Dare the Wind

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Dare the Wind by Erinn Ellender Quinn

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Irish sea captain Tristan O’Dea still feels the sting of rejection when he sails to Havre with a warning of danger to his commander Justin Vallé’s family and an offer of safe passage for his half-brother and sister and their mother, once Vallé’s late father’s favorite mistress.  Expecting to find Madame Visconti, Tristan is met at the door by an artist’s model wrapped in a sheet and looking like mortal sin.

Living near poverty, Vallé’s widowed half-sister Jessenia Bougeureau has been forced to pose for a sculpture.  She is living at the mercy of an unscrupulous man who holds a portion of her mother’s property as collateral for loans that they cannot replay.  So far, she and her brother Nicolai have managed to keep their mother’s death a secret from him.  Captain O’Dea’s offer represents a chance at a new life, a new world for Jess, and safety for her brother until the danger posed to their family is past.

Jess is a harpist and a composer. She hasn’t written music since her husband died.  Watching the giant Irish sea captain, with his Celtic knotwork tattoos and sculpted body, during morning exercises, for the first time in years, she feels inspired.  Rescued by Tristan, free to choose, she’s about to make him an offer that he cannot refuse.

 

 

EXCERPT 

 

Tristan peeled off his justacorps, folded it and laid it on his sea chest.  His weskit, boots, and stockings followed.  He was reaching for the buttons on his breeches when he heard the knock on the door.  He pulled it open, expecting to find Caleb.

Instead, it was her.

She was biting her lower lip, as if she had misgivings.  As if she knew it was not wise to bait a bear in his cave but was determined to do it regardless of the consequences.

He said nothing, refusing to make it easy for her.  She was going to have to convince him to let her in or lure him out, and he still didn’t know which it would be.

“May I come in, please?  We need to talk.”

So he’d noticed.  It had just come sooner, rather than later.

He stepped aside.  She came in.  She wore an oriental style wrapper and slippers on her feet, and she’d let down her hair, so that the black curls tumbled past her waist.  Her pale blue eyes were luminous in the moonlight spilling through the windows.  Five days from full, it was enough for her to see the hand he offered.

He led her to the table and sat across from her, trying not to let her feel how she affected him.

He cleared his throat.  “Can I get you anything?” he asked.  “Wine?  Brandy?  Rum?  Whiskey?  Yer brother keeps the ship well-stocked.”

“No,” she said, tearing her gaze away from his tattoos to look at the door.

“It’s not too late,” he said.  “Ye can still leave.  We can talk tomorrow.”

She took a deep breath and squared her soft shoulders.  “No, I’d rather get it over with.”  She looked back at him, then.  “Do you know what I am?” she asked him.

As ucht Dé.  For God’s sake, she was every man’s fantasy come to life and here alone with him.  He was captain of this ship and responsible for everyone aboard, including her and her swordsman brother.

“First and foremost, ye’re Justin Vallé’s sister, and I swore him an oath that I would take care of ye.”

 That’s exactly what Jess was counting on.

“I am a muse,” she told him.  “It’s what I do.  I inspire, with my music, with my voice, with my body.  My husband was a poet, did you know that?  He made me look him in the eye while he took my maidenhead.  He committed it to memory and described it in glorious detail in his next book.  He invited the world into our bedroom.  Men and women everywhere wanted a taste of the passion he described.  I was ashamed, and angry.  I grew tired of constantly fending off advances.  I became a recluse for a time.  Bernard lived for his art, and went to salons filled with his adoring fans.  Some were single.  Some were married.  He died in a dual with but one of many cuckolded husbands.”

Jess closed her eyes and took a breath, and let it out softly, slowly, gathering herself.  When she opened her eyes and looked at him, the Irish giant nearly took her breath away.  She’d never felt such motion in his stillness, like a coil wound tight, ready to be unleashed.

What she did next was risky, but she needed to know.  “Tell me of the vicar’s daughter.”

O’Dea rubbed his jaw, as if wondering at the wisdom of answering.  “She married the Spaniard.”

“Tell me about the vicar’s daughter.”

The Captain blew out a harsh laugh and shook his head.  “And what would ye have me say?  That I offered for her, too?  That I made her faint when I kissed her?  That she landed half naked in my arms and for months, all I could see in my dreams were small, coral tipped breasts?”  By the time he finished, he was talking through clenched teeth and was close to tossing her out.

She pretended not to notice.

“Did you cry?” she asked.

He looked at her with some confusion, as if he was uncertain that he’d heard her correctly.  “What?”

She angled her head, studying him.  He did not like being caught off guard.  He did not like being off balance.  She would have to be careful with surprises.

“When you learned that she chose another, did you cry for her?”

“No,” he shifted, uncomfortable in his chair.  “No.  Not that it’s any of your business.”

“But it is,” she insisted.  “Anyone worth having is worth a tear or two.  If you did not cry, she was not meant for you.  She would not have made you happy.  I propose,” she said, “that we help each other.  You need to forget the Spaniard’s wife, and I need to remember what it is like to make love to a man of my choosing.  You promised to take care of me.  My question is, will you, or not?”

“As ucht Dé!  Madame Bougeureau—”

“Jessenia,” she corrected.  “Or Jess.”

He breathed in deeply, as if inhaling her name, fragrant with the scent of jasmine, and shook himself to clear his head.  “Jess,” he grated, “for God’s sake, ye don’t know what ye ask of me.”

“Oh, but I do,” she assured him, meeting his gaze unflinchingly.  “I was thinking of our agreement, what I’d asked you to do, and I had not considered that there might be another option.  Introduce me as yours, and under your protection.  Wheat from the chaff, acceptance and rejection, done in a breath.  No one will question or test it, as they might with only a brother here, one against whom you have already proven yourself.”

Still he resisted.

Pah.

She leaned on the table and refused to let him look away.  “You said the vicar’s daughter fainted when you kissed her.  That alone should tell you, she wasn’t right for you.  You don’t need a virgin, O’Dea.  You need a woman.  Someone who can inspire you and make certain that you are left satisfied.  If you promise to keep from getting me with child, I promise that you will not be lonely at night.”

She looked at him, while the moonlight bathing her face let him see just how serious she was.  “It will be strictly sex.  I won’t expect more.”

Tristan was tempted to pinch himself.  This beautiful woman was offering him sex with no strings, no entanglements, just night after night of mutual pleasure.  He leaned on the table, took a deep breath, and shook his head in disbelief.  It was a long moment before he said anything.

“So,” he said slowly, struggling to accept it, “when will my sheets smell like jasmine…?”