Captain James Steele is duty bound to capture the privateer Scarlet Night and bring her rebellious crew to England to hang. Then he will leave his majesty’s service, make an upstanding marriage, and join the landed gentry. But the winds of fate are blowing the straitlaced commander utterly off course.
Once aboard, James comes face to face with a pirate boy who is in reality fierce, desperate—and gorgeous—Samantha Christian, on the run from a sadistic Virginia plantation owner. With her identity unbound, the good captain dutifully takes her under his personal command, whereupon decorum goes out the porthole. But while his heart is lost to Samantha by the time they reach England, her noose still awaits. Now James’s sense of duty will be severely tested. As for Samantha, she has a plan, and a duty, of her own . . .
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Within a Captain's Power
A Captains of the Scarlet Night Novel
By Lisa A. Olech
KENSINGTON PUBLISHING CORP.Copyright © 2017 Lisa A. Olech
All rights reserved.
Pleasant Ridge, Virginia — 1715
"Are you trying to get yourself killed?"
"I'm buying myself some time." Samantha Christian whispered behind her fan.
"You're buying yourself another beating." Her companion, Rebecca Whitmore, whispered back.
"As long as I know it will be the last, Wessler can do his worst."
The air in the Whitmore's ballroom was stifling. The room was packed with an overabundance of Virginia's beautifully dressed elite. Plantation owners with their gossiping wives and pampered daughters wearing their latest Parisian fashions. Political bigwigs vying for attention, and high-ranking British military in crisp, sharp uniforms. All these, and Samantha — in the ill-fitting, cast-off gown of Damian Wessler's deceased wife. She did her best to blend into the silk damask wallpaper. A mighty challenge wearing the color puce.
It was the annual harvest ball. An anticipated favorite in the surrounding community. It would be social suicide not to attend, which is why Wessler agreed to allow Samantha to come, even though he despised her burgeoning friendship with Isabelle Whitmore and her daughter Rebecca.
"Fine. We'll go. But I won't be spending my money on some foolish new gown. One of Marlene's will do." He snatched at her upper arm and gripped it viciously. Samantha shook with the effort not to cry out. "And if I catch you talking to those blasted Whitmore bitches, or you embarrass me in the slightest way, you'll live to regret it." He spit between his clenched teeth.
It was his favorite expression. "You'll live to regret it." There was much Samantha regretted, but it did her little good to go back and try to undo what had already been done. Her only other option was to put her plan in action to leave the vile prison she found herself in, regardless of the unavoidable risk to her health. Wessler's beating tonight would happen whether she followed his strict dictate or not. She might as well earn it honestly.
Samantha fanned at her cheeks. She and Rebecca stood tucked in amongst the huge floral arrangements decorating the room. Magnolias and dogwood perfumed the space. She caught Wessler glaring at them from across the room and massaged the nauseous pitch and roll of her stomach with gloved fingers.
"Mother has sent word, but if the Scarlet Night has moved on from their hiding place ..." Rebecca clutched at Samantha's wrist. Pale eyes, wide with concern, met hers.
Samantha smiled, trying to reassure the girl. "That's a chance I'll have to take." She closed her fan with a snap, kissed Rebecca's cheek, and shot a defiant smile in Damian Wessler's direction. "Now, why don't you introduce me to the handsome Captain Steele?"
Captain James Steele of the Royal British Navy was among the guests at tonight's ball. He cut a dashing figure in his dress uniform of navy and cream. Broad shoulders filled his gold-trimmed coat. Brass buttons winked in the flicker of the hundreds of candles lighting the room. He wore no wig, choosing to club his hair. The color was a rich auburn that shone to a light ginger in the candlelight. It made the blue of his eyes all the more striking. Taller than the majority, he was by far the most noticeable man in the room.
After the proper introductions, he swept her onto the dance floor. "Have you lived in Virginia long, Mistress Christian?"
Her gaze darted from Wessler's livid glare to the handsomeness of Captain Steele. "Six months. However, it feels more like six years."
He grinned. The curve of his mouth revealed a slight dimple in his left cheek. "Do you miss your home so much?"
"I do, and my family most of all." She tried to concentrate on the steps of the dance and boost her fortitude.
"I, as well, but soon I'll happily set sail with orders bringing me back to England. I'm looking forward to autumn in Weatherington."
