Seduced By A Pirate
"For this humble reader, a pirate without a ship is like the proverbial fish out of water. But the talented Ms. James still manages to make her landlocked hero — a pirate come home at last — leap off the page in her tender and touching novella, a companion tale to The Ugly Duchess… a trio of charming children, an endearingly strong-willed heroine and the sensual banter between the leads will leave readers eager to believe the fairy tale."
- RT BOOKClub, December 2012 (posted December, 2012)
"James (The Duke Is Mine) once again indulges her penchant for intertwining plots and characters with this e-novella that is an offshoot of her latest title, The Ugly Duchess. This quick read brings the same passion and humor as do James’s novels."
- Library Journal, October 2012 (posted November, 2012)
"Seduced by A Pirate runs concurrently with Ms. James's delightful full-length novel, The Ugly Duchess out last September. It stars Griffin's cousin, mentioned above, who was also ordered to marry before he was twenty. Seduced by A Pirate can be purchased from HarperCollins and online bookstores. It's a fun and moving read at a very reasonable price. Download, read, and enjoy."
- Romance Reviews Today, October 2012 (posted November, 2012)
May 30, 1816
As a boy, Sir Griffin Barry, sole heir to Viscount Moncrieff, had no interest in the history of civilized England. He had dreamed of Britain’s past, when men were warriors and Vikings ruled the shores, fancying himself at the helm of a longboat, ferociously tattooed like an ancient Pict.
At eighteen he was a pirate, and at twenty-two he was captaining his own ship, the Flying Poppy. By a few years later, just a glimpse of a black flag emblazoned with a blood-red flower would make a hardened seaman quiver with fear.
No one knew that Griffin’s ship was named for his wife, Lady Barry. He had even tattooed a small blue poppy high on one cheekbone in her honor, although he had known her for only one day—and had never consummated the marriage.
Yet he always felt a certain satisfaction in that small sign of respect; his code of honor demanded that he show some consideration for his wife. Pirate or not, he had forged rules that reflected his rearing: he had never shot a man in the back, never walked anyone down the plank, and never offered violence to a woman. And he sacked any of his crew who thought that the Flying Poppy’s fearsome reputation gave them the liberty to indulge their basest inclinations.
Though to be sure, the royal pardon recently issued for himself and his cousin James, the Duke of Ashbrook, described them as privateers, not pirates.
Griffin knew the distinction was slight. It was true that he and James had limited themselves to attacking only pirate and slave ships, never legitimate merchant vessels.
But it was equally true that he was, and had been, a pirate. And now that he was back in England he wasn’t going to pretend that he’d been fiddling around the globe in a powdered wig, dancing reels in foreign ballrooms. Unfortunately, he was damn sure that the wife he scarcely remembered wouldn’t be happy to find out that she was married to a pirate. Or even to a privateer.
However you looked at it, he had turned into a sorry excuse for a gentleman, with a limp and a tattoo and fourteen hard years at sea under his belt. Not exactly the promising young baronet Poppy’s father had betrothed her to.
He didn’t relish the idea of strolling into a house somewhere around Bath—he wasn’t even sure where—and announcing his return. An involuntary stream of curses came from his lips at the very thought. He even felt something akin to fear, an emotion he managed to avoid in the fiercest of sea battles.
Of course, for a good part of his life at sea, he and his cousin James had entered those battles together, shoulder to shoulder. That history offered some faint excuse for the fact that no sooner had he returned to England than he blurted out an unconscionably improper proposal, one that broke the code of honor he’d clung to on the high seas.
“Want a bet on which of us gets his wife to bed faster?”
James didn’t look particularly shocked, but he pointed out the obvious: “Not the action of gentlemen.”
Griffin’s response was, perhaps for that very reason, a little sharp. “It’s too late to claim that particular status,” he said. “You can play the duke all you like, but a gentleman? No. You’re no gentleman.”
From the amusement playing around James’s mouth, it seemed likely he was going to accept the bet.
It was hard to say which of them faced the tougher battle. Griffin could hardly remember his wife’s face, but at least he’d supported her in his absence and she’d been made aware that he was still living, albeit abroad. On the other hand, when they landed in England, James discovered that his duchess was on the verge of declaring him dead, since she had not heard from him in seven years.
“If I accept your wager, you’ll have to take yourself off to Bath and actually talk to your wife,” James observed.
Talk to her? Griffin didn’t have much interest in talking to Poppy.
