First up -- Lie to Me virtual book tour. It continues today at my fellow Berkley author, Roni Loren's site. Drop in and meet my inspiration for Alexei, with my Book Boyfriend of the Week post!
Next, we're back to Tuesday Teasers and Bound by Decency. If you're just dropping in, catch up here:
Bound by Decency Prologue
Bound by Decency Chapter 1
Cain held the wheel, savoring the feel of smooth wood beneath his palms. The wind stirred the aroma of fresh rain and salt. He inhaled deeply and surveyed the lightening horizon. Perhaps he should reevaluate the measure of India’s ruination. After all, once she revealed Richard’s location, what else was he to do with her until they reached a port he could enter? He would have weeks to indulge in the sensual pleasures of her gentle curves.
He grimaced and tightened his grip on the wheel. He couldn’t allow himself to become distracted by the sweet promise of her body. She was a tool to what he desired, and he could not become preoccupied with a temporary dalliance. Particularly an untrustworthy dalliance.
Cain frowned as he scanned the lavender sky. He had left India in his cabin for six hours. By now, she would realize he had no intention of returning her to land. Not for a good while, at least. An hour aboard would serve to destroy her reputation. Several weeks would ruin even her father’s ability to purchase her reception into proper homes. And Richard, who prized both the woman and her money, would never want to look upon her again.
Cain might have felt guilty if he weren’t convinced that India knew where Richard was hiding. As besotted as his former partner was, she’d know every conniving detail of his plan, including his betrayal. For that matter, if India Prescott were anything like Cain’s own mother, it wouldn’t surprise him if she’d urged Richard into the set up. Women craved wealth. So long as they possessed it, the means of obtaining it mattered little.
Bloody hell, his mother had driven his father to the sea. Cain as well, once he could braid a length of rope.
The low tone of six bells rang through the stillness. Cain glanced down at the snoozing helmsman near his feet. When he did not immediately jump to, he gave the man’s backside a sharp kick. “Up, King. You may take back your wheel.”
The man scrubbed at his eyes. “Aye. Sorry, Cap’n. With ye at the helm, I let me eyelids droop.”
Cain accepted his apology with a curt nod. “Keep her steady.”
He ambled down to the main deck, stepped over a round of coiled rope, and paused at the rail to look out at the sea. This late part of middle watch, an hour before morning watch began, remained his favorite. Men worked efficiently, careful to keep their voices low. The hushed murmur brought comfort. The ringing of the bells brought peace. Compared to the more boisterous moments when the sun stood at its highest, here he could think.
A distant light on the horizon marked another vessel several leagues away. With the overhanging clouds, he couldn’t make out mast or sail. In truth, he didn’t care. He felt no need to plunder. Not until he settled his score with Richard. Turning from the ship without a word of warning, he made for his cabin.
Inside, he found his windows open and India huddled in his chair. On closer inspection, he observed she slept. Glancing around, he inventoried his meager things. She had not nosed about, as he’d expected. Odd. Curiosity was a woman’s second bane. He had yet to meet a one who couldn’t curb the habit.
Cain went to his desk to turn up the lamp before going to her. A rough shake of her shoulder brought her upright with a squeak. Her eyes widened to twice their normal size, and she visibly shrank from his touch. The ashen color of her delicate features further announced her fear.
“You are not here to rest, Miss Prescott. This is not a respite of pleasure. You’re here to recall where Richard set his sails to.”
She swallowed, then shook her head. A shiver rolled through her, setting her hands into a tremble. Cain frowned at the wet blanket she wore around her shoulders. “Why do you still wear that soggy thing?”
With effort, India sat up straighter. Color filled her cheeks as she looked to the floor. In a near inaudible voice she answered, “It would be indecent to lounge about in my sleeping clothes.”
The visual gave him pause. A remembrance of her slender body cloaked with wet, white muslin, so thin he could witness every shapely curve, burst within his head. On its heels rose the forbidden fantasy of creamy skin cloaked only by her long ebony tresses, her full breasts swaying beneath the satiny drape. His entire body tightened. His heart kicked a heavy beat.
