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Pirates of London Book 3
The Devil's Lagoon

Now Available from Whiskey Creek Press

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Beau Fallon, Lord Auberville, has decided to flee England. It is much easier than facing his ever-growing fascination with the beautiful Lady Hannah. He isn’t interested in marriage—far from it—and she is a very eligible young woman. Instead he has decided to pursue the legend of the Devil’s Lagoon, a place so deadly none have ever returned…

Stowing away on Lord Auberville’s ship is the most audacious thing she’s ever done, but Hannah is determined to find out once and for all how he feels about her. Can she seduce him and break that cool exterior? An innocent, she has no idea, but she has always craved adventure and tropical seas and a handsome lord might just fulfill her romantic dreams…

One independent aristocratic lady and an enigmatic spy travel south together into an erotic journey of both love and danger.

 

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EXCERPT:

The ruse was going to be the death of her.

Maybe literally.

Lady Hannah Lawson fought to take in a breath as the world spun, and finally succeeded in filling her empty lungs. She was on her back in an undignified position considering she was half-buried in a pile of leaves, and when a lean hand reached down to touch her arm, she could only barely manage a shaky smile.

“ Thank you, my lord.”

“ Hannah, my dear, are you quite all right?” Beau Fallon, Earl of Auberville, kneeled at her side, looking at her with what seemed to be genuine concern in his pale blue eyes. “Perhaps you should not move yet.”

Then, outrageously, he slid his hands under her skirts and ran them up her legs, checking no doubt for broken bones. In truth, even with the shock of having the wind knocked from her, Hannah had to stifle a startled protest.

As much as she enjoyed him touching her, the gaping audience begged for a more secluded venue. At least three ladies and several fine gentlemen sat on their horses around the small copse of trees, clearly fascinated by the tableau.

“ I’m fine.” She went to sit up, but maybe fine was not quite accurate. There was a decided twinge in her right knee and she evidently did not manage to conceal it very well.

“ I was afraid you were injured. That was quite a fall.”

“ It’s nothing.” She braced a hand on the ground and winced.

Beau then picked her up with a muttered imprecation. The gesture was so effortless that when he rose with her in his arms and strode toward his horse, she felt a flicker of affirmation that his pose as a dandified rake was false. There was no doubt that he carried her with athletic ease.

Discovering the man beneath the façade was hardly easy, but a twisted knee might just be worth the knowledge.

Still, the injury did rather hurt.

“ You’ll ride back with me.” His voice was crisp, his profile clear in the slanting afternoon sun. “A groom can be sent at once to the village for the physician.”

“ That’s not necessary.” She did her best to look detached as he set her in the saddle and put a foot in the stirrup. “I just told you—”

He swung up behind her in one smooth motion. “Nonsense. Stop arguing.”

It all played in, actually, to the pretense of their romantic relationship. He was doing his part by acting the devoted lover, and as the injured damsel, she needed to accept the gallantry.

How much nicer if it were all true, but after all, she’d asked him to participate in the deception.

And as a result, she’d agreed in polite company to the cross country gallop and been thrown from her horse because, while she was competent at many things, she was not an exemplary rider. It had made her decidedly nervous when they’d given her a spirited horse. Of course, as they do, the animal had sensed it.

It was all rather humiliating, really.

And the situation, of course, was not helped because Beau came to that conclusion very easily. “Hannah, if you are not comfortable on horseback that would have been valuable information.”

“ All Englishwomen are comfortable riding,” she argued, hoping he didn’t see the flush of embarrassment in her cheeks. “I just fell off. It happens.”

“ It does.” His tone was agreeable. “But I do not ever want you hurt in an effort to supposedly please me. I wish to exact a promise right now from you that there should be no more pretense between us.”

His tall body was warm and masculine, and she was cradled across his thighs, his arm around her waist.

It felt nice. Well, better than nice. It felt quite right except for the throbbing in her knee.

Tilting her head, she gazed into his face. “It seems to me, my lord, our entire relationship is based on pretense. I am not quite sure what you wish for me to say.”

His one hand was competently on the reins and the other came up to briefly touch her cheek. “Entire? I think that is an exaggeration.”