He had left a lovely young woman behind. As a result of various circumstances beyond his control—which he didn’t like thinking about to this day—he had left her a virgin. Unsatisfied.
No, he didn’t want to talk to his wife.
It was time to go home, obviously. It would be easier if he hadn’t taken a knife wound to the leg. But to come home a cripple…
“I’ll be in my study,” James added, leaving Griffin to trade a circle around his bedchamber, hobbling in a vain effort to stretch his leg.
Griffin paused at a window that looked over the small garden behind the townhouse. The alley was full of gawking men, journalists who had caught wind of the news that the returned Duke of Ashbrook was a pirate. They’d probably be out there for the next week, baying like hounds at a glimpse of James or his poor wife.
His man, Shark, entered the room and Griffin turned. “Pack our bags, Shark. We need to escape the menagerie surrounding this house. Is there this much rabble at the front?”
“More,” Shark replied, moving over to the wardrobe. “The butler says it’s a fair mob out there. We should bolt before they break down the door.”
“They won’t do that.”
“You never know,” Shark said, a huge grin making the tattoo under his right eye crinkle. “Apparently London is riveted by the idea of a pirate duke. Hasn’t been such excitement since the czar paid a visit to the king, according to the butler.”
Griffin’s response was both heartfelt and blasphemous.
“The household’s all in a frenzy because they don’t know whether the duchess will leave him or not.” Shark shook his head. “Powerful shock for a lady, to find herself married to a pirate. By all accounts, she thought he was five fathoms deep and gone forever. She fainted dead away, that’s what they’re saying downstairs. I wouldn’t be surprised if your wife does the same. Or maybe she’ll just bar the door. After all, you’ve been gone longer than the duke has.”
“Shut your trap,” Griffin growled. “Get someone to help you with the bags and we’ll be out the door in five minutes.” He grabbed his cane and started for the hallway, only to pause and deal his thigh a resounding whack. For some reason, slamming the muscles with a fist seemed to loosen them and make walking somewhat easier.
Not easy, but easier.
“Yer doing the right thing,” Shark said irrepressibly. “Run off to yer missus and tell her yerself before she finds out the worst in the papers.”
“Summon the carriage,” Griffin said, ignoring Shark’s nonsense. That was the trouble with turning a sailor into a manservant. Shark didn’t have the proper attitude.
A moment later, he was pausing on the threshold of the library. Over the years, he and James had been entertained several times by no less than the King of Sicily, but even so, Griffin was impressed by the room’s grandeur. It resembled rooms at Versailles, painted with delicate blue and white designs, heavy silk hanging at every window.
Unfortunately, James didn’t suit the decor. He sat at his desk, sleeves rolled up, no coat or neck-cloth in evidence. Like Griffin, he was bronzed from the sun, his body powerful and large, his face tattooed.
“This is remarkably fancy,” Griffin observed, wandering into the room. “You’re not living up to all this ducal elegance. I’ve ruined you, that’s clear. I never saw a man who looked less like a nobleman.”
James snorted, not looking up from the page he was writing. “I’ve just had word that the pardons will be delivered tomorrow.”
“Send mine after me,” Griffin said, leaning on his cane. “I have to find my wife before she reads about my occupation in the papers. —In order to win our bet, you understand,” he went on to say. He felt a bit ashamed of the wager he and James had placed; one ought not place bets regarding one’s wife.
James rose and came around from behind his desk. Griffin hadn’t paid attention to his cousin’s appearance in years, but there was no getting around the fact that the tight silk breeches he wore now bore no resemblance to the rough ones they had worn aboard ship. You could make out every muscle on James’s leg, and he had the limbs of a dockworker.
“Remember the first time I saw you?” Griffin asked, pointing his cane in James’s direction. “You had a wig plopped sideways on your head, and an embroidered coat thrown on any which way. You were skinny as a reed, barely out of your nappies. Most ship captains looked terrified when my men poured over the rail, but you looked eager.”
James laughed. “I was so bloody grateful when I realized the pirate ship following us was manned by my own flesh and blood.”
“How in the hell are you ever going to fit in among the ton?”
“What, you don’t think they’ll like my tattoo?” James laughed again, as fearless now as when he first faced Griffin and his horde of pirates. “I’ll just point to Viscount Montcrieff if anyone looks at me askance. Maybe between the two of us we’ll start a fashion.”
“My father’s still alive,” Griffin said, wondering whether he should go through the trouble of collapsing into a chair. It was damnably hard to get upright again. “I’m no viscount,” he added.
