgeon in Nassau who pays well for fresh cadavers. Don't look so pasty-faced, boy. If you follow orders, you should survive long enough to keep scribbling. The first order is this ... The captain is always right, and when I give an order, I expect it to be obeyed. Say 'Aye, Captain' if you understand."
Woodruff looked at him and swallowed.
"Good lad. Wait for me outside."
* * *
Oliver stood on the veranda, rubbing his sore wrists. To be fair, he'd not been mistreated by the brothel keeper or her staff. They'd kept him locked in a hut on the back of the estate, but they'd cleaned up his cuts and bruises and fed him.
His head buzzed as he tugged on his jacket, thankfully still in one piece. Out of the corner of his eye he could see the guard, lounging against the wall but watching him. He wasn't going to run off. He'd thought Captain St. Armand a story made up by old salts cadging drinks from gullible travelers. Some stories put the notorious sea rover in the middle of the wars against Napoleon, some said he'd fought the Americans, others said he'd outrun the Royal Navy in his schooner. All the tales said men who crossed him didn't live long enough to regret it.
That seemed impossible. Yes, St. Armand had the look of a pirate about him, but his lithe form and light voice showed him to be far too young to have fought for or against Napoleon. He was tall and clean-shaven, with startling blue eyes. The French name combined with ebon hair and tan skin made Oliver think he was from Mediterranean lands or a mulatto. In the islands it was best not to pry.
St. Armand clearly had secrets though, and the open windows to the house's parlor made it easy for Oliver to eavesdrop on the couple inside.
"I might have a use for him, beyond the obvious. I've been looking for a man like that."
"I worry about you. You cannot keep this up, my dear."
The woman's taffeta skirts rustled, and he imagined her moving in closer to her lover as she added, "Stay with me, St. Armand. You know how much I want you."
"It was a delightful interlude, but this could not be a permanent diet for me, Barbara. I am what I am. Some things are beyond my control."
"What a waste. No man can do for you what I can," she grumbled.
Oliver's skin flamed as he listened. He wasn't naïve. He'd been sent to school, heard tales of sailors and their ways. Was Mrs. Simpson worried St. Armand's perversions would be exposed? Even worse, given the "cabin boy" remarks, did he fancy Oliver for himself?
There was no further conversation from the room behind him, but his hearing was excellent and he suspected the couple was sharing an intimate moment, kissing as they prepared to part. It was confirmed when he heard St. Armand speak tenderly in a low voice.
"Goodbye, Barbara. I don't know when I'll return, my dear, but I will always treasure these days with you."
"You know you have a place in my heart as well, love. Goodbye, Mattie."CHAPTER 2
Horses were brought to the front and St. Armand emerged from the house, strapping the valise behind him before smoothly mounting the chestnut.
"Mount up, Woodruff."
Oliver secured his own case, glad again he'd chosen to travel light. Without another word, the captain set off, and he hurried to catch up. St. Armand was quiet and alert, his eyes scanning the shrubbery and rocks as they rode.
It was dusk. The tropical light gave a soft haze to the road, and they didn't need torches. St. Martin was like most of the other locales Oliver had visited in the Caribbean — run-down and neglected, but bright with flowers and lush vegetation.
A perfumed note from Mrs. Simpson had arrived within a day of his ship docking, inviting Oliver to the house, saying an unnamed mutual acquaintance had recommended him to her. The offer had piqued his curiosity, but he was pummeled in the tavern before he could act on it on his own.
Now his adventures were taking a very different turn. St. Armand seemed exactly the sort of picaresque character who'd do well in a novel or travel journal, though Oliver would sooner die than give in to the pirate's advances. Perhaps St. Armand was simply an opportunistic hedonist, enjoying the company of women as well as men.
"Captain, I appreciate your helping me to leave that establishment, but I don't want you to have a"— he struggled for words that wouldn't insult this well-armed man —"a false impression about me. I am not interested in, in ..."
The words trailed off in the dusk.
"Yes, Woodruff, what is it you're not interested in? I'd be fascinated to find out," St. Armand said, glancing over his shoulder at the road behind them.
"I don't want you to have a false impression about me, about why I'm accompanying you. I couldn't help but overhear your farewells with Mrs. Simpson."
There was silence while he seemed to mull over Oliver's words.
"Let me be certain we're clear on what it is that does not interest you. You eavesdropped on a private moment, and now you're warning me not to have designs on your fair young body. Is that correct?"
