French Coast and North Africa, 1788
Emeliese Alexander, daughter of a wealthy Bahamian family and a student at an elite Parisian finishing school, boards a yacht bound for England after receiving an invitation to visit Robbie Montclair and his family. Her host, Robbie’s father, has arranged an alternate destination for the girl who could ruin his marriage plans for his heir—a slave market in North Africa. Sold into a pirate’s harem with no hope of rescue, Emmy vows to overcome the heartbreak of Robbie’s betrayal and create a life for herself and her child, whatever the cost.
The Bahamas and England, 1796
Robert Montclair, the Earl of Ashford, has mourned the loss of his beloved and their unborn child for eight years. When he discovers Emmy and his son living in the Bahamas, he takes Will to his estate in England, certain that his Emmy will follow. After Emmy and her family arrive at Ashford Hall, Robbie begins an intense romantic and erotic courtship to vanquish her anger and conquer her fears, so they can begin a new life together. But first, they must confront old enemies and overcome new challenges. CLICK COVER TO BUY.
HIS OBSESSION, BOOK 1 of the Montclair Chronicles
Coast of France, 1788
“Welcome aboard the Paladin, Mademoiselle Alexander.”
Emeliese took the callused hand and stepped onto the deck of the yacht. Her oily-mannered host brought to mind the villain in the romance novel hidden beneath her mattress. Some might call him handsome, but his steely blue eyes were cold, perhaps even cruel. He looked vaguely familiar, but they had never met. Madame Foret did not include sailors dressed in gaudy red brocade in her students’ circle of acceptable associates.
“Captain Nick Reynolds, at your service.” Dark curls barely confined beneath a black felt tricorn fell over his shoulders as he bowed and kissed her hand. The cad’s gaze fixed on her bosom.
She tugged her hand out of his grasp, surreptitiously wiped it on her reticule, then pulled the fichu draped at her neckline tighter. She dropped the wayward captain an abbreviated curtsy accompanied by a sniff and her sternest look of disapproval.
The unrepentant rogue dared to laugh. The gentlemen of her acquaintance would have been devastated by her cut, but this one could not care less. The clump of boots on the gangplank announcing Uncle Jacque’s arrival was a relief. Her uncle, a prominent artist who gloried in the lifestyle of the libertine elites of Paris, was a powerfully built man who could have been a boxer, well able to handle the likes of the captain.
Linking arms with her chaperone, she smirked at the offender. “Captain Reynolds, allow me to introduce my uncle, Jacque Alexander.”
Neither man bowed. Neither blinked. They took each other’s measure like two swordsmen preparing to engage. Several long, uncomfortable moments passed before the captain broke eye contact with Jacque and turned his attention to her.
“You speak English like a native, darlin’.”
She forced a smile, despite his impertinence. “Thank you, Captain. Madame Foret, my school’s headmistress, insists that all her students speak both English and French. It was not difficult for me. My family speaks both in our home.”
“A valuable skill,” he replied absently as he scanned the dock. “I was told there would be two ladies traveling with you.”
His interest in her friends was mildly unsettling, but manners demanded a polite response. “My schoolmate, Elizabeth Howard, and my teacher, Mademoiselle Boutin, who was to have been our chaperone, are both ill. Beth was disappointed that she could not make the trip, but I promised to write every day. Fortunately, my uncle offered to accompany me.”
“His Lordship will be disappointed.” He looked midship, where the crew was completing preparations to sail. “Pardon me. I have duties to attend before we cast off. My men will see to your comfort.” He executed an elaborate bow then strode off calling orders punctuated by curses.
His Lordship? Their host for the visit—certainly not a lordship—was to meet them at Portsmouth, then escort them to his family’s estate. Could she be mistaken? She bit her lip then shook her head. No, she would not even consider it.
Closing her eyes, she lifted her face to the warm sun and inhaled deeply. The scents of the ships in port, exotic cargoes, and the sun-bleached docks mingled to remind her of her home in the Bahamas. The brisk, salt-tinged breeze that ruffled her hair would make for a fast trip across the Channel. Soon, she would be in Robbie’s arms.
Sailors carrying their trunks pushed past them, mumbling rough apologies.
Jacque glared after them. “I do not like the look of this, Emmy. We should postpone your trip or find other passage.”
“No and no.” She fisted her hands on her hips and donned her best pout. “Do not be silly, Jacque. You are my favorite uncle, but you can be too cautious on occasion. I was fortunate to receive an invitation to visit my friend’s family.”
He snorted. “Cautious! No one has ever called me cautious.” He dabbed his brow with a monogrammed lace handkerchief, her Christmas gift to him. “Careful, maybe. Especially when I smell something amiss.”
Ignoring his concern, she surveyed the yacht that would transport them to England. Few private families could afford such an extravagance. Constructed of the finest oak, the double-masted brigantine could make an Atlantic crossing.
