My next historical romance is Aurelia, the story of Ria Kingsley, an outcast in Savannah society shortly after the American Revolution who seeks to claim her pirate grandfather’s hidden fortune. Her dangerous journey brings passion and danger…much of it in the form of the handsome, hot-tempered sea captain Chane Bellamy with whom Ria makes a desperate bargain to secure his help in her quest.
Here is an excerpt from Aurelia, revealing Ria and Chane’s first meeting…
From trembling lips that indicated hurt feelings, Celeste raised a weak protest when Ria changed direction. “Where are you going, Ria? Not to the docks. You know the place scares me nigh as much as Grandfather Dag.”
“It is necessary, Celeste,” Ria said gently. “I want to take a look at the Aurelia.” Her father’s ship, hers since his death, sat at its moorings on the Savannah River. Hyatt Landis, her father’s solicitor, had taken charge of it. The ship was prey for vandals, and Hyatt, who had newer ships of his own now, had lately been demanding she sell the Aurelia.
Ria sighed wistfully. She’d refused until the choice was close to being made for her. The charges for keeping the Aurelia moored were mounting, besides which, she owed Hyatt for the repairs he had commissioned. She did not expect him to wait much longer for payment of her bill. The scoundrel! How she would like to show Hyatt for the blackguard he was. Convulsively, her hand squeezed around the lump Grandfather Dag’s coins made in her reticule.
Hope rose and fell inside her. A bag of pennies likely. Copper dreams.
“Look! There’s Hyatt,” Celeste announced none too happily. She didn’t care for Hyatt. He reminded her of a bird, an image made apt by the beaklike crook of his nose.
Ria saw him near the Aurelia’s longboat, flanked by two other men. One was tall, lean and black-haired, and by his stance and expression the dominant one of the unknown pair. He also stood in stark contrast to Landis, a head taller than the solicitor, lean and long where the other was thick-bodied and short of limb. His companion was fair-haired, not a man to turn a lady’s head, but attractive in an unobtrusive way.
But it was the black-haired man who held her eye, his leanness giving way to a look of sleek power, his glistening hair blue-black beneath the sun, the strong line of his jaw a backdrop for a softly curved and sensuous mouth. His shoulders were broad enough to carry a gilded suit of armor, Ria mused.
The wind caught the black-haired man’s words and carried them along the wharf before any of the party was aware the girls approached.
“She’s a fine vessel, sound and fast by the look of her hull,” he said. “A runner.”
“And the only ship in the harbor for sale,” Hyatt Landis pointed out, getting a snort from the gap-toothed William Pollack aboard the longboat. Pollack was Landis’s man and lived aboard the Aurelia to keep her safe.
“That, too,” said the black-haired man, smiling. “She will do if the price is agreeable.”
“Count yourself touched by luck. You can have her at a bargain,” Hyatt hastened to say. “No local buyer will have the Aurelia.” He noted the reaction to his words and hastened to explain himself. “Not that she isn’t as seaworthy as you’ve noted. It has nothing to do with the ship. The former owner —”
“The present owner is here,” Ria said sternly. “And if the Aurelia is sold it will be at a fair price for her worth.”
The solicitor had the shifty, uncomfortable look of a man up to no good. Ria felt her anger rise as she closed the distance between them. What right did Hyatt have to tell of her family’s disgrace, as she was sure he had been about to? And after all her father had done for the man. The nerve of him! If Marcus Kingsley did not garner the solicitor’s respect, he at least deserved his silence.
“Why, Ria! And Celeste. I did not expect …” Hyatt, flustered, red-faced, pulled a linen square from his coat pocket and mopped his damp brow. But he recovered quickly, easily slipping into the role of proper gentleman. “What a pleasure to see you,” he said smoothly. “I was just telling Captain Bellamy about the Aurelia and how anxious you are to sell.”
Chane Bellamy had spun on his heels and met the furious glare of eyes the color of a storm-churned north sea. If not for those striking eyes, the girl’s face might have been almost plain; her lips were drawn tight and there was a high color in her cheeks. And her hair was red, a mass of unbridled flame about her head. She wore a pigeon gray gown with an ecru lace collar that must have been handed down through several generations. The somber look of her costume was entirely wrong, too puritan for the stunning hair and eyes. Should he wonder at her station in life, the gown told him plenty: it had a tired, overworn look, the satin piping on the sleeves and the hem of it frayed beyond mending.
The same was true of the other girl’s faded saffron gown. His eyes lingered on her, longer than was courteous. No misuse of color or ill choice of style could dull her beauty or hide the bounty of her curves. Her hair was an exquisite mass of blond curls that framed a perfect china-doll oval face, which was shyly downcast. Her eyes, the brief second he’d seen them beneath the golden lashes, were a soft glowing brown, like big amber gems catching the sunlight. Her skin, fairer than her irate companion’s, was the palest alabaster and looked as if it would be softer than a whisper to the touch.
Any other time he would have been raring to practice his seductive skills on either of the two. But not now. Trouble over a woman had helped put him in his present difficult spot. At the moment, he did not feel kindly disposed toward any one of the fair sex.
From nearby, Chane Bellamy heard his friend, Axel Gresham, gulp a breath and knew that he, too, had been struck by the quiet girl’s extraordinary beauty.
“You did not tell me anyone was interested in the Aurelia,” Ria addressed Hyatt curtly. “As you should have.”
“He came to my office only this afternoon.”
“And I am very anxious to buy, Mademoiselle …”
Hyatt rudely overlooked the introductions. “Of course, I planned to notify you immediately after Captain Bellamy had a look at the Aurelia,” the solicitor responded with a smile, though he clearly did not like the implication that he had acted beyond his authority. “As it’s turned out you’ve saved me a trip to Palmira.”
Ria doubted he was glad of it, since he visited as often as he could find an excuse. Soon he wouldn’t need one. He’d asked her stepmother, Opal, to wed him and as Palmira belonged to Opal, Hyatt would shortly be living in the house with the three of them.
“So I have,” Ria responded. The thought propelled her into a high temper, which took her beyond careful consideration of what she said next. “But perhaps you have wasted the captain’s time,” she said, resting her hands on her hips, thereby sending her silk reticule swinging like a pendulum from one wrist. “I have decided the Aurelia is not for sale.”
“Ria!” Hyatt sputtered, his eyes going first to her face and then suspiciously to the scrolled paper protruding from the reticule she’d hastily concealed in the fullness of her skirts. “What alternative is there but to haul her out to sea and let her rot?” he demanded. “Or would you rather leave her to the mercy of your father’s enemies?” Mottled color spread on the skin above his collar. “My generosity is at an end, I warn you. I will not carry the expense of a useless ship and take on two grown women who are too stubborn for their own good.”
Chane Bellamy listened carefully to the exchange and watched intently the emotions that flared in the girl’s green eyes. There was more afoot here than a disagreement over the sale of a ship. Whatever that difference was did not concern him; the Aurelia did. His vessel, the Trinity, had caught fire and burned a week past. He’d lost none of his crew and the cargo had been offloaded the day before. But without the Trinity he had no way to complete the mission he had set for himself. He needed a replacement vessel, and fast. The Aurelia was it and he meant to have her.
“Mr. Landis,” Chane said, his voice glazed with the accent of his native French tongue. “If you would allow me to talk to the Aurelia’s owner alone, it is possible we could come to an agreement.”
He had a quiet arrogance about him. Ria heard it in the deep resonance of his voice, saw it hidden in the intense blue eyes, shadowed again in the tilt of the strong square chin. He was accustomed to having his way. And he was assessing her, giving her a critical look now that he had torn his eyes from Celeste. She felt him searching out her weaknesses as one might look for cracks in the foundation of a building … to find a place where one might begin to tear it down. She tried to picture herself as he saw her, a silly, penniless girl defying her elders. Pitiable.
Bellamy. Captain Bellamy. So, this was the man she’d heard so much about. On the church grounds following Sunday service, Elizabeth Carter had been telling her friends how many dances she’d shared with a handsome sea captain at a recent ball. “Sky blue eyes, hair black as a raven’s wing, light on his feet as a gypsy dancer,” Elizabeth had described him. Ria remembered, too, the quick disdainful turn of a shoulder and raised chin when Elizabeth had seen her approaching; the snooty girl and her friends had then walked off without so much as a word to Ria.
Hidden in the folds of her skirts, her hands were clenched into tight, aching fists. This Captain Bellamy who was so light on his feet was looking at her as if he could control her as easily as he could ask her to dance.
Her anger flared again, and Ria vowed silently, as she felt his eyes upon her, that this time Captain Bellamy would not get his way.
I hope you enjoyed this preview of Aurelia. Look for the book at your favorite online retailer soon!
See you soon,