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Bewitching Angel

by

Heide C. Katros

©Copyright 2010 by

Romance At Heart Publications E-Novels


Edited by Heide Katros

Cover Art by Josephine Piraneo


Publication by Romance At Heart Publications ©2010
http://www.rahpubs.com/


All rights reserved.

No part of this book may be reproduced or transmitted in any form by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopying, recording, or by any information and storage retrieval system, without permission in writing from the copyright owner.

This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places and incidents are the product of the author's imagination, and any resemblance to any actual persons, living or dead, events, or locales, is entirely coincidental.



PUBLISHED IN THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA


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Novel Copyright © 2010 by Heide Katros

Cover art by Josephine Piraneo

Edited by Heide Katros

First published by:

Romance At Heart Publications

http://rahpubs.com/

Romance At Heart Publications

First Electronic Edition By Romance At Heart Publications: October 2010

All rights reserved. No part of this book may be used or reproduced in any manner including but not limited to printing, file sharing, and email, without prior written permission from Romance At Heart Publications, except in the case of brief quotations embodied in critical articles and reviews.

Please do not participate in or encourage piracy of copyrighted materials in violation of the author’s rights. Purchase only authorized editions.

Romance At Heart Publications © October 2010

Bewitching Angel is a work of fiction; any similarity to actual persons or events is purely coincidental. Bewitching Angel is an original work by Heide C. Katros. All rights reserved, which includes the right to reproduce this book or portions thereof in any form whatsoever except as provided by the U.S. Copyright law.

Copyright © by Heide Katros 2010

Visit Heide at www.heidekatros.com


From Bewitching Angel

Joubert laced his hands behind his back to keep from embracing his son. “This is good-bye, Pierre. Go with God, but be always on your guard. I cannot kiss or hug you. It might raise suspicion. Please leave without looking back. We want to give the impression that this was nothing more than a father-son tête-à-tête.”

The old Comte allowed his hand to rest briefly on Pierre’s broad shoulder before he turned to walk up the wide stone steps leading into the palace. A true aristocrat, he showed no signs that his heart was breaking.

Pierre walked in the opposite direction, his broad back straight, his face set into bland lines. As he hurried along the path that bordered the basin of Neptune, he felt like a coward, but he knew what his sire had said was true. Their friends were dragged from their midst each day, never to return or heard from again. There were rumors of executions, but no one dared to confirm them. He would heed his parents’ advice and leave this night. Angelique was only five years old. Already she had lost her mother in a tragic accident, she did not need to suffer the horror of becoming an orphan.


Bewitching Angel

By

Heide C. Katros


PROLOGUE

Versailles, France 1792

          Comte Joubert de Perondot quietly withdrew from his wife’s bedchamber and closed the heavy door ever so carefully behind him.  As he turned to face the anteroom, he was gratified to see his son already waiting for him. Neither man took notice of the opulence surrounding them, their concern for the ailing woman uppermost on their minds.

          Pierre de Perondot rose from his chair with the fluid grace of one born to privilege. His handsome brow was marred by a worried frown as he approached his sire. The two men hugged briefly.

          “I came as soon as I received your message, Papa. How is maman?

          Joubert de Perondot regarded his only son with frank appraisal. What he saw was a man who resembled the consummate fop, dressed in the latest fashion from his powdered wig down to his elegant high-heeled satin slippers. Lace dripped like a veritable waterfall from the deep cuffs of his apple green brocade waistcoat.  More lace encircled his neck to spill in profusion unto his chest. Pink satin breeches, tied at the knees with ruby buckles above pristine white silk stockings completed his ensemble. To his credit he did not look any different than any other aristocrat who called the Palace of Versailles his home. However, it pleased Joubert to know that beneath the outward affectation hid a man with nerves of steel, compassion and restraint.  It was those attributes the old Comte was counting on.

          “There is little hope, mon fils. But I would rather discuss it with you outside. I am in dire need of a breath of fresh air.” Under the pretense of patting his son’s shoulder in a consoling fashion, he pushed Pierre in the direction of the nearest door. His voice barely above a whisper, he clutched at his son’s sleeve. “My summons was merely a subterfuge, Pierre. The walls of Versailles have grown more ears than ever. Ears eager to twist words. The very air is fraught with gossip and treachery. What I need to say to you must be kept in utmost secrecy.”