It was true they had seemed to form a friendship without much effort, but that had been the season of her debut, the one when she declined all offers of marriage, hoping perhaps to receive one from him. A year and a half later there was still no offer forthcoming. She was beginning to despair of there ever being one.

“ I don’t know how else to put it.”

“ Then perhaps you should let me declare this conversation is over.”

No, it wasn’t. She didn’t like being dismissed, and truthfully, it was out of character for him to do so. “A conversation involves two people, I’m afraid.”

“ My point exactly. Should one decide not to participate any longer, then it is by default, quite finished.”

Hannah adjusted her position so she could study his profile. It was handsome, of course, the line of his jaw both masculine and clean, the sculpted planes of his face framed by dark blond hair that was at the moment a little windblown from their ride. His eyes were a clear azure shade that she had found fascinating from the moment they met, not just because of the color, but the keen intelligence she saw in those depths no matter how jaded he tried to appear.

He was an enigma she was still trying to understand, but had not yet succeeded.

“ You are pretending to court me.”

“ At your request if I recall correctly.”

That was accurate, but the situation was much more complicated. He knew quite well how she felt about him. She had not the slightest idea how he felt about her except they had once shared a passionate embrace and several heated kisses. Since that unguarded moment though, Lord Auberville had done his best to make sure they were never alone.

Protecting himself, or protecting her? She wasn’t sure. Hannah murmured, “Quite true.”

“ Hannah…I am leaving England for quite some time.” The neutral tone of his voice made it hard to tell if he was simply telling her, or if he had any real feelings on the subject. “I have a business venture that requires my attention in the tropical seas near the Americas.”

“ I see.” She didn’t actually, but his frequent absences had not escaped her attention. Her knee really was hurting now, so she shifted just a fraction, her response subdued. “How long will you be gone?”

* * * *

The expression on the face of the beautiful woman in his arms did not escape him. Hannah was so delightfully transparent in direct contrast to his deceptive nature. Beau Fallon felt the stiffening of her lissome body and reminded himself, not for the first time, he was not deserving of her affections.

To begin with, he led a double life: that of the earl, with his estates and fortune and social influence, and that of the spy, with the penchant for intrigue and political machinations. Both personas fit quite well, and he normally could seamlessly exchange one for the other.

But not when it came to Lady Hannah Lawson. There was another facet of himself he hadn’t known existed until he met her. That of the hopeful lover, the idealistic young man he had been at one time, the fool who believed in passion and laughter.

It was why he had decided to distance himself from England for a while. The woman who even at the moment sat in front of him, her luscious bottom resting against his groin in such a way he was growing hard even though he tried to quell the reaction, had an unfortunate effect on his usual detachment.

When losing the battle, a practical man fled the field to regroup and decide upon a new strategy.

“ I am not sure.” He feigned a sincere smile. Her golden hair, he noticed, held a faint floral fragrance that made him wish to lean in closer. She also had the most unusual eyes, almost a violet color, not quite blue and not quite purple…indescribable and lovely. The way she was looking at him now, so poignantly, made him want to utter a very colorful curse.

He elaborated. “The weather is uncertain there at this time of year. Sometimes there are horrific typhoons. Traveling by sea is the only option, so should the weather prove unruly, I might be there until spring.”

Her eyes widened. “My lord, a half a year? Surely not.”

“ I’ve traveled there before.” He shrugged. “It is quite a beautiful place, actually.”

Not as beautiful as you. He didn’t say it out loud. Often enough he had to chide himself with a reminder that, for her own good, she had to get past her infatuation with him and move on to choose a staid stable husband who did not have his past or his inclinations. Hannah might be deliciously tempting with her curvaceous body and delicate features, but she was also undeniably intelligent. If she knew everything about him, she might even agree he was not the best choice for her.

And though he had fought Napoleon’s troops in his own convoluted way and still continued to serve the Crown, he found he did not have the courage to see that disillusionment in her eyes.

Or to potentially put her in danger.

So tempestuous seas or not, he was leaving.

To her credit, Hannah didn’t try to dissuade him, but he could swear there was a glimmer of tears in her eyes that had nothing to do with her injury. “Of course, you must tend to your business affairs. I completely understand. It is only responsible for you to do so.”

