Armand never expected the captain of the most notorious mercenary crew in the Spanish Main to look so familiar…
Lady Charlotte Talbot hasn’t seen Armand Rajaram de Bourbon, her oldest childhood friend and once betrothed, since his family returned to India when she was fifteen. Since then, she has left a groom at the altar, changed her name to Catalina Sol, opened a house for unwed mothers and orphans, and captained a ship, the Liberté, crewed by the best fighters in the Spanish Main. She’s no longer the lady he left behind, not that she’d admit to wishing he’d return.
When Armand’s brother is kidnapped, he breaks his rule of never engaging with pirates. But desperation drives him to the Liberté and a life he thought he’d left far behind. He’d do anything to save Henri, but Armand never expected to find Charlotte here, and now that’s he’s found her, he doesn’t have a clue what to do about it.
Together, they must face kidnapping, pirate captains, blackmail, and themselves. The Liberté may sail thousands of miles from the shores of England, but that might not be far enough to escape the past.
Catalina had faced down more swords in her life than half the British Navy. She had fired pistols, fired cannon, swung by unraveling rope onto burning ships. She had dueled, fenced, boxed, and seen more than her fair share of shocking, violent, maddening events in her relatively short life. But nothing short of the literal end of days could have been cause for more surprise than what awaited her under the hood. For sheer lack of other response, she let out a scream that could far more easily have belonged to Charlotte Talbot than the mercenary captain of the Liberté.
“Armand!” Her voice—was that her own voice?—burned with shock and excitement and confusion and all manner of emotions she had long since left behind when earning her own ship and setting for the horizon.
His shock seemed as true as her own, and she surmised that he really hadn’t been able to see much behind the veil of his cloak.
She wanted to nod. She wanted to do something, but she was frozen to the spot, her feet sinking into the floor and her body paralyzed.
“What the devil are you doing?” he asked. “And where the hell is Catalina Sol?”
She shook her head, finally able to get some movement into her frozen limbs.
“Armand,” she whispered his name in shock. “I am Catalina Sol.”
For a moment, the two of them simply stood, facing each other. Catalina took a deep breath, but it did little to steady the racing of her mind and the pounding of her heart against her ribs. It was as if she had seen a ghost, standing just before her in the flesh, as if her dear mama had risen from the grave and sung her a nighttime lullaby. For all she had heard, before taking to the seas, Armand and his family had perished in a fire set by pirates. She had never believed it, not really, but neither had she set about disproving it, either. Armand was a memory, a part of her past best left to the nurseries and schoolrooms of a London townhouse, to the fields and pastures of a countryside estate.
But the Armand who stood before her now—magistrate, she supposed—was not the boy she had waved goodbye to at the docks. With a bite of laughter that she nearly choked on, Catalina knew that her information had been shockingly accurate. This man did have far too many titles to his name. Good lot it seemed to be doing him now. No, this Armand was not a boy at all. He was a man, in the truest sense of the word. His skin was darker than she remembered, likely turned that golden brown by the brush of the sun, and his hair was longer with a silky thickness to it. He even had a small beard growing in, though Catalina got the distinct impression that he was not in the best of states at the moment, and that it was far more likely he was always clean shaven.
And by God, he was tall. His shoulders were wide, stretching that drab cloak, and he towered over her as if she were the size of a sea mite. For a fleeting second, Catalina considered what could have been her husband all those years ago and allowed herself to feel the aching twinge of regret that came with the truth. But then she rallied, pulling herself together and staring him directly in the eye.
“What the devil are you doing here?” she asked him, her voice far calmer than she felt. Her insides were crashing like a great ocean storm against a weak hull, and Catalina knew if she didn’t remove herself from his presence soon, she risked ruining everything she had worked so very hard for.
“I could ask you the same question,” he growled. Ah, of course she had recognized his voice. There was no mistaking the hybrid of accents now, the French lilt to his gentleman’s English, and the way he rolled his letters in imitation of his mother’s native Indian tongue. Yes, it was a distinct combination, and it almost relieved Catalina to know that she had not fabricated it from her mind, when she had first heard him speak from under the hood.
“I’m working,” she replied stiffly, desperately wanting for another mug of ale. Dirty dishrag or not, she could use the liquid courage right now.
“As a pirate.” His words were seething, no less dangerous than a snake spitting poison. Catalina had heard that tone before, and she would hear it many times again, no doubt.
“Did you have a job for a nun, then?” she asked, deciding not to worry over the point of piracy. He would make the assumptions and waste both of their time, or they could simply move on with the business of the day, mainly, her leaving.
“I wish you had become a nun.” He nearly growled it, and a pang of guilt and sadness crashed over her. Truly, they had both faced many trials in the years since they had seen each other last. What was there to be fighting over now, in this impromptu reunion?
“I’m terribly sorry for having disappointed you, then,” she replied. “The church was full.”
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ABOUT THE AUTHOR:
Holland Rae was born in Manhattan, and considers herself a New Yorker, even though she spent most of her life in New Jersey. She recently moved home from Boston, Mass., where she finished her education in journalism and magazine writing, with a focus on the automotive industry.
She is an avid writer, and has been for years, studying at Emerson College, with writer’s retreats at Kenyon College, Duke University and Simon’s Rock. She loves to travel, and spent her semester abroad living in a 14th century castle in the Netherlands. In her free time she enjoys dreaming up stories, eating spicy food, driving fast cars and talking to strangers.
Visit Holland Rae at https://hollandrae.com/