          Pierre’s face betrayed none of the turmoil that chased through him, though he was thoroughly confused. He followed his sire out into the sprawling gardens without objection.

          Joubert led the way to the Neptune fountain, knowing the merry splash of the falling water would distort their conversation. Still, he made sure that no one was nearby.

          “Your maman is dying, Pierre. I can’t stay long.  I want to be by her side. I have given her a sleeping draught. It’s all I have left to help ease her suffering.” Joubert rubbed a tired hand across his eyes, as much to hold back the pain as to hide the tears that welled up in them. Then, with supreme effort, he straightened and regarded his only child with deep concern.

          “I am not sure where to begin, Pierre.  I thought I had it all figured out in my mind, knowing that you understand about your mother’s second sight, knowing that her gift has already been passed to you.” Joubert shrugged in the typical Gallic manner. “But we all are aware that it is not something we can openly speak about.” Once again he looked around to make sure no one was within earshot. His voice was more urgent than before. “Your maman has seen rivers of blood staining the cobbled stones of the Place de la Concorde,” he whispered. “Aristocratic blood! She is afraid. It is her dying wish that you take Angelique and flee Versailles.”

Pierre’s face lost all color. He stared in mute horror at his sire, while Joubert de Perondot remained undaunted. He braced his hands on the marble lip of the fountain, staring into the water. “I have already arranged for a horse and dray. One of my grooms will be waiting with them by the Southern gate of the gardens. I bribed him to keep quiet and led him to believe that we are playing a game. There will be peasant clothing in the wagon bed for you both as well as some provisions to see you through the first few days. It’s imperative that you appear poor, if possible feign ignorance as well. The sans culottes have set up road blocks to keep the nobles from escaping.”

The old Comte faced his son. His hand gripped his arm like a painful vise as his eyes bored imploringly into the younger man’s. “Take our only grandchild away from this madness about to happen, I beg of you. You are learned in the art of healing. You have studied under my tutelage long enough to be able to go out on your own. Drop our title, shorten your name, hide in the foothills of Burgundy, do anything it takes to remain safe until this lunacy ends.”

          Pierre stood as if he’d been struck by lightning. His eyes widened in horror. “Papa! What you are saying verges on treason. Besides, I could not bear to leave you and maman behind. I refuse to believe that we are not perfectly safe here at the palace. Why, the sans culottes would not dare trespass!”

          “The rabble will and have dared, Pierre! Do not forget that they have stormed the Bastille. We are in the midst of a revolution, whether we want to believe it or walk around with blinders on. Already many of our friends have been arrested and charged with trumped-up crimes. Some of them have met their demise at the guillotine. The sans culottes will not rest until they’ve eliminated the aristocracy.” The old Comte’s tone became pleading. “Your mother and I have lived good lives. If she were able to travel, I would not hesitate to come with you. But I cannot leave the love of my life behind.”  Joubert’s voice cracked. He swallowed hard to regain his composure.

          “Do us this favor, Pierre. Let us rejoice in the knowledge that you and Angelique are safe. If it becomes at all possible I will either send word or I will come and find you.”

          “I don’t know, Papa! I need to think about it at any rate.”

          Non!” the old Comte denounced violently. “There is no time. You must leave tonight. You see, I have known about this for some days and that is why I have been able to arrange everything for you. Secrecy is of the utmost importance. You must take Angelique and leave this night.”

          “But, what will I tell her nurse?”

          “You owe your servants nothing, Pierre. By tomorrow they could turn on you without so much as a blink of the eye. Send her on an errand, then take Angelique, and don’t even look back. It will be better for the child’s sake as well. Now go!”

          “In that case I must say au revoir to maman.“

“No. Again I must stress the need for duplicity. The slightest hint that you are about to leave could cost you your freedom and even your life. Besides, remember that your mother is asleep and should not be disturbed.”

