Two

Marcus Thorne glanced at the enchantress sitting so close to him with her hands clutching his arm. Good fortune had been with him as of late, and taking his enemy’s daughter prisoner topped the day. It didn’t matter if his men found nothing of consequence on the stagecoach, Marcus’ world had brightened because of the treasure sitting very close in front of him.

He didn’t know Miss Isabelle Stanhope, just her father. Marcus had done the world a service when he purged the scoundrel from society. Marcus had dealt with the older man on several occasions and concluded the weasel couldn’t be trusted. He hadn’t planned on killing Commodore Stanhope, but the foolish man tried to stab him in the back. Literally. On impulse, Marcus shot the man between the eyes, killing him instantly.

It wasn’t until later that day when Marcus, rummaging through the Commodore’s trunks, had found a miniature of an extremely beautiful woman. Several days afterwards, he studied the picture and read some of the missives the Commodore had written to his daughter, but never mailed.

Months later, Hawk realized the Commodore had somehow alerted Napoleon and his soldiers to Hawk’s hideout. Marcus was nearly killed, and he and his men lost many valuable items during Napoleon’s raid.

Now Marcus had something of value belonging to the Commodore. It didn’t matter if the older man was dead, Marcus would fulfill his revenge by keeping the daughter as his prisoner. Hopefully, he’d be able to discover what she knew about her father’s dealings with Napoleon as well. Marcus worked undercover for Prince Regent as a spy to help take down Napoleon’s spies.

Miss Stanhope was incredibly beautiful, and her fiery temper surprised him. Spirited women challenged him and kept him on his toes. Isabelle’s amazing blue eyes were like an ocean on a serene day, so different from her temper.

Her presence nearly made him forget his own reputation as a fearsome highwayman. At one time he’d been a pirate—as were his men—but soon Marcus realized he could accomplish more as a highwayman, and get things done much faster.

Clearing the turbulence Miss Stanhope had brought to his mind, he couldn’t understand why she lied about her name. Why didn’t she want him to know who her father had been? Most assuredly, Marcus looked forward to uncovering her secrets.

When the wagon full of prisoners had caught up to him, he pushed his horse faster toward his hideout. Since Napoleon’s men had found his last place, Marcus had discovered another out-of-the-way spot to call home—at least home for his gang of thieves.

Miss Stanhope bounced on his horse so badly, so he pulled her closer to his chest.

“What are you doing?” she shrieked.

“Not to worry, fair maiden, I’m only trying to make you more comfortable.”

“If you want me to be more comfortable, then release me at once!”

He chuckled. “Do you wish to walk?”

“Um, no…I was referring to being your prisoner.”

“Oh, fair maiden, I cannot…and will not release you. So unless you want to walk the remainder of the way, you can lean against me. I promise not to bite…too hard.”

It took a few moments of him studying her stiff posture before she finally relented and leaned back against his chest.

He laughed. “Now, was that so difficult?”

“More than you could ever imagine, Captain Hawk.”

A half hour later, they reached the border of his hideout and he slowed the horse. Quickly, she pulled away from him and straightened. Several of his men stood guard at the tall, wooden gates and let them enter then secured the slats of wood covered in bushes as a disguise after they passed through.

“Miss Stanley, you’re too quiet. Dare I ask what vengeful thoughts are swimming in your head?”

He watched her lips closely since he couldn’t see her eyes. Not even a semblance of a smile touched her mouth.

“Vengeful? Tell me, Captain, why would I think such a thing about the man who holds me prisoner?”

He chuckled. “You’re most humorous, but after a few minutes in my charming presence, I promise you will change your mind about my character. I’m certainly not the rat you think I am, nor will I ever become one. Especially to a lovely woman such as yourself.”

Finally, the corner of her mouth lifted slightly. “I reserve the right to form my own opinion, Captain Hawk.”

“Absolutely.” He patted her soft hands.

He stopped the horse in front of the main house. “Here we are, my dove.” He jumped down then lifted her off. As he set her on her feet, she stumbled and quickly reached for him. He steadied her before removing her blindfold.

Blinking, she glanced around them at the acres of land to the house and the separate buildings, then back to him. “I must say, Captain Hawk, I rather had a different picture in my head when imagining your hideout.”

“Were you picturing more of a dark castle with torture chambers?”

“Indeed, I was.”

He laughed. “That’s my other hideout.”

Marcus walked her into the house and down a hallway. He stopped in front of an empty room. His servant boy had died last year from the fever, and Marcus had yet to find a replacement. Although he had planned on dining with Miss Stanhope in his room this evening, he dared not take her there yet. She would undoubtedly snoop through his trunks and find her father’s belongings, especially the letters and miniature he had kept.

“What is this? My prison?” she asked.

“You will stay in my room until I’m ready for you.”

He slowly opened the door. She peered inside. Her brow wrinkled as disgust registered on her face.

The servant’s room would do for now albeit it was smaller than most in the main house. He’d give Miss Stanhope time to simmer. After being locked away in the windowless room only big enough for a small cot and trunk, he prayed she’d be more agreeable. Then again, he did enjoy her feisty personality.

She gave him a quizzical stare. “Captain Hawk, I cannot believe you would stoop to accept a mere pittance of a room such as this. I highly doubt this is where you sleep.”

“It’s not.”

“Did you not just tell me it was your room?”

“I did…because I own this place.” He swept his hand around them, indicating the house. “I won’t take you to my room until after it’s clean.” He lifted her hand and kissed her knuckles. “Rest yourself my dove. I shall fetch you when our evening meal is ready.”

The glare in her eyes let him know she wasn’t satisfied.