“ I’ll come back.”

Lilacs, he decided. Her hair smelled like lilacs when they first started to bloom in the spring, fresh and sweet.

“ Of course.” Her smile wavered.

And what the devil do I do about you then?

Such a very difficult question to answer.

The estate where the weekend party was being given was set in a particularly picturesque park, with the remnants of a ruined abbey visible from the grounds and the drive curved up to the Elizabethan manor house. A footman spied them approaching, Beau carrying Hannah instead of how they departed with her on her own mount, and descended the steps with visible alarm.

“ My lord? Is something amiss?”

“ We need the physician from the village.” Beau slid off and then reached for his beautiful companion. “I will take Lady Hannah to her room.”

“ Yes, of course.” The young man hurried away.

“ It is only a bruise or two, and perhaps a sprain,” she protested as he lifted her from the horse, but she sweetly looped an arm around his neck for balance. “I am quite sure I could walk.”

“ Then you would deprive me of the pleasure of carrying you.” Beau essayed his finest cheeky grin. “I am rather hoping you’ll be generous enough to grant me that privilege. Besides,” he added as he went up the steps to the elegant front door, “just think of my upcoming journey this way, my dear. If our purpose in the pretense of our courtship is to convince your father you have a serious suitor so you do not have to marry a man not of your choice, my absence will just purchase you more time to choose.”

“ There is a logic to that, I suppose.” Hannah looked at him with clear uncertainty. Her lips trembled just enough to bring his attention to their lush fullness. Then she confessed with endearing shyness, “I still cannot forget the night you kissed me.”

Did the woman think he could forget it either? Why the devil else was he willing to climb on board a ship and travel to another hemisphere?

Except she didn’t know that, and it was unconscionable for him to say it out loud. He was not in the least the romantic hero she envisioned and he was doing her a very great favor by not fostering that illusion.

Had it been anyone else, he would have just married her and be done with it. After all, there was a duty owed to his title and he needed an heir, and lust was a suitable reason for choosing one woman over another; but Hannah was not some brainless debutante he could wed and dismiss. Relegating her to the role of a wife he had to acquire to fulfill an obligation he’d never asked for in the first place just to ensure his family lineage was not an option. He valued her friendship far too much to do that to her.

That would never be why he married her. She wanted more than just a lover, she wanted to be loved.

Quite different.

“ I shouldn’t have touched you.” He headed for the stairs with grim determination. The sooner he could put her in the custody of her maid, the better. He might even leave this very afternoon for London and eschew the rest of the weekend. The Sappho was at dock and could be readied quickly.

There was a decision to be made.

After he had determined her injury was as superficial as she claimed it to be. He refused to leave the country and spend the next six months worrying over her.

“ Shouldn’t have kissed me?” She rested her head against his shoulder and to his chagrin it seemed to fit there perfectly. “Perhaps not, but I am quite glad you did.”

“ It was a somewhat reckless impulse and I am rarely impulsive.” He knew which door led to the bedroom she had been given by their hostess, which was yet again another reason it was prudent for him to leave. The fact alone that he had made certain to obtain that information told him that he was entirely too involved.

He thrived on danger but the lady was a menace to his peace of mind.

The room was feminine and framed in pastels and he deposited her on a bed that was draped in a very pale shade of yellow from bed curtains to coverlet. In contrast, Hannah wore a dark blue habit, and even though she’d promised him she wasn’t hurt severely, her skin was unusually pale and her eyes looked enormous.

“ You’re leaving right now, aren’t you?”

Beau straightened. Oh, that was just perfect. Not only was she disquieting to his ordered world, but now apparently she could read his mind. “I never intended to stay the entire visit.”

“ I find it unusual you, of all people, would run away.”

“ Your lordship.” To his relief, the housekeeper came into the room, obviously upset, her dark hair drawn severely back, her hands wringing her apron. “Where is her injury? What can we do to make her comfortable until the physician arrives?”

In three strides he was in the doorway. “I feel confident she can give you the particulars.”

As he exited, he could swear the very refined Lady Hannah muttered, “Damn coward.”

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