Joubert laced his hands behind his back to keep from embracing his son. “This is good-bye, Pierre. Go with God, but be always on your guard. I cannot kiss or hug you. It might raise suspicion. Please leave without looking back. We want to give the impression that this was nothing more than a father-son tête-à-tête.”

The old Comte allowed his hand to rest briefly on Pierre’s broad shoulder before he turned to walk up the wide stone steps leading into the palace. A true aristocrat, he showed no signs that his heart was breaking.

Pierre walked in the opposite direction, his broad back straight, his face set into bland lines. As he hurried along the path that bordered the basin of Neptune, he felt like a coward, but he knew what his sire had said was true. Their friends were dragged from their midst each day, never to return or heard from again. There were rumors of executions, but no one dared to confirm them. He would heed his parents’ advice and leave this night. Angelique was only five years old. Already she had lost her mother in a tragic accident, she did not need to suffer the horror of becoming an orphan.


                                                  CHAPTER ONE

August 1805, somewhere in the Atlantic off the coast of Gibraltar

 

          "Dammit, Will! We are sitting ducks!  That cursed gale snapped the main mast like a piece of kindling."         

          Brett Demaraux, the captain of the crippled SeaNymph, grimly surveyed the tangle of wood and rigging through narrowed eyes.  His tightly compressed mouth betrayed the charged emotions that simmered just beneath the surface, though he tried hard to hide behind an inscrutable demeanor.  He'd battled alongside the crew throughout the night.  Like the rest of them, he was drenched to the skin.  The ordeal had left him tired, but far from defeated.      

          Brett stood there, long legs braced defiantly apart and his dark head angled into the strong breeze. With his shirt clinging in damp tatters to the sculptured swells of his solid chest and his breeches molded to the massive contours of his thighs, he looked nothing less than magnificent, undeniably male.

          Will Boland's craggy visage mirrored his captain's sentiments.  He pulled off his woolen cap and scratched his head, tilting it sideways to squint up at Brett. "It could've been worse, Cap'n. There was a time or two when I feared we wouldn't make it through the night.  We should count ourselves lucky that the SeaNymph didn't take on more water."  

          "That's little consolation, Will, considering how much there is at stake.  More than ever, we are at the mercy of the elements and I am counting on the profits to make improvements on my plantation."  Brett's jaw clenched against the helpless rage that surged through him and he gripped the teakwood railing until his knuckles showed white.   

          "Still, it's lucky we are that we lost but one life.  Ain't nothing to do but to patch her up and hope we'll make it to the French coast with our cargo intact."

           Absently, Brett nodded and raked cold fingers through his damp hair, his gaze ever vigilant on the crew struggling with the wreckage of the mast. Of a sudden his ebony brows snapped together in alarm.  Cupping his work-worn hands to his mouth he bellowed brisk instructions.

          "Put your backs into it, mates! Sever the tangled rigging and take a care when you shear the main mast!  Watch that it won't drag you into the sea when you jettison the damn thing."  Under his breath he muttered, "I'm not going to lose another manjack, if I can help it."

          Turning to his first mate, he shook his head. "Only time will tell how we'll manage with the two remaining masts, and even the mizzen has sustained damage.  Hell and tarnation, this will hold us up in Orléans longer than I anticipated.  The French are such a temperamental lot." He sighed heavily. "I wouldn't even attempt to guess how long they'll take to repair the SeaNymph."

          Will allowed himself a fleeting grin. "It's better to be held up for repairs than meet a watery grave, Captain.  'Sides the men will love the furlough.  They have their own ideas about those French doxies."

          Brett snorted derisively. "They'll most likely end up with the French pox if they're not careful." 

          "Ain't nothing you can do about that, sir.  They're grown men."

          "I could keep them confined on the SeaNymph until we sail.  There'd be plenty to do apart from the repairs."

          "Hell, Captain!  You don't believe that yourself."

          Brett chuckled and visibly relaxed. "No, I don't. They would sneak overboard at night.  Right now anything in a skirt and a pair of tits would look good to me, too. I am as horny as a tree toad."