Her own excitement growing, she tried to cheer her uncle. “Look at this magnificent yacht our host provided for us. It reminds me of our fleet at home.”
Jacque shook his head, his customary smile replaced with a grimace. “You might know ships and shipping, Emmy, but at your age, you do not know men. Look around you. You would not find these ruffians on one of our ships, more likely on a privateer. I wager you did not meet your friend at Madame Foret’s.”
She bristled. How dare he challenge her judgment? “I am eighteen and know enough. Not everyone is as fortunate as I to attend Madame Foret’s Academy for Young Ladies.” She would not allow her usually even-tempered uncle’s fussing to take the pleasure from her journey. If Jacque discovered the truth about their visit, he would have her off the ship and on the road to Paris in a moment—maybe even on a fast ship home to the Bahamas.
Though miffed with him at the moment, Jacque was the best of uncles. Paris allowed a measure of freedom to young ladies of her class, but travel without a chaperone just was not done. When her friend and their chaperone had taken sick, she had sent a note to his apartment. The dear had insisted on accompanying her. She regretted deceiving him, but it was only a small deception that would be easily resolved when they met Robbie’s family.
She stood on tiptoe and kissed his cheek. “Thank you for escorting me.”
Jacque wagged a finger in her face. “Your maman and papa will hear of this. When I agreed to serve as your guardian while you attended school in Paris, I did not expect to play nursemaid. I kept my promise to leave you undisturbed except for occasional visits at a café. You have taken advantage of the freedom I allowed.”
“How can you betray me, Jacque? Our visit is only for a few days. I—”
With the snap of unfurling sails her only warning, the yacht left the dock with a lurch. She slammed face-first into Jacque’s chest, her panniers tumbling askew. She struggled to right herself, straightened her skirts, then rubbed her aching nose.
Her uncle smoothed his lace-trimmed lilac frock coat and straightened the matching tricorn. “Damn. Wait till I get my hands on the bastard.”
Her uncle scanned the deck. The bastard was missing. The captain had been beyond rude since their arrival. It was time to put him in his place, and Jacque was just the one to do it. But first they must find him.
The sailors piled on full sail sooner than was wise, or even safe, and the docks receded quickly. Still no captain. When they were in open water with no other ships in sight, Captain Reynolds finally appeared, wearing a smug grin. A half-dozen grim-faced sailors ranged themselves around her and Jacque in a loose circle.
The captain stepped closer and offered his hand. “Allow me to escort you to your cabin, mademoiselle.”
An icy shiver ran down her spine. That had been an order, not a request. There was something different—something sinister—about the captain that screamed “run away.” She feared that if she took his hand, her life would change forever.
She shook off her sense of foreboding. The invitation had been most cordial. Certainly their host intended no harm. They could not blame their host for the captain’s gauche behavior. They…
Jacque pulled a pistol from a coat pocket, his face hardened into an angry mask. His body was tensed—ready to pounce.
“That will not be necessary,” he growled. “Return us to the dock or launch a skiff, and we will row ourselves back to port.”
What was happening? Her uncle was not one to upset easily. Maman had hinted that he occasionally associated with persons of bad character. Perhaps he saw something that she did not. But what would Robbie say?
Still unwilling to admit the danger that surrounded them, she challenged her uncle. “Jacque, what are you doing? We are guests. We must not offend our hosts.”
Her uncle did not break eye contact with the captain. “Emmy, get behind me. Quickly.”
Startled, she froze like one of the ice sculptures at the balls she attended. Jacque had yelled at her. She forced herself to take a step toward him. Captain Reynolds grabbed her from behind and jerked her against him. She scratched his arms and thighs, but he ignored her. Her shock at being manhandled turned to anger. She stomped his feet, but her slippers were useless against his heavy boots. Frustrated beyond bearing, she realized just how helpless she was against him.
Jacque moved toward them, pistol at the ready. “Release her. We will leave in peace.”
She tensed at the snick of a blade leaving its scabbard then felt the cold steel of Captain Reynolds’s dagger against her throat. A slip of his blade would be fatal. She tasted real fear for the first time in her life.
“His Lordship has other plans for this one.”
A shot rang out. Jacque dropped his pistol and grabbed his shoulder. The crewmen swarmed over him. One struck him on the back of his head with a belaying pin. He slumped to the deck unconscious.
“No!” She strained to pull away from the captain.
He wound his free hand in her hair, then jerked her head backward, scattering pins across the deck. The knife pressed harder against her throat. “I do not want to kill you, but I will,” he grated, all pretense of civility gone. “It will not be quick.”
“Captain, what about this one?” A scruffy crewman nudged Jacque with his toe.
“Wait till we round the point, then toss him over the side.”
“No!” Jacque was dying or dead, and it was all her fault. She had ignored his warning, and he had paid the price of her folly. She struggled to break out of the captain’s grasp. Her head exploded with pain. Then she fell into the darkness.