The Reaper by Barbara Devlin

Book 8 of the Pirates of the Coast Series

A WINSOME WIDOW
After fleeing an unscrupulous business partner, who lured her into a perilous trap in order to steal her fortune, Charitye Vanderley is assaulted and left for dead. Saved by a less than honorable, altogether vulgar but handsome hero, she must survive in a foreign land, surrounded by strangers, and she knows not who to trust. Desperate, she places her fate in Blade Reyson’s callused hands, as she has no one else to defend her, but her errant knight is not what she believes. Alone and afraid, she takes a leap of faith on her unconventional champion, sets sail for Virginia, and prays Blade will not disappoint her, but she does not guard her heart.

A MERCILESS MARAUDER
The last in a legendary line of motely pirates, Blade ‘Reaper’ Reyson sails the seas in search of prize and booty, but he knows the world is changing, and his days as a buccaneer are numbered. When he rescues a young woman floating in the waters near the docks in Port Royal, he turns to an old friend for help. The beautiful widow relies on Blade for comfort and security, and it is a powerful enticement for a man with no prospects. To shield his lady, he embarks on a new path and signs a pact that will guarantee a full pardon for past offenses, if he fulfills the terms and commits no further crimes.
What happens when old adversaries threaten to destroy the future Blade and Charitye covet?

READ AN EXCERPT:

Port Royal, Jamaica

November, 1819

Looming annihilation had a way of shaking a man—even the most stubborn creature, to his senses, of forcing him to face reality and to ponder an alternative path he might never before considered.  For Blade “Reaper” Reyson, the last in a long, distinguished, and bloody line of ruthless pirates, the world had changed, and he had to change with it or risk forever fading into the past.  Forgotten.  For him, the most prominent determiner of his fate revolved around his family legacy and a single question for which he had no answer.

How did he intend to be remembered?

The leader of a motely crew of brutal privateers, he ruled with merciless control, because his band of cutthroat raiders could smell fear, and the responsibility weighed heavy on his shoulders.  As a buccaneer on the run, his choices were few, and it was an alternative course, with the possibility of redemption he needed but did not want, that brought him to Port Royal, in search of a friend and former raider with a potential solution to Blade’s problem, if only he could survive the terms, because old habits often met a hard and painful death.

A cold wind blew, cutting through the folds of his many-caped greatcoat, and he hunkered as he crossed his arms in front of himself and increased his pace.  Just as he approached the entrance to the Port Royal Inn, a vaguely familiar figure descended from a fancy rig parked on the street.

For a moment, he looked on the chance happening as an opportunity, as a boon to be seized, and he fingered the hilt of his sheathed knife.  In mere seconds, he could strike and slit the unfortunate prey’s throat, relieve the poor soul of his purse, and be on his way.  Instead, he glimpsed the man’s face in the soft glow of the streetlamp and halted.

“Jean Marc Cavalier, as I live and breathe.”  Rather than attack, Blade extended a hand in kinship.  “Given you now own a home on the island, I did not expect to see you in town.”

“Reyson, I had word of your arrival, and I was surprised to hear the news, given there remains a steep bounty on your head, regardless of whether or not it is connected to your body.”  Jean Marc held open the door, and they stepped into the warm and well-lit foyer.  “And husbandly duty brings me here, to the restaurant, because my wife craves gizzada, which she eats with chocolate sauce and sardines.”

“Sardines and chocolate sauce?”  Blade swallowed hard, because he almost gagged when he contemplated the foul combination, and he appraised the former pirate’s appearance.  “And you encourage her behavior?”

Mon Ami, I do whatever she asks, when she is with child, because that is the safest way to survive.”  Once considered the most murderous buccaneer to sail the seas, Jean Marc appeared altogether harmless, dressed in polished gentleman’s attire, sans the familiar black patch that once concealed his ghostly white eye, as he chuckled.  “Because it is lunacy to attempt to make sense of pregnancy, which I learned after begetting four daughters on my bride.”

“Four daughters and no sons?”  Holding his belly, Blade laughed.  “Fortune mocks you.”

“Not for long, because I believe in my gut that this one is a boy, but I love my little princesses, and the work is good, so I have no complaints.”  The easy expression and uncharacteristic grin Jean Marc displayed inspired various images in Blade’s head, none of which he could reconcile, as he reflected on his still uncertain future.  “And Maddie is young, so we can always try again, because we want more children.”  Then he narrowed his stare, as they neared the bar.  “So what brings you to Port Royal?”