          The reminder of his physical discomfort conjured a mental picture of his mistress back in Charleston.  Amelia had thrown a fit when he had flat out denied her wish to accompany him to France.

          "But Brett, just think of all the help I could be to you.  I would know how to pick out the best laces and satins.  I could select the matching ribbons and I would know which furbelows would become all the rage."

          "Amelia, how many times must I remind you that there's no room for a woman aboard a ship? I have no wish to fight one of the crew because he gets a hankering for your charms during the voyage.  Besides, sailors are a superstitious lot. They believe it's bad luck to have a female aboard, unless of course she is a man's wife."

          Amelia had seized on that last sentence.  She had been the picture of temptation at that moment.  Naked, a rosy glow about her from their recent lovemaking, her blond hair tousled in a becoming fashion.  Thrusting her full breasts at him in invitation, she had challenged, "Marry me then.  You know I would be a good wife to you. Better than any of your flighty Charleston debutantes.  I know how to make you feel good, and I could give you an heir just as well as any of them."

          "You know that can never be, Amelia.  You are a beautiful woman, but we are from vastly different backgrounds. Charleston society would never accept you. Besides, I have no intention of marrying.  But if ever I marry, I want to marry for love.  I have never led you on or said I loved you."

          Amelia had pummeled his chest with her fists, angry tears marring her artfully painted face.

          "You beast!" she had screeched. "You miserable cad!  You owe me! Get out of my sight."

          Brett remembered only too well how she had jumped from bed and pelted him with every available piece of brick-a-brac within her grasp.  He had to dodge her aim all the while he dressed.  When he had reached the bedroom door, he had turned and fixed her with a cold stare.

          "I do not hold with temper tantrums, Amelia, nor do I appreciate having objects thrown at me.  When you and I entered this arrangement, I made it abundantly clear that it was just that, an arrangement.  I believe I have rewarded you handsomely for your favors.  This house is yours to do with as you please.  There have been expensive baubles and cash gifts, but marriage was never part of the deal.  Maybe it is just as well if we are apart for a while.  It will give us both time to think things over."

Now that Brett thought back, he realized that he could have couched his words more carefully. But what was done was done.     

          "Did you say something, Will?  I'm afraid my mind was wandering."

          "Aye, captain.  I asked if you wanted me to take over?"

          "Aye, Will. Seeing that things are under control, I guess I'll head below deck and get out of these wet clothes."  He grimaced as he yanked at the sodden clothes, oblivious that they outlined every contour of his solid frame. "I'll need to adjust our course and bring the log up to date."  Regret colored his deep voice as he lamented the death of his cabin boy. "Why did that young fool disobey my command to stay below?"

          "We'll never know, captain. One thing is for sure. Jamie loved the sea, and now he'll be a part of her forever."

          "That'll be no consolation to his mother, Will, and I don't cherish the thought of bearing that news to her."

          "It ain't never easy to be in charge of things, captain, but I might like to add that you do your sire mighty proud. God rest his soul!"

          Brett's gaze slid away from his first mate. He was as pleased by the old man's comment as he was embarrassed.

          "Well, carry on, mate! If I'm needed, I'll be in my cabin."

          As Brett turned to leave, his eyes skimmed across the vast Atlantic before him.  It made him feel insignificant.  With a start he realized that he might crave the permanence of arable land more than the unpredictability of the sea.  To sail the oceans gave a man a sense of power to be sure, he reflected, but only until the sea decided to show her own might.  Yet, to grow something from the soil gave a man something tangible, a fulfillment, an extension of himself.  Never before had his thoughts taken him down that path and it shook him to the core of his being.

          When Brett walked into the empty cabin, he experienced a sense of loss. He would miss young Jamie's ready smile and quick wit. His gaze swept the cabin with a cursory glance. Down here, the gale had hardly left a mark. Only a few rolled-up maps had been swept off the massive oak desk, which dominated the snug room.