“His lordship won’t live forever. Someday we’ll find ourselves, old, gray, and tattooed, battling it out in the House of Lords over a corn bill.”
Griffin uttered a blasphemy and turned toward the door. If his cousin wanted to pretend that it was going to be easy to return to civilization, he could play the fool alone. The days of being each other’s right hand, boon companion, blood brother, were over.
“Coz.” James spoke from just behind him, having moved with that uncanny silent grace that served him so well during skirmishes at sea. “When will I see you again?”
Griffin shrugged. “Could be next week. I’m not sure my wife will let me in the front door. Yours is likely packing her bags as we speak. We might both be busy finding new housing, not to mention new spouses.”
James grinned. “Feeling daunted, are you? The captain of the Flying Poppy, the scourge of the seven seas, fearful of a wife he barely knows?”
“Funny how I was the captain on the seas,” Griffin said, ignoring him, “but now you’re the duke and I’m a mere baronet.”
“Rubbish. I was the captain of the Poppy Two, by far the better vessel. You were always my subordinate.”
Griffin gave him a thump on the back, and a little silence fell. Male friendship was such an odd thing. They followed each other into danger because bravado doubles with company: side by side, recklessness squared. Now…
“Her Grace will presumably be coming down for dinner soon,” Griffin pointed out, looking his cousin up and down. “You should dress like a duke. Put on that coat you had made in Paris. Surprise her. You look like a savage.”
Griffin cut him off. “Doesn’t matter. Ladies don’t like the unkempt look. Shark has been chatting with the household. Did you know that your wife is famous throughout London and Paris for her elegance?”
“That doesn’t surprise me. She always had a mania for that sort of thing.”
“Stands to reason Her Grace won’t want to see you looking like a shiftless gardener at the dining table. Though why I’m giving you advice, I don’t know. I stand to lose—what do I stand to lose? We made the bet, but we never set the forfeit.”
James’s jaw set. “We shouldn’t have done it.” Their eyes met, acknowledging the fact that they realized that they were easing from blood brothers to something else. From men whose deepest allegiance was to each other to men who owed their wives something. Not everything, perhaps, given the years that had passed, but dignity, at least. A modicum of loyalty.
“Too late now,” Griffin said, feeling a bit more cheerful now that he knew James felt the same twinge of shame. “Frankly, I doubt either of us will win. English ladies don’t want anything to do with pirates. We’ll never get them in bed.”
“I shouldn’t have agreed to it.”
“Damned if you don’t look a proper duke with your mouth all pursed up like that. Well, there it stands. The last huzzah of our piratical, vulgar selves. You can’t back out of it now.”
Shark poked his head in the library door. “We’re all packed, milord.”
“I’m off,” Griffin said. “Good luck and all that.”
For a moment they just looked at each other: two men who’d come home to a place they didn’t belong and likely would never fit in.
“Christmas?” James asked, his eyebrow cocked. “In the country.”
Griffin thought that over.Spending Christmas at the seat of the duchy would mean acknowledging that James was like a brother. Likely they’d find themselves telling stories about times they had nearly died protecting each other, rather than putting it all behind them and pretending the last years were some sort of dream.
James moved his shoulder, a twitch more eloquent than a shrug. “I’d like to know there’s something pleasant in my future.”
The duke didn’t want to be a duke. Griffin didn’t want to be a baronet, let alone a viscount, so they were paired in that.
“It’s as if Jason—or the Minotaur, for that matter—returned home,” Griffin remarked. “I’ve got this bum leg, you sound like the gravel on the bottom of a barrel, and no one will know what to make of us.”
James snorted. “Actually, that makes us Odysseus: didn’t Homer have it that no one recognized him but the family dog? I don’t give a damn what anyone makes of us. Christmas?” he repeated.
If Griffin said yes, he would be admitting himself to be a duke’s intimate friend, going to a house party for the holiday, acknowledging a closeness to power that his father had always lusted after.
He had thought becoming a pirate was the ultimate way to thwart his father’s ambitions.
It seemed fate had something else in mind.
“I wish you weren’t a duke,” he said, to fill the silence as much as anything.
“So do I.” James’s eyes were clear. Honest.
“Very well, Christmas,” Griffin said, giving in to the inevitable. “Likely you’ll still be trying to bed your wife, so I can give you a hint or two.”
A rough embrace, and he walked out without another word, because there wasn’t need for one.
Now he merely had to face his family: His father. His wife.