“You.”  When Jean Marc arched a brow, Blade squared his shoulders.  “I spoke with the Marooner, when last I anchored in Tortuga.  He said you had access to a British official, who could extend an offer of absolution for past crimes, if I complete a period of atonement.”

“Did he?”  Jean Marc signaled an overly groomed landlubber.  “I need a couple of glasses of rum and a large serving of gizzada, and the latter must be packed, as I will take it with me.”

“Right away, Mr. Cavalier.”  The bartender nodded but cast a glance of unmistaken suspicion at Blade, and he bristled at the insult, because the servant could not possibly possess knowledge of Blade’s occupation.  “And how is Mrs. Cavalier?”

“Hungry, Antoine.”  Jean Marc frowned.  “And only the gizzada from your kitchen will satisfy her, thus I am here.”

“Of course, I shall have the chef prepare two generous portions, sir.”  Antoine collected the small stack of notes Jean Marc tossed atop the bar.  “Thank you, Mr. Cavalier.  It is always a pleasure to serve you, and I will oversee your order, personally.”

As Antoine rushed to do Jean Marc’s bidding, Blade scratched his cheek, because he could not believe the change in his friend’s demeanor, shook his head, and took a healthy draft of rum.  “All right.  Just how did you manage that, because the Jean Marc I know would have had that perfumed sop shivering in his fancy breeches, with a single stare?”

“You have never met my wife, have you?”  When Blade indicated the negative, Jean Marc clucked his tongue.  “And did you meet the Marooner’s bride?”

“No, I have never met your woman, but the Marooner introduced me to his delicate, high-born lady, and I am still confused as to how he claimed her, because never have I seen such an incompatible match.”  As Blade recalled the exchange, something startling charged the fore.  “But the Marooner is in love, and I never thought that possible, either.”

“Well, I suffer the same affliction, and my Maddie is every bit as delicate as Sophia.”  Even Jean Marc’s movements evidenced newfound elegance, as he sipped the rum.  “Yet, I have no regrets, because the life I enjoy, and I do enjoy it, is one I never could have foretold.”

“What of your history?”  It seemed altogether impossible to abandon the violence of the past, Blade thought as he emptied his glass.  “And I ask not to judge but to understand how you can simply walk away from the life, because that is what I cannot comprehend, from whatever angle I approach the crossroads.  Do you not miss the freedom?  Does the ball and chain of matrimony not confine you?”

“Do you believe I embarked on some sort of maudlin journey, in search of a wife, when I agreed to the pact offered by the English?”  Jean Marc snorted.  “Because nothing could be further from the truth.”

“Oh?”  Blade rested his elbows to the bar.  “What happened, because I never thought you would succeed, although I mean no insult.  But, damn my lights and gizzard, when the Marooner told me you married some genteel American, renamed the Black Morass the Lady Madalene, for your new bride, and moved to Boston, to engage in honest trade and make babes, I almost called him a liar.”

“You must have refrained, else you would not be here, now.”  Jean Marc snickered.  “And I must confess my motives, when I met Maddie, were not so honorable.  Indeed, they were anything but respectable, because I thought to reclaim part of my former self through her, using debauchery as my weapon of choice, yet I was defeated and in some respects reborn.  Indeed, she conquered me.”

“So the soft female form changed you?”  For some reason, Blade had to know what inspired Jean Marc’s startling transformation, and he just could not accept that the weaker sex won the day.  “Your pirate instincts yielded to perfume and petticoats?”

“The answer is at once simple and complicated, but you could say that.”  After emptying his glass, Jean Marc shrugged.  “However, the truth is far more profound, because I fell in love.”

“You fell in love?”  Blade blinked, as he expected something estimable and exciting.  “That is it?”

“Believe me, that is all it takes.”  With a wistful smile, Jean Marc averted his gaze.  “But I have never met a more formidable adversary than my wife or coveted a treasure of greater worth than her heart.”

Just then, the bar keep returned, carrying two parcels, which he presented to Jean Marc.

“Mr. Cavalier, your order is ready, and I packed it, myself.”  Antoine bowed.  “As always, it is an honor to be of service, sir.  And give our best compliments to Mrs. Cavalier.”