          Sighing tiredly, Brett stripped off his shirt and breeches. Standing naked, he flexed sore muscles.  Gooseflesh rippled along his chilled skin.  He shivered as much from cold as fatigue. Padding on bare feet to the washstand, he stared thoughtfully into the square mirror above it. There were dark circles under his wide-set eyes and deep brackets on either side of his mouth, both reminders of the hellish night. His inky mane brushed the tops of his brawny shoulders in thick salt-encrusted strands.  Grimacing, he washed with the cold water left in the ewer, then briskly dried himself with a large linen towel.  From a domed sea chest, he pulled a clean pair of breeches and a shirt and slipped them on.

          Feeling better, he ambled over to the built-in breakfront cabinet, selected a crystal decanter and pulled it from its designated hollow. The stopper popped open with a soft plop and Brett sniffed the brandy appreciatively before he poured a hefty draught into a silver cup. He drank deeply, enjoying the warmth of it burning its way to his stomach. Smacking his lips, he sighed, then seated himself behind his desk. Try as he might to focus his thoughts on the task at hand, it didn't work. Amelia's cat green eyes taunted his mind's eye and the rest of her lush figure soon followed.

          His manhood hardened and pressed painfully against the front of his breeches. Cursing roundly, he stood up to pace the narrow confines of his cabin.  Hell, they weren't that many days from land, he thought sourly.  Once ashore, he would find himself a willing wench somewhere to ease his need.  In the meantime, he would best keep his mind on the business at hand.

          Brett resolutely downed the rest of the whiskey, then settled into the exacting responsibility of getting his ship back on course. As he busily moved the sextant across the spread out map, he completely lost track of time. Only when a knock at his door sounded, did Brett actually lift his head again from his measurements.

          "Come in," he called.

          There was a flurry of activity on the other side, followed by some colorful curses, before Brett realized that he had apparently locked the door.

          Will, bearing a laden tray, fixed his captain with a baleful glare. "It ain't my place, cap'n, but since when did ye start locking the damn door? I almost spilled the stew over me damn britches." He plunked the tray on top of the desk and waved a dismissing hand at the brimming plate. "Cook sends his regrets, but this was the best he could do after last night's storm, sir."

          "That's quite all right, Will. If it tastes half as good as it smells, you won't hear any complaints from me."  He patted his flat belly. "I'm starved."

          Will grinned. "Guess that's another reason why you never have a shortage of hands, captain. Word gets around that you feed your sailors well. Is there anything else you might be needing, sir?"

          Brett looked up from his plate. "No, I'll be fine. As soon as I record last night's storm and Jamie's demise in the register, I'll come back up on deck. How are the men faring with the broken mast?"

          "They are coming along fair, cap'n. Every manjack is tired. Tempers are flaring now and then."

          Brett's eyebrows snapped together in concern.

          "Tell the men that there will be a ration of rum as soon as they have cut that mast loose and thrown it overboard."

          "Aye. aye, captain!" Will's eyes twinkled with appreciation. "That will put new life into them, I wager."

          "Oh, and tell them that the storm didn't throw us off course by much. If everything holds, we should reach Nantes and be sailing up the Loire River two days hence."

          "You'll be hearing a cheer after that piece of news, captain. The men are a bit uneasy, considering that the belly of the SeaNymph is lying low in the water due to her cargo."

          Brett snorted derisively. "Tell the crew that we are well within the realm of the sovereign waters of Spain and I have a personal safe passage from emperor Napoleon Bonaparte. He needs the indigo for uniforms and the rice to feed his armies. Nobody would dare touch us."    

          Will knew that he was dismissed. He backed quietly out of the door and was about to shut it, when Brett's voice stopped him once more.

          "Thanks, Will, for taking over Jamie's chores on top of your own."

          "No need to thank me, captain. Somebody has to do it, might as well be me. I don't mind. Don't forget that I worked my way up from cabin boy."

          Brett barely registered that the door closed. One hand was already reaching for the ship's register and the other for his quill so he could record last night's events. His generous mouth tightened in agitation.  Wearily, he bridged his nose with his thumb and forefinger and expelled a heavy sigh. Dipping the quill into the inkpot, he began to write down the details of the cabin boy's death and the damage incurred to the ship.


 

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Bewitching Angel
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