"A fluent flowing storyline, characters that will certainly pull you abroad the Kraken, and vivid descriptions thoroughly written throughout." ~ Page Flippers
"Bound by Decency is captivating pirate’s story of betrayal, trust, adventure and heart stopping romance that will have you on the edge of your set. " ~ Bitten By Romance
"I love a good swashbuckling romance, and Ms. Ashgrove has definitely penned a vibrant, adventurous romantic tale, not to be missed!" ~ History Undressed
“A fast-paced adventure coupled with steamy romance, mystery, betrayal, revenge, ship-to-ship battles, and best of all pirates!”
~ NY Times Bestselling Author, Jennifer Ashley
“Sweeping, gritty, lush and sexy as hell, BOUND BY DECENCY will not only sweep
your feet but make you wish it was real. Absolutely fantastic!”
~Award Winning Author, Delilah Marvelle
“Claire Ashgrove writes history breathlessly. Swashbuckling adventure and
epic romance? Yes, please!”
~National Bestselling Author, Kate Noble
Charles Towne, South Carolina,
“Your pardon has been denied.”
A stack of parchment thumped against the roughhewn tabletop. Dust wafted up to blend with the overwhelming scent of urine and mildew that coated The Battery’s stone walls. It tickled Theodore Cathain’s nose, daring him to sneeze. But sneezing would mean inhaling even more of the fetid stench that reminded him of the gutters along the streets of London. In particular, the wharfs. In another time, another place, he would have welcomed the odor.
Today, it only served to remind him of the present hell his life had become.
Careful to lift the chains so the heavy iron cuffs wouldn’t cut into his wrists, Teddy picked up the topmost sheet. Denied? Impossible. Two years ago, Richard had vowed if ghosts from their shared past rose to haunt them, his family would arrange a Royal Pardon. They held the connections. Knew the right families. Possessed the power that came with centuries of royal blood. What in Christ’s name had happened?
Teddy’s eyes narrowed as he found the traitorous words confirming Lieutenant Jacobs’ claim. Fury surged through him. If ever he had wanted to slowly choke the life out of a man, the day had come. Damn Richard. Why?
He took a deep breath, searched for control over his tongue. Choosing his words carefully, he lifted his gaze to the Lieutenant’s. “This is preposterous! The charges alone are not but a work of splendid fiction. For God’s sake, Jacobs, you’ve known me two full years.”
Jacobs set manicured hands on the table, braced his weight, and leaned in close enough that Teddy caught a whiff of the fine powder used to whiten his wig. Dark eyes glinted with hard light. “And for two years, each time you drop anchor in this port, another vessel arrives on your wake missing well over half its cargo.”
“Don’t be ludicrous. The entire coast swells with pirates!” Teddy checked his temper, trained his tongue once more. To slip into the habits of a lifetime on the sea would only condemn him further. “Look out your window. Rovers line the streets. Whores bare their breasts and spread their knees for them from open doorways. Your citizens rush to see the wares the rovers bring. And you accuse me, a man who has done nothing but bring you exceptional goods from around the coasts, of laying siege to another merchant ship?”
One corner of Jacobs’ mouth twisted into a smirk. “It is an odd coincidence, don’t you think, that what lay in your hold was a perfect match to the Virginia Maiden’s stolen cargo?”
Teddy sank his head into his hands and gritted his teeth against a groan. He curled his fingers into his scalp, massaged his temples with the base of his palms. With the patience he would give a petulant child, he answered, “The Virginia Maiden is owned by William Prescott. It’s well known he sails the same route. It’s no small stretch to assume her cargo would match mine.”
“Your flag was seen. Ironic isn’t it how two years have passed since it last appeared on the sea. Two skulls facing one another upon a field of black—does it ring a bell, Cain?”
With one heavy beat, Teddy’s heart stopped. Where fury had turned his blood hot, his veins ran with ice. Three days ago, his arrest had been little more than speculation. The charges of piracy a stretch of infinite proportions. But when Jacobs’ slapped the iron cuffs on Teddy’s wrists, he had still addressed him by his given name. Not the name Teddy had assumed the day he took to sea under Henry Jennings.
