WITHIN A CAPTAIN'S POWER
by Lisa Olech
PUB DATE: 4/4/2017
Genre: Historical Romance
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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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?”
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Let’s start by dressing the part. Most pirates’ clothing was stolen from their prey. Captains picked the nicest and most fashionable garments so everyone would know, “Hey, look at me, I’m the Captain!” There are reports that captains fearing capture would rush below deck and change into something less fancy so they could blend into their crew and receive an easier punishment.
How about an earring? There are a host of reasons and theories regarding pirates wearing earrings. Some believe an earring marked the first time the sailor crossed the equator, or sailed the vicious waters around Cape Horn. Others claim that sailors believed precious metals pierced through their earlobes actually improved their eyesight. There is another theory that the gold and silver was to pay for their funerals. With their names and home ports engraved within the hoop, if they washed up on shore, their bodies could be sent home. And yet another reason for an earring is to hang waxed earplugs from in case you were a gunner and too close to those exploding cannons! Me…I just think they made those seafaring bad boys a bit more rakish.
There is some debate regarding eye patches. Yes, there’s evidence of pirates losing arms, legs, and eyes. But some believe that eye patches were worn so pirates could keep one eye adjusted to seeing in the dark found below deck. Black Beard had a wooden leg, but it wasn’t due to a 10lb. cannon ball removing his limb. It was due to diabetes. If a pirate lost a leg in battle, most times they never survived the injury, and it certainly ended their career. It is true that Captain James Hook did have an iron hook that replaced his missing hand, however. Here I thought that was only Peter Pan fiction!
Speaking of fiction… there is little evidence of anyone ‘walking the plank.’ If pirates want you tossed into the water, over the rail ye went! Of course, there were more gruesome forms of punishment. Flogging, marooning, keelhauling, and hanging…by various parts of your body…from the highest yardarm!
Also, there’s no record of a pirate having a parrot as a pet. Cats were common aboard ship to keep the mice and rat population at bay, (FYI…white cats were considered bad luck.) but parrots were seen more for the money they would bring than for a colorful shoulder accessory.
Not all pirates were cutthroats. In fact, they were fairly civilized. Rules were strictly followed regarding fighting amongst the crew, gambling onboard, compensation should you be wounded or killed. Everyone received a fair share according to rank and decisions were made by democratic vote. Stealing from a crewmember was a major no no.
There were ‘gentlemen’ pirates who were well known for treating their crews and captives well. Stede Bonnet was one of these gentlemen pirates. He was a wealthy plantation owner when he decided to buy his own ship and take to the sea. It’s rumored that a nagging wife was his motivation to become a pirate, or a mid-life crisis! Black Bart Roberts gave his musicians Sundays off.
Being a pirate was a decent way to make a living. In fact, a lot of sailors signed on to pirate crews because the Navy’s pay checks just didn’t go very far in the 1600’s. Long Ben Avery wasn’t a pirate for very long, but made the richest haul and retired less than a year after he started. And speaking of richest treasures, it is said, Oliver Levasseur had treasure estimated into the billions. When he was captured and brought to be hung, he pulled a necklace from his neck and threw it into the crowd. It contained a cryptogram of 17 lines. He shouted “Find my treasure, the one who may understand it!” Treasure hunters are still trying to ‘understand’ it.
Some pirates were brutal, vicious barbarians, however. Black Beard used to stick lit lengths of rope under the brim of his hat so smoke would circle his head and his prey would believe he was possessed. Francis l’Olonnais cut out a prisoners heart and ate it in order to get the other prisoners to cooperate. His crew deserted soon after. There’s pirate crazy…then there’s pirate ‘l’Olonnais’ crazy!
And of course, I can’t possibly forget to mention all those incredible, bad-ass, ‘tough-as-hardtack’ women who fought as pirates throughout the golden age and beyond. Anne Bonney, Mary Read, Grace O’Malley, Rachel Wall (the only female pirate from New England—and the last pirate hung in Boston Common.), and my personal favorite, Ching Shih. Ching Shih was the most powerful of all pirate queens. After being pulled from a life of prostitution to marry, and her husband’s subsequent death a short three years later, Ching Shih became one of the most feared female pirates of her time. She terrorized the Chinese coast and amassed a huge fleet of more than a fifteen hundred ships and captained more than 70,000 men. She was very fond of beheadings, and deserters who just wouldn’t listen to reason…they saved their heads, but lost their ears!
I wonder what happened to all those earrings?