Appalled by his unexpected reaction to her simple statement, Cain moved to the windows. He pulled one shut with more force then necessary and slammed the lock in place with a balled fist. “Richard. Tell me where he is.”
“I don’t know.”
She had spirit, he’d give her that. But her willfulness would accomplish little, lying even less. Though lies were the third, and most intolerable bane of femininity. He yanked another window shut. “Fabricating stories will get you nowhere. One of two things will happen—you will tell me where he is, else I will find him without your aid. The latter I don’t advise.”
“Even if I did know, I’d not tell you. You wish to kill him. I’ll have no part in that.”
Cain chuckled beneath his breath. She wasn’t as brave as she wanted him to believe, for the vibration of her voice betrayed her disguised fear. Her fear was his salvation. If he played upon it, she would come to believe he was truly capable of doing her harm. And to avoid harm, she would confess her secrets.
He turned around to level her with a hard look of warning. But when his gaze fell on her wide eyes, his throat seized, denying him words. Not blue, as he had thought before. No, in the brighter lamplight they gleamed deep turquoise. Like the clear waters near Nassau.
Saints teeth, more than a dozen women had tumbled through his life, and not once had he ever glimpsed such fathomless eyes.
With effort, he tore his gaze away. Hand clenched at his side, he ground his teeth together. He dared not become distracted by her beauty. She was nothing more than a pawn. A trifle piece meant to be strategically played.
“Miss Prescott, if you expect me to believe a man’s intended does not know his whereabouts, you’ve mistaken me for a fool.”
She sat forward, her features now pasty white. “No. You don’t understand—”
His eyes narrowed as a fresh rush of anger raced through his veins. “Tell me what I don’t understand. That you seek to protect the man who betrayed me? That you and your father despaired over my failure to hang? I say, little bit, tell me what exactly I do not understand.”
With furrowed brows, India shook her head. “I cannot help you. I don’t know why I’m here. For the love of Mary, I can’t tell you where Richard might be.” Her voice rose in indignation. “The day he heard of your escape, he left, saying only that he would return before summer’s end.”
A small part of him wanted to believe her. When Cain had wanted to stand and fight, Richard wanted to run. When it became necessary to eliminate a man or two, Richard had suddenly vanished out of sight. Had Richard sailed under someone else, his cowardice would have seen him strung from the yardarms. Yet what India wished Cain to believe defied even Richard’s gutlessness. Richard wouldn’t take the risk his pretty little princess might cry off the engagement and be swept away by someone else.
Cain puffed out a hard, frustrated breath. He rubbed at a scar on the back of his hand as he considered what to say. But before he could decide on a response, she rushed to words.
“Betrayed you how? You’re a pirate who stole from him. All Richard did was deny your outlandish request for obtaining aid with a pardon. You can hardly fault him for that—no man would. I advised him denying you wouldn’t be wise and told him that Teddy would say the same. After all, it was just a few thousand pounds worth of goods, not a sum we couldn’t do without.”
His head snapped up like she’d cracked a whip. “What did you say? You told him Teddy would advise the same?”
India answered with an enthusiastic nod. “Indeed. Teddy sails for Grey and Cathain. He handles most of the shipments himself. He would be familiar with your…methods. Teddy wouldn’t be fool enough to raise a ruckus over a handful of goods you stole, that is easily recovered from Grey and Cathain’s vast storehouses.”
Dumbfounded, Cain could only blink. They’d never met—how could she possibly know what he’d have told Richard if, in fact, the story she presented were true? He searched for words. Unable to develop anything intelligent, he repeated, “Teddy.”
“Yes, Teddy. Richard spoke of him quite fondly. I should like to meet him. He seems quite the fascinating seaman. I’ve heard so many stories I feel like I know him.”
A slow pleasurable burn spread through Cain. He, fascinating? He had been called many things, but fascinating wasn’t one. Heartless and devil’s spawn seemed to be the favorite accounts. Indeed, not once had fascinating made the list. It held a most pleasurable ring. Almost a touch of decency as well. It was certainly a great deal better than murderer.