Someone had told Jacobs. Teddy didn’t have to guess who. Only one man would have dared. One man who had stood at his side and reveled in the riches they acquired. Richard Grey. His former First Mate. His best friend. His business partner.
The why hit Teddy like lightning. Richard had done all he could to convince Teddy they should take on slaving routes. He’d even gone so far as to commandeer Prescott’s minor fleet, North Atlantic Freight, run a slaving route, and use the profits as persuasion. While their earnings would have tripled, Teddy couldn’t stomach the thought. He’d had the displeasure of sailing aboard a slaver’s ship and wouldn’t subject the Grey and Cathain fleet to such disgrace. Moreover, Richard’s recent engagement to Prescott’s daughter would expedite the proposed merger of two influential shipping companies in Britain. Combine the two, remove Teddy, and Richard Grey would become sole heir to a company of equal influence as the East India.
Another surge of anger threatened to send Teddy bounding to his feet. He pulled in a deep breath. Held it. Dragged his hands down his face. Slowly, he raised his head. “I daresay, I didn’t hear you correctly.”
“I believe you did.” Satisfaction radiated behind Jacobs’ dark eyes. “Cain, the scourge of the sea, brought to his knees at last.” He gestured at the stack of parchment. “Within, I believe you’ll find several charges of murder, along with all the usual things—fraud, treason, evading the Royal Navy. Of course, it contains the general charge of piracy which covers all the rest.”
Jacobs moved around the table with the measured gait of one who had laid a careful trap and intended to snap the snares. He bent near Teddy’s ear. “Tell me, how does it feel to have your life removed so fast? Does it come with the same glory of running a woman through?”
Beneath the taunt, Teddy’s anger ignited. He shot to his feet, rattling the chains that bound his wrists to his ankles. All pretense of composure that he’d so carefully constructed to obscure his baseborn birth shattered as he loosed his tongue. “Bloody hell, you are an accursed prick! I never killed a single woman!”
A short bark of laughter rang through the enclosed chamber. Jacobs turned his back on Teddy and moved to the thick wooden door. “You have nine days to beg forgiveness for your soul.” His thin mouth curled into a sneer. “On the morning of the tenth, you will hang.”
Off The Coast of Brighthelmstone, Britain
The dinghy approached, a dark shroud against an even darker sky. Shadowy oars broke through the surface in unison, then dipped beneath to propel precious cargo forward. Over the hushed lap of high tide against The Kraken’s bow, a coarse masculine, “’Eeave!” marked time with the steady rise and fall.
One bare foot propped on a wooden crate, Cain squinted over the rail. His gaze fastened on the figure huddled in the dinghy’s rear. In the mark of ten more strong pulls, she would stand before him, and the blanket that cloaked her head from the light pelt of rain would fall away. All the beauty in the world couldn’t stop the roil of his stomach or the bile that rose in his throat. Princess or hag, she meant one thing and one thing alone. Retribution.
“The men, they’d trade their casks for a taste of that fair piece, Cain, be she fair or not.”
Cain slid his scowl to his quartermaster. “There’ll be none of that.” If there was, it would be his for the taking. She was, after all, his prize. Still, though he intended to ruin her, he did not mean in the physical sense. Nor would he subject a lady, no matter who she allied herself with, to the sexual appetites of a hold’s worth of men.
Humor danced in Drake’s dark eyes and lifted one corner of his mouth. He quickly covered his smirk with the back of his hand and looked to the approaching boat. His mouth twitched yet again as he gave Cain a sideways glance. “You bear the stain of decency. Gone soft, I say. As do your shabby mates. What with bringin’ a woman aboard, an’ the like. She should be enjoyed as she was designed to be.”
“Clamp your tongue behind your teeth, Drake, else I’ll fill your backside with lead.”