After he closed and locked the door, he sprinted up the hall and outside to see if his men had found anything of merit in the trunks and satchels they’d confiscated from the stagecoach passengers. Marcus must get his mind off Miss Stanhope and concentrate on more important matters. Like finding those documents he knew were on the stagecoach.

In the past few years, he’d been amongst men who worked under Prince Regent as spies. It was their duty to catch anything coming from France—even beautiful woman—and make certain it wasn’t from Napoleon. Of course, Marcus had personal reason for wanting revenge on the Emperor’s spies. Too many of Napoleon’s men were like his father…cold-hearted and didn’t care for anything but wealth, title, and power. Too many of these men disowned their own families in order to obtain what they wanted. And worse, they would ruthlessly kill without having any second thoughts.

Since taking over the role of the pirate, Captain Hawk, from a man who had been the pirate for many years, Marcus only attacked the Emperor’s ships. However, now that he no longer trolled the seas, he took prisoners from the stagecoaches occupied by these soldiers. Today’s hold-up, however, had been different. Marcus had overheard the French soldiers were trying to fool the elusive Captain Hawk by transporting the documents differently, carried by a civilian. Marcus was smarter than the Emperor’s soldiers. He, too, had spies everywhere.

For many years, his father had been a Commodore of the navy and one of Napoleon’s supporters. The commodore didn’t have a clue to what his sickly son had been doing with his life. Especially after the old man thought he’d killed me. He took advantage of his father’s ignorance and made friends with those his parent wouldn’t approve of. The old chap hadn’t been in his life since Marcus was a young lad, which was the reason he had become a pirate. Indeed, revenge was sweet.

“Captain Hawk.” Simon strode across the yard wearing a satisfied grin. He tied a leather strap around his hair, which stopped the wind from blowing it in his face. “The prisoners are secured down in the cellar.”

“Were there any problems?”

“That companion of Miss Stanley’s was a handful, to be sure, but she finally closed her obnoxious trap before I could close it for her.”

Marcus nodded. “And I shall threaten her once again if she steps out of line.” He walked toward the wounded stagecoach, and just as he arrived, Gabriel Lawrence, Marcus’ best friend, rose from his position on the ground by one of the passenger’s trunks.

“Captain, you must take a look at this.” He held out the parchments. “What caught my attention was the name of your father.”

Curious, Marcus snatched the missives from his friend and read. Although Marcus’ father had been on his deathbed for over a year, it seemed his uncaring parent was still alive, unfortunately.

Marcus glanced at Gabriel, a man who’d been his friend for two years since taking over his first ship. They shared the same hatred for Napoleon and vowed to do all they could to stir up trouble. “Where did you find these?”

“In this satchel.” He lifted the brown leather bag.

Marcus frowned. “Unfortunately, these are not what I seek. From this letter, it appears my father is no longer residing in London.” He paused, looking out across the yard in deep thought. Apparently the old man hadn’t died, so where was he?

He met Gabe’s stare. “Do you suppose my father is in Devon or thereabouts? These letters appear as if they were being sent to him.”

“Those were my thoughts exactly, Captain.”

“If my father is involved, I believe the documents I seek may be a bit of a challenge to locate. The man who sired me is a devious, calculating man. We must think as he.”

Gabe chuckled. “It shouldn’t be hard. After all, the fearsome Captain Hawk is brilliant enough to evade getting captured by Napoleon’s army.”

Marcus nodded. “You’re quite correct.” He glanced back at the stagecoach his men had brought with them. “What else have you found?”

“Nothing of consequence, Captain. However, we’re still searching.” Gabe pushed his fingers through his auburn hair, adjusting his own mask.

Marcus rubbed his forehead and growled. This was the stagecoach he’d been told about, and what day and time it would travel. “Keep looking.” He met Gabe’s stare. “I know the papers are here. Check every wall and floorboard if you must until we find it.”

“Captain? What if we cannot find anything?”

“Then we’ll burn the vehicle until there is nothing left but ashes. If we cannot have the documents, the Emperor’s Army won’t have access to them, either.” Marcus turned to go back to the house, but quickly stopped. “I want you to search Miss Stanley’s trunk first, then bring it to my room.”

Gabe chuckled. “Miss Stanley, eh?”

“Yes. I will keep her as my prisoner for a little while before we release everyone.”

His friend’s laughter followed Marcus as he retraced his steps back to the main house. Before anyone could disturb him, he strode to his room. Just as he reached the door, he stopped beside Isabelle’s room and pressed his ear to the wood. Her pacing echoed in the nearly empty space, her voice lifting in a grumble.

That woman would be spitting mad by the time he let her out. A grin tugged at his mouth. A feisty wench he could handle. He looked forward to the task.

Marcus entered his room and searched for any items belonging to her father. The Commodore’s letters were kept on his desk, along with Isabelle’s miniature. The image of her was slightly younger than the woman he’d kidnapped, but the lovely, wide and luminous eyes were unforgettable. Once he had the opportunity to study her when she had stubbornly stood before him, he realized he would enjoy her personality. He charmed women easily, but this one he looked forward to their verbal sparring. Little had he known the miniature of the woman he’d stared at so often this past year would stir such excitement inside him when he finally met her. Of course, this was nothing more than the end to his revenge…although he would enjoy every moment thoroughly.

After he locked the items in one of the trunks, he proceeded outside and to the other house to interrogate his prisoners. Someone must know something! And they’d better tell him quickly because he still had to wash and change into fresh clothes before his evening with Commodore Stanhope’s lovely daughter. If Marcus were to dine with her, he wanted to look his best. He also needed to inform the cook he would be entertaining in his room. There were to be absolutely no interruptions tonight.

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