Back by popular demand: Vanessa Brooks brings you book four of her popular risqué Georgian romance series, Masterful Husbands.
Once again we meet old friends and new! The naughty ladies of the secret wives’ society manage to get themselves embroiled in yet another tangled mess
Primrose Latimer has a fiancé to be proud of, a gentleman destined to become Lord Trewithe of Pencullen House in Cornwall – but a case of mistaken identity scuppers her chances of ever becoming his lady wife. Her hopes and aspirations dashed, she is determined that the man who has ruined her, a Cornish smuggler, shall pay dearly for her losses.
However, fate and Jago Poldrunne have other plans for Primrose, as swirling sea mists and smugglers abound!
If fast-paced, romantic, humorous romps featuring strong, handsome, commanding gentlemen are not your thing then please do not purchase this seductive eighteenth century romance.
Primrose Latimer stared dismally at the tiny puddle growing between her hands which were placed flat upon the wood planked floor of a ship’s cabin. Her tears continued to track downward, relentlessly swelling the small saline pool. She recognised her own folly, berating herself for her impetuous behaviour. She fully understood she would not be in her present ignominious predicament, face down, pressed snugly over a smuggler’s hard thigh, if only she’d practiced a modicum of common sense. Unfortunately, using rationale and controlling her volatile temper was not one of her finer points. The devil landed another heavy thwack upon her tender rump, chuckling fiendishly as the blow shifted her forward so that her elbows locked and her hands braced against the rough floor. She’d been naïve to think the bastard wouldn’t carry out his evil threat to spank her but for some reason she’d honestly believed he was bluffing, probably because no man had ever dared to lay a hand in discipline upon her genteel person before.
Another strike fell, causing her to wail. She shifted, swaying her rounded derriere in an attempt to escape the brute’s retribution. What on earth had possessed her to whack his smugly arrogant face? She faced the fact that it was because he’d had the audacity to laugh at her feeble attempts to evade capture. There it was again, that deep resonating laugh, the sound so utterly arrogant. She ground her teeth; the pirate was deriving far too much enjoyment from her embarrassing position. “I shall enjoy watching you choke when you dance at the end of a rope, you filthy blaggard!” she snarled, squealing when his response landed with searing accuracy across her upper thighs. Punishing smacks continued to rain down upon the delicate pale flesh of her upper legs, silencing her. The shock of the scalding slaps caused so much pain that in her distress, she wept.
“I might be a blaggard but I strongly object to being called filthy. Unlike most men, I bathe daily, more oft than not in the ocean. As to your pleasure should I end up dangling from a gibbet, I confess myself to be singularly unsurprised to hear that, because you are without doubt one of the nastiest pieces of skirt it has been my misfortune to meet. Your milksop fiancé is welcome to you, however much I pity the poor toll-din, especially since he sounds like such a popinjay. I suspect he will never have the bollocks to thrash you as thoroughly as your peevish tongue deserves!”
Primrose’s response to this scathing description of her intended resonated clearly about the ship: she shrieked her furious anger and frustration. Jago chuckled; he could not recall the last time he’d derived so much gratification from spanking a wench. She might be a scold but she was a pretty party. The lass had courage, he’d give her that.
Pasco had dumped her upon the deck and tugged off the sack covering her head, astonishingly revealing the unexpected, a young woman with riotous pale ringlets cascading down her back. Jago had been confounded to see not fear in her overlarge, baby blue eyes, but fury. Even when she’d cast her haughty gaze over his motley crew, most of whom were armed to the teeth, gathered about her with obvious lewd interest, she’d lifted her chin and spat in the bosun’s eye. As she screamed abuse at her captors, her courage had him intrigued. Studying the haughty beauty, Jago Poldrunne found himself admiring her spirit.
“Well there’s a surprise, Pasco, you’ve managed to capture a mermaid. Where is the older lady you were actually sent to fetch?”
“Kyjya!” Pasco swore in his native Cornish. Shocked, he’d spun a half circle, pushed his face into hers and asked, “Who the devil d’you be?”
Shaking her dishevelled tresses back from her face, the bint straightened her back, proudly declaring herself to be Miss Primrose Latimer of Caulderstone House, Surrey, before bravely—or foolishly—demanding to know who they were, so that upon her return ashore she could inform the Excise men. Bending and untying her ankles, she’d stalked over to the gangplank and hopped up onto the ramp, obviously resolved to leave. Jago immediately demanded her return but she deliberately ignored him and his subsequent threat to spank her if she dared to disobey. Before Primrose knew what he was about, he’d strode across the deck, scooped her up and thrown her over his shoulder, bellowing the order to set sail.