Cain groaned inwardly. Of all the fates—why must Drake be the one to have discovered his confinement in The Battery? Idiocy had persuaded him to accept Drake as quartermaster. That was all it could be. Surely, sheer desperation couldn’t have driven him to such. He couldn’t have been so grateful that he’d asked this scoundrel to sign aboard The Kraken.
Nine days he’d spent in The Battery. He had accepted death. Come to terms with his maker. If it hadn’t been for Drake’s orchestrated escape, nor his skill with word and sword that freed The Kraken, Cain wouldn’t have to put up with the rogue’s infernal presence. Yet Drake had, and though he had always stirred Cain’s ire, Drake was one of few seamen who would accept a woman on board. He, and the majority of men he had just insulted—a wily crew, more loyal to Drake than any group of mates Cain had sailed with in sixteen years at sea. It was only through allegiance to the intolerable rascal that they agreed to sail under Cain.
Drake’s low laughter rumbled beside Cain. “I should like to see you try. You best keep the woman close, lest she knows how to swing a sword.”
Cain dug his hands into the rail. While Drake’s commandeered crew had more than passing experience with a woman on the decks, the woman’s safety was a very real concern. He wouldn’t abide by bodily abuse. He gave Drake a hard look. “I might have led a decent life these last two years, but I haven’t forgotten the ways of the fellowship. Tell your crew they will have their riches. Remind them they sail for Cain.”
He looked back to the dinghy, counting the strokes that would bring her to the ladder on the larboard side. Not so very long ago, his name would have struck fear in the hearts of the strongest men. With the exception of Drake, and a few others Cain loosely considered friends, no one had been safe from his guns or exempt from his will. He wore so much blood on his hands he couldn’t begin to wash the stain away. Oh, how he’d loved the freedom of the sea.
Yet he had surrendered the rum, the gold, the women, and the thrill of running from the Royal Navy for a chance at legitimate wealth and decency. For a while, he found it as Teddy. No more sleeping with a pistol, no more wondering whether morning would be his last. But all that changed with Richard’s betrayal. He was Cain once more. Bound to the sea. Forever chained to her whimsical will. And while he knew he would die in her watery arms, he wouldn’t run from what he was—a ruthless man who took what he wanted and spared no innocent foolish enough to cross his path.
An infamous reputation he was counting on tonight.
The dinghy bumped against The Kraken’s hull. As the seamen below guided the woman up the ladder, Cain pushed off the rail to face the shipboard crew. “Take up the anchor! Hands to halyards, lively now! Prepare to get her underwater!”
On his sharp bark, the crew sprung to life. They clambered to the lines, shouting calls to men further aft. The ruckus was comforting, a subtle energy that soothed Cain’s agitated soul. He’d captured his prize, and the thrill of victory thrummed in his veins.
Anxious to be far from the British shore, he turned to greet his captive.
At a seaman’s none-too-gentle shove, she stumbled forward, and Cain reflexively caught her elbow to stop her fall.
“Take your hands off me.” She jerked her arm away with so much ferocity she stumbled once again. The soggy blanket covering her head tumbled loose. Raven hair framed an angelic face and dripped over slight shoulders. In defiance, she lifted her head, narrowing the brightest blue eyes Cain had ever seen.
For a moment, he could do nothing more than stare. Richard had said his intended was lovely, but somehow, Cain had never pictured her as a beauty. Yet now, as she stood before him, her chest heaving with indignation and her hair a sopping mess, he realized Richard had once again played him false. India Prescott wasn’t merely lovely. She was breathtaking.
“What in the name of Mary do you think you’re doing?” she snapped. “My father will see you hang for this.”
Her sharp tongue yanked Cain out of his stupor. He collected himself quickly, and for the first time since his arrest, gave into a broad grin. “Indeed, he will have to get in line.”
India’s eyes widened a fraction, but anger drew delicate brows downward, and those sky-blue eyes narrowed. “I see no amusement in this. Do you have any idea who I am?”