"Weatherington? Is that where you're from?" She dared another glance in Wessler's direction. His glower caused her to falter and step on the captain's polished boot. "I-I grew up not too far from there in South Oxbridge."
Captain Steele never missed a beat. "You don't say. I know South Oxbridge well." He spun her to the music before dipping his head and dropping his voice almost to a whisper. "I must warn you, my lady, there is a gentleman standing off my port side who has the most disagreeable scowl directed at us."
Samantha could almost feel Wessler's eyes burning holes through her back. She forced a grin. "Does he resemble an overfed hound dog in a wig?"
The captain threw back his head and laughed. The sound warmed her clear through and somehow gave her a necessary measure of courage. "Why, yes, now that you mention it, there is something a bit hound dog about him. Who is he? A suitor perhaps? An overprotective uncle? By his expression, perhaps he is your betrothed?"
She lifted her gaze from his pristine silk neckcloth. The Captain's eyes were impossibly blue. They were the sky on a brilliant summer afternoon. "No, he is not my betrothed. He is more my jailer."
Captain Steele laughed again. "Isn't that somewhat the same thing?"
"Spoken like a man who is either terminally single or unhappily betrothed."
"Betrothed, but not unhappily. Impatient. I'm to be wed as soon as I return to England."
Samantha blinked at the quick rush of unexpected disappointment. "Congratulations, Captain. Your fiancée is a lucky woman indeed."
"Thank you. Lillian is lovely. We're well matched."
"Will you wed in Weatherington?"
"Unfortunately, no. Lillian lives in London. She does not share my love of the country. A bit too rustic for her tastes."
"I'm a true country girl, I'm afraid," Samantha lifted a shoulder in a slight shrug, "but I've always longed to see London."
His rust-tinged brows rose. "You didn't sail from there?"
"No, Portsmouth." Turning once more in the dance, Samantha caught Wessler heading toward them, only to be intercepted by one of the other local plantation owners. He acknowledged the man with a civilized nod. The tolerant set of his jaw told Samantha he'd been caught in conversation. He shot her another dark scowl.
"Well, if you ever find yourself back in England, you must allow me to show you London."
Captain Steele's warm voice softened the edge of Wessler's threat. "Won't your Lillian mind?" She blinked up at him.
The dimple in his cheek flashed once more. "I suspect she'd frown like your guard dog."
"I can certainly understand why. You are quite handsome." A darting look told her Wessler still watched. Samantha laid her hand on the lapel of the captain's jacket. "What is it about a man in uniform that is so appealing?" She traced the gold braid.
"I wouldn't know. I'm surrounded by men in uniform every day. I fail to see the allure."
Samantha's laugh sounded tinny and forced to her ear. Their dance ended. Couples began to clear the dance floor. Wessler finished his conversation and seemed intent on making his way through the crowd toward them once again.
"Captain, I do beg your pardon, but I am suddenly feeling a bit ... It's so terribly warm ..." She feigned a stumble.
He caught her arm. "Are you unwell?"
"Air." She lifted a shaky hand to her throat. "I'm desperate for a bit of air."
The orchestra began another lively tune. New dancers crowded the floor and blocked Wessler's approach as Captain Steele guided her quickly in the opposite direction toward the French doors leading to the back veranda.
The night breeze was a blessed relief after the heat of the ballroom. Moving them into the shadows, Samantha pressed a hand to her ribs and drew in several deep breaths. She lifted the back of her hand to her cheek.
Captain Steele gave her a worried frown. "Are you all right?"
"Yes," she nodded, "I believe so." She shot a glance over her shoulder.
"Can I fetch you some water, perhaps?"
"No, thank you. I'm feeling much better." She laid a hand on his sleeve. The lights from the ballroom filtered through the sheer fabric adorning the doors and accented the attractive angles of his face. "Are you always so kind, Captain?"
He gave her another small grin. "Unless I'm ordered otherwise."
"You are in His Majesty's service." Samantha responded coyly and curtseyed.
"Aye, and loyal to king and country." He inclined his head in a small bow.
"And steadfast in your duty?" she teased.
Captain Steele stood tall. "I know of no other way."
The doors to the veranda flew open. Music and the hum of conversation tumbled out as Damian Wessler rushed from the ballroom. He stood for a moment at the railing, peering into the shadowed pathways of the Whitmore's formal gardens.