As soon as he’d lowered her to the deck, grinning at her feeble struggles, she’d struck him across the chin with a fid, garnered from the deck. The damned things were everywhere since they were used daily to splice rope. His face brutalised, he’d flung her back over his shoulder. No amount of kicking and screaming deterred Jago from his single minded purpose. She’d shrieked her rage, kicking her dainty stockinged feet, but made no headway against his formidable strength. His crew guffawed gleefully as their captain landed a meaty thwack upon her delectable arse, causing her to caterwaul like a banshee.
So now here they were, ensconced together within his cabin. He was in his captain’s chair with her tossed cosily across his lap, doing her utmost to avoid his correcting palm with absolutely no success. Strangely, Jago could not remember the last time he’d enjoyed himself quite so much. She was a comely baggage, albeit one with a sharp tongue. Although she deigned to show no fear, he had to admire her courage in what must be a singularly frightening situation for her. He continued to raise his arm, bringing it down with strong emphasis, until she slumped dejectedly across his knee. Only then did he lower his hand to rest upon her rounded posterior. Gently he massaged her heated globes, and she moaned, unconsciously shifting her hips upward to meet his soothing palm.
“Are you going to make me walk the plank?” she asked tremulously.
He detected the trepidation in her voice and grinned. “Nay, we are neither pirates nor wreckers, my mermaid,” he reassured.
“I am not ‘your’ anything. My name is Miss Primrose Latimer, why do you insist on calling me by that ridiculous name!” Her tone was razor sharp. He sighed, landing another warning thwack upon her delectable arse. She shrieked more with rage than pain.
“You are as far removed from a primrose as you could possibly be. A mermaid is a wicked siren; the title suits you rather well. I need to decide what to do with you. For now, I intend locking you in my cabin while I go and take stock.” He swung her up onto his lap, coming face to face with blue eyes sheened with tears. He made no attempt to comfort her. “Learn to do as you’re told then we might deal well enough together. Defy me and your backside shall pay the price. Now be a good little shrew while I am gone, try not to break anything. In fact, for every broken object I find on my return, you shall receive ten licks of my razor strop.”
He scooped her up and walked over to the box bed, where he dumped her unceremoniously from waist height. She squealed as she landed, Jago wasn’t sure whether from rage or pain since she’d landed on her arse. “You… you filthy turd!” she swore, shrilly.
He swiftly grasped her chin, forcing her face up, bending so his nose was an inch from hers. “If you keep up your foul language I shall be forced to silence you. I doubt your Timothy has shoved his cock between those bee-stung lips of yorn. Be advised that I have no such inhibitions about teaching you what a woman’s mouth is truly designed for! I suggest you have a care, my mermaid!” He cast aside her quivering chin. She gaped as his filthy suggestion sank into her shocked mind. Did men really do such things with women? Surely he was jesting? By the time her wits were restored enough to ask him, he was half way out of the cabin door, the key turned in the lock. Primrose found herself alone.
She clambered off the bed, bemused and not a little irritated by his comment. Crossly she wandered about the cabin, absentmindedly rubbing her chastised behind whilst perusing the room. It was tidy except for some papers littering the heavy wooden desk. On a table, charts were laid out, along with an odd looking scientific instrument, perhaps some kind of sextant? A heavy glass inkwell sat weighting down an open scroll. Without giving the matter much consideration, she picked up the blue glass liner from inside the inkwell then dribbled ink right across the parchment. Espying an unopened tin, she rattled it. Tugging the lid free she discovered that it held hobnails. A pair of fashionable leather, high topped boots, leant drunkenly against a large clothing chest. Wandering over to them, opening the top of one smart boot, she tilted the tin, watching with satisfaction as half the nails disappeared into the dark recess of the boot. She repeated her malicious act with the other. Turning to replace the tin, she noticed the cabin had a small, dingy port-hole window. Launching the empty tin carelessly back onto the desk, she hurried over to examine the rounded structure, which appeared to open outwards with the aid of a top hinge.
Musing over the width of the gap, she disrobed, knowing that she could never fit through the gap wearing her bulky gown. Dressed only in her chemise, she thought she might stand a chance of escape. Leaning out, she gazed down at the churning sea below. It was a long way down but unlike many other ladies of her class, Primrose Latimer could swim. Her father Christopher had taught her himself, in the lake situated in their grounds at Caulderstone House.
A ledge ran along the side of the ship, one large enough for her toes to grip and her to balance on. If she could lower herself onto that ridge, she might be able to edge her way along and perhaps find another way inside the ship, thus enabling her to hide until they reached shore, where she could make good her escape. Levering herself up onto the rounded window ledge she pushed her arms through, then her shoulders before realising that this wouldn’t do at all. Maybe she needed to go out feet first? So intent was she on her escape that the sudden slap to her bottom caused her to start violently.