As a rumble of laughter broke through the men within earshot, Cain’s humor subsided. His smile faded, and he reached out to twine a thick lock of her hair around his finger. Turning his wrist, he wrapped the silken length around his hand, slowly bringing her closer. So close that the wet fabric straining across her breasts dampened his shirt. The heat of her skin grazed his. “I know well who you are, Miss Prescott.” He ran the back of his free hand across her dainty collar bone, over the slope of her shoulder, then lifted it to draw his thumb across her parted lips. The audible catch of her breath ricocheted through him. So she was not unaffected by him. Good. He could use it to his advantage.
His gaze held hers. A flicker of fear passed behind her eyes, but to her credit, she didn’t shrink away. She stood straight and proud, even as she shivered in the stirring breeze. Courage Cain didn’t often encounter from the gentle-born. God’s teeth, men far stronger and larger than she didn’t hesitate to grovel at his feet. Yet she, no bigger than a lark, defied him with stubborn silence.
To drive her subservient position as his captive home, he tightened his hold on her hair until she winced. Leaning forward, he lowered his mouth to her ear. “You are the daughter of a powerful man and presently my prisoner, to do with as I will.” Stepping back, he untwined his hand and smirked.
India’s palm cracked across his cheek. “Rot in hell!”
A slow burn spread through the side of Cain’s face. He resisted the urge to rub it away. How interesting. She did not burst into tears and simper for her virtue as many of the proper women he knew would have. India fought back, refusing to yield despite her certain knowledge that he held her life in his hands.
Respect stirred in some deep portion of his soul. Cain choked it down with the reminder that she wasn’t just any woman. She belonged to Richard. She knew where the cowardly bastard hid. Likely, she already knew why she was here.
He folded his arms across his chest and pinned her with a frown. “Since you cannot seem to grasp your circumstances, Miss Prescott, allow me to enlighten you. I am Cain. And it amuses me greatly that you will lead the man you love to his death.”
India’s blood turned cold. Cain. She had struck Cain. Not just any thieving pirate, but the very bane of the sea. He’d schooled under Henry Jennings. Rumor had it he held close acquaintance with the vile Blackbeard. She’d been pulled from her bed to stand before the devil himself.
All because Richard couldn’t tolerate the loss of a few thousand pounds. Damn him.
She swallowed hard and summoned the anger that had taken fear’s place the instant the open carriage that brought her here sloshed mud into her lap. She would not cower. Cain didn’t deserve that kind of power. He was a bastard of bastards, a cold calculating killer.
Yet she wasn’t a fool, and she quickly reined in her outrage. She had no desire for an early death. Provoking him would only guarantee such.
Careful to keep the fury from her throat, she replied, “If you think I’ll lead him to you, you are mistaken. I have no idea where he is.”
Cain’s expression hardened. “You’ll have plenty of time to remember.” He nodded to the man at his side and thrust a key into his hand. “Take her to my cabin, Drake. Lock her in.” As if she were no more significant than scrap of trash, Cain disappeared down the deck without a backward glance.
On the heels of his retreat, one solitary word sank into India’s head—Drake. She slowly turned to look at the man he left behind. He wore no bandana as Cain had, and long dark hair shadowed hawk-like features. Slightly taller than Cain, yet equally broad of shoulder, his presence would have been just as intimidating as his reputation—were it not for his broad grin.
Certainly a pirate captain from the legendary Flying Gang wouldn’t grin so. “You aren’t the Dr—”
“Aye, I am.” He took her by the elbow and ushered her down the forecastle steps to the main deck.
She ducked under a yard, dodged a burly man who hauled upon the braces. All around, men hustled at the ropes, a coordinated chaos that somehow managed to come together in uniform. Near the main mast, she caught another glimpse of Cain. Not ten feet away, he leaned against the thick timber, arms crossed over his chest once again. He stared straight at her with a self-satisfied smile.
Barely giving India the time to mind her footing against the rain-slicked planks, Drake guided her through a heavy door and into a secluded hall. He didn’t halt his pace, forbade her the opportunity for conversation. Like the captive she was, he thrust her unceremoniously through a door at the end of the corridor and slammed it shut.
