Authors: Lily Silver
Reluctant Heroes Book Three
Copyright Lily Silver
Reluctant Heroes Book Three
Copyright Lily Silver
All rights reserved. No portion of this book may be reproduced in any manner without the written permission of the author, except in brief quotations used in articles or book reviews.
This is a work of fiction. Aside from brief depictions in this work of actual persons in history, the main characters of this work are entirely fictional are a product of the author’s imagination.
What's this book about?
Gallant Rogue, Book Three of Reluctant Heroes:
She is determined to escape her past and change her future . . .
Chloe O'Donovan has lived in the shadows of scorn long enough. She decides to take charge of her destiny and begin anew in a place where no one knows she is the love child of a plantation steward and a slave. She sets off for Spain in the hope of finding the love and acceptance she craves in search of her father's family. The only obstacle in her path is the dashing sea captain who kindles passions and desires she believed buried forever with her husband. Jack represents her past, a past rife with scandal and heartache. Chloe has made a painful decision; to leave her past and embrace a brighter future in another place.
He's reluctant to let go of the past and embrace the future . . .
Captain Jack Rawlings lost everything years ago; his fiancee' his wealth, even his self respect. Could it be a change in the wind when Jack is given the responsibility of escorting a beautiful widow across the sea to Spain? Jack can't refuse his friend's request, despite his secret admiration for the Spanish beauty. Now he is thrust into the constant company of the woman he once desired and would have married if another man hadn't beat him to the altar. As they make the journey from the West Indies to a country struggling to break free of Napoleon's iron grasp, Jack must fight his attraction to Chloe to keep them all safe from invading troops. He's willing to do whatever it takes to protect his charge, but he's not sure he can protect her from himself.
The Island of Ravencrest, West Indies, Christmas Eve 1798,
Jack wanted to kiss her.
kiss her. Properly this time, instead of a polite peck as he had under the mistletoe earlier with everyone observing them.
They were standing in the fragrant garden at the edge of the estate, beneath the moonlight. They stood side by side staring out at the sea. It was the perfect time to steal a kiss.
And yet, here he stood, a gallant fool to the last.
Miss Chloe Ramirez was not just any woman. She was employed by Jack’s long time friend. It wouldn’t do to act like a rogue with a member of Count Rochembeau’s staff.
Jack had escorted the lovely young woman out of the parlor to take in the cool air of the garden and recover her composure. The male party guests were obsessed with her. The intoxicated fools had danced the poor woman to the point of exhaustion. Jack spirited her away from the Christmas Eve revels.
They were alone. In the garden. In the moonlight, with music to serenade them.
He could not ask for a more romantic moment in which to make his move.
And here he stood, a statue, tongue-tied and immobile.
Chloe Ramirez was an exotic, alluring creature. She was more than just another shallow beauty. She had guts,
—as they said in England.
He wanted her. Badly. Why didn’t he realize this before? He had to have her.
As he stood beside the slim silhouette at the edge of the garden, with the moon flickering down over the ocean waves below the stone balcony, he realized he had to make Chloe Ramirez his own. Now was his chance to woo her, convince her he would be the better choice for her than that fancy-talking philosopher she favored. Miss Ramirez had been raised in position from household maid to be her ladyship’s female companion.
Was it so the count’s uncle could woo her—or to make her his mistress?
If so, the man was going about it all wrong; letting his darling be danced to death by the other men at the party while he flitted about chatting up the guests, appearing to have forgotten Miss Ramirez completely in his eagerness to fill in as host for his reclusive nephew, the count.
“The music is lovely, is it not?” Miss Ramirez asked in that intriguing accent. The mix of Spanish and Caribbean was intriguing. He wanted to listen to her exotic voice and at the same time he wanted to grab her and kiss her senseless, kiss her until she swooned.
Crunching gravel behind them made them turn about to face the intruder.
“Rawlings, why are you alone out here with my dear Miss Ramirez?”
They were discovered. And not just by anyone; by the fancified philosopher himself!
“I thought it best to get her away from all the obnoxious clods tripping over each other in their eagerness to claim her for a dance.” Rawlings was not apologetic. “She was overheated.”
, he wanted to add, but restrained himself.
“He was just being kind, Gareth--” Chloe said, “I could not find you to take me away.”
“I am required to act as host this evening, at her ladyship’s request.” Gareth O’Donovan’s stance remained rigid, his voice hard. The slight breeze coming in from the sea tousled the man’s thick tendrils of twisted black hair, making him resemble an eerie silhouette of Medusa. The fellow insisted upon wearing his hair in a
dissolute Caribe savage
style, despite his many other refinements as a wealthy planter’s son, albeit an illegitimate son of mixed blood.
When no one commented, O’Donovan continued. “My nephew despises the social whirl. Elizabeth feared he would bolt at the earliest opportunity, and he has--with her in tow.”
“Leaving you to manage the party.” Rawlings finished for him. “While you were distracted, I rescued our Miss Ramirez before she was forced to endure more unwelcome attentions from her many admirers.”
“Yes, that is the truth, Gareth.” Miss Ramirez said softly. “The captain is gracious.”
“Chloe, go back to the house.” O’Donovan said, “Elizabeth was asking for you.”