He caught himself and pursed his lips. By the devil, she couldn’t expect him to believe she held no knowledge about his identity. Every post in three countries had published the news of his arrest, his association with Grey and Cathain, and his subsequent escape. Her words could only be trickery. An attempt to gain his favor, and his sympathy, through false innocence.
It had almost worked. She’d stroked his ego with the insinuation she respected him, and he’d almost bought into her tale. One too many experiences on the receiving side of a forked tongue, however, had eliminated his naivety a long time ago. It was time to use her fear to his advantage and remind her of her place.
He closed the distance between them and picked up one slender hand. Trailing his finger down the sensitive inside of her wrist, he held her gaze. “Such delicate skin. Smooth. Fragile. It would be a shame to see it cut by ropes. Must I bind you, Miss Prescott, to learn your secrets?”
On a soft gasp, she tugged at her hand.
The sound, combined with her wide eyes, tightened a fist around his lungs. Ignoring the painful clench, he cupped the side of her face with his other hand and ran his thumb along the side of her neck. The urge to press his mouth to the bounding vein there threatened to override his purpose.
Determined to hold onto his initial course of intimidating her, Cain choked back the unexpected rise of desire. He kept his voice low to mask the roughened quality of his throat. “And your throat. How easily it would bleed beneath the press of a knife.”
“Stop,” she whispered as she pulled on her hand again.
Indeed. Stop he must. He was far too close to her and the light scent of honeysuckle in her hair tormented in ways he couldn’t explain.
Cain flung her hand into her lap and stepped away. “Perhaps a cat-o-nine would suit you better. It wouldn’t take much to turn your back to shreds.” He paused for effect, stole a deep breath to temper the unexplainable fire in his blood, then narrowed his eyes in warning. “One of which, I assure you, will happen if you continue with this charade. We both know I am Teddy. Do not mistake me for a fool again.”
India’s brows furrowed, and she opened her mouth to speak. Denying her opportunity, he swiftly exited. The slam of the door echoed down the narrow hall. Before it died into silence, Cain turned the lock. He pressed his forehead to the wall and swallowed down a groan. Too true, her skin was soft. Her wrist so small he could fit two of them in his hold. His palm still tingled where he’d touched her warm flesh, and he rubbed it against his trousers, anxious to be free of the unsettling sensation.
No wonder Richard had fallen so completely for the little bird. A man could lose himself in those turquoise eyes. They had a way of making a man forget his purpose. An effect Cain could ill afford.
India collapsed into her chair. Her pulse raced from the close encounter with Cain, and she struggled to control the erratic nature of her thoughts. Teddy? What nonsense did Cain speak? Two more polar opposites she couldn’t imagine. Everything Richard said about his business partner painted Teddy as a decent man. A man who knew the sea like no other, but possessed the finer qualities of gentility. Cain, on the other hand, was brash and crude. He didn’t know the first thing about propriety and carried himself with the arrogance of a thief who believed himself undefeatable. The fact he’d stolen her was evidence enough. Teddy would know kidnapping her would be a foolhardy mistake. They couldn’t possibly be the same man.
She dropped her head into her hands and let out a frustrated whimper. Between the boat’s constant motion and Cain’s confounding threats, she didn’t know which was worse. One thing was certain, she must make Cain understand that kidnapping her would accomplish nothing beyond a speedy hanging. Whatever he might think, she knew nothing about the giant of Prescott Shipping. Though politics forced her father to establish the smaller North Atlantic Freight fleet in her name, he despised her involvement in shipping. He claimed it was improper for a woman to occupy her mind with business. Dismissed her abilities, denounced her math, and when she tried to draw him into conversation, he sent her out of the room with a veritable pat on the head. He’d even gone so far as to demand she hire a man to handle her affairs, turning all her hard work into something she couldn’t even celebrate.
Sadly, her intended had taken much the same approach. While he vowed to let her retain ownership of North Atlantic Freight, Richard gave her ideas only the barest scraps of his attention. He certainly didn’t consult her with Grey and Cathain or include her in his visions of the merger’s outcome. Which infuriated her to no end, but also genuinely left her unable to tell Cain anything.