The lock scraped into place, heavy and foreboding.
India huddled into her wet blanket to ward off the chill that crept into her bones. Somehow, she’d found herself amidst The Flying Gang. Prisoner to two of the Caribbean’s most feared pirates. First Cain, now Drake. What they were doing sailing together, she couldn’t explain. Why they wanted her held almost as many questions. The only error she’d made was to agree to marry Richard Grey, who had refused to help Cain gain a pardon after Cain stole from the Virginia Maiden. Yet even her betrothal she could fault her father for. He hadn’t given her a choice.
Fear fingered at the base of India’s spine. She shivered and glanced around. A small lamp atop a well-kept desk lit the spacious cabin with faint yellow. Barely enough light to make out a dining table, a comfortable velvet armchair, and a rather imposing bed. She turned from the pile of colorful heavy quilts, embarrassed to stand in a man’s personal chambers. What Cain did there…
She squeezed her eyes shut against the vivid image that surfaced despite her attempts to block it out. Cain’s big, imposing body bare atop the deep crimson quilt. His sun-bronzed skin glistening in the silver moonlight.
India swore beneath her breath. For heaven’s sake, no proper woman would consider what a man did in his bed, let alone what liaisons Cain engaged in. He had kidnapped her. That act would damn her for eternity. She didn’t need her troublesome mind helping her further into the gutters of London.
The ship bobbed on a high swell. Muffled shouts poured through the timbers overhead. Planks creaked, and the vessel jerked forward as the wind caught her many sails. On the nearby table, a crystal decanter rattled in its holding box.
India groaned as the surreal haze of her predicament cleared into hard reality. This wasn’t some dream that would come to an end with morning’s light. Cain, the devil himself, had taken her captive. God only knew how long she might suffer this imprisonment. She could only pray He would see her returned unharmed.
As a woman aboard a pirate ship, that was as likely as the odds she’d meet a mermaid.
She dropped onto the edge of the chair and gazed out the elaborate window. Beyond, the dark sky shifted. Moonlight peeked through thick storm clouds to illuminate the scandalously large bed.
Another sharp dip of the bow, and her stomach rolled. Lord above, not only did ships dictate every aspect of her life, they made her as ill as the plague. She swallowed down the bitter taste of bile and clutched at the chair, determined to keep her body still despite the rollicking motion.
Her last voyage at sea—a brief trip to France, no less—left her bedridden for weeks after. If Cain didn’t satisfy his interest in her soon, she’d turn into a helpless, retching mess.
Pulling in a shallow breath, she steered her thoughts away from the upheaval of her belly. A vision of Cain surfaced. In another setting, he would have been handsome. Against a full head of wild long hair, his light eyes would surely draw attention. But handsome as he might be, she didn’t dare take an inch of him for granted. He stole, he killed, he ravaged. He was every bit the immoral barbarian Richard and her father had described.
Now he stooped to using women as executioner’s bait. He must think her a sniveling coward, if he believed merely kidnapping her would spook her into aiding Richard’s death. While true, she felt no great love for her intended and would have much preferred her father paired her with Richard’s absent partner, Teddy, she’d have no part in murder. Richard might have turned tail and fled to France like a coward, but India would die before she revealed a single hint.
If she were smart, she’d concoct a story about Richard’s whereabouts and gain her freedom. Then again, if Cain chose to keep her aboard while he followed the ruse, once he discovered her duplicity, she’d suffer the same end he planned for Richard. While she’d do about anything to free herself from her unpleasant engagement, she wasn’t prepared to sacrifice her life. Until she could design a plan, she’d be best suited to claim ignorance. Buy time to think things through, look for a way to send word to Richard.
The ship pulled hard to starboard. It pitched downward, raising the stern high. She held her breath, waiting for the inevitable drop.
When it came, India bolted out of her chair and raced across the room. Beside the bed she dropped to her knees before the empty chamber pot. Clutching it with both hands, she held fast as her stomach upturned in one great heave.
Buy Your Copy Now!