“You just told me she and the count withdrew from the party.” Miss Ramirez remained beside Jack. He sensed outrage in her at O’Donovan’s arrogant manner with her.
“Do not argue with me. Go up to the house. Your mistress requires your attendance.” O’Donovan’s tone brooked no refusal.
Jack did not like what he heard behind the terse words. As a sea captain he’d learned to discern a man’s disposition quickly. It was an unfortunate truth that men who lacked a favorable social status craved power over someone and that someone was often a lover or a spouse.
“Miss Ramirez is not yours to order about.” Jack put in. His fists curled. “Go back to the party and play host as you were instructed by her ladyship.”
“Chloe, you will leave us, now.” O’Donovan stepped forward, his intentions clear.
“It may be wise if you were to return to the house, Miss.” Jack agreed in a brittle tone.
O’Donovan had violence in his blood. Jack wanted Miss Ramirez out of harm’s way before they came to blows.
Tomorrow, he’d talk to the count about Gareth O’Donovan’s rude behavior. Tomorrow, when the party was over and cooler heads prevailed, he’d declare himself to Miss Ramirez and put all to rights. Jack put his hand on her lower back, pushing her forward. “You’ll be missed as one of the few women available to dance with. Off with you, now.”
“My dear Miss Ramirez.” Mr. Barnaby, the ancient apothecary, appeared at the foot of the stone garden steps. “Could you escort me back up to the house? I fear I’ve become turned about in this maze of paths.”
“Yes.” She lifted her skirts, hurried down the three steps and took the old man’s arm. “It is just this way, sir.”
Jack stood facing Gareth O’Donovan in the darkness. Silence prevailed as they listened to the retreating footsteps of Miss Ramirez on the cobblestones.
“Why are you luring an innocent young woman out into the gardens, alone, in the night? Have you no shame, sir? Stay away from Miss Ramirez. She belongs to me.”
“I do not threaten easily,” Rawlings replied. “Nor do I take orders from any man.”
O’Donovan lunged forward and planted his fist into Rawlings face.
Jack gasped and moved away, holding his bruised lip as he muttered a foul oath. O’Donovan’s outline in the moonlight betrayed a fighting stance. Regardless of the cause, Jack’s friend the count would not be pleased if he beat the man’s dependent relation senseless.
“Miss Ramirez is off limits, Captain.”
“I believe the choice is hers, not yours, sir,” Jack hissed, and lunged at O’Donovan. The slender man sidestepped Jack’s fist. Jack cursed. The fellow was quick.
They circled each other in the silvery moonlight with fists at the ready.
“I could lay you out on the cobblestones, Captain.” The threat was ridiculous, as any man who truly could do the deed would simply do it, not boast of doing so. It was clear to Jack that the count’s protégé had never been in a true fight in all his life.
“If not for your powerful relation ‘tis you who would be flat out on the cobblestones.”
“If you are referencing my nephew, know this: he’s tutored me in the art of swords. I need not hide behind his impressive shadow. I am capable of doing you great harm, sir.”
Again with the primitive warning, like a woodland pheasant puffing out it’s feathers to warn away a rival. Jack was tempted to laugh aloud. A brave man acted, he would not need to keep making idle threats. O’Donovan’s actions were that of an untried schoolboy, not a mature man of thirty.
O’Donovan’s breath was coming fast and hard, another signal to Jack that nervousness was beneath his bluster. “Miss Ramirez and I have an understanding. Do I make myself clear?”
“I merely danced with her, as did several other men. 'Tis a party, is it not? This is not a pissing match between two hounds over questionable territory.”
“How well you speak,” the silver-tongued philosopher mocked. “Pray tell, do the ladies swoon over that gutter talk you toss about?”
“You have made your claim,” Rawlings hissed as he wiped his mouth. He tasted blood and looked at his hand. A small dark streak was on his fingers. “I am a seaman, not a poet or a romantic fop. I speak plainly. And hear me, I am no dishonest lout who engages a lady’s heart and then leaves her forever dangling on a string.”
“What say you?” O’Donovan stalked closer.
“Miss Ramirez is an innocent young woman. I should hate to see her reputation marred or her prospects for finding happiness blighted because a callous fellow kept her hoping for a declaration of when none was in the offing. Use her ill at your peril, for I swear I will come to her defense should the need arise and both you and your powerful nephew be damned.”
“Passionate words, for one who claims to have shared only a dance.” O’Donovan sneered. “Me-thinks thou doth protest overmuch.”
“Think as you will.” Rawlings turned and jaunted down the stone terrace steps and back up the cobbled path to the house. “A man who thinks too much woos too slowly.”
* * *
Morning light filtered into his room from the east windows. Jack sat at the small desk, still dressed in his finery from last night. He crumpled another sheet of parchment in his fist and tossed it toward the unlit fireplace. The floor was littered with crunched up parchment. He spent the night trying to compose a letter to Miss Ramirez informing her of his recent attachment to her and his desire to court her.
He was not an eloquent man, or a
like Gareth O’Donovan. He was a rough sea captain, a working man of common birth. As an American, he did not see his status as a failing but as a point of pride. The common fellows in the colonies won their freedom from idle English lords twenty years ago. He argued his point, over and over, crossing out words, crushing the parchment sheets with his fist. He was growing more frustrated as the dawn illuminated the field of crumpled paper flowers at his feet.