“It was good of you to present yourself ready for punishment. I see a day of hard work has been wasted by your petty revenge; pouring ink all over my charts.” He shook his head sadly. “Such a stupid thing to do! How d’you think a ship is navigated, eh? I conclude the destruction you wrought as breakage. I tally ten stripes of my razor strop.”
Primrose struggled to push back inside the cabin but the material covering her bosom seemed to be caught on a hook under the wooden ledge. She cursed, panicking as the fabric ripped. She was about to launch herself backward when a large hand was placed in the small of her back, holding her firmly in place. Her bottom and legs were inside, while her head and shoulders were out. Without prior warning, a line of fire streaked across her backside.
Primrose reared up so fast she smacked the back of her head on the porthole frame, hollering loudly at the painful blow. “Stay downward, you foolish bint,” the fiend ordered, without pity for her demise.
Primrose sobbed as her rear end was roasted, scalded with powerful thwacks from his leather strap, an object that felt as though it had teeth that were biting and branding her shrivelling flesh. It was a dreadful punishment, causing her to quake as every singeing line of fire burned deep into her girlish rounded nates. The chastisement overwhelmed her; she screamed her distress into the sea breeze where her raucous cries were lost, dispersed by the salty gusts which rendered her shrieks as insubstantial as sea vapour.
A hand clasped her head, protecting it from another knock against the frame as she was hauled backwards inside the cabin. She turned her tear-drenched face toward her captor and tormentor, surprised to see a look of lascivious surprise upon his face. “Cover yourself!” he barked. She glanced down to see the torn material of her chemise, her breasts spilled free, bare to his gaze.
Placing a hand strategically to cover her bosom, she glared at him. “With what, pray? You are responsible for this!” Her hand gestured down her body.
The fiend gave a strangled growl and spun away, presenting his back to her. “Dress yourself!” he commanded. Ignoring him, Primrose cast herself face down upon the bed, burying her face into the bed clothes. She beat her fists and wept. Her bottom hurt beyond anything she’d ever experienced before. Totally overwrought, she sobbed pitifully into the pillows.
Jago glanced over his shoulder at her plight. He was not inclined to regret; the woman had behaved atrociously, she’d brought this misery upon herself. She was a comely enough wench; he’d had to stifle his reaction at the sight of her soft, white, rosy tipped breasts softly beckoning to him from across the floor. They begged to be fondled, their puckered peaks teasing, or was that simply his cock talking? Silver tongued, demanding that he introduce him to their pillowing solace? He shook his head to silence the insidious voice of one that had been ignored too long.
By Gad, he needed a drink; the hold was full of Cousin Jackie, so why not? Jago felt he’d earned a bottle of his own contraband. He cast a look of fury over at the prostrate woman still sobbing on his bed. Muttering a Cornish oath he slammed out of the cabin, locking the door behind him.
“What do ‘ee do now? We needed t’ Lord’s wife to force the bastard to pay us what ‘ee owes. We canna float about the channel with a hold full o’ Cousin Jackie for verra long, not with the Excise men combing the waters for us an’ those damned wreckers day an’ night!”
Jago pinched the bridge of his nose. “Tell me something I don’t know, Pasco. I’ll sleep on it for now. I’ll reveal my plan in the morning.” He’d been quick to learn that if he was to maintain control of the rough seamen who manned the Mermaid’s Tail, he needed to maintain leadership, never showing indecisiveness. It would not do to share the fact that he’d no clue as to his next move. Hopefully, by morning, he would have a plan but if not, well, he would cobble something together to keep them all safe from the hangman’s noose.
They’d flitted back and forth across the Channel with no problems other than the vagaries of the weather for the past year, fetching good brandy and spices such as the heavily taxed pepper back to Cornwall, where rich and poor alike bought quantities of the colloquially labelled ‘Cousin Jackie’, at an inflated price. Their goods were still cheaper than the taxed goods brought into the country under the usual legal trade route. It made a good living for those cast out from the foreclosed tin mines which could no longer match the cheaper imports from Australia and South Africa. All had gone well until recently, when their best paying patron took it into his head to blackmail Jago and his men. This greedy Lordship wanted in on their operation. He’d threatened to tell the Excise men about their illegal activities unless they cut him a share of the profits. The fact that Jago was squire and would go free while his friends perished was enough to force his hand against his greedy patron. Jago determined drastic measures.
The plan to kidnap his Lordship’s wife in order to convince her of their just cause and thus enlist her help had sorely backfired. Now they were stuck with a ship full of illegal contraband, nowhere to stow it, and an unknown but shrewish pretty who seemed to want to see the lot of them strung up on a gibbet.
Their home port was well hidden, three inlets down from Porthcollen Bay, the sandy cove screened from plain sight by high cliffs which hid the schooner as it slid in and out of the inlet with easy discretion. The cave and passage that led up to the house, set high above the sea, remained undiscovered. Unfortunately it was at present full to bursting with barrels of contraband. There was nowhere to offload their cargo, especially now that their titled customer decided he had no intention of paying for his goods.