Teddy knew more about the two companies than she did. He’d seen their financial ledgers, for heaven’s sake.
She let out a heavy sigh. Why did men have to be so absolutely dense? Cain was no better than the lot of them. Perhaps he was even a little worse—she’d never been accused of deceit before. Then again, until tonight, the only deceit she engaged in was the same sort every other lady of status employed. Outside of the privacy of her home, she smiled when she wished to grimace, spoke kind words when she wished to scold. Manners she’d been taught, niceties she assumed. Nothing that would shock or offend, not even a retort that might make a person’s pulse jump.
The way hers had nearly leapt out of her skin when Cain touched her hand. The way it was still bounding now.
Frowning, she fought back a shiver. She ought to be terrified. Indeed, she felt a degree of intimidation in Cain’s presence, but terror had yet to register. If anything, he intrigued her. And down deep inside, India knew she had no business being curious about such a deadly man. If for no other reason, curiosity would lead to scandal, and she was too well groomed to deliberately jeopardize her father’s good name. A name which Cain had already ruined.
Heaven’s mercy, she must convince Cain of her uselessness and find a way off this ship. While Richard would never forego his chance at her father’s money, no polite family would receive him, if Cain didn’t turn her loose. Not that she particularly cared whether they were embraced by society. But her father did, and though she barely tolerated Richard, she loved her father. She didn’t wish to cause him embarrassment.
As the boat pitched again, India gave into a low moan. The fresh air had helped soothe her churning stomach, but her legs were too woozy to hold herself up, let alone make the trek across the cabin to open the windows once more. Thankfully, she’d held herself together through Cain’s interrogation. She didn’t dare let him know she was ill. The brute would probably toss her overboard to spare the health of his crew.
Huddling deeper into her blanket, she swallowed down the bitter taste of bile and willed her stomach to behave. She couldn’t think while it was turning circles. And more than anything, she needed to put her thoughts in line.
Being third cousins once removed from King George and distantly related to the late Louis, King of France, had its advantages. Right about now, her father would find her bedroom empty and contact the authorities. With his power and influence, every available ship under His Majesty’s employ would be on the ocean searching for her. Spreading the word to the sister ships they encountered. William Prescott might play at merchanting to satisfy his soul’s lark, but when it came to his daughter, he would spare no sacrifice.
Which meant freedom lurked around the corner. Cain might succeed in outrunning one, two, even three warships. But his luck would run out. When it did, she’d be free of all of this. She’d deal with the matter of her reputation then. Keeping herself, and Richard, alive until that day took priority.
She massaged her temples with her fingertips. If indeed he wasn’t Teddy, why had he shown such interest when she mentioned his name?
Fleeting panic brought her head out of her hands and soft gasp to her lips. Oh, dear Lord, had she doomed Teddy to the same fate Cain planned for Richard?
India shook her head. No. She couldn’t have. If Cain wanted Teddy, he’d have demanded she reveal his location as well. Or he could well be…
She refused to consider the thought further. Cain and Teddy were as different as night and day. Asking her to believe Richard’s partner had disguised himself so completely was like asking her to believe her mother still lived. Cain’s interest in Theodore Cathain stemmed from something else. She would be wise to discover what that something was.
India dropped her head onto the back of the chair and closed her eyes. She gritted her teeth against the tossing of the ship and forced her mind into silence.
To her horror, Cain rose behind her eyelids.
Only, where he wore loose trousers and a seaman’s shirt moments before, in her vision he dressed in the stylish suit she’d imagined Teddy in, a dozen times or more. Standing over her as he had, he didn’t glower. He cupped the side of her face. His thumb caressed the length of her neck and tickled the fine hairs behind her ear. His eyes held hers, sharp and unsettling. Full of words she couldn’t understand, but some unexplainable part of her soul recognized. And on those sensual lips, the hint of a genuine smile danced. As if he found her pleasing. As if he desired her.
She snapped upright. On a violent shake of her head, she whispered, “He’s not Teddy.”