Read The Devil's Love Online

Authors: Julia London

Tags: #Romance

The Devil's Love

BOOK: The Devil's Love
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To Nancy, for making me do it;

Jim, for giving me the time and space; and to Meredith and Christine, for believing I could do it

Prologue
Mediterranean Sea, 1813

The day dawned bright in brilliant contrast to the previous night’s raging storm, which had all but sunk the merchant vessel. An exhausted young man lay

sprawled against the hull of the ship, still a little green from his first battle waged against nature’s wrath on the high seas. With his eyes closed and

his body protesting against the slightest movement, he mused that it had been no

less exacting than any battle he had ever fought on the continent.

A commotion above forced him to open one eye. Michael Ingram groaned when he

spotted a little girl, dressed as a pirate, scampering about the quarterdeck. A

scarf was tied about her dark curls, and her skinny legs were sticking out of a

pair of men’s pantaloons cut below her knees and belted at her tiny waist.

She

was barefoot and looked as if she had not seen the inside of a tub in weeks. She

also was waving a wooden sword about, the very same wooden sword she had driven

into his stomach two days before when she had leapt from behind a barrel yelling

“En garde.” On this beautiful, clear morning, she was shouting at something

beyond the ship—no doubt at whitecaps, as she was fond of doing—and yelling

about pirates.

“Good God, look at her,” Michael muttered. Amid a pile of wood shavings, the man

sitting next to him squinted up at the little girl. “Did you see her last night?

In the worst of it, she was up there with the captain, waving that thing around

as if she were fighting her make-believe pirates,” Michael complained.

The older man shrugged. “She be a little girl, Ingram. You pay her too much

heed,” he responded in a typically gruff manner. Michael smiled. A bear of a man

with fists that looked like hams, the giant had taken to the seas when the

estate at which he had gardened most of his adult life was lost in an all-night

gaming spree.

When Michael joined the crew, at first he had been very wary of the man.

The

rough crew outwardly resented the fact that he had been born to privilege.

But

circumstances—his father’s oppressive debt, to be precise—had brought him to

Carrington, a minor baron his family had known some years ago and a man with a

solid reputation for having mastered the seas. He had struck a bargain with

Captain Carrington that made the crew his bedfellows, and Withers the most

frightening of them all. Yet it was Withers who had saved him from certain bodily injury—if not death—by grabbing the scruff of his neck and yanking him

from a scrap with three other men. From that moment forward, Withers had been a

staunch ally and protector of the young man.

The little girl spied the two men and waved furiously to them. Neither moved.

“Do not encourage her, whatever you do,” Michael grumbled.

Withers grunted and turned his attention back to his whittling. “She ain’t interested in me, lad. It’s you she admires; that’s why she torments you so.”

Michael groaned again as the girl stooped to retrieve her doll before climbing

down from the quarterdeck. Dragging the wooden sword behind her, she began to

make her way through the storm debris on deck.

“She is a terror, that one. A bloody hellion. A menace to every man on this ship,” Michael avowed. “Captain Carrington has no shame letting her run amok

like that. I don’t think the little beastie even owns a frock.”

Withers glanced up as she began to run toward them. “She’s a spirited thing, all

right. Reckon that’s why the captain brought her along when her mama died a few

years ago. There’ll be plenty of time for frocks and ribbons,” he muttered as

the girl skid to a stop in front of them.

“Did you not hear me? Land ahoy!” she announced breathlessly, then wiped her

runny nose with the back of her hand.

Michael glanced at her scabby knees and the dirt caked on her bare limbs. He

shielded his eyes from the sun and looked up at the little hellion’s face.

“There is no land, Abigail,” he said with the strained patience of a weary parent.

The girl fisted her hands against her hips and scowled at him. “There is land,

and I saw it first! It’s a pirate’s cove, and we are going to attack and steal their treasure!” she announced triumphantly, lifting her doll high above her head. “All men are to lend a hand to turn the ship about! That’s the rule!”

“We are hundreds of miles from land,” Withers said impassively.

Ignoring the big bear, Abigail thrust her doll in Michael’s face. “She saw land

too! Get to your feet, Michael Ingram, or my papa will have you flogged!”

“Abigail, run along,” Michael said, waving his hand at her as if she were a gnat. With a swiftness that momentarily stunned him, Abigail dropped her doll

and slammed her wooden sword down on his foot.

“Ouch!” Michael yelped, grabbing for the injured appendage. Abigail laughed

loudly and raised her sword.

Michael scrambled to his feet and glared down at the little girl before she could do it again. She jutted out her chin, squared her shoulders, and glared

right back. That is when Michael did the unthinkable. He grabbed the doll out of

her hand and angrily wrenched the head from its socket.

“She cannot possibly see land without her head,” he said, and thrust the mangled

doll in her face. Abigail’s fierce look crumbled into one of horror as she gaped

at the maimed doll.

“Good God,” Withers muttered to himself as the little girl’s mouth twisted into

a blood-curdling scream.

Dropping her sword, she whirled about, racing for the captain’s cabin and screaming for her papa with each step. Her horrific screams brought half the

sailors running toward the main deck looking as if they honestly expected to

find pirates.

Withers pushed himself to his feet and clamped a large hand on Michael’s shoulder. “Get below, lad. I ain’t losing a perfectly good mate over this.”