Jago pondered upon the girl locked in his cabin with growing unease. The question was what to do with the chit? He baulked at the two choices laid before him, neither held any allure. Kill the woman or, God forbid, marry her, each choice seeming as bad as the other. She needed to be silenced but for the life of him he couldn’t think of another way to ensure her mouth remained shut. Cut out her tongue? He gave a rueful chuckle, he was no pirate. He couldn’t murder—pillage, hmm, perhaps—but kill in cold blood? No, never, not him. He was no wrecker, should he find the men responsible for the luring of cargo ships onto Cornish rocks, well then yes, he’d happily cut those evil bastard’s throats.
If only the girl was a timid lass, one he could scare into silence, but this termagant? Hell, she’d have Excise men breathing down their necks the moment she set foot ashore, the vixen. Sarding hell, as far as he could see, he’d no choice other than to marry the woman, simply to ensure her silence. Since the law stated a wife could not testify against her husband, that would perhaps be his best course of action.
Back inside the captain’s cabin, Primrose was done with weeping. Enraged, she determined to continue with her original plan of escape. In desperation she stripped off all her clothes, every last stitch, until she stood nude. Quickly winding her long fair hair into a pony tail, she knotted it high atop her head. Standing on a chair, she wriggled and squeezed her flesh through the porthole, inching forward painfully, in no doubt that she would suffer bruising as she edged her way out of the cabin. Her arms braced against the ship’s side in order to hold herself away from the wooden structure. If the scraping soreness along her spine was any indication, she’d suffer some nasty abrasions across her back but she had to get away before that bastard returned to finish her off. Primrose could see no other way for this to end well for her. The smugglers wouldn’t let her go because they knew full well she’d bring the authorities crashing down upon their evil heads; therefore the only way to silence her would be to kill her. No one was coming to her rescue, it was up to her to save herself, and dammit, she would!
Ignoring the sickening distance to the churning ocean below, Primrose wriggled and twisted until at last she felt the dizzying sensation of free fall. She dropped from the porthole down into the dark waters below. Her shoulder cracked painfully against the side of the ship as she fell, then black waters closed freezingly over her head. Spluttering, she bobbed to the surface and began to swim frantically away from the slow moving ship. It was shocking how quickly the schooner left her behind. Teeth chattering violently from cold, she glanced about her, treading water. Thank goodness Papa had the foresight to teach her to swim. A single pale glow indicated that land may lie to her right, the light from a house along the shore perhaps? She struck out in that direction, fighting against strong swells and currents that felt as though they wanted to drag her further out to sea.
Jago stared at the empty cabin in disbelief. Gone! How the devil had she managed to get through that tiny porthole? He bent down and retrieved her clothing. Shaking his head, he realised that she must have gone into the sea stark naked. Perhaps she’d been a mermaid after all? He dashed to the opening and struck his head out but could see nothing. Turning, he flew out of the door, shouting orders to the helmsman to steer the ship full circle port but ordering him to come about slow; concerned that in turning they might strike the girl.
“What’s the problem?” Pasco asked, striding toward him.
“The woman, she’s thrown herself overboard!”
Pasco grabbed his arm, yanking him around so they were face to face. “Then leave her be. Let Davy Jones do our work for us!” he growled.
Jago shrugged the man free, glaring at him with disgust. “I am no murderer of innocents, nor are you, Pasco, you have a wife and daughter, man. I cannot believe you’d wish any woman to die in such a way!”
“Think on it, Poldrunne, no wench of her class can swim. She’ll last mere moments out there in the swell. Let her go, Jago, she made her choice, you didn’t ask her to jump. She’s made it easy for us! Come, have a taste o’jackie an’ accept that she’s gone.”
Jago ignored the man completely and shouted for lanterns to be brought, ordering his men to hang over the ship’s side, lighting as much of the sea below as they could. He ordered a boat lowered with a crew of two, who rowed around the starboard side first, searching for the missing woman.
After an hour, Jago admitted defeat. There was no sign of the girl. He recalled his men, setting a course for Porthcothon and home. He slammed into his cabin with a bottle of good Jackie and lay on his bunk. Her bundle of clothing lay upon the floor; he reached over and clasped her under garments to his chest. A faint smell of citrus fruit emanated from the soft material. He lowered his nose and buried his face into her garments, recalling her pretty face.
Marriage to the wench now seemed, in retrospect, to be a happier option. He took another swig from the thick brown bottle; liquid gold warmed his throat as he absently rubbed the ache in his bruised chinbone. Jago prayed that he could drink enough to dull his conscience sufficiently to sleep but somehow he doubted oblivion would be his. He tipped and drank repetitively, his heart heavy with remorse.