Nice girls love a sailor. Naughty girls are quite partial, too.
When a man she thought she loved offered Lady Catherine Harcourt a life wrapped in a velvet bow, she took it. That life wrapped her in velvet chains. Now her status as a respectable widow allows her virginal alter ego, Cecily, to relieve milksop-for-blood dandies of their riches and go back where she belongs. The sea--aboard her pirate ship.
The one knot in her sail is Paul Ambury. Daring, irresistible, and a lieutenant in the Royal Navy. Yet the temptation to indulge in his gorgeous body--all in the name of the plan, of course--is too much to resist.
Paul has known his share of empty-headed society women, and fiercely intelligent Catherine doesn't fit. When he wakes up adrift in a longboat after a blazing night together, he knows why. She took him for a fool--and took his ship.
Plus, the evil little genius has him neatly trapped. If he reveals why he lost his ship, he faces court martial. If he does his duty, he must find her and hang her--the one woman with whom he's fallen in love. Damn it...
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September 13, 2010
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Excerpt from The Wicked Lady by Julia Knight
Paul ducked through the doorway into the captain's quarters and looked around in the dim lamplight. It was only when she moved toward him that he saw her. He blinked in surprise, and all thoughts of ships, masts and pirates fled out of his head. "My apologies--"
She laughed, a low, throaty sound that made his belly quiver. Her voice was cultured and refined. A lady of breeding, no doubt. "No apologies required, not that I think you mean them, or you'd turn about, sir. My quarters were in the foredeck, along with all my clothes. They were burned to a crisp, and the dress I was wearing, well, there was a lot of blood. Please, there's no need to stand on ceremony. I'm Lady Catherine Harcourt, but you may call me Catherine. Everyone does."
"Lieutenant Ambury, captain of the Newquay." God, she was a bold one--and the name... Hadn't Matthew said something about a Lady Harcourt? He couldn't remember. He was too busy staring. She stood in a pool of lamplight, dressed only in a silk shift stained here and there with blood. The light shone through the thin fabric and showed every curve and line of her body. Her fair hair fell loose around her face, unbound in contrast to the tightly pinned hairstyles or wigs women wore in public. The caress of hair over shoulders was something he'd only ever seen on a woman as she lay in his bed, and was instantly erotic to him. So was her complete lack of embarrassment and the way she watched his face carefully, a hint of mischief in the little half-smile. No simpering in her, no blushing modesty, just a clear intelligence and humour that mocked him. He shifted his feet and hoped the blood didn't rush to his face, and elsewhere too, obviously. She laughed again at his discomfiture and motioned for him to sit.
He hesitated once more. He should at least pretend to be a gentleman, even if he wanted to be anything but right now. What he wanted was to see what was under that shift. What he wanted was to have her believe his lies, the sweetest lies that got women into bed. He looked up from a furtive glance at her body and caught her knowing gaze. He was lost for words. Any lady of class would have had a fainting fit by now, but she seemed to be enjoying herself at his expense. He wasn't quite sure how to react, feeling on the back foot for once. Time to remedy that. "Lady, forgive me, but your reputation, if I should--"
"I told you to call me Catherine, and if I'd a reputation to lose, then perhaps I'd protect it." She sat gracefully in a chair, pulled her legs up underneath her, curled almost like a cat, and leant forward to pour him a tot from a bottle of cognac. Good cognac too.
Paul tore his gaze away from where her body pressed into thin silk. He sat opposite her, took the glass and gulped down some brandy. Catherine poured one for herself, and a drop of blood fell onto the table and splashed the stem of her glass.
"You're bleeding. Are you all right?" Paul put down his glass, glad to have a distraction from his thoughts, which were becoming more ungentlemanly by the moment.
She looked down in surprise and then laughed shakily. "A small cut, nothing too bad." She turned her hand palm up and showed him a cut along her wrist. "One of them got a bit too close. Unluckily for him, my father made sure I knew how to defend myself."
He couldn't resist the perfect opportunity to touch her, and took her hand to make a show of inspecting the cut. A waft of perfume came from her, a spicy scent that seemed to lay heavily on his senses. "Really?" he asked, more for something to say than because he thought she wanted an answer. The cut bled freely, though it wasn't a bad one, but if he bandaged it, he'd have to get closer. At the moment, that was all he could think of. That, and just how glorious she'd look naked.
She leant in, and now he could smell the woman under the perfume. Feel the heat of her arm along his, the hint of her breast pressed into his shoulder. He looked up and her face was next to his as she inspected the cut along with him. She looked at him from under her lashes with an enticing smile. Was she trying to seduce him? If so, she was doing a good job. His breeches had become decidedly uncomfortable. He'd never known a woman to behave like this, as though she knew what she wanted and was doing all she could to get it. At least not any woman who wasn't a whore. Her audacity was almost as intoxicating as the breast that pushed gently into his arm, her perfume or the soft curve of her lips that begged to be kissed.
Her flirting completely unnerved him for a moment, but, being the man he was, only for a moment. He cleared his throat. "I think I'll need to wrap this, to be on the safe side. Do you have anything to use for bandages?"
He couldn't tear his eyes away from hers. They were a dark blue-grey, like the sea, and full of impish fun. She raised an eyebrow. "Well, there's always my shift."
With a laugh, she bent down and, with a little difficulty, tore two strips from the bottom of the shift. It was very hot and stuffy in the room all of a sudden, and Paul passed a hand over his forehead to blot his sweat. He took another gulp of brandy. A few minutes were all he'd wanted to spare. He should be out on deck. He'd bind her cut, then go and check all was well. Get some air. For the first time in his life, he cursed his choice of career. Maybe he could come back later...
Catherine handed him the strips of cloth. "Will this be enough?"
He had to get a hold of himself instead of behaving like a half-wit boy on his first time. Take charge, man! "It'll be plenty, I'm sure." She held out her arm, and he began to wrap it. After every other twist, he smoothed the cloth down with a thumb, making sure he went well past the actual cloth. The beat of her pulse at her wrist fluttered under his touch. Once the first strip had been finished and tied, he let one hand linger on her wrist and stroked his thumb along the soft skin there.
Her pulse sped up under his thumb, and a rash of gooseflesh ran along her arm. The corner of her mouth rose in a satisfied smile, and she reached out with her other hand to pick up her glass. "To Lieutenant Ambury. My hero." She toasted him and took a tiny sip.
His own glass in his spare hand, he toasted her in return and let a long, slow smile spread across his face. There was an unspoken promise in her look, and he intended to collect. He had her. He shifted to relieve the ache in his crotch. "To Lady Catherine, my damsel in distress," he said and drained his glass.
Her gaze followed every drop as he drank, and he put the glass down with a frown. It was still very hot, hotter than it had any right to be. Sweat trickled down his back and face, sliding off him in waves. All his skin was on fire, not with heat, but with emotion. Catherine's face blurred before his eyes.
"I think that's enough for you," she said. "Don't want you passing out just yet, do we?"
Paul tried to stand, but his legs wouldn't hold him. They'd turned to wet rope. He slumped into the chair, blinking heavily and shaking his head, sure he'd heard some muffled thumps and shouts from out on the deck.
"The bosun is a devil with the crew," she said as she leant over him. "Shouts and screams half the day."
"What in God's name--" He tried to push her out of the way, but his senses swam. All he could see was her, sensuously swaying with the ship. All he could smell was her perfume. Anger and lust swirled through him, each vying for his attention.
She undid the buttons of his coat, and moved onward, her hands gliding over the smooth cotton of his shirt. Her breath tickled his cheek, her lips softly parted, and he forgot the shouts, forgot his anger at his helplessness. Lust won.