By Vanda Vadas
A family tragedy steeped in deceit and betrayal saw Lady Eloise Blakely vow never to fall victim to a man's charms, let alone invite him into her bed. Until fate swept her aboard a pirate's ship and into its captain's embrace.
Yet when he reveals a dark secret, her lover becomes her enemy …
Ten years ago, Miles Zachary Fenton was framed for murder. For so long he has fought to clear his name and reclaim his dukedom. Now, when both appear to be just within reach, he is forced to abduct a meddling beauty, one who wreaks havoc with his emotions and complicates his plans.
Zach came to a sudden stop, catching his breath on great gasps. Up ahead, he saw lit torches where a crowd of men and women had gathered on the sand. Shouts and cheers carried on the breeze.
Fear for Eloise’s safety spurred him on until he broke through the crowd. There she stood, in the centre of the circle with her back to him, rapier in hand, in the throes of duelling one of his best swordsman.
A sudden hush fell over the crowd. Not one of them moved, nor spoke. Eloise’s opponent looked like he was about to meet his death and shrank back into the crowd. All eyes fell on Zach.
Eloise turned towards the source of their distraction. Glazed eyes blinked. Her expression soured. ‘Ah, Captain. To what do we owe the pleasure?’
Sand stuck to her wet clothes, her hair was bedraggled. Implacable green eyes sent him a warning. She looked as fierce as any man who’d dared to take him down. ‘Eloise, I—’
‘Spare me the apol … olgetic look, Captain. I doubt there’s anything you can say to ex … onerate your despicable behaviour.’
She made it sound as though he’d seriously sinned against her. He hadn’t expected a right royal welcome, but this? ‘I was delayed. I wouldn’t call that despicable. I apologise, nonetheless.’ He stared at the tip of her raised sword.
‘How could you?’ She hiccupped, and took an unsteady step towards him.
Zach raised a brow. ‘’Tis indeed a good drop, that red.’
‘I’m com … completely unaffected by it.’
Muffled laughter rolled through the crowd. Zach’s glare silenced it.
He held out his hand. ‘Put down the sword, Eloise. Let’s discuss this back at the house. You’re in no state to—’
‘We’ll settle this here. Now! Someone hand the captain a sword.’
‘There’s no need. Come, let’s go,’ he coaxed.
‘I challenge you to a duel, Captain. If I disarm you, then here I stay. If you disarm me, then I’ll relent like a too … thless tiger.’ Again, she hiccupped.
Zach caught a whiff of her wine-laden breath. He had a premonition that her anger towards him stemmed from something other than his tardy timing for their planned rendezvous.
He accepted the sword handed to him, if only to humour her. ‘You might begin by telling me why you’re so upset.’
Her mouth fell open. ‘That you should even ask, is an out … rage. Have you no shame?’
He spread his arms wide. ‘Apparently not.’
She took advantage of his unprotected torso, and lunged forwards to strike the sword from his hand.
Zach’s lightening fast reflexes dodged her move.
Eloise circled to his right. She held the hilt over her head, the tip pointed at Zach’s face. ‘Who is the new arrival who carries your child?’
The crowd murmured.
Zach had to think. ‘My child?’
Again, she had the advantage of surprise, moving swiftly to slice a tear in his breeches along his inner thigh.
The crowd sucked in a collective breath.
In total dismay, Zach looked down at his groin. Another mistake. The tip of her blade came to rest beneath his chin. He’d thought to indulge an inebriated woman foolish enough to challenge him in a duel. More the fool he who’d underestimated Eloise, even with her being under the influence of alcohol. Or was that what she’d wanted him to believe? Clever, if that was indeed her ploy. He so admired this woman whose intention it was to mete out her own swift revenge.
‘Do you deny it … being your child?’ demanded Eloise.
His gaze met hers. ‘I deny fathering a child.’
Rumblings of disapproval unsettled their audience.
‘What has she done now?’ Damn that woman’s indiscretions!
‘She … paid me a visit and said she might also carry your child.’
‘She lies.’ The tip of her blade nicked his throat.
‘Don’t treat me like an ignorant fool. I’m not some base whore waiting in the wings for the likes of you!’
The sharp enmity of her words stunned Zach into silence. Had the wine distorted her judgment of him, or did she genuinely think him a callous monster?
He dropped his weapon in the sand. ‘You have your father’s skill with a sword. He would be proud of you, Eloise.’
She choked on a sob.
Zach’s words were intended as a compliment, not her undoing. Before she could recover what wits she had about her, he wrested the sword free of her hand and threw her over his shoulder.
The crowd of onlookers erupted with cheers and applause and he carried her − kicking and screaming past the bemused watchmen − back to the house.
Before residing in Australia, Vanda's birthplace and early childhood years were spent in Papua New Guinea. At the age of eleven, a holiday in England sparked an interest in the days of old. Castles, ruins, and discovering Jane Austen novels inspired a life-long interest in all things historical, a passion that later kick-started Vanda's desire to write historical fiction. Subsequent global visits to faraway places have served to create fictitious characters and dramas set against authentic and geographical backdrops. The Gold Coast in Queensland is home to Vanda and her husband, where they enjoy walks along world-renowned beaches or a quiet getaway to the lush hills of the Hinterland.