"I'm trying to have a serious conversation, sir! I've heard about you and your ship. You have a reputation as a notorious libertine, a voluptuary ..."
"And you're not that kind of boy? I can fix that."
Oliver's teeth clenched and he could see the man next to him enjoying his discomfort.
"See here —"
"Stifle it. I need to pay attention to the road, and I don't have time for your maidenly airs."
St. Armand was listening for something, occasionally looking over one shoulder. They rode along in silence until he said, "Woodruff, do you recall your first lesson for life at sea?"
"Always obey the captain's orders?"
The captain looked behind them, then grinned at Oliver.
"Ride like your arse is on fire, Woodruff. That's an order!"
Two shots rang out, followed by a shout from behind them.
"Halt, you blackguard! You're under arrest!"
"Someone's shooting at us!" Oliver yelled unnecessarily, but St. Armand was already ahead of him, the horse's hooves beating a cloud of dust on the road. The gold braid decorating the captain's coat kept him in Oliver's sights, and he caught up after an eternity of hard riding.
"Who is shooting at us?"
"Do you want to wait here and find out? Decide fast, because if they catch you, you'll be hanged as a pirate."
"I'm not a pirate!"
"Good luck explaining that on your way to the gallows."
St. Armand pulled forward again, and Oliver concentrated on riding and keeping his head down. Another shot whizzed by his ear and he cursed the pirate, but their pursuers were falling back. More importantly, he could see the lights of the bay ahead of him.
St. Armand leaped off the chestnut onto the dock, then unstrapped his valise as a ragged boy ran forward to take the reins.
"The horses go back to Mrs. Simpson," the captain said, flipping a coin the boy neatly snagged out of the air.
Oliver dismounted and ran over to St. Armand, already headed to a boat bobbing in the water. Three sailors waited there and one caught the captain's bag as it was thrown in.
"Come aboard and take your chances, Woodruff, or stay here and chat with the gentlemen behind us."
"Trouble, Captain?" asked a sailor.
"Nothing out of the ordinary."
Oliver climbed into the boat and hunkered down, looking over his shoulder. The rest of them did not seem overly concerned, even when the pursuers reached the docks and started yelling for a boat of their own.
The sailors rowed them out to a schooner with raked masts. Prodigal Son was painted on its bow. They ignored the hollering from the docks and chatted with their captain as Oliver climbed aboard to the stifled snickers from one of the sailors following him, then St. Armand shimmied smoothly up the ladder, taking Oliver by the arm and standing him at the rail.
"Stay here until I figure out what to do with you. You can wait. The tide will not. Mr. Turnbull, get us underway."
Oliver did as instructed, his bag at his feet, taking in all the activity. The mate, Turnbull, was a grizzled salt with half an ear missing and the remainder of his face looking as if it was put together on a bad day for faces. The crew responded smartly to the barked orders. Oliver pulled his notebook and his pencil from his jacket, trying to appear unobtrusive and unthreatening as he jotted down notes. He'd expected the crew of a pirate ship to be oozing evil out of their pores, but these men sang as they raised the anchor, hauling away at an arcane arrangement of ropes and pulleys. If he could capture the moment on paper he'd be better able to reconstruct the scene later.
The sails stretched out, reaching for the wind, and the schooner soared through the water like an osprey after a fish. He stood at the gunwale, taking it in. He'd been beaten, shot at, held prisoner in a brothel (without enjoying any of its usual services), and hauled aboard an alleged pirate ship. He'd longed for adventure when he was confined to the dreary offices in Manchester, and now he was getting it in abundance. The creak of canvas and rope, the sailors' chanteys, the mystery of the ship's captain ... He looked over his shoulder at St. Armand, talking with the helmsman.
The captain wore a finely tailored frock coat of navy blue wool with a high, black velvet collar. It was crusted with gold braid, gleaming buttons moving down at an angle from the wide padded shoulders to a tapered waist. He sported a black silk dotted neckcloth against his white linen, a red satin sash girdled his waist, and the smooth buckskins were tucked into high boots. His curls fell across his forehead, though he eschewed the side whiskers so many other young gallants favored.(Continues…)
Excerpted from "What the Parrot Saw"
Copyright © 2018 Eve D. Ackerman.
Excerpted by permission of Eve D. Ackerman.
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