He

shoved Michael with all his might toward the door leading to the lower decks.

Without argument, Michael quickly disappeared below-decks with the broken doll,

making his way through the darkened bowels until he reached his bunk.

There he

searched for a place to hide the incriminating doll parts. Finally, in desperation, he opened his trunk and buried them beneath his few personal

belongings.

“That little beastie will be the death of me yet,” he muttered as he threw himself on his bunk and slung an arm over his eyes.

Several days later Michael had a change of heart after seeing the despondent

little girl search the deck for her doll. He was not so hard-hearted that the poignant face did not stir him at least a little. Deciding she had paid sufficiently for her crime, he determined he would repair the damage as best he

could and return the doll. With some twine, he managed to secure the head to the

body, but in the process, he ripped the doll’s soiled dress. With a frustrated

sigh, he held up the doll and studied it in the dim light of the lantern that swung above his bunk. An idea struck him, and well after midnight, he held up

his creation for his bunkmates Withers, Bailey, and Hans to see. He had fashioned a pirate scarf out of the dress and had used a stick to make a peg leg

where a cloth leg had once been. He had ripped the hem from the doll’s bloomers

and fashioned short pants like Abigail wore. With a square of dark cloth cut

from his own coat, he had made an eye patch. The doll was transformed into a

miniature version of Abigail the pirate.

“Perfect,” Hans drawled. “A miniature hellion to haunt my sleep.”

Michael laughed and tossed the doll into his trunk. But he never got the opportunity to return the doll to little Abigail. The next morning when the ship

weighed anchor off the coast of Italy, Captain Carrington put Abigail on a small

skiff to shore. To the collective astonishment of all hands, the little monster

was dressed in a fashionable frock with satin ribbons and a lace collar.

Rumor

belowdecks was that she was too much for even the captain to handle, so accompanied by Carrington’s solicitor, she was being hauled off to school, where

a host of nuns would try to tame her. Mildly amused, Michael watched from the

main deck, the doll dangling at his side. The little beastie stood defiantly in

the middle of die small boat, ranting at her papa for sending her away. As the

boat made for shore, she shouted at Captain Carrington that she would return

with a hundred pirates, stabbing the air with her fist for emphasis.

Captain Carrington laughed and waved. “I look forward to the challenge, sweetheart!” he cheerfully called after her. Michael watched as the beastie accidentally knocked a sailor’s cap into the water. The small boat circled round

several times before they were able to retrieve it, Abigail screaming at Carrington the entire time. The men on deck laughed uproariously at the comedy

below them, but Michael could only shake his head. Good riddance, he thought

impassively.

Chapter 1
Portsmouth, 1825

Abbey Carrington stood at the bow of the luxury passenger ship with her hands

stuffed into a muff. For the last hour she had watched intently as the coast of

southern England grew increasingly larger, as had her excitement. She had

anticipated this day well over half her lifetime.

She could not suppress a faint smile that curled her lips as she recalled the

things her father had told her about her betrothed. Since she was a girl, Captain Carrington had told her Michael Ingram loved her dearly and could not

wait for the day she would be old enough to be his wife. Although Abbey

had not

seen Michael since she was a child, her papa had seen him often and swore his

esteem of her was steadfast.

His assurances had been constant and had begun when, at the age of nine, she had

been sent to her first school in Rome. Her father, during a visit the following

summer, had gleefully told her of the betrothal, laughing gaily when he told her

how fervent Michael was in his desire to marry her one day. Abbey had, of course, been surprised by that, since Michael had grimaced painfully every time

she came near him on board the Dancing Maiden. Her father had next come at

Christmas, bearing a gift from Michael—a violin. Suspicious, Abbey questioned

why her betrothed had not written. Captain Carrington assured her that Michael

wanted a well-educated wife. He preferred she concentrate on her studies and not

be distracted with letters. At the ripe age of eleven, Abbey had accepted that

explanation without question.

Two years later her papa had removed her from the school in Rome, complaining it

was too rigid. It was his considerable opinion that a girl needed to experience

life, a sentiment that Abbey wholeheartedly shared. But apparently a girl did

not need to experience life so much as to warrant sailing all the way to India,

and her papa had placed her in the care of an old Egyptian friend while he continued east. Depositing her in Cairo, he had ruefully told her that Michael

was greatly disappointed he was detained in Spain and could not visit her as he

had planned. In her adolescent fervor, Abbey was quite touched by Michael’s

bitter disappointment; she had felt it rather keenly herself.

When she was older and had studied deportment and elocution in Paris until she

could improve no further, she had been allowed to sail to the Orient with

her

papa. She remembered her father’s sad sigh when he informed her they had missed

her betrothed by just a sennight, but he had waited as long as he could for just

a glimpse of his heart’s love. He had left a message for her that she should

continue her classical training on the violin and that he hoped she was enjoying

the study of history, a subject he loved dearly. When she had voiced her doubts

several months later, her father had chastized her for her faithlessness.

Michael, he had reiterated, was quite steadfast in his esteem of her. It wasn’t

very long after they returned to Europe that Captain Carrington cheerfully reported a conversation he had had with Michael in Amsterdam, during which the

young man had professed undying love and impatience for the day he would be

reunited with Abbey.

Abbey pulled her cloak tightly about her and peered up through the masts at the

dull gray sky. At last deemed old enough to marry, she was now only hours away

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