Blood rushed in Samantha's ears. Fear and panic caused her to clutch at Captain Steele's sleeves. "Forgive me, sir." she whispered before rising on tiptoes to crush her mouth to his.
"Madam —" Captain Steele put his hands to her waist and gently tried to push her away.
Samantha heard Wessler's curse behind her. She tightened her grip. "Please, Captain, I've no time to explain," She rushed. "Play along." She slipped her arm about his neck, angled her mouth, and kissed him again.
Wessler's boot heels punctuated each stride as he marched toward them. He wrenched her out of Captain Steele's grasp. "What in the bloody hell —" he snapped. His eyes held a murderous rage as he growled into Samantha's face. His jowls trembled with barely contained fury.
Samantha wiped at the corner of her mouth. She flashed Wessler a coy smile. "You can't blame me for stealing a simple kiss." She shot a nervous glance at the Captain. In the dim light, she couldn't read his face, but the increasing bite of Wessler's fingers interrupted all else.
She faked a small stumble and a tiny burp. A forced giggle through her gloved fingertips capped her performance. "Whatever was in the punch? I'm so lightheaded."
"You'll pardon us, sir, but Mistress Christian," he jerked her to his side, "and I need to bid you a good eve." As he spoke, his grip continued to tighten. "Come along, my dear," he snarled as he jerked at her arm. "Didn't I warn you not to drink too much this evening? Time to get you home."
Samantha pushed at his punishing hand. "We shouldn't be rude to the Whitmore's distinguished guest." She shot Captain Steele an embarrassed glance. He was watching the exchange between her and Wessler. A frown knit his brows. "Another dance, Captain?" "We're leaving," bit Wessler.
"The spirits were rather potent tonight. Perhaps, Mistress Christian simply needs a bit more air, Mister ...?" Captain Steele held out his hand.
Damian had to release her arm to return the Captain's handshake. She couldn't stop the small gasp that escaped her. Her fingers wrapped around her battered skin.
"Wessler. Damian Wessler. I own the Blackwater Plantation. Mistress Christian is in my employ, and she can be rather wild. Undisciplined. Ignorant to social protocol. Almost defiant." The last words he directed toward her as he reached for her once more. "If you'll excuse us."
Samantha started to thank the captain for his kindness, but Wessler jerked her away. His vise-like fingers left little room for argument. He dragged her back through the crowded ballroom and past a horrified Rebecca.
"We — we need to t-thank our hosts." She resisted the strength of his pull, casting a pleading glance back at Rebecca. She'd rushed to Isabelle's side, and now both women watched their hasty departure, concern etched on their faces.
"And give you yet another opportunity to humiliate me?" He wrenched her arm, causing her to gasp as he snarled into her ear. "Shut your fucking mouth and keep moving, or —"
"Or what? I'll live to regret it?"CHAPTER 2
Samantha pulled the hood of her black wool cloak low to conceal her face. Ahead of her, through the gloom of a murky night, her rescuer urged her to hurry. She stumbled upon an upturned root, and her guide cursed.
"Damn it, hurry. The tide will be turning soon. If we are not away, we won't be able to leave 'til dawn."
"I'm moving as fast as I can." She quickened her pace as best she could. "These shoes are too big. They keep slipping from my feet."
Less than an hour had passed since Captain Tupper Quinn alerted Samantha of her arrival by tossing small pebbles at her bedroom window. Now was the time. It was tonight or the opportunity — and her savior — might be lost.
At the first sound of those lifesaving pebbles, Samantha had raised the window, then caught the knotted rope tossed to her before securing it to the heavy post of the bed. Moments later, Tupper swung over the sill to drop into the room.
The wild-haired woman in breeches and boots wasted no time with pleasantries. "Put these on and be quick about it. If he catches us, we won't get away without a messy fight."
In the pack Tupper tossed at her, Samantha found a pair of mud-brown breeches and a shirt of coarse linen, together with a long, wide strip of muslin. Stockings and buckled shoes finished the outfit, along with a wide, thick leather belt.
Stripping off her dressing gown, Samantha winced against the ache in her ribs. She heard the sharp intake of breath behind her and turned to find Tupper's narrowed eyes upon her.
"He put those marks on you?" Her breath hissed through her teeth.
Samantha nodded, clutching her gown to her chest. Tupper brushed the hair away from her face, before tipping it to the light. Samantha couldn't hide the dark ugly bruise marring her cheek. "He prefers to inflict bruises on his staff none can see, but his anger often gets the better of him."
"Lowlife son-of-a whore bastard," Tupper grumbled, releasing her chin. "Best be quick, before I change my mind about leaving and choose to end his miserable life instead."
"I'm tempted to let you."
Tupper nodded to the muslin. "Bind your chest. Make it good and tight."
Samantha began to wrap the fabric about her, flattening the fullness of her breasts as best she could. She donned the strange-feeling pants and finally slid her feet into shoes two sizes too large.
"Now your hair," Tupper instructed.
Samantha smoothed a hand down its long length. "My hair?"
"You're passing as a lad. It has to go." Tupper pulled a short dagger from her boot.
"All of it?" Clasping a handful, she held it to her heart. She always kept her hair long, but knew the cost of her freedom this night. She didn't need to hear Tupper's answer. Samantha closed her eyes and nodded.
The honed blade made short work of the task. Tupper began cutting through the thick shanks of hair. Soft brown locks fell in curled fistfuls at their feet. Samantha felt tears prick the backs of her eyes, but as the first length of hair fell, she knew there would be no turning back. Soon she'd be free of this hellish existence, and by the grace of God, she'd be saved.
* * *
Later, as she struggled to keep pace with Tupper, the cold dampness of the night air upon her neck felt strange and only added to the surreal scene in which she found herself. How they found their way through the moonless night, she could not say, but soon her feet hit the sandy soil that harkened their arrival upon the shore.
A small skiff with four large men waited. Tupper helped her into the boat, retrieved the shoe that dropped into the water, and swung in to join the rest.
"Make haste, gentlemen, the tide won't be waiting."
The skiff jerked as each man tugged sharply on the oars. It took only a moment for them to find their synchronized rhythm.
The coal-black outline of the land against an ebony sky was Samantha's last sight of Virginia and hopefully the last she would ever see of Damian Wessler and his evil children.
Samantha held her sodden shoe in her hands. The men made short work of bringing the skiff out to a tall, three-masted sloop anchored not too far off shore. There had been no conversation. Tupper sat facing her but paid her little attention, concentrating instead on the men behind her. One of them hummed to himself, pulling at his appointed oar in time to the song he sang only in his head.
When they reached the ship, a rope ladder lowered and soon the small party was climbing swiftly up the side of the dark ship. Samantha struggled to keep her footing. Her shoes making it near impossible to navigate the shifting rope in the darkness. Once she decided to shove them into her belt and make her way without them, it was much easier going.
Tupper pulled her over the gunwale and called out. "All set, gents, let's weigh anchor and be off."
Shouts and a flurry of activity erupted around them. The ship was dimly lit with a handful of low lanterns, but the crew worked as if by feel and instinct alone. Three men circled a pegged wheel of sorts. Its brass cap catching the low light as they turned it round and round. Heavy chain coiled around its center post. As they began to move, the ship creaked and popped. The deck beneath Samantha's stocking-covered feet began to rock.
Overhead, the sails snapped as they caught the night's breeze. Samantha stumbled and grabbed hold of the thick-tarred rigging as the ship came to life and began its leap across the water.
Excerpted from Within a Captain's Power by Lisa A. Olech. Copyright © 2017 Lisa A. Olech. Excerpted by permission of KENSINGTON PUBLISHING CORP..
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
'Within a Captain's Power' by Lisa A. Olech is book Four in the "Captains of the Scarlet Night" series. This is the story of Captain James Steele and Samantha Christian. Sam fell for Damian Wessler and his lies which ended up making her his servant who he beat. Sam and her friend set in motion a way for Sam to escape and get on the "Scarlet Night" ship. Sam had convinced Damian to let her go to her friends party where Sam set in motion for her to anger Damian enough that he would beat her enough that he would lock her up for a few days. Sam had chosen James to kiss him to cause the scene that set off Damian. After the beating she was able to sneak out and get on the Scarlet Night ship. There she had to cut her air and done pants to pretend to be a boy. James is set to marry a women named Lillian so his attraction Sam at the party was upsetting. When Damian dragged Sam off, James figured he would never see Sam again. James has been ordered to capture the privateer Scarlet Night ship and its crew. What will happen with when James find Sam is part of that crew? "My honest review is for a special copy I voluntarily read."