“I will do that.”  Then Jean Marc glanced at Blade and sketched a salute.  “Mon Ami, if you are genuinely interested in the pact, stop by the Fair Winds, and we will discuss the terms.”

“Is tomorrow too soon?”  Blade figured he had better sign the bloody agreement before he changed his mind.  “Around noon?”

“Perfect, and bring your appetite, because Maddie will insist on planning a meal, and you will not disappoint her.”  Again, Jean Marc extended a hand in friendship, which Blade accepted.  “Perhaps you will consider coming to work for me, because I could use another ship, and you will need honest employment, if you are to succeed and win your freedom.”

“It will depend on the men.”  Blade dreaded that conversation, because he could not envision his crew performing honest labor.  “But if they agree to it, and the vote passes, I will not stand in their way.”

“Then it is a bargain.”  Jean Marc nodded once.  “I look forward to your visit, but now I must return home, before Maddie’s mood sours, and that is never good for me.”

As the onetime buccaneer rushed to the exit, Blade stood there and stared, as he wondered what he just witnessed, because his friend seemed more like a stranger.  When Antoine cleared his throat, Blade came alert.

“Are you a guest, sir?”  The bartender made no attempt to disguise his disapproval, as he assessed Blade’s attire.  “May I be of service?”

“Aye, I have a room.”  He lied.  “What of it?”

“In that case, would you care to dine?”  With a haughty demeanor, to which Blade would have taken exception in different circumstances, Antoine thrust his nose.  “Or would you prefer to wash and dress, first?”

The tattered leather breeches, dirty coat with holes at both elbows, and the wrinkled shirt did little to recommend Blade, and he recalled Jean Marc’s elegant ensemble and the respect he garnered.  Blade wanted that.  He wanted people to bow to him, to inquire after his needs, and to share bits of useless conversation, intended to convey admiration—something foreign to him.

“I am going out for the evening.”  Blade turned on a heel and strode from the bar.  In the foyer, he walked straight to the desk, behind which a bespectacled man calculated numbers in a ledger.  “I would like a room.”

“Of course…sir.”  The innkeeper’s smile faded when he met Blade’s gaze.  “For how many nights, and how will you be paying?”

“I have money.”  He tossed a stack of notes atop the desk, in much the same fashion as had Jean Marc.  “What will that get me?”

The innkeeper counted the sum and arched a brow.  “We can accommodate you for a fortnight, at this price.”

“All right.”  Blade could not remember the last time he stayed in such posh quarters, and he pocketed the key the innkeeper provided.  “What time is dinner served?”

“Promptly at seven, and there is a schedule in your room, for the other meals.”  The innkeeper frowned.  “The dining room is through that door, and proper attire and grooming is required.”

There was a time when no one could talk to a pirate with open disdain or criticism and live to tell about it, but the English hunted his kind, and the public no longer feared the remaining corsairs.  Without a word, the innkeeper resumed his task, leaving Blade to ponder his position.

Given his belongings remained aboard the Thunder Child, he needed to return to the docks.  As he approached the double door entry, he caught sight of himself in an oval mirror, and what he spied gave him pause to reflect on his present course.

His dirty, disheveled hair had come loose from the leather thong, and his grimy, unshaven face fared no better than his tattered togs.  Determined to improve his appearance, in the morning, he ventured forth under the night sky.

Quiet blanketed the streets of Port Royal, as he strolled past various businesses closed for the day, until he reached the brothel, where music and all manner of depravity broke the calm, as two drunks engaged in a fight at the entrance.  He halted and considered taking a quick poke with Bucktooth Betty, his favorite whore.  Instead, he sighed and walked toward the docks.

Waves lapped at the piers, as he navigated the boards, until he spotted a couple arguing at the far end.   As he approached the exchange intensified, and the woman slapped her partner.  To avoid detection, because he did not want to become involved in a lover’s quarrel, Blade sheltered in the shadows of a stack of hogsheads.

Just then, the male struck her in the head, and she fell limp.  Instead of providing assistance, the unknown assailant glanced left and right and shoved her off the dock, and a loud splash followed.  The blackguard ran so fast from the scene that he did not notice Blade.

For a scarce second, he hesitated, hunkering like the worst coward.  Then he shot forth from his hiding place, dropped his pistol on the